Luvia Petersen's powerful ‘Ghost Wars’ role

Luvia Petersen's powerful ‘Ghost Wars’ role

When we ask Luvia Petersen to reflect on where she's at in her career, she takes a long pause before describing a woman she’ll meet for the first time in two months: the slightly older version of herself (which seems a fitting response, given her previous role as a time-traveler on Continuum).

“I’m almost 40-years-old, and I’ve always been excited to meet that woman, and I’m about to meet her in April,” says Petersen over tea in Kitsilano. “She’s working on directing her own projects. She’s just finished another series as an actress. She’s planning life trips with her wife. She knows who she is much more, and knows that there’s so much more to understand.”

2017 was a year of full-throttle artistic expression for the Vancouver-based actress and director (who was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award in 2014 for her Continuum role), and in 2018, Canadians will finally be able to see where and how she expended the bulk of her energy.

First up: Ghost Wars. American audiences have already had a chance to consume the first season of the locally shot paranormal thriller which stars Avan Jogia as a young man in a small Alaska town who must harness his repressed psychic abilities to save everyone from a mass haunting. The Syfy series – from award-winning Vancouver showrunner Simon Barry (Continuum) – finally hits Netflix (in Canada and around the world) on March 2.

Besides Jogia, the Ghost Wars cast also boasts an impressive mix of out-of-town (Meat Loaf, Kim Coates, and Vincent D'Onofrio) and local (including Sharon C. Taylor, Kristin Lehman, Sonja Bennett, Ryan Robbins and Jesse Moss) talent.

Petersen portrays Val McGrath-Dufresne, mayor of Port Moore, the town besieged by (dun dun dun!) ghosts.

“What I admire about Val is that she’s incredibly pig-headed, and she’s right until she’s wrong, and even when she’s wrong, she was right,” laughs Petersen. “She doesn’t fucking apologize, because she’s running a town, and she doesn’t have room for apologies.” This might sound familiar to fans of Petersen’s ass-kicking, take-no-prisoners character on Continuum; Petersen sees the similarity. “She definitely has some Garza in her,” she says.

Petersen appreciates that Val’s relationship status – she’s married to Lehman’s character, Marilyn McGrath-Dufresne, the town’s doctor – isn’t a story point on Ghost Wars.

 Luvia Petersen and Kristin Lehman as Val and Marilyn on  Ghost Wars.  

Luvia Petersen and Kristin Lehman as Val and Marilyn on Ghost Wars. 

“Here’s what I love and I keep talking about, because it needs to be talked about, and because I’m excited: the fact that we are a couple, and we’re two women, and we have two kids, is not a plot line anywhere in the whole fucking season. It doesn’t matter. We’re just people with kids,” says Petersen. “That’s not to say that maybe, nine years ago when [the characters] were first having the kids, people had a problem, but those things have passed. We’re not still dealing with it, so we don’t need to look at it in the show. Isn’t that beautiful? It feels good. It feels right.”

Then there’s the joy that comes from working with iconic co-stars: Meat Loaf (“He texts me now every once in a while. I get text messages from Meat Loaf! What is my life? He wasn't at all what I expected. He’s an actor first, and every thing else that he’s done in his life has been a part that he’s played”); Coates (“He plays my brother, and he could be my brother in real life; we have so much in common”); and D’Onofrio (“Every time I do an audition, I go, ‘What would Vincent D’Onofrio do?’ Working with him was an acting class every time”).

“To say I’m a fan of everyone I worked with on that show is an understatement,” adds Petersen. 

Ghost Wars wasn't the only project Petersen worked on in 2017. There’s the still-to-air reboot of the groundbreaking 1990s animated series Reboot – Reboot: The Guardian Code – in which she plays an agent of the Department of Internet Security. In April, she co-directed and co-starred in a theatrical production of John Cariani’s Almost, Maine (“Theatre is terrifying because you don’t get second takes. That’s also what makes it exhilarating”), and once Ghost Wars wrapped, she directed Dog Bite, a short film penned by Ghost Wars writing team member Gemma Holdway.

Dog Bite follows a professional woman (portrayed by Petersen’s Continuum colleague Jennifer Spence) after a dog shatters her world with a bite to the face. 

 Luvia Petersen directing  Dog Bite . Jessie Robertson photo

Luvia Petersen directing Dog Bite. Jessie Robertson photo

Here’s Dog Bite’s tagline: “Boy loves girl. Girl loves boy. Dog bites girl's face and things get complicated.”

What the complication looks like is Spence’s character holed up in a fort in her living room built out of blankets and chairs and academic books. “Her feminist books are the pillars of this fort,” says Petersen. “She wants to control how people see her. Pre-bite, she could control the conversation, but once she’s bitten, she becomes extremely vulnerable, and people can see how she’s feeling on the inside.”

Which is why Petersen wanted Spence (who won Leo Awards for her work in Down River and Travelers) in the role: “She has a beautiful vulnerability that has a shell just on the outside that protects her, and it was really important that this character had that too,” says Petersen.

“This is a conversation about how women especially attach their self-worth to the way they look,” she adds. “I know I’ve done that, and whenever I talk to women about the themes in this movie, they always go, ‘Oh, yeah. Been there.’”

 Luvia Petersen on the set of  Dog Bite . Jessie Roberston photo

Luvia Petersen on the set of Dog Bite. Jessie Roberston photo

Dog Bite is currently in post-production and will soon embark on its film festival journey. Although Petersen is immersed in editing, she's already looking ahead to future directing projects.

“I want to tell the stories that reflect our times, and it is such an empowering time to be a human being,” says Petersen. “I want everyone to feel represented.”

Ghost Wars hits Netflix on March 2. YVR Screen Scene visited the Ghost Wars set in August 2017 and will have more from our visit in the coming weeks.

Follow @Luvia_Petersen, @GhostWarsTV, and @DogBiteMovie

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