'Three Pines': Alfred Molina's most affecting work comes in Canadian drama focused on Indigenous stories

Alfred Molina may be best known for his work in films like Spider-Man 2 and Boogie Nights, but it's a new Canadian-based Prime Video series from Amazon Studios, Three Pines (premiering Dec. 2), adapted from Louise Penny’s best-selling books, that may be his most affecting piece of work yet, co-starring Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers.

The format of Three Pines follows Chief Inspector Gamache (Molina) investigating local cases in the Quebec town of Three Pines alongside Sgt. Isabelle Lacoste (Tailfeathers) and Sgt. Jean-Guy Beauvoir (Rossif Sutherland), with each case covered over two episodes.

All those investigations occur while Gamache tries to solve the case of a missing Indigenous woman, Blue Two-Rivers (Anna Lambe), after the Sûreté du Québec police force dismissed the case as a woman who ran away with a man, and left her young daughter behind.

“The scripts did a fantastic job in rendering the books into a format for filming, and without losing any of the great qualities that I thought were found in the books,” Molina told Yahoo Canada about what attracted him to the series. “Any process of rendering a book into a piece of film is essentially an exercise in reduction but very often…a lot of the good stuff evaporates.”

“But I think we kept much of it and also added some stuff because as Louise [Penny] herself said in an interview, that it would be nice for the fans of the books to find something new, and for the fans of the show, enough to make them perhaps curious about the books. So it could be a nice bit of synergy.”

Elle-Maija Tailfeathers is shown in an episode of the Prime Video series
Elle-Maija Tailfeathers is shown in an episode of the Prime Video series "Three Pines." (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Prime Video)

Honouring stories of Indigenous communities

With Three Pines tackling many social issues in Canada, through the cases investigated on the show, there is an emphasis on Indigenous stories. Where the series really succeeds is tackling these stories in a very honest and impactful way, with a commitment to authenticity.

“I think one of the most impactful elements of the show is the way that the Indigenous storylines and characters have been humanized,” Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers told Yahoo Canada. “That's what's so often left out, in terms of when we talk about the news, when we talk about statistics."

This particularly includes Tailfeathers' character, an Indigenous woman who was adopted at a young age and is connecting closer to Indigenous communities through her police work.

“I think it's fair to say that most Indigenous people have a complicated relationship with policing in this country, given the violent legacy and the ongoing issues, so that was interesting to me to sort of walk in the shoes of someone who is working from within the system and trying to make positive change, but encountering so many barriers that are deeply entrenched within that system," Tailfeathers told Yahoo Canada.

“There are so many people who have had similar experiences to Isabelle Lacoste. It's something that's deeply violent, to remove children from community and culture, it's a form of cultural genocide, and so to be able to honour that story, and to do so with dignity, and to show somebody who was strong and who was moving through, but who's also experiencing these deep moments of vulnerability, that was really compelling for me."

Tracey Deer walks the Rialto Theatre carpet at the Montreal premiere of Prime Video's
Tracey Deer walks the Rialto Theatre carpet at the Montreal premiere of Prime Video's "Three Pines" series (ANNIE DIOTTE)

Tracey Deer, who many will know from her award-winning film Beans, directed two episodes Three Pines but also worked with showrunner Emilia di Girolamo on all eight episodes of the series to develop the Indigenous storylines throughout the show. Her goal is always to create narratives with a "humanistic point of view," going beyond the tragic and traumatic headlines that are flashed in the news.

“I think context is also really important," Deer said. "Oftentimes, people's only exposure to our communities is through that soundbite on the news and while those news stories are absolutely true, there's so much more that goes into the reality that we're living today."

"So I hope that this show adds to that context, adds to that understanding... I think the big theme in all of my work, it's about building bridges, because I think the better we understand each other the more we can relate to each other and have compassion for each other, the better we treat each other."

Alfred Molina walks the Rialto Theatre carpet at the Montreal premiere of Prime Video's
Alfred Molina walks the Rialto Theatre carpet at the Montreal premiere of Prime Video's "Three Pines" series (ANNIE DIOTTE)

'The Indigenous community isn't a monolithic block'

As a non-Canadian, non-Indigenous cast member on the show, this was an opportunity for Alfred Molina to learn more about the history and existing stories of Indigenous people in Canada.

"I spent a great deal of time speaking with our Indigenous consultants, with Tracey Deer,...with some of the actors in the show who are also Indigenous, just to get a sense of what it's been like here," Molina said. “What I did learn, and I learned this from all the Indigenous members of the cast, is that the Indigenous community isn't a monolithic block, it's made up of individuals and all those individuals have the same anxieties and aspirations, and dreams and hopes and disappointments that everyone else has."

"As an outsider I think it's important, certainly for me, to be aware of the history, the tragedy and the history, but also to be aware of the resilience, and the joy, and all the positive things that are coming out of the Indigenous community.”

Arisawe (Georgina Lynn Lightning) and Kara Two-Rivers (Isabel Deroy-Olson) with other protestors at the MMIWG protest (Amazon Studios)
Arisawe (Georgina Lynn Lightning) and Kara Two-Rivers (Isabel Deroy-Olson) with other protestors at the MMIWG protest (Amazon Studios)

Not shying away from the 'dark aspects of reality' in Canada

One of the highlights of having Three Pines on a platform like Prime Video is the ability for this Canadian story to be accessed by people around the world. Both Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Tracey Deer stressed that this is an opportunity to honestly show the world that while Canada has a reputation for being, as Deer described it, "the best place on Earth," we still have historic systemic issues that need to be faced.

“I think people who are not from Canada perceive Canada to be this country where everything is wonderful, and there's a whole bunch of peace and everybody's OK, but there are so many issues here,” Tailfeathers said. “There are so many violent systems of oppression that are very much alive...and I appreciate the way in which the writers and directors and creators of the show didn't shy away from that, from shining a light on these dark aspects of reality that exist here.”

“I hope a global audience is able to come to that understanding that there's still a long way to go. There's still a great deal of injustice in this country. But I also hope that they see the dignity and the hope, and the love that exists in Indigenous communities across this country, because we're so much more than just our pain and our trauma. We have beautiful, thriving cultures and languages that are very much alive, and there's a deep sense of joy to that.”

Deer echoed Tailfeathers' comments, and added that it's a "dream come true" to be able to create something that accurately reflects Indigenous communities and will be shown around the world.

“Canada has this really great reputation of being like the best place on Earth and in many ways, we've got it going on,” she said. “I'm not going to take that away but there is a really, really dark history.”

“Until we reckon with that, reconciliation is not possible, moving forward in a good way is not possible. Part of that is about the world seeing the true history of this country and by the world seeing it, I think that does put pressure on the country to then [take action]. Unfortunately, our own demands haven't seemed to be enough, but on the world stage that might make a difference.”