TORONTO — Growing up in Alberta, actor Rohan Campbell spent summers at friends’ Canmore mountain cabins, where he’d crack open old “Hardy Boys” books that adorn many a cottage bookshelf.
“Every time I was at a cabin with no internet or something like that, they were the books I would read before bed,” he said in an interview.
“So I felt really close to them, and it was just absurd to be able to make my vision of Frank come to life.”
Campbell was referring to his leading role as teenage amateur sleuth Frank Hardy, alongside Toronto actor Alexander Elliot as younger brother Joe Hardy, in the new Ontario-shot family series “The Hardy Boys.”
Premiering Friday on YTV in Canada after its U.S. debut on Hulu in December, the mystery drama is based on the time-honoured stories written under the pseudonym by Franklin W. Dixon by numerous authors, including Ontario-raised Leslie McFarlane.
The Canadian cast, crew and creators filmed in and around Toronto, Hamilton and Cambridge, Ont. Filming wrapped just a couple of weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns hit.
In this version of the story, 16-year-old Frank and 12-year-old Joe grapple with a family tragedy and investigate strange events in the small town of Bridgeport in the 1980s.
Nova Scotia-raised James Tupper of “Big Little Lies” plays their dad.
There’s a bigger age gap between the two brothers in the YTV original series compared to the books, which “breeds a different sort of conflict in the sense that they do things differently,” said Campbell, 23, from Vancouver.
“The Hardy Boys” books debuted in 1927 and have had several incarnations, but they weren’t a big part of 16-year-old Elliot’s childhood and he didn’t read them until he got the role.
“I found this huge community that grew up with these books, and now it’s an honour to be a part of it with all these people who, these books shaped their childhood,” he said.
Given the books’ long legacy, the stars felt some pressure to live up to the source material.
“Day 1, you get super excited, and then you go to shoot it and all of a sudden that air of responsibility comes to you and you really want to do justice for the people that grew up with these books,” said Campbell.
“These books are, like, 100 years old, right? So you have such a different demographic of audience, age-wise and maturity, whatever it is. So I think it was really important to us to give a little piece of the books to every different age group.”
Elliot also felt the pressure but his worries went away when he saw lovers of the books praising the show after its U.S. premiere.
“We put a lot of work into this show and we’re really hoping that the diehard fans enjoyed it as much as we hoped they did,” he said. “We’re trying to bring this to all-age groups, and this is kind of like a new generation of ‘The Hardy Boys.'”
The series is also set before Elliot’s time and the young star said he did some research to learn how to use some of the props from that decade.
“I feel like everybody was expecting like, ‘Oh, he’s a kid, he doesn’t know how any of this tech works,’ and they hand me a Walkman and I know how it works perfectly,” he said with a laugh.
“I love the ’80s,” he added. “I love the music, the movies. Everything about the ’80s. Even before ‘The Hardy Boys,’ I loved everything from the ’80s. I have a whole playlist of hundreds of songs from the ’80s on my Spotify. Some of my favourite movies are from the ’80s — ‘Back to the Future,’ ‘Beetlejuice.’ All these classics.”
The show’s premise of boys solving dark mysteries in the ’80s is drawing comparisons to the Netflix series “Stranger Things,” which Elliot called “an absolute honour.”
Beyond the nostalgic appeal, having such tales set in that decade also helps the storytelling, said Campbell.
“It’s like, you give two kids Google — it’s not very exciting to watch them solve a mystery,” he said with a laugh.
“Yeah, there’s not going to be that many episodes,” added Elliot.
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press