It was 30 years ago, October 18, 1990. Quebec got acquainted with a fiery young teacher named Émilie Bordeleau and her pupil, the dark Ovila Pronovost, immediately becoming fascinated by their fiery and torn loves. Three decades later, love at first sight with Caleb’s Daughters endures.
Readers first fell in love with the bestseller by writer Arlette Cousture, published in two volumes in 1985 (The rooster crowing) and in 1986 (The cry of the white goose), then adapted for the screen by author Fernand Dansereau and director Jean Beaudin.
The ambitious fresco, shot over almost two years in Mauricie (Saint-Jean-des-Piles) will have revealed a lot of talents, Marina Orsini (Émilie) and Roy Dupuis (Ovila) in the lead.
“It remains a series to which I am very attached, and of which I am extremely proud. The weeks when no one tells me about it are quite rare. Every time it comes back, people listen to it, ”says Marina Orsini in an interview.
“Caleb’s Daughters, you can watch it today, and think that it was shot not so long ago, compared to the quality of the sets, the costumes, the directing, the music, the script … C ‘is a series that ages extremely well. And that is not easy, for any project, ”adds the actress, who still had a bit of a job behind the tie (Lance and count, The frog and the whale) when she donned Émilie’s long dresses, at the invitation of Jean Beaudin, who had already directed her in Gold and paper.
A 190-day shoot, a series sold in some thirty countries around the world, a character embodied from the age of 18 to 60 (if we count his scenes in White, the continuation of Caleb’s daughters), a budget of around $ 900,000 per episode (shot in eight or nine days each, which is equivalent to double the series filmed today), a plot that has helped many immigrants discover the history of Quebec: Marina Orsini knows that she will not soon be reliving a project of the scale of Caleb’s daughters.
Sometimes he even bumps into people in their thirties, who once played his children when they were very young.
“We lived it intensively, and it was magical. We felt we were wearing something special, important. This character allowed me to dive into several areas, as an actress. From motherhood to mourning, to love, joy, grief, anger, disillusionment, disappointment … He was a magnificent character, a magnificent duet, a magnificent love story. People have recognized our history, their mothers and their grandmothers, our Canadian winters, ”relates the one who clearly understands the“ impossibility ”of the burning bond between Émilie and Ovila.
“It couldn’t have been easy to have a family of 12 or 18 children, with a father who had to leave for months, and only came back once or twice a year. That was life, too. And Ovila was a rebel, a beast of nature. It was a very difficult time ”, philosopher Marina Orsini.
“Dazzling” for Roy Dupuis
“It was on October 18, 1990 that my life changed. At all! It was quite violent, as a change ”, launches Roy Dupuis tit for tat, when he is reminded of the first broadcast date of the Caleb’s daughters.
The young actor was in his mid-twenties. He lived in the Saint-Louis square and was mainly known only by the theater community. He had only completed his gambling education a few years ago. His Ovila Pronovost quickly familiarized him with popular recognition.
“It was pretty obvious the day after the first episode, when I went to get my bread at the convenience store [Rires]. We had almost four million ratings; 80% of the population of Quebec listened to The Daughters of Caleb. It was dazzling. From there, I had to live differently … ”
However, the actor almost missed out on this crucial professional meeting. Then expected in Paris, by a French director who was going up High surveillance, by Jean Genêt, he was nevertheless convinced by Jean Beaudin to audition for the historical series.
“I read the scenes with Marina. I didn’t even take the time to learn the texts. Afterwards, Jean took me to see the technical development: the models, the costumes … I remember he said to me: “You can do theater anytime you want. Whereas, that. .. “”, says Roy.
A row of “for” and “against” later, the romance Émilie-Ovila took precedence over Genêt in the heart of Roy Dupuis.
“Just the writing was special. She had her music, her own language. Fernand Dansereau had done a remarkable job. And the story, the fact of leaving a character at 16 and taking him or her at 50 … When I read this story, I had the impression that we had already covered this period on TV – in The time of a peace, for example – but there was a violence, an intensity, a kind of cruelty that I had never seen elsewhere, in Caleb’s Daughters, that had never been told in this way. ”
Not to mention all the learning acquired alongside seasoned comrades, such as Marina Orsini, Germain Houde, Pierre Curzi, Véronique Le Flaguais, Johanne-Marie Tremblay and others, adds Roy Dupuis.
The adorable Jean Beaudin
Sadly, Jean Beaudin died in May 2019! was able to celebrate with his team the 30 years anniversary of Daughters of Caleb. But the memory of the filmmaker remains very present in the minds of his proteges. All interviewed for this report, Marina Orsini, Roy Dupuis, Véronique Le Flaguais, Nathalie Mallette and Jessica Barker have, even today, only tender words to share with regard to their mentor.
“Jean, I felt he loved me, remembers Roy Dupuis. It was evident. At one point, he grabbed me by the collar and said: “I’ve been waiting for an actor like you for 25 years!” It was one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received. ”
“During my hearing [pour le rôle de Berthe, NDLR], Jean said to me: “But where do you come from?”, Nathalie Mallette is moved. I will always remember it. It was really beautiful … He took my hand, led me into the hallway and shouted: “We found Berthe!” It was one of the most magical auditions I have had. ”
Same story with Jessica Barker.
“It was Jean Beaudin who created the whole universe of Daughters of Caleb. He had a vision. Every time we passed each other, he would take me in his arms and say: “We did great things together …” We could see that he was proud of his series, even 25 years later. I’m sure it lived in him until his death last year, ”the interpreter of little Charlotte was moved.
To date, the 20 episodes of Caleb’s daughters, broadcast in a row between October 1990 and February 1991, remains one of the greatest listening hits of all time on ICI Radio-Canada Télé, preceded by episodes of The little life where the bye Bye. At the height of its popularity, on January 31, 1991, the show was watched by 3,664,000 viewers, according to BBM notebooks at the time.
The best memories will remember that restaurants and supermarkets were often empty at the time, on Thursday evenings, when the entire province had its eyes riveted on the Bordeleau-Pronovost and their trâleaus of children, and that Bernard Derome was almost apologized on the air in January 1991 when he had to interrupt an episode of Caleb’s daughters for a special newsletter on the Gulf War.
They said …
Marina Orsini: “My son, Thomas, has never watched the series. Maybe he’s getting to an age where it might interest him. He has heard about it, he has seen pictures, photos, but he has never seen it before … ”
Nathalie Mallette: “Berthe was close to my nature. He was not a character of composition. She was a resigned character, unlike Emilie, who was flamboyant, who had desires for love and passion. Berthe locked herself in until she died. ”
Véronique Le Flaguais: “I had only done comedy, and I found it really weird that people think of me for the role of Félicitée [la mère d’Ovila, NDLR]. I never understood why I got it! [Rires] In the text, it was clear that she was a woman who hadn’t had it easy … I made her sweet, I saw her like that. ”
Jessica Barker: “I will never tire of talking about Daughters of Caleb. The nostalgia is so intense among Quebecers, they should put so much Caleb’s Daughters on TV right now … It’s such a show that hasn’t aged. Even in terms of the game and the pace, there was something magnificent. “