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Long-running CBC series Heartland introduces new faces for Season 15

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It’s a testament to the gentle leanings of CBC’s Heartland that the character of Katie does not seem to endure a lot of coming-of-age melodrama in her life.

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The young teen, who is now played by 13-year-old Calgary actress Baye McPherson, is not completely without strife in the first couple of episodes of the show’s 15th season. But the conflict is pretty benign. She spends the early goings of the season trying to convince her mom Lou (Michelle Morgan), that she and her bestie Parker (played by Ava Tran, a newcomer to the cast in Season 14) are responsible enough to be babysitters. In fact, the two seem rather obsessed with proving this to Katie’s stubborn mother.

“Katie is very, very kind and loves her family a lot, like all Heartland characters,” says McPherson. “I think she can be a little feisty. She takes after Lou in that way. But I think she is really loyal and will do just about anything for her family.”

Beyond her adventures in babysitting, Season 15 will also have Katie and Parker getting into a few other youthful escapades, although McPherson doesn’t want to give spoilers. There might be a bit of conflict between the two best friends at some point. Other than that, the season will feature some nice mother-daughter time between Katie and Lou.

Her character is not new to Heartland fans. But McPherson is a new face on the series, replacing Ziya Matheson in the role this year. McPherson has acted in short films and school plays and danced for Decidedly Jazz Dance Works and Alberta Dance Theatre, but Heartland marks her first major role on television. Luckily, acting runs in the family. McPherson is the daughter of Calgary-based actress Anne Hawthorne. Her older sister, Saylor, is also an actress.

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McPherson first became interested in acting when her mother organized some acting classes. Since then, she has studied the craft in Vancouver and Los Angeles. But on her first, nerve-racking day on the Heartland set in High River this summer, McPherson says she was most grateful for the hands-on help she received from her family.

“It was very, very nice to have my mom with me,” she says. “My sister was always helping me with lines and my mom was too and always reminding me to work on my backstory. They were super helpful. It would have been a much more stressful time without them.”

The family ties are a nice touch for such a family-friendly series. McPherson admits she didn’t know much about Heartland until she landed the audition and began to do her homework. But she is part of a tradition for the Sunday-night family favourite. Most seasons find the writers and producers introducing a few new faces. The sudden and dramatic departure of main character Ty Borden (played by Graham Wardle), who died at the beginning of Season 14, was certainly a game-changer for the series. But, for the most part, Heartland’s main cast of Morgan, Amber Marshall as her sister Amy Fleming, Shaun Johnston as their grandfather Jack Bartlett, and Chris Potter as their father Tim has remained steady since Season 1. There have been some well-known actors passing through the ranks as recurring characters over the years, including a pre-Orphan Black Tatiana Maslany as Amy’s romantic rival for Ty and a pre-Arrow Stephen Amell as a polo player. But as the show’s young protagonists aged, Heartland’s producers and writers have also been careful to introduce more permanent young characters to help keep their younger viewers engaged. That has included Georgie (Alisha Newton), who became a main character after arriving as a precocious 12-year-old orphan back in Season 6. Ava Tran’s Parker was introduced in Season 14 as a brainy pre-teen who added some comic relief to an otherwise unusually dark, grief-filled season.

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Actor Drew Davis plays Logan in Season 15 of Heartland. Courtesy, Heartland Season 15.
Actor Drew Davis plays Logan in Season 15 of Heartland. Courtesy, Heartland Season 15. Photo by Photo Credit: Shaun Robinson /Shaun Robinson

But one of the most reliable ways Heartland has introduced new characters is through kindly probation officer Clint Riley, played by veteran Calgary character actor Greg Lawson. Riley has been a recurring presence on the Bartlett homestead since Day 1, when he brought a troubled Ty to the ranch to meet Grandpa Jack, Amy and Lou. Since then, he has also introduced the troubled Badger (Jack Knight) and the troubled Luke (Lucian-River Chauhan) to the family for similar reform in Seasons 2 and 12, respectively.

In Season 15, Clint returns with a troubled new charge named Logan, played by 17-year-old Drew Davis. Unlike Katie, Logan has some serious teenage baggage to deal with and a character arc that isn’t dissimilar to Badger and Luke’s.

“I don’t want to spoil too much because there is a lot of mystery to the character and how Logan progresses,” says Davis, in an interview from his home near Toronto. “Logan is part of the group home that comes to the ranch and there are a bunch of challenges and mystery throughout the town at that time. He starts to take a liking to horses and, throughout his storyline, there’s this natural tug of whether he’s going to be staying or leaving. His father is in prison, so there’s this constant pull between him feeling ostracized from this new way of life that he is experiencing on the ranch and where he was before.”

Davis comes to Heartland with quite a bit of experience on television in both live-action and voice-over roles, making his debut at the age of five on Rookie Blue before landing stints on the children’s musical Big Top Academy, the tween sci-fi comedy Annedroids and a recurring role on Orphan Black. As with McPherson, acting is a family business for Davis. His younger sister Millie is also a busy actress with credits that include Orphan Black (she and her brother played siblings) and the Odd Squad. Their father, Wayne Davis, is an actor who has starred in The Handmaid’s Tale among other titles. He also runs the CharActors Theatre Troupe with their mother Megan, a summer camp that teaches children and teens performing arts in Thornhill, Ont.

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Like McPherson, Davis did not know much about Heartland before landing the audition. But after spending the summer on set, he has some theories about its enduring appeal.

“Everybody can watch it and has some character they can relate to, or a relationship they find interesting within the show,” he says. “I think it’s a nice escape. You have people who live the life on the ranch and the sort of life that Heartland depicts and they enjoy it because they can relate to it. You also have the people, similar to me, that this is very far from anything they have ever experienced. It’s very interesting to see a completely different way of life.”

Heartland airs Sundays on CBC.

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