“Food is a language for her. It’s the way that she is most herself … how she likes to communicate with people [and] how she processes thoughts and problems and emotions,” said Doyle, 57, the Irish-born actress (Siobhan Sadler in “Orphan Black”) and renowned singer.
The 10-episode series premieres Sept. 5 on Acorn TV and is based on Sally Andrews’ bestselling book series “A Tannie Maria Mystery.” It blends whimsy, murder and a dash of slapstick humor into its tale of “Tannie Maria” Purvis (“Auntie Maria” in Afrikaans), who pivots from writing recipes for her community newspaper in Karoo, South Africa to dishing out column advice to locals — including a battered wife whose death, and Tannie Maria’s murky past in Scotland, propels the series.
Co-stars include Kylie Fisher as beat reporter Jessie, Tannie Maria’s friend and co-worker at the Karoo Gazette; Tony Kgoroge as Chief Detective Khaya Meyer; Elton Landrew as Constable Piet; and Jennifer Steyn as the paper’s publisher, Hattie Wilson.
“In the books, Tannie Maria is South African, but in the screenplay they decided to make her Scottish because they thought it would open [the story] up a bit and make it easier to bring it to the rest of the world,” said Doyle, who plowed through all 10 scripts during the height of the pandemic while at home in Dublin.
“I was reading a whole lot of [scripts] and to be honest with you, a lot of what I was reading was about serial killers and the many ways they choose to dispose of women,” she said. “I was getting tired of it — and actually a bit angry — and then this came through and I wanted to know more.
“It was like a little jewel in a sea of absolute crap.”
While “Recipes for Love and Murder” might, at first blush, conjure up “Murder She Wrote”-type comparisons, it’s got more more of an edge and, at times, a darker tone.
“Karen Jeynes, who adapted the book, is a warm, clever woman and wanted to tell a story you could watch with your mother and children,” Doyle said. “It’s about community, but she also didn’t want to disguise things or shy away from them. She told me that one in five South African women experience domestic violence and it was important to her to express it as part of life.
“That was the biggest thing that appealed to me,” she said. “It’s warm and lovely but sometimes when I find these cozy shows I feel I can watch with my mother I get bored quickly; I can see it all coming and it’s all painstakingly signaled to me. This has gear shifts — there’s tenderness and comedy and it looks at this pretty town against this incredible landscape that’s full of oddballs. There’s a lot of darkness within these relationships and my experience is that small towns are like that.
“The community is enormously supportive of each other and also distrustful of strangers.”
Doyle is not as much of a foodie as her on-screen alter ego — “I’m more of the comfort cook in our house and my husband [musician Kieran Kennedy] is a bit more experimental,” she said — but she did actually cook what you see being prepared by Tannie Maria onscreen.
“I did have to learn to cook all those things, except for a chocolate cake. I’m not much of a baker, but I did get to decorate [the cake] and pour the icing on it,” she said. “I had to make these little sort-of braided doughnuts that you dip into gooey apple syrup or honey and then bake. I had to do that about 40 times — and I will never, ever eat another one of those.”
Doyle, who’s recorded 10 studio albums, doesn’t sing in “Recipes for Love and Murder,” but director Christiaan Olwagen did a deep dive into her music and found two of her songs that he wanted to use in the series, including “Sing,” written by Doyle and Kennedy and featuring their friend Damien Rice.
“It’s really nice for me. I don’t sing [the songs onscreen] but they’re in the scenes and it’s my voice,” she said. “It’s another layer of my character there in the background, which adds more color to what I’m doing.”
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