When I caught up with the lovely Maria Kennedy Doyle to discuss her new role on Acorn TV’s Recipes for Love and Murder, it was a lovely warm day for both of us.
Maria laughed that with so much sunshine people in Dublin didn’t know what to do with themselves and the shops were being purged of sunscreen.
While others might lament the unexpected heat wave, Maria reveled in it as “an unexpected treasure.”
Ever since Kennedy burst onto the scene with The Commitments in 1991, she’s been a hot commodity in the industry. Her ability to make each role unique, even though they may appear similar on paper, is truly a gift.
That’s not to say Kennedy didn’t have a wide range of roles. From the Tudors to Dexter to Orphan Black, Kin, and Outlander, she brings out the best in every character, and they’re almost all fan favorites in every series.
In Recipes for Love and Murder, Kennedy plays Maria Purvis, aka Tannie Maria, who writes a critically acclaimed cooking column for her local newspaper. When the column is cut due to budget constraints, Tannie Maria becomes an advice columnist and discovers that her recipes go a long way to soothing aching hearts.
Kennedy wasn’t the first name on Tannie Maria’s list, a Scottish girl living in South Africa. But one of the consulting producers, Annie Griffin, worked with Kennedy on Outlander and knew she would be a great fit for the role. When she read the script, Kennedy wanted to be on board.
“I have to say I was reading a lot of stuff back then, and a lot of it was about serial killers and the many different ways they dispose of women. And I was really sick of actually getting a little pissed about it.
“And then I opened this, and it was like a jewel in this sea of absolute garbage, and it was just so beautiful. I warmed to it immediately. I first looked at all these beautiful photos of the South African countryside, which I’ve never been to for work or even on vacation.
“And then I started looking at all the photos and recipes. I thought oh food. And then I started reading it and I just loved it. I found it very delicate and warm, but also clever. I could imagine you see it with my mom and my kids too. And there aren’t that many shows that let you do that.
Kennedy was impressed with the levels of storytelling, which incorporate straight-forward comedy, a bit of slapstick, and the clever conspiracy of mystery.
“I started reading Agatha Christie books as a teenager and it kind of reminded me that you wanted to go along and find the clues and find out. And so it was all those things for me.”
Beyond the light comedy and mystery, there are some very serious issues, most notably domestic violence. Kennedy said the author felt this was an essential part of the story.
“One in five women in South Africa experiences domestic violence. So it’s warm and tender and it’s funny. Some of it is very, very funny, but it’s not trivial. Sometimes I find some of these shows that I might want to watch with my mom or the kids, and they have some of those elements, but not all of them. Some of them are not only very smart.
“And I can see what’s coming in 10 million steps, and it didn’t bore me. I read all ten episodes in one evening. I just kept reading because I wanted to find out what happened and it interested me.”
Kennedy said she could literally see the character in front of her, which cemented her desire to be a part of it. The script reached a lot of people, and Kennedy was unable to make her plea for the role in person as COVID was still raging around the world.
“So I made a selfie video. I got my husband to film me. I read one scene but then I also got my husband to film me in the kitchen like chopping garlic and putting things in the oven and everything. I mean, I practically made a little short film to get it. I really wanted to do it.
Tannie Maria’s relationship with food is an integral part of who she is. She cooks and bakes and prepares delicious meals and desserts that you will definitely try. Preferring savory to sweet, Kennedy eats her weight in potato chips at Christmas time.
“I like cooking. It’s not my language like it’s hers. I have kids, we have a very busy house and it’s like a train station most of the time.”
That affected her relationship with food, as a good meal requires a lot of preparation, which included shopping along with everything else.
“It was a lot of work, kind of just a duty. It wasn’t something relaxing that I was going to be like Tannie Maria, just kind of swinging over, ‘oh what do I do now? I have all day, and I have the ingredients at my back door’, and it wasn’t that kind of relationship for me.
Now that her family is a bit older and others are contributing, she enjoys it a lot more, Kennedy said, and loves to share a meal with her friends and family because “breaking bread with people is really important.” ” for her.”
So it’s interesting that Tannie Maria’s whole personality is built around food, especially since it gives Kennedy time to tinker around in the kitchen for the camera. Because the beauty that unfolds on screen in terms of Tannie Maria’s cooking isn’t TV magic, it’s real food.
She made pretty much everything Tannie Maria cooked, with the exception of some elaborate cakes. If you enjoy cooking, watching Kennedy as Tannie Maria works magic in the kitchen is a delightful experience.
As Tannie Maria’s two worlds collide, the story comes to life. She reads letters from people hoping for advice and answers them through a filter of comforting, romantic, or happy meals that speak directly to the souls of her readers.
It’s as if she can read incoming letters and determine what kind of food helps people understand their own problems and find their way. It’s really beautiful.
“I think that’s brilliant. It’s just so funny that that was her answer. I mean, she didn’t want to lose her job. And so her only option was to give the Tannie M column a shot, but food is her language.
“So it’s only through food, through recipes, that she can really think, focus and understand things. So I thought it was just a really clever idea for her character.
“To be honest, I think advice is often overrated. And really, the best way to help someone solve a problem is just to listen. If you can discuss it with him, give him the space to listen to himself think they solve their own problems, really.
“Cooking is something that makes you be a little quieter and slow down and wait for things and time things. And it’s very focused on your actions and your mind, and you’re not doing all hundred other things or overthinking like crazy.
“You are concentrating on a recipe. So it gives you a kind of rest and space. I think that was very clever of Tannie Maria to do that.”
Tannie Maria’s first letter is from a woman named Martine who is facing marital problems with her husband, which drives her to great dissatisfaction. She couldn’t cook either. It provides the perfect opportunity for Kennedy’s character to step up and offer something she was initially really skeptical about.
By finding a way to connect directly with Martine through the pillar, they form a bond that launches the series on its way.
“A little later, when she gets the second letter, she realizes that the woman’s situation is so difficult. And then Jessie comes to the crime scene and she realizes it’s the letter writer who was murdered.
“And I think [Tannie Maria] carries an enormous sense of guilt that she didn’t realize the difficulty of the situation she found herself in, that somehow she didn’t do more than just write a prescription.
“And she carries a whole lot of triggers for herself about her own life I think and what she’s been through. And it just makes her so determined to live up to Martine’s memory, somehow find out the mystery, find out who killed her and see justice done.”
Recipes for Love and Murder Season 1 Episode 1 is harrowing and profound and impactful as it reveals the reality of Tannie Maria’s letter writer. The series starts out strong, giving viewers just enough time to get close to the characters before their world begins to tremble around them.
“I really care,” Kennedy said. She took her family halfway around the world during COVID after speaking to Karen Jeynes, who adapted Sally Andrews’ novels A Tannie Maria Mystery for television.
“She has not disappointed in any way. She’s smart, really funny and a really compassionate person. And she cared so much about this show. She really put everything she had into it.”
Kennedy is impressed with the entire cast and crew. “I’ve worked really hard. We’ve all done it. And we were really tired, and I came in and talked to my husband. And I said this happened and this happened.
“He’d just be like, ‘Oh, why does everyone care so much? Why can’t it just be like a job? Why can’t it just be like any old job? What is everyone so interested in?’ [chuckles] But I really did. And they really did. And I think that shows on the show.”
Recipes for Love and Murder premieres Monday on Acorn TV, and if you’re a fan of small town mysteries, don’t miss this one.
Carissa Pavlica is the editor-in-chief and staff writer and critic at TV Fanatic. A member of the Critic’s Choice Association, she enjoys mentoring authors, chatting with cats and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with all who will listen. keep following her Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.