Knock, knock – everyone is familiar with this opening to an age-old joke, right? It is no laughing matter, though, when a nameless hacker uses this as a calling card to announce that they have gained access to the US government’s top secret storage facility for a myriad of strange objects, artifacts and relics, all of which possess unusual powers. Its caretaker, Artie Nielsen, is none-too-pleased with this trespasser, and is shocked to discover that the intruder is someone from his past – Claudia Donovan. She has a proposition for him, one he cannot refuse. It is literally a matter of life and death for her, but for Allison Scagliotti, who plays Claudia in Warehouse 13, it was the start of a brand new acting venture, thanks to not one but three people from her past.
“I know a couple of the guys in the [Warehouse 13] writers’ room, Deric Hughes and Benjamin Raab; we had worked together on a web series for NBC called Gemini Division with Rosario Dawson,” says Scagliotti. “We’d stayed in touch, and when the role of Claudia surfaced among the scripts in development, they called me and said, ‘Allison, you’re so right for this part.’ They talked with the show runner, Jack Kelly, who, coincidentally, I worked with five years ago on a pilot. So everything sort of aligned perfectly. I spoke with Jack, who explained to me what the show was all about, and then said, ‘Let me send you a copy of the pilot script so you can make sure you’re even interested in being a part of it.’
“As soon as I read the pilot I was hooked. I was riveted by the chemistry between the Pete [Eddie McClintock] and Myka [Joanne Kelly] characters, not to mention how fascinating Saul Rubinek [Artie] is to watch, and, of course, with the prospect of being part of a show that balances fantasy with comedy. So I went in to audition with Central Casting at NBC, and within a week I went from a full-load school [university] curriculum to working long hours in Toronto. It was awesome.”
Scagliotti makes her Warehouse 13 debut in the aptly titled season one episode Claudia. In it, her character of Claudia Donovan kidnaps Artie from the Warehouse and takes him to an abandoned makeshift lab. Since she was a young girl, she has blamed him for an experiment that killed her brother Joshua (Tyler Hynes). Now, however, Claudia is convinced that he did not die but is, in fact, trapped in an alternate dimension and she wants Artie to re-create the experiment in order to get him back. While Artie’s colleagues, Pete Lattimer and Myka Bering, try to find him, he sees for himself that Claudia is right. The actress laughs when asked what sticks out most in her mind about her first day on the job.
“That’s easy, Saul Rubinek. I was nervous. I don’t get nervous a lot, but I love this project so much that I really wanted to make sure everything I did was just right. You can’t always be perfect, but you are capable of being great, and I remember connecting with Saul immediately. We had chemistry like we had been working together for 30 years. He is an amazing guy and I’ve learned so much from him. The scene I shot on my first day is actually my first scene in the episode, and if you saw it you know that it was long and complicated. Saul and I both worked up a sweat and I roughed him up quite a bit. I was concerned that I was going to hurt him, but Saul was like, ‘No, let’s go. Let’s commit. Let’s do this.’ After that day working with him, I felt right at home. I can’t think of a more creative, fulfilling experience than doing scenes with Saul. It’s a dream come true for me.
“As far as working on the entire episode, it was definitely a challenge because the show has this neat balance of comedy with the action-adventure of pursuing artifacts and the fantastical elements and powers they possess. So it was always in the forefront of our efforts – Saul, director Steve Surjik, and me – to make sure that there was a balance. If we were delivering witty dialogue, the emotional stakes could not be compromised, and if we were in the middle of a very dramatic moment, we didn’t want things to get too melodramatic and that there was some lightness as well. The [shooting] days were long, but I never got tired because I was having so much fun. I had never worked with that level of special effects before, so that was really interesting to watch. We were filming underground in a church, which was dressed as a lab, and they pumped dust and smoke in there every day to make it look mystical. It was just so exciting.”
Although he is an unwilling participant at first, Artie ultimately helps Claudia save her brother. In the following episode, Elements, Artie uses his influence to get Joshua a government job where he can put his scientific genius to good use. As for Claudia, it is decided that her talents would be better served working as part of the Warehouse team as opposed to against it. While it would be easy for Scagliotti to play the stereotypical brainy young know-it-all, she has made her character much more than that.
“Claudia is smart and sassy and has an attitude, but she’s also efficient and adds an important skill set to the Warehouse,” explains the actress. “She identifies set goals and goes after them with passion, whether it’s bringing her brother back from interdimensional space, or showing Artie what can be done with a sort of steampunk take on things, rather than his old, possibly crotchety, set-in-his-ways methods,” jokes Scagliotti. “You definitely see my character go from angsty, bitter and possibly lost to feeling really at home in the Warehouse as well as having a genuine gratitude and love for her newfound family and a desire to help in every possible way.
“If Artie is our all-knowing uncle, then Claudia is like the little punk sister to the Pete and Myka characters. Myka would be the overachieving, honor student, older sister, while Pete is the goofball jock. Eddie is the best. There is never a dull moment with him on-set. We’re all constantly trying to find ways to mess with each other, Eddie especially. He’s kind of a prankster. For example, right before a take, he’ll do something to make me laugh and then I’ll have to try extra hard to keep a straight face. Eddie does a Don Knotts impression that would blow you away. It’s kind of an odd impression to do, but he does it with style.”
Having started out in an effects-heavy episode, the actress has grown used to working with green screen along with other visual/special effects and is enjoying that aspect of her involvement in Warehouse 13. “There’s an episode coming up where my character becomes magnetized to the Warehouse ceiling,” she says. “I was literally 20-something feet up in the air and perched on a steel girder, while behind me it was all green screen. I got to do a lot of cool stuff up on a wire, and I used a zip-line at one point as well. In the episode after Claudia, my character is fixing what she broke while hacking into the Warehouse and she causes a little spark in the power grid that shoots off some fireworks. That was interesting because I wasn’t expecting the spark to be as big as it was during the first take. So my reaction was pretty authentic, especially when a spark landed in my hair. Fortunately, I didn’t suffer any scalp burn or hair loss,” jokes the actress.
When it comes to her favorite Warehouse 13 episode, Scagliotti wastes no time in choosing one. “It’s the one where we chase after Edgar Allen Poe’s pen,” she says. “I geeked out over that episode because I’m a huge Poe fan. In fact, the shirt I’m wearing right now has a Poe quote on it. We had the chance to shoot inside a college of theology within the University of Toronto, which was just beautiful with its high ceilings and vaulted, Gothic-style architecture. There are a lot of stunts in that episode, too, including one where I full-on tackle a guy.
“There’s also a scene in the episode, again right after Claudia, between my character and her brother Joshua wherein she becomes emotional because he’s decided to move on with his life and Claudia has to figure out what to do with hers. It’s sort of a transitional feeling, which was a challenge. It’s always a challenge to become emotional in a scene, but the director [Ken Giotti] was extremely accommodating as far as whatever I needed, and Tyler, who played Joshua, was great in the scene, so I hope it comes across as touching as we all hoped it would.”
Looking ahead to the first season finale of Warehouse 13, the actress hints at what fans can expect. “It starts hot,” notes Scagliotti. “In the opening teaser there’s a fire going on and the threat of a villain. I can’t go into specifics, but the threat is extremely real because this individual has a past connection to the Warehouse. And there’s also suspicion that security has been compromised by someone on the inside.
That’s about all I can tell you. It was very, very exciting to shoot and the director [Stephen Surjik], who also directed Claudia, is a fantastic guy. During the final days of filming, we were shooting underground in this abattoir, so it was freezing and really smelly. I didn’t have to work on those last few days, but I hung out on-set just to spend time with everyone because I could not imagine this amazing ride ending. We were there until four in the morning on that last day, but it was worth it. We’ve become quite the family team,” enthuses the actress.
At the age of five, Scagliotti did an impression of actor/comedian Bill Cosby for her family’s pool man. When her Mom saw that, she knew what she had to do. “My Mom was like, ‘We’ve got to find an outlet for this [talent],’” she recalls. “So I joined my elementary school drama department. I also took ballet for eight years and learned piano as well, so if I hadn’t moved to Los Angeles I would have gone to a performing arts high school and possibly moved to New York.
“When I was 11, I met an acting coach who was giving a seminar at a Barnes and Noble in the small town of Mandeville, Louisiana where I was living. He encouraged me to try my had at [TV] pilot season, so my Mom and I did our homework and I gave it a shot. I was very lucky to get an agent along with a manager and book a pilot with Chevy Chase, which is pretty much unheard of for an 11-year-old just starting out in the business. But that was the beginning of all this and I never looked back.”
Prior to Warehouse 13, Scagliotti appeared in a handful of made-for-TV movies as well as guest-starred on several other TV shows including One Tree Hill, Drake & Josh, ER, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and most recently in an episode of Mental, House of Mirrors, which was shot on-location in Bogota, Columbia. “I had never been to South America before,” says the actress, “so that in itself was an experience. It’s a place with a lot of layers, and [the city] is at the base of the Andes, which is just beautiful.
“The role itself was a tricky one for me. My character was born a boy, but through a botched circumcision was raised as a girl, her Mom committed suicide, and she developed a condition called dysmorphia. Even though it’s a small statistic, it’s something that does occur and I read up on the original story that this episode is based on. My main concern was making sure I was truthful as well as respectful to those who were either affected by it or know people who experienced it. It’s important to me to never fake emotions going on in a scene, so in some ways I feel like perhaps I committed too much to the emotionality of what was going on. However, I don’t regret it because I wouldn’t have wanted to fall short of my goals for the impact of the episode.
“The hardest thing to shoot was the suicide scene. The fire was all CGI [computer-generated image] except for one flame bar that they held in front of my face for the lighting. We shot that scene for a while because of the various angles and pouring that bottle of rum, which was actually water, and lighting the match. I had worked with the director [David Jackson] a couple of years ago, and the two of us sat down and talked about how it should go. I was exhausted afterwards, but at the end of the day I’m happy with the episode. I hope it resonated with people, and for people who didn’t know that that kind of thing happens, that it educated them and made them aware of this unfortunate condition.”
This summer, the actress can be seen in National Lampoon’s Endless Bummer and My Name is Jerry. Next month, she starts work on a play being directed by Alden Ehrenreich, who appeared in Frances Ford Coppola’s Tetro. Besides her acting commitments, she is a full-time college student and majoring in English. To some, this might sound like a lot to have on your plate, but Scagliotti would not have it any other way.
“I like to have focuses outside of the business,” she says. “It’s so easy to develop tunnel vision and become obsessive over projects, characters or just the way the whole machine works. And I find if I’m taking a class, it expands me as a person. I become fuller and more aware of the world as well as people and history, all of which I can bring to a performance as opposed to manufacturing it with only a script. So far I’ve been really fortunate to have professors who have worked with me and allowed me to continue to take my classes as I’m acting. If the workload gets too much, then I trim things. I took 10 units during season one of Warehouse 13 and it worked out just fine. I flew home to take my final and it was all good.”
As noted above, all photos by Justin Stephens or Philippe Bosse and copyright of The Syfy Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!