If you’re watching Three Pines, then Sarah Booth is going to make you laugh. She stars in Prime Video’s hit crime series as Yvette Nichol, an eager but naive new police officer who wants to impress Gamache (Alfred Molina), a veteran detective solving murders in a quirky Canadian town. Despite her good intentions, she usually does the exact wrong thing, which makes her a welcome source of comic relief in a show that tackles some very heavy subjects.
But as we eventually learn, Yvette’s more layered than she seems. In the episodes premiering today — a two-part mystery called “The Murder Stone” — she even plays a central role in catching a killer. Primetimer recently had a Zoom chat with Booth to discuss her character, the surprising amount of improv she was allowed to do, and the lessons she learned from watching a co-star perform with a duck.
[Note: Light spoilers for "The Murder Stone" below.]
Throughout the season, and especially in the first few episodes, we hear a lot about Yvette as the new kid on the force who doesn’t know what she’s doing. How did you approach playing someone who hasn’t found her footing?
When I first received the audition breakdown, I realized she’s different than she is in the books. In the books [by Louise Penny, which inspired the show], she’s arrogant, hard-headed. She takes the training, but kind of puts her own spin on it, which is not always the best idea. But when I read the character description for the series, I saw “awkward;” I saw “eager;” I saw “accident-prone.” And when I was developing her and figuring her out, what I realized is that I had to play her dead serious.
Right, because she doesn’t think of herself as being the goofy amateur.
No! She’s thinking about working with Gamache, and he's the rock star of all detectives. So she needs to give her best performance at all times. And I think that seriousness, and just wanting to impress him and be part of the team, is what's funny. And it mirrored my own experience. When I was doing my callback for this character, I was on Zoom with the creator and the producer, and they were describing me to her, saying she's eager and all these things. I was like, “Oh, you mean exactly how I am right now? I just want to be on the team! I'm so eager! I want a job!”
I’m glad you mentioned her relationship to Gamache, which is crucial for changing the way the other characters see her.
There's a big connection between them. He's a non-traditional detective in the way he really dives into the “why” and the psychology. He loves to not just solve the case, but to deeply understand the case. I feel like he sees this unconventional quality in Yvette that he really wants to nurture. I realized that just through working with Fred [Molina]. The way he plays Gamache, I realized he sees something special in her. It’s not, “I’m the nice guy. I’ll take care of the mess.” It’s that he sees something there.
Once you discovered something like that, could you apply it to your performance?
Oh yeah. I had a lot of freedom to improv.
Ooh, I love that. What sort of things did you improvise?
Sometimes I was able to say, “Oh, I think I want to say this line in French, or I think I would add a French word here. Or can I do some improv in French while I'm walking in the woods?” And they’d say, “Yeah, go for it!” I was so lucky, because I grew up bilingual, and I had a Quebec crew around me. They were always into it. It’s great when everyone around just knows the flavor of the show. And then in Episode 6, in “The Murder Stone,” when I'm in the woods. That's mostly improvised because I was having a lot of trouble handcuffing [the perpetrator] in real life, which worked out for the scene. That was all improv trying to get them handcuffed.
That scene is one of my favorite parts of the show. It’s such a moment of triumph for her!
It is! When we were shooting that, I had had handcuffs for a week or two at that point. And it's hard to handcuff someone. Well, if they’re standing still, it's pretty simple—
—but the murderer was hauling ass!
They were hauling ass! Exactly. They were improvising, too, and it was a riot to do that scene. And it was my first day with the French-Canadian director Podz. I was nervous because he's a Quebec celebrity. I had that fire in me that Yvette had, where she was like, “Oh, shit! This is my moment! Here we go! Catch the bad guy!” So Sarah fed Yvette and Yvette fed Sarah.
I enjoyed how awkward that whole scene was. Totally believable. When I was watching, I was like, “Yes, this is exactly how I would look trying to bring somebody down in the forest.”
Everyone has a first time, and it’s not gonna be smooth.
Hearing you talk about the improv is illuminating, because there is a looseness to this show. There's a sense of spontaneity. Even though the murder plots are tightly written, there’s room in every episode for the characters to be strange.
Sam Donovan, who's the main director and executive producer of the show, let us go and play. The first few episodes, when the townspeople are talking about each other: that was all improv.
Yeah. Every time someone was in, and they had their housemate or their husband or their wife, he would be like, “Okay, I'm just gonna ask you questions, and I want you to have a ball.” And you can see it in the performances. I found so much joy in those montages for sure.
Especially when you know them as people. So like, Clare Coulter [who plays Ruth, a local poet with a pet duck] is amazing. She worked so hard, because day one, day two, day three with the duck was not easy. It was only food motivated, and if you weren't feeding it, it was like, “See you later.”.
The duck said, “I’ll be in my trailer.”
Yeah, exactly. So Clare would come to set early or stay late and just hang out with the duck. It was amazing.
Well, sure. The duck makes a strong impression, so if you're going to play the poet who has a pet duck, then you want to make sure you've bonded with the duck.
And seriously, how many shows make you consider the needs of the duck?
Not that many!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
New episodes of Three Pines premiere Fridays on Prime Video through December 23. Join the discussion in our forums.
Mark Blankenship is Primetimer's Reviews Editor. Tweet him at @IAmBlankenship.
TOPICS: Three Pines, Amazon Prime Video, Alfred Molina, Clare Coulter, Sam Donovan, Sarah Booth