By his own admission, former "Republic of Doyle'' star Allan Hawco is, in terms of casting, not exactly front-tier on "Frontier'' — and he wouldn't have it any other way.
The St. John's-based series about fur trappers and colonial clashes in ferocious, pre-confederation Canada returns to Discovery for a second season beginning Wednesday (production partner Netflix shows the series worldwide at a later date).
"It's mind-boggling that I get to be just an actor on this show,'' says Hawco, who was very much a hands-on writer, producer and star on "Doyle.'' He's soon to jump right back into multi-tasking on his upcoming CBC series "Caught'' (premiering next March).
Inspired by the joy of focusing wholly on performing, the 40-year-old felt he wanted to go back to school as an actor.
"You get caught up in patterns after playing the same character for several years.''
In fact, Hawco sought direction from series co-creator Brad Peyton to discover what makes his character tick. Douglas Brown is one of two Scottish brothers — the other, more aggressive sibling Malcolm is played by Michael Patrick — conniving to challenge the Hudson Bay Company in the lucrative fur trade.
"Brad sat me down at the start of season 1 and said, 'You're not in the right place for this guy,''' relates Hawco. "I had to dig a little deeper.''
Through six seasons as Jake Doyle, Hawco played a headstrong, devil-may-care action hero, leading with his fists. On "Frontier,'' his character is more the brains behind the brawn supplied by brother Malcolm.
"My character doesn't cross over into that barbarian world,'' says Hawco. "You may have noticed that, almost every scene I'm in, I'm standing next to a fireplace.''
The actor says, deep down, Brown is "insanely vulnerable which makes him really compelling to play.'' At the end of last season, he found himself in prison after being falsely accused of murder. As the series resumes, he's liberated by an unlikely source — Elizabeth Caruthers (played by Katie McGrath), the widow of his supposed victim.
The Irish actress is one of several formidable female performers who have raised the stakes on the series, says Hawco. "You just don't want to ever be seen as not standing on the forefront with them.''
They include Zoe Boyle ("Downton Abbey'') as manipulative power player Grace Emberly, and Jessica Matten ("Blackstone'') as Ojibwe warrior Sokanon.
As the acknowledged star of the series, Jason Momoa chews through the Canadian wilderness as indestructible outlaw Declan Harp. The 38-year-old actor remains completely committed to "Frontier'' despite big-budget feature successes as one of Marvel's mighty comic book superheroes, Aquaman (including next month's "Justice League'').
"Jason is a gentleman and an absolute artist at heart,'' says Peter Blackie, co-creator and showrunner along with brother Rob Blackie. ``For 'Frontier,' he has done things most people would never do; most people couldn't do.''
The former "Game of Thrones'' star, for example, would routinely do extended takes on snow and ice at the end of long, cold shooting days.
"He did them willingly and with exuberance,'' says Peter Blackie. "He goes way, way beyond and allows himself to become physically uncomfortable and seems to channel it for some of the tricky scenes we do in the wilderness.''
In one scene, crews cut a hole in the ice with a chainsaw _ in the dead of winter, in Newfoundland — so Momoa could dive in and submerge himself.
``He was insisting on doing that,'' says Hawco. ``That's real ice; that's real winter. He ran to one of our interior set locations afterwards just to show us a video of what he did.
"I would be home in a chicken noodle soup bath crying.''
"Frontier'' has already been renewed for a third six-episode season. In addition to winning its timeslot among all specialty channels, the scripted series has drawn more young males and a higher-than-average level of co-viewing to the channel.
Those viewers, however, should brace themselves for some surprising "Game of Thrones''-like departures this season.
"It's a harrowing world,'' says Rob Blackie. "Some beloved characters don't survive, but that's part of the world of 'Frontier.'''
— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.