Daniel Davis Yang on ‘Crawford,’ Mike Clattenburg, and baby raccoons
Daniel Davis Yang worked with a superstar showrunner and an impressive group of actors on Crawford, but his favourite colleagues weren’t human at all.
While the Vancouver actor – who plays the youngest member of a dysfunctional family on Crawford, CBC’s new comedy series from Mike Clattenburg (Trailer Park Boys) and co-creator Mike O’Neill – is full of praise for fellow actors John Carroll Lynch (Norm "Son-of-a-Gunderson" in Fargo), Jill Hennessy (Crossing Jordan), Kyle Mac, and Alice Moran, he positively gushes when he talks about his non-human co-stars.
“We had actual domesticated raccoons on set, and the cool part was we had baby raccoons, and over the course of filming, we got to play with them once every month,” says Yang in a recent phone interview. “You’d get to watch them grow from really little babies, the size of your palm, and then by the end, in June of last year, they were the size of little puppies.”
They crawled up Yang’s shirt. They nestled in his lap. They were surprisingly muscular (“There was one baby raccoon, he was built like a tank," recalls Yang. "You’d pick him up and it was like he was bench-pressing every day"), and their fur felt dry and thin. Their claws were sharp and sometimes they'd poke him in his side, but he didn’t care. The entire cast was besotted.
Except for the one adult raccoon. The adult raccoon was a bit of a diva. “We always made sure not to go too near or provoke it or trigger it in any way,” says Yang, gravely.
The Crawford raccoons weren’t set-dec or cuddly embellishments; they’re actually central to the conceit of the series – but this is a spoiler-free zone, so you’ll have to stream Crawford to find out what role they play.
But we can tell you that the 12-episode series hit CBC’s online player and app today (February 2). Mac stars as Don, a musician who returns to the family home on Crawford Street after he burns out on the road. It's a house of well-entrenched dysfunction: patriarch Owen (a former police chief who lost the ability to speak when he was shot in the head and now communicates using a voice app) is weirding everybody out with his claims that he can hear something in the walls. This is causing extra stress for Owen's wife, Cynthia, a master multi-tasker juggling family obligations, her work as a high-powered cereal exec, and her polyamorous relationships.
Then there’s Brian (that’s Yang), the adopted brother, who’s so upset about his thinning hair that he’s acting out in bizarre ways; and bio sister Wendy, whose “bad boy” boyfriend is causing all kinds of strife within the family.
Oh, and someone’s bending all of the street signs at night.
Crawford is an antidote for the despair in the zeitgeist: quirky, charming, unexpected, funny, and weird in a totally relatable way. The characters, while odd, are likeable. And have we mentioned the baby raccoons?
“Crawford is about how dysfunctional families can somehow learn to function, and what I love about the show is that it’s so different,” says Yang. “You’ll see things you don’t see in most shows, and I feel like that’s kind of what Mike [Clattenburg] wanted. He wanted to make the oddest thing possible, but at the same time, funny. You can understand and laugh with these people.”
For Yang – whose first time on set ever was only a couple of years ago, when he played Dilton Doiley in the pilot episode of Riverdale – the experience of Crawford was exhilarating, and not just because of the raccoons, or the fact that he had to have part of his head shaved for Brian’s bald spot: Clattenburg kept the actors on their toes.
“There was a change [to the script] every day,” marvels Yang. “You walk onto set, and you’re like, ‘Okay, I got this!’ And then Mike has seven pages to re-do and you’re just scrambling, but it was a great lesson in learning to learn lines.”
The changes were almost always about upping the funny, says Yang, and inevitably did the trick. Adds Yang: “Sometimes you just don’t understand what’s happening, but at the same time you know that Mike has vision, and that’s why you love working with great directors: they know what they want, and they’re willing to explain or just ask for your trust to realize their vision.”
Yang is still relatively new to the biz, but he has a clear idea about the kind of roles he wants to play moving forward, namely roles (like his Crawford character) “that you never see. I like to identify myself as a person before I’m an Asian actor, and if I were a bird choosing a cage, I’d like to choose the biggest cage possible.”