Are you ready for Breaking Mennonite?
Based on actual events, the new scripted WGN America series Pure, debuting Wednesday night, tells the story of a Mennonite pastor who gets sucked into the drug-smuggling activities of a small group of Mennonites, seeking to protect his family and his community.
WGN is airing the first season of Pure, which was broadcast on CBC in Canada, then on Hulu in the U.S. WGN and Canada's SuperChannel joined to produce a second season, which WGN will air sometime later this year.
At the heart of Pure is recently chosen pastor Noah Funk, loving husband to Anna and father to two teenagers. With the aid of a local policeman, he hopes to rid his community of the scourge of drugs and a small but deadly Mennonite mob's tie to Mexican drug cartels.
Playing Noah is Canadian actor Ryan Robbins. Ryan is a familiar face on U.S. TV, co-starring in shows such as Falling Skies, Sanctuary, and Arrow. He's also co-starring as Reagan Youth in the new Syfy series Deadly Class.
Calling from his home in a small town in the British Columbia mountains, Ryan talked about his earnest but naive character, the Mennonites and the viewer reaction to his series.
How did you get involved with “Pure”?
Through the audition process. It was kind of a first. I put myself on tape and expected to have to do the usual take once, take twice, meet with a couple of people. I got the call quite a while later, to work out the deal with getting the job.
The next thing I knew, I was flying around doing chemistry reads to find the actress to play Anna, my [character's] wife.
How familiar were you with Mennonites before you did the series?
To be honest, I wasn't very familiar. The common misconception is that when you say Mennonite, people assume Amish. That just seems to be in our minds. It's what we've seen on TV and in films.
That obviously became my first assumption until I did the research and realized the very significant differences. I became really fascinated by the whole Anabaptist movement, and the lifestyle, that very simple off-grid lifestyle that many Mennonite communities practice.
Is there really a Mennonite Mob?
Our show is based on true events. To be clear, it's a very, very small group of Mennonites. We don't want people to assume Mennonites are bad people. Like all cultures, like all religions, no one is completely pure, no pun intended. There's always a rotten apple.
In Mexico, there were some Canadian Mennonites who were caught smuggling drugs, and it turns out it was a lot bigger deal than originally thought. The Mennonite mob was how they were referred to.
Your character, Noah Funk, does what he does to protect his family and his community from the mob. But he just keeps getting in deeper, doesn't he?
Yup. You know, best-laid plans and all. Obviously, his intentions are true. He really does think that if he can just eradicate this seeming disease of drug culture, that he can get everything back on track and bring his community back to the truth and back to God, and in the meantime protect his family from this group of evil men.
Of course, it's not as easy as he thinks. There's some naivety there, obviously. It's completely out of his wheelhouse. It's not something he's ever thought about or conceived of. And how here he is, thrust into this life he knows nothing about. It's a unique perspective to see someone like Noah caught up in that world.
His help comes in the form of the cop Bronco Novak. Bronco's pretty much Noah's moral opposite, isn't he?
Absolutely. They have history. In a lot of Mennonite communities, the kids still have to go to school. So they go to regular Auslander [outsider] schools. So Bronco and Noah have a history in school. Bronco was the obnoxious jock and Noah was the quiet Mennonite commuter.
How would you describe Noah's relationship with his wife, Anna?
They have a wonderful relationship. It's a relationship based on faith and family. They are devoted to one another; they are devoted to their children, devoted to their community. It's a relationship based on devotion and partnership. That is tested immensely in the show.
What can viewers expect as the season progresses?
Madness. They can just expect things to spiral. It just gets more intriguing, more intense, more interesting, all the “I” words. Moving forward, you feel like you're on the same roller coaster that Noah is. It's a fun ride, an interesting ride.
I'm really proud of the show because people get very invested in our show. People get invested in our characters, and they get emotionally attached to them. And that's the highest compliment that a show can get, for people to be so emotionally invested in the story.
How did working on a CBC series compare with the U.S. series you've worked on?
When we were working with the CBC, they were relatively hands-off. I'm not sure they even knew what they had on their hands. They sort of let us do our own thing. There was a lot of support early on.
Now, to be in this situation with WGN America, it's apples and oranges. The support, the outreach, the promotion have been incredible. I've never been happier with a show. The way WGN treats the show and treats us, I have no doubt they are fans of our show and supporters of us.
The biggest thing is just the reach, being able to bring the show to more viewers, to be able to promote the show in a bigger, better, bolder way, that's been massive. They've held nothing back in the support of our show, and I'm immensely grateful.
The second season of Pure has already been filmed, right?
Yes. It's bigger, badder, better, bolder than the first season. I can't wait for people to see the second season. I want people to become invested in the first season and if you've seen the first season, to revisit it and refresh your minds and your hearts and prepare for the second season to follow.
Hopefully, we get to do many more. I'm certainly not ready to say goodbye to these characters. I love this show. It's one of the proudest moments of my career, and I want to do it as long as possible.
Pure Season 1 Episode 1 debuts at 10/9c Wednesday, Jan. 23, on WGN America.
Dale McGarrigle is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.