The cast and creators of Coroner S3 tell us about their favourite props

Behind the Screen 12 April 2021

Morwyn Brebner, Adrianne Mitchell and Serinda Swan take us inside the Coroner S3 morgue to chat about fake bodies and amazing cases

The cast and creators of Coroner S3 tell us about their favourite props

We’re a little over the halfway mark in the latest season of the drama series Coroner on Universal TV (DStv channel 117), based on the Jenny Cooper series of novels by M.R. Hall, which centres on Toronto-based coroner Jenny Cooper (Serinda Swan). So it’s time to do a little investigating of our own about 1 of our favourite aspects of the show – their incredibly realistic prop corpses. We asked Serinda and Coroner’s executive producers, Morwyn Brebner and Adrianne Mitchell, to tell us bit more about props, fake brains, corpse goop and… did somebody say tapeworms?

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Living with death

Adrienne: We are in the world of make believe, but what does start to feel normal, which is strange, is gross things (laughs). The autopsies and the mystery of the body and how Morwyn and the team come up with all sorts of terribly grotesque aspects of how the body is a clue to things, whether it be strange things embedded in organs or what. We've become desensitised to the gore factor of things. It's also really fascinating to explore what the body can reveal about a death, how complex it is, and how for the coroner it's the main place she gets all her clues. I had a hard time watching hospital shows before doing this series, but now I'm fine, show me a tapeworm squiggling out of a body and I'm fine, I'm fine with that.

Morwyn: You were grossed out by that!

Adrienne: This is in S3. I tried not to see too much of that before lunch, but yeah.

Morwyn: I feel the same. We're making up fake deaths. But what I do feel sometimes is that I'm on set and we're pulling a piece of glass out of a prosthetic that looks real and I'm like, "That's amazing!" and then I'm like, "Wait a minute…" You get caught up in the excitement of the thing you are creating, but sometimes it'll hit you in the research you're watching or in the newspaper, all I will look for is crimes, crimes, crimes. And then you start seeing the world through that lens and you have to check yourself and be like, "Oh, this is real." Death is not abstract and I think you have to bring yourself back to the truth of it. It is a really interesting place to live. Sometimes I’ve been in the room with a consultant when we were talking about a particularly gruesome death and suddenly a heaviness comes over you and you have to take a break. But it's an interesting place to live on that line where you're thinking about death a lot. We try to be respectful of the truth of death. We try to find the humour in parts of it.

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Keeping the research team busy

Serinda: They make sure that it's as authentic as possible – we always have a pathologist on set with us – and they always consult the pathologist as they're writing the scripts and building the sets.

Adrienne: Oh, to be a fly on the wall when we're talking to our pathologist! It's quite funny because the writers will come at the pathologist with the most impossible scenarios and (you think) that would never happen, and then the 2 of them together come up with something that actually could happen. It's the wild imagination asking could THIS happen to a body, could THAT?

Morwyn: When we (as writers) get a yes (from our pathologist) we know to get out. Get out if you get a yes. "Is it possible if we found this body like this, that there could be like this and there's something weird inside their organs?” And it goes from “No! No, No, to hmm, I guess…” and I go “Yes! That's a yes! (Morwyn and Adrienne laugh) We're going to do this, We're going to do this crazy thing.” It's wonderful because you're exploring the mysteries of the human body. And we have so much respect for pathologists because they really do see everything. The crazy thing, too, is you'll ask, “Could this thing (outlandish thing) happen?' and they'll say, “Yeah, that's totally happened.” And you're like, “I thought we were just making up this crazy thing.” And we go into different worlds this season. We have a crazy story set in the world of cryogenics – which is freezing people – which is really fascinating. We're going from the body farm, to cryogenics, to stories that are much smaller and more personal.

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The bodies in question

Which of the autopsy dummies did you find the most eye-catching this season?

Serinda: This season there's 1 that revolves around a brain. After seeing a real autopsy and watching how they remove the brain, I was wondering how much of that we'd be able to show on television. And we go there! We really go there, which is so amazing. There's this thing where to access the skull they have to pull down (Serinda mimes pulling the facial skin downwards). And I thought, "They're not going to be able to have that!" But we do. It's so intricate. I am fascinated by it. I follow medical Instagram accounts that show everything – from inside the body, to muscles, to all those sorts of things. So I'm always like, "Ah! I get to do it!" The inside (of the autopsy prop corpse brains) is always filled with, I think the last one was oatmeal, bananas and chopped up raisins, which I was like, "Delicious!" (Serinda laughs). All the things were usually edible, which makes it a little bit more creepy. It's really fun, but the brain one was by far the most intriguing to me because of the way they did it. We have a case that revolves around carbon monoxide poisoning on the show and it actually creates a cherry pink discolouration of the lungs and the organs and so all of the prosthetics were that colour and I was like, “Is this accurate?” And she's (the pathologist) like, “Yeah?” So we were talking all about it, and it is so intriguing to be able to learn about the body vicariously through my job. Sometimes it's a little gross, like when they bring the live maggots, that's a little tough for me. But apart from that it's like school for the body.

How do you feel about acting around the prop corpses?

Serinda: I love it, I absolutely love it. It's so weird, but actually what's crazy is we live inside our bodies for however long we get gifted on this planet, and yet we don’t ever really understand or know what's going on on the inside. I saw lungs for the first time, it was like, "That's what a lung looks like!?" Or you'll pull out something and ask, "What's this thing?" and they'll say, "That's a spleen" and I'm like, "What about this? "That's a gallbladder". Wowwwwww! It's right here! It's inside. I have one. I can say that I have a coffee machine and you know what a coffee machine looks like. We all have an idea of what it looks like, how it works, what you put in it, what comes out of it, all these things. But if I was like, “I have a gallbladder,” and you said, “Draw me a picture of a gallbladder, tell me how it works,” I would be (tight-lipped evasiveness) "mmhmm! Sure, is that the kidney bean-shaped one?" Now because of the show I obviously know these things, but it's so bizarre to me that I know more about material objects than I do about my own body. So when I get to work with these fake cadavers, our pathologist on set laughs so hard, because I am so excited.

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Ready, set?

And to bust a certain rumour about the Coroner set being haunted, well, it’s not a real morgue, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t stories.

Serinda: You know those bug zappers that work with electricity? We put 1 of them on set and every once in a while, it will kill a fly and it makes this zapping noise and so we always hear it and then we see a little bug fall down. Often it will happen and there's no bugs around. We all kind of look at each other and go, "Okay, cool. I’m sure it's just a small fly that we didn't see.” But yeah, every once in a while, there are some odds things that happen, like things get moved. But it's the bug zapper that tends to get us (Serina mimics an overly cheery demeanour of someone trying to ignore an elephant in the room).

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Watch Coroner S3 Mondays on Universal TV (DStv channel 117) at 20:00 and on Catch Up

Universal TV (DStv channel 117) is available on DStv Premium, Compact Plus, Compact and Family. To upgrade your package or to get DStv, click here.

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