Poster: Mr. Television
(see this users gallery)
Carlye Malchuk, Canadian Press
Published: Thursday, September 07, 2006
(CP) - For 12 hours a day, Ashley Leggat and Michael Seater play teenage step-siblings battling for supremacy in a newly merged household.
But when the cameras are off, the two say they get along famously.
"We're pretty much best friends," said Leggat, 19, during a break on the set of "Life with Derek."
The show is a family sitcom that revolves around 15-year-old Casey MacDonald (Leggat) and Derek Venturi (Seater) as they fight to rule the roost after Casey's mom Nora (Joy Tanner) and Derek's dad George (John Ralston) get married and move in together.
Casey is a serious student and very used to getting what she wants until she comes up against Derek, a savvy prankster who can charm his way through anything.
"Whenever we're angry with each other (in real life) we just save it until we're on set," said Leggat. "We hate each other as Casey and Derek and then we're happy again as Michael and Ashley."
The second season of the show is about to begin on Family Channel, and the cast and crew are in the process of filming the third and fourth seasons.
The first season was shot in Corner Brook, N.L., but production has since moved to an old warehouse in Toronto where the set was rebuilt.
Most of the action on "Life With Derek" takes place in the main areas of the Venturi-MacDonald household, especially around the dining room table.
On this day the cast is filming 10 different scenes for two episodes in Season 3.
After a breakfast scene is shot with Nora and the kids, the table is quickly re-set for a family debate scene that six-year-old Marti (Ariel Waller) will mediate.
"Typically you might do one season a year and we're doing three in one year," said Seater, 19.
He explained that "from Season 1 to Season 2 the kids got quite a bit older really fast," so there's a need to move as quickly as possible.
Jordan Todosey, 11, who plays Casey's sister Lizzie MacDonald and Daniel Magder, 14, Derek's sibling Edwin Venturi, along with eight-year-old Waller - who worked with Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger in "Cinderella Man" - round out the show's cast.
Doing the show is "really cool," said Todosey on a five-minute break in her green room.
"Off set we do a lot of fun stuff, it's like (the actors are) almost like a family, it's so much fun."
Show creator Daphne Ballon echoed that sentiment.
"(The actors) really enjoy each other and we're so lucky that way."
On set, cast members hang out between takes, sometimes playing with Seater's cairn terrier Angus, whose occasional need to bark has been known to interrupt takes.
"He tends to do that time and time again," said Seater, after Angus could be heard from the studio below. "He went to doggy day care for a couple weeks to calm down."
Of the show's basic plot line, Ballon said her main intention was to have a series with a multi-kid family.
"So many TV shows are about two kids and I grew up in a family of five kids ... and it was really fun, it was like a team," she said.
"I made it a merged family because that was more ... true to the times."
Ballon's formula seems to be working.
According to the production company Shaftesbury Films, "Life With Derek" was the highest-rated series premiere ever on Family Channel, and is shown in 69 countries worldwide.
The show was also recently ranked sixth in the top 10 list of Disney Channel shows (where it airs in the U.S.) and is the only show on the list that isn't made by Disney.
Both Leggat and Seater say they're often recognized by kids on the street, many of whom are astonished the two are getting along.
"We've done other kids shows and stuff but I guess the fact that it's on Family Channel and it's on Disney Channel really puts it to a different level as far as the kids go," said Seater.
When they're not undermining each other's attempts to be head of the household on set, Leggat takes online courses through Athabasca University or heads home to Hamilton, Ont., to visit with family and friends.
Seater said he hopes to one day attend film school for directing, but for now is taking every chance he gets to learn on set.
He has written a script with his brother Graham for the show's fourth season.
"I've done stuff on my own, but nothing that's ever been produced so it's really awesome to have this chance," he said.
For now both he and Leggat say they're happy to continue on "Life With Derek" as long as they can.
"The show gets tighter and tighter as it goes on," said Seater. "We just found our niche so Season 2 ... we get into more who (the family members) are."
"It's like second nature to us now - pretty much like our characters are us in a weird way because we're doing it so often," Leggat said.
Season 2 of Life with Derek begins Friday on the Family Channel.
© The Canadian Press 2006