In The Mix

National Treasure

An actor finds long-term work and a global following in a show Canadians revere.

Jon Matsumoto
  • Yannick Bisson in Murdoch Mysteries

    Courtesy Acorn TV

By the time Yannick Bisson was in his mid-30s, he had already been acting for more than 20 years.

Starting out in commercials as a teen, he moved on to dramatic acting, mainly working in television in his native Canada.

By the time he was married and had three young daughters, however, Bisson was seriously considering a career change. He enjoyed restoring and flipping houses and was looking at a full-time commitment.

But he put that plan on hold when he accepted the lead role of detective William Murdoch in the whodunit series Murdoch Mysteries, which debuted in Canada in 2008.

"I really liked the writing and the premise," Bisson recalls. "But it was also a Victorian-era show set in Toronto. At the time, there were no period shows in Canada. There were barely shows filming in Canada because it was post-SARS [epidemic]. I didn't expect more than two or three years from the show."

Some 10 years later, Murdoch Mysteries — based on novels by Maureen Jennings — is a beloved Canadian television institution, and Bisson is a national celebrity. The 11th season of the CBC series is now available on Acorn TV in the U.S.

The show's appeal crosses generations, Bisson says, with storylines that incorporate real events like the Great Fire of 1904 and real-life figures including Queen Victoria, Thomas Edison and horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a huge fan of the series, once had a cameo role.

Contrary to his own easygoing and affable ways, Bisson presents Murdoch as proper and understated. The Montreal-born, Toronto-based actor believes the super sleuth reflects Victorian Canada under the British Empire.

"People were trying to be seen as civilized, not just as a colony," he observes. "They wanted to be decent and to dress and speak a certain way. Maybe they were overcompensating."

Bisson is proud of Murdoch's international following: it airs in about 110 countries, including Japan and Iran. "The show has been seen around the world for many years," he says. "We really have captured lightning in a bottle."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 4, 2018