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Greetings from Vancouver: Battling the rain for a marathon session of TV set visits

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Storybrooke
ABC

Move over, Hollywood, the much chillier Vancouver, Canada, has become a hot shooting spot, thanks to its tax breaks and unique ability to stand in for everything from sleepy Maine towns to superhero metropolises (even if its outdoor locales prove tricky in keeping secrets from fans). I suited up for a whopping eight set visits in four days to find out what makes Vancouver and the actors who call it their (temporary) home so special. (Feel free to play a drinking game with the words “rain” and “cold.” I dare you.)

The homeless 100

Much like the Mountain Men were doing to distrusting survivor Clarke (Eliza Taylor), The 100 is trying to keep its season 2 secrets intact—which is why I’m shunted off to one of Mount Weather’s claustrophobic alcoves on a rainy Monday morning. While I don’t get to see what scenes they’re filming inside the District 13-like underground bunker (requisite Hunger Games reference!) I’ve scored access to Mount Weather’s restricted Level 7 (less requisite Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. reference!) which houses a veritable gold mine of our cultural history, a la Indiana Jones’ cavernous warehouse. Last year, The 100‘s creative team was tasked with fake-preserving humanity, choosing the works of various artists—including Renoir, Degas and Van Gogh, whose Starry Night was inside Clarke’s white room cell—as representations of what the Mountain Men would choose to protect ahead of the apocalypse. As a stark contrast to the beauty lining the walls, star Marie Avgeropoulos looks like she’s just been pummeled within an inch of her life. Appearing more and more like a Grounder than one of The 100 (though the group is more like 48 these days), the actress sports two black eyes, a cut lip and more bruises than I can count—a regular occurrence for the young 100 actors. “It doesn’t look normal if you forget to wash some of it off and you go to get gas after work,” she says. “They’re like, ‘Are you OK? Are you homeless? Are you hungry?’ It happens all the time.” On the plus side, the gang isn’t filming outside today—though Avgeropoulos calls the forest their “best office ever.” “Yes, it is freezing cold and muddy, but it really puts you in character,” Taylor adds.

Freezing with The Flash

On the flip side, The Flash cast has not yet gotten used to the cold. It’s about 2 p.m. when I arrive on set and the topic of every conversation seems to be about how damn chilly it is. (Glad it isn’t just me.) A longer-than-usual summer has taken a turn, and it’s now raining. Constantly. I’m hanging out in the Central City police precinct with a monolithic Justice League mural looming in the background when star Danielle Panabaker shares her secret to surviving frigid shoots: mini heating pads called HotShotz and an abundance of clothes. “It’s almost comical how many layers I’ve been able to put on before I actually put on my wardrobe.” After a quick workout on Barry Allen’s cosmic treadmill, I grill Grant Gustin on whether Vancouver fans have taken to following him around. “There’s never been a place or phase of my life where I’ve been recognized a lot,” he says. “People at stoplights will say, ‘You’re the Flash!’ But I don’t really get stopped often.” Jesse L. Martin attributes that to Canadians being too nice for their own good. “They might look, but they don’t usually say anything,” the Law & Order alum says—excluding the paparazzi. “They’re constantly trying to catch photos of Grant as the Flash or any of the metahumans showing up.” Anonymity is fine by co-star Carlos Valdes, however. “I can do whatever I want,” he says. “I can go out in public naked and it’ll be just fine.” In this weather, I’m not sure he’d want to.

Getting shirtless with Arrow

Just across the street from S.T.A.R. labs is Arrow’s Foundry, where Stephen Amell, Emily Bett Rickards and David Ramsey are up not so bright and early on—you guessed it—a very rainy and cold Tuesday morning. Fortunately, I’m on set for one of their almost rare indoor shoots, which not only includes the reveal of a shocking new suspect in Sara’s (Caity Lotz) murder, but also nods to what’s happening back in Central City on The Flash. So. Many. Spoilers. I refrain from yelling “Dun dun duuuunnnn” every time the director yells cut. I also decide against my urge to jump on the salmon ladder… mainly because there’s no way I could actually do it. When Amell hops up on it between takes, he’s really just showing up my ineptitude. Your point, Ollie. Though it gets quite cold in the north, Arrow has become especially adept at using outdoor locations to represent everything from Oliver’s former island home Lian Yu to this season’s flashback spot, Hong Kong. “There’s a spot called Terminal City,” Amell explains. “We must’ve filmed there 40 times. It’s been Hong Kong, it’s been a green house, it’s been a derelict warehouse, it’s the exterior of Verdant, it’s the establishing thing you see for the Foundry. It’s so many different things.” Places Amell has been shirtless for $200, Alex.

Checking into Bates Motel

Bates Motel has the opposite issue. Its main outdoor set can truly only be used for one thing: As the A&E series’ re-creation of the infamous house on the hill, located nearly an hour southeast of Vancouver. Other than the foyer, the house is a shell used only for exteriors. (The interior is located in a studio closer to Vancouver.) Word on set is that a cutout of Psycho director Alfred Hitchcock takes up residence inside the house, sometimes pinned to different windows as a running joke. “I really want to build this house somewhere and live in it,” showrunner Kerry Ehrin says while hanging out in one of the gutted motel rooms being used as video village. One room over, Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) is hard at work behind a reception desk littered with various Bates Motel-inscribed stationary. “We’re not going to talk about what [gets taken] off set,” Farmiga says, miming zipping her lips while holding up a notepad that seems to be missing several sheets. Back at base camp, Farmiga sits at the dinning room table of her impressive two-room trailer, defending Norma’s questionable choices as a mother almost to the point where she takes it personally. “I’m as protective of my character as Norma is of Norman,” she says eerily. Riiiight. Like any good mother, Farmiga even offers me fruit on my way out. Don’t worry, I decline. Never trust a member of the Bates family.

The braaaaains of iZombie

For the second time in a day, I decline food, but this time it’s for good reason. There’s a bowl of rotting brains on the counter on the iZombie set, which Rose McIver’s Liv Moore—a former med student-turned-zombie, who eats brains to keep her humanity intact—will undoubtedly be snacking on later. Through a series of trial and error, the “brains” have evolved since the pilot episode, making them a little more edible these days—they’re now made of a gelatinous substance called Agar Agar, usually coconut flavored with V8 acting as the hot sauce Liv douses on the brain matter—though a prop master is always on hand with a spit bucket. “Weirdly, gelatin and veggie juice aren’t a great combination,” deadpans McIver, a Vancouver veteran after playing Tinker Bell on Once Upon a Time. “Too much of anything will spoil a taste.” David Anders, who plays zombie villain Blaine DeBeers, likens the consistency to a gummy bear, which is much better than the fondant and tofu versions from the pilot. “They’ve definitely tried to make it as enjoyable as eating a brain can possibly be,” McIver adds. Unsurprisingly, it’s not enjoyable at all.

Once Upon a Time it snowed and rained…again

The cast has been shooting in the “snow” all day, and they’re feeling merry… at first. What stands in for snow in Storybrooke (otherwise known as Steveston Village, a suburb about a half hour south of Vancouver) is basically just bubbles. People slip. A lot. Josh Dallas fake-ice-skates in the road. “Isn’t it magical?” Elizabeth Mitchell says delightedly when she walks on set as the snow machines blast the substance into the air. For the moment, it is exciting, until the snow and rain mix. “I can’t see a damn thing,” Lana Parrilla says with a laugh. “Ginny [Goodwin] and I are walking and getting snoap—snow soap—in our eyes.” It ends up being even less magical after several dozen takes, and this is where I learn HotShotz can also go in your shoes. The fans are relentless, about 60 of them stationed in front of the Storybrooke library, and they stick around late into the night—some to leak photos online, others to catch a glimpse of the Frozen princesses in person. “Elsa! Elsa!” a little girl yells from the sidewalk. Georgina Haig, adorned in the famous costume—also one of the most valuable pieces the show has ever created—saunters over and bends down to give the girl a hug. “When I’m dressed as her, kids light up,” Haig says, though admitting she’s ready for a change. “I don’t think I’ll have many braids [after this],” she adds with a laugh. “I may even dye my hair and not be blonde anymore.” (Sounds like she’s ready to let it go.) Though it’s cold, excitement is high since there are so many castmembers on set. Dallas happily points out two elderly extras whom he says have made several appearances on the show. “I like to think they’re the old couple from Up,” the new dad says adorably. But it’s what the fans aren’t seeing that has them wary. Colin O’Donoghue hasn’t been spotted, and there’s worry that Hook has met a grim fate. “It was tragic,” Mitchell says, suddenly serious. “Traaaagic. So sad. He took off his shirt and then he just died.” Fear not. Hook lives… for now.

Halfway home on Supernatural

Even further south, the boys of Supernatural are shooting right on the border of Washington and Canada—seriously, I’m told not to wander since my passport is back at the hotel. “You get around,” Jensen Ackles greets me on this shockingly sunny day, knowing The CW drama is my seventh set in four days. “Are you using protection?” Jared Padalecki adds with a hearty laugh. The guys are jovial—it’s just days after they celebrated their big 200th episode—but they both feel like it’s only the beginning. “This is halftime of a football game: I don’t want to talk about what’s good or bad in the first half, I have to focus on the next half and have my game face on,” Padalecki says, noting that the meta-musical hour—which aired Tuesday—is a love letter to the fans. Vancouver responds in kind by pouring rain again.

Dwight Schrute has become Backstrom

It’s night four and set eight, about quitting time. But Rainn Wilson starts our interview off on a fun note: “This is the worst cast I’ve ever worked with,” The Office alum says. His co-star, Genevieve Angelson, responds in kind: “He’s the worst person in Hollywood.” They’re kidding. Probably. It’s all in keeping with the relaxed atmosphere on the set of Fox’s midseason dramedy Backstrom, in which Wilson will play the titular self-destructive and bigoted detective—in other words, another unlikeable character. “It’s very, very different from Dwight Schrute,” assures Wilson, who doesn’t feel pressure to live up to his prior role, though recognizes that Backstrom has a sense of humor, and points out that it isn’t your average, sleek cop show. “So many of these procedurals right now take themselves so seriously,” he says. “There’s not a laugh to be had in the hour. It’s always hyper serious and serial killers. How many serial killers are out there? Come on! If aliens were watching TV, they’d think half the United States was a serial killer.” Best move to Canada like the rest of Hollywood.

Meanwhile, back at the bar…

So it turns out that the best place for people watching is (as usual) the bar—this one at the Sutton Place Hotel’s Gerard Lounge. First sighting: Marti Noxon and Shiri Appleby discussing their new Lifetime show, Un-Real. Later that week, I run into Appleby’s former Life Unexpected costars Britt Robertson (back in town shooting pickups for Tomorrowland) and Kristoffer Polaha, who’s now on Backstrom. Parrilla and her Once Upon a Time costar Sean Maguire pass through, too, and Tracy Spiridakos (Bates Motel) and Elizabeth Mitchell (OUAT) are both in the hotel, though they don’t have time for a Revolution reunion. The Flash cast meets up with their boss, Andrew Kreisberg. Some actors from Bravo’s upcoming Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce grab a post-wrap party snack. I’d suggest they start shooting a reality show at the hotel—but the last thing this town needs is another show filming here.