Detective Work: Interview with Motive's Brendan Penny

By , Contributor

Bell Media/CTV/ABC

Brendan Penny as Motive's Detective Brian Lucas

There are some people who from childhood know what they want to be when they grow up, while others are what you might call “late bloomers” when it comes to deciding on a career path. Actor Brendan Penny freely admits to being one of the latter.

“I didn’t really have any specific aspirations when I was younger. I just enjoyed hanging out with my friends and stuff like that. In fact, I didn’t even take my first acting class until I was 23, and I was bad, really bad, like stinky-bad,” recalls Penny with a laugh. “When I was in high school and first started acting, I thought I might end up becoming the next big TV sitcom star, but it has actually turned out to be quite the opposite. I’ve done comedy and was even a lead in a sitcom [The Assistants], but most of my roles have been in heavy dramatic stuff.

“So I kind of fell into the profession, but as soon as I began to seriously pursue it I became quite passionate about it and then all my focus turned to acting."

Penny’s current gig definitely leans towards the more dramatic, but with the occasional bit of levity. He plays Detective Brian Lucas in the CTV police procedural drama Motive. It was not only the role but the story itself that immediately won him over.

“As an actor, you read plenty of scripts, but in this case I wanted to turn every page, which is a really good sign,” he says. “So the whole thing just grabbed me and I really liked the character. I’d never played anyone quite as innocent and, I guess, so eager to please, you might say. I thought it would be fun to ‘attack’ a character in such a way. Lucas was initially written as more comical, but changes were made as things went along, which is often the case. I still definitely find some comedic beats with the character and I love that.

“I auditioned for the role and had probably around four callbacks before I finally got the go-ahead to play Lucas.”

Unlike other modern-day TV police dramas, Motive gives the viewer a look at the victim as well as the murderer and shows how circumstances brought them together. It is then up to Detective Angie Flynn (Kristin Lehman) and her team, which Brian Lucas is a part of, to put the pieces together and catch the killer. In the show’s opener, "Creeping Tom," a popular karaoke-singing high school teacher (played by singer/songwriter/actor Joey McIntyre) is found murdered in his bedroom and the finger of guilt points to a serial killer. Being his character’s first time on the job, Penny was eager to start shooting.

“My first day of work on Motive was a night shoot, so my call time was around two in the morning, which was fine because I don’t think I’d have slept too well the night before anyway seeing that I was so excited about getting on-set,” says the actor. “The first scene I shot was a small one, and it was the scene in the kitchen. I had this pretty cute line that I really liked where Angie asked Brian if he can feel a woman’s pain, and my character’s response was quite amusing.

“I had worked before with Tyler Johnson, the actor who plays the killer in this episode, on another Canadian TV show called Flashpoint. He played my little brother and our two characters were kind of these troubled white supremacists, if you can imagine that being possible. It was really cool to work with Tyler again; he’s a very talented actor and a good friend. Joey McIntyre is a great guy, too, and easy to be around. So my first time on Motive was a thrilling and memorable experience for me.”

Like most police teams, all the officers working with Angie Flynn have a special skill or make a unique contribution to their investigative work, including Detective Lucas. His particular expertise is one that has taken Penny a bit of getting used to.

“To be honest, the biggest challenge for me with this role is one that has never been a problem for me before, and that is, Brian spouts off a great deal of technical dialogue,” he notes. “I’ve played a number of troubled characters in the past, so the dialogue always comes quite easily to me, but the technical stuff was difficult to wrap my head around in the beginning.

“Other than the techno-talk, I would describe Lucas as being this very straight and narrow guy. There’s good, there’s bad, and not much in-between. He doesn’t really judge people, but rather just lives his life in that way. I like to think of him being kind of like a Golden Retriever puppy, very eager to please and always there for you. Brian does a lot of research for Angie and Detective Oscar Vega [Louis Ferreira], and as the first season of Motive unfolds, you see him develop more and more as he gets out in the field and he gains a greater confidence with being a detective.

“That’s especially apparent when you compare, for instance, his first interrogation, which falls apart, to near the end of the season where he appears far more secure in his job. I really like doing the interrogation scenes, including that first one that went wrong. My character thinks he’s finally getting the respect that he deserves and that he's going to be in charge of this, but, ultimately Lucas just ends up being played. I had such a good time playing the up-and-down roller coaster ride of that little scene.”

How would the actor describe Lucas’ relationships with the show’s other main characters?

“His background is nine years in financial crimes and, again, he’s very much a computer database researching type of guy,” says Penny. “So I think he has the utmost respect for Angie and Vega because their job is extremely difficult and they do it so well. He does have a different relationship, however, with all three of them, including Dr. Rogers, who is played by Lauren Holly. She’s quite sexy and Brian is bashful and therefore isn’t too comfortable being around someone who’s that flamboyant with their sex appeal. With Angie, he considers her to be the utmost professional and, like I said, he respects her and learns a lot from her. The same is true with Lucas and Vega, although that relationship is not as close as his and Angie’s relationship. Vega tends to poke fun at him a bit and isn’t as understanding insofar as Lucas’ ways, but there’s that strong respect and Brian aims to please where Vega is concerned.”

Prior to Motive, Penny booked small roles in a couple of TV shows as well as the 2006 feature film John Tucker Must Die. His big break came that same year when he was cast as series regular A.J. Varland in the Canadian TV drama Whistler. “I played a young rich kid who had everything and then ends up becoming a crystal meth addict,” explains Penny. “His life then starts to fall apart and the season finale ends with him committing suicide.

“I hold no job higher than that one. It was the greatest experience I’ve ever had and it taught me so much as far as working consistently almost every day on a set and being around all these incredibly talented actors. I grew so much and loved every minute of it.”

Besides Motive, Penny can also currently be seen in a new web series called The Runner. He plays Josh Rundell, a social activist vlogger who uses his parkour and skateboarding expertise to evade capture by the police while trying to prove he is innocent of murder.

“If you’re between the ages of 14 and 20 and really into parkour and skateboarding, you’re really going to like The Runner,” enthuses the actor. “I had fun shooting that and I got to do a number of the stunts. I’m always keen on pushing myself to the physical limit and doing as much of the physical stuff as possible, but if it’s something really dangerous, then I’m not allowed to do it.

“I just finished a movie with Trace Adkins called The Virginian and I’m new to riding horses, so there was a lot of the horseback riding that was beyond me at the time. However, thanks to plenty of hard work with the movie’s stunt coordinator, I actually ended up doing pretty well. That was definitely one of those jobs where I had a quick learning curve, but I had a blast.”

Please note, all Motive photos courtesy/copyright of Bell Media/CTV/ABC.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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