When I caught up with the lovely Maria Kennedy Doyle to chat about her new role in Acorn TV’s Recipes for Love and Murder, it was a gloriously warm day for us both.
Maria laughed that the people in Dublin didn’t know what to do with themselves with so much sunshine, and the shops were cleaned out of sun cream.
While others might have been lamenting the unexpected heatwave, Maria was reveling in it as “an unexpected treasure.”
Since Kennedy burst onto the scene with The Commitments in 1991, she’s been a hot commodity in the industry. Her ability to make every role unique even when, on paper, they may seem similar is truly a gift.
That’s not to say that Kennedy hasn’t had a wide breadth of roles. From The Tudors to Dexter to Orphan Black, Kin, and Outlander, she makes the most of every character, and they’re nearly all fan-favorites of any series.
Recipes for Love and Murder finds Kennedy starring as Maria Purvis, aka Tannie Maria, who writes a well-received cooking column for her local newspaper. When the column is cut for budgetary reasons, Tannie Maria turns advice columnist, discovering her recipes go a long way to soothe aching hearts.
Kennedy wasn’t the first name on anyone’s list for Tannie Maria, a Scottish lass living in South Africa. But one of the consulting producers, Annie Griffin, worked with Kennedy on Outlander and knew she would fit the part beautifully. When she read the script, Kennedy wanted to be on board.
“I have to say that at the time, I was reading a lot of stuff, and a huge amount of it was about serial killers and the many different ways that they dispose of women. And I was really tired of it and actually getting a bit angry about it.
“And then, I opened up this, and it was just like a jewel amongst this sea of absolute rubbish, and it was just so lovely. I just warmed to it immediately. I, first of all, looked at all these beautiful photographs of the South African landscape. I’d never been there before to work or even on holiday.
“And then I started to see all the photos and the recipes. I was like, oh, food. And then I started to read it, and I just loved it. I thought it was very tender and warm but also clever. I could imagine watching it with my mother and also with my children. And there aren’t that many shows that you can do that with.”
Kennedy was impressed with the layers of storytelling that include straight-up comedy, a bit of slapstick, and the clever plotting of the mystery.
“I started reading Agatha Christie books in my teens, and it sort of reminded me of that, that you’d go along and you’d want to find the clues, and you’d want to figure it out. And so it had all those things for me.”
Beyond the light comedy and the mystery resides some very serious topics, most notably domestic violence. Kennedy said that the writer thought that was an essential part of the story.
“One in five women in South Africa experiences domestic violence. So it’s warm, and it’s tender, and it’s funny. Some of it is very, very funny, but it’s not trivial. Sometimes I find some of those 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 just very smart.
“And I can see what’s coming at 10 million paces, and this did not bore me. I read all ten episodes in one evening. I just kept reading because I wanted to find out what happened, and I cared about it.’
Kennedy said she could literally see the character in front of her, which solidified her desire to be a part of it. The script reached a lot of people, and Kennedy couldn’t make her plea for the role in person, as COVID was still raging worldwide.
“So I made a self-tape. I made my husband film me. I read a scene, but then I also made my husband 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 integral to her very being. She cooks and bakes, making mouth-watering meals and desserts that you’ll be aching to taste. Kennedy prefers savory over sweet and will eat her weight in potato chips at Christmastime.
“I like to cook. It’s not my language in the way that it is hers. I have children; we have a very busy house, and it’s like a railway station most of the time.”
That affected her relationship with food because of the amount of preparation a good meal requires, which included shopping on top of everything else.
“It was a lot of work, kind of just a chore. It wasn’t something relaxing that I’d be like Tannie Maria, just kind of swinging over, ‘oh, what do I make now? I’ve got all day, and I’ve got the ingredients at my back door,’ and it wasn’t that kind of relationship with it for me.
Now that her family is a bit older and others are contributing, it’s much more enjoyable for her, Kennedy said, and she adores sharing a meal with her friends and family, as “Breaking bread with people is really important” to her.”
It’s interesting, then, that Tannie Maria’s whole persona is built around food, especially since it gives Kennedy time to putter around the kitchen for the camera. Because the beauty that unfolds on screen with regard to Tannie Maria’s cooking isn’t TV magic, it’s real food.
She made pretty much everything that Tannie Maria cooked up, with the exception of some elaborate cakes. If you enjoy cooking, watching Kennedy as Tannie Maria creates magic in the kitchen is a mouth-watering experience.
It’s when Tannie Maria’s two worlds collide that the story comes to life. She reads letters from people hoping for advice, and she answers them through a filter of comforting, romantic, or joyous meals that speak directly to her readers’ souls.
It’s like she can read through incoming letters and determine what kind of food will help people understand their own problems and find their way. It’s really beautiful.
“I think that was 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 she’s only able to really think and concentrate and understand things through food, through recipes. So I thought it was just a really clever idea for her character.
“I think advice is often overrated, to be honest. And the best kind of helping somebody solve problems is really just to listen to them. If you can talk it through with them, give them the space so that they can hear themselves. I mean, they themselves solve their own problems, really.
“Cooking is something that makes you be a little bit more still and slow and wait for things and time things. And it’s very focusing on your action and your mind, and you’re not all doing a hundred other things or overthinking like mad.
“You’re concentrating on a recipe. So it gives you some kind of stillness and space. So 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, driving her to great unhappiness. She also couldn’t cook. It offers the perfect opening for Kennedy’s character to reach out and offer something that she, at first, was really skeptical of doing.
In finding a way to connect directly with Martine through the column, they form a connection that sets the series on its path.
“A bit later, when she gets the second letter, she realizes the situation that the woman is in is so difficult. And then Jessie comes across the crime scene, and she realizes that it’s the letter writer who’s been murdered.
“And I think [Tannie Maria] carries an enormous amount of guilt that she didn’t realize the difficulty of the situation that she was in, that she didn’t somehow do more than just write a recipe.
“And she’s carrying 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 do justice to Martine’s memory, to somehow figure out the mystery, find out who killed her, and see that justice is done.”
Recipes for Love and Murder Season 1 Episode 1 is harrowing and deep and impactful, as the reality of Tannie Maria’s letter writer is revealed. The series starts very strong, allowing viewers just enough time to grow close to the characters before their world starts shaking around them.
“I really do care about it,” Kennedy said. She took her family halfway around the world during COVID to do it after speaking with Karen Jeynes, who adapted Sally Andrew’s novels, “A Tannie Maria Mystery” series for television.
“She did not disappoint in any way. She’s smart, funny, really, and a really compassionate person. And she cared that much about this show. She really put everything she had into it.”
Kennedy is impressed with the entire cast and crew. “I really worked hard. We all did. And we were really tired, and I would come in, and I would speak to my husband. and I’d say, this happened, and that happened.
“He would just be like, ‘Oh, why does everybody care so much? Why can’t it just be like a job? Why can’t it just be like any old job? What does everyone care so much?’ [chuckles] But I really did. And they really did. And I think it shows in the show.”
Recipes for Love and Murder premieres on Acorn TV on Monday, and if you’re a fan of small-town mysteries, you do not want to let this one get away.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.