Fans of Sanctuary will recall that at the end of the show’s first year, Dr. Helen Magnus and her team risked their lives to try to reverse the effects of a biological weapon unleashed by The Cabal that turned Abnormals against humans. In the process, they lost Magnus’ daughter Ashley to the enemy, who, at the start of season two, changed her and five others into Super Abnormals, whose mission was to take down the Sanctuary network.
The second season opener End of Nights pitted mother against daughter as Sanctuaries around the globe began to fall. In the final seconds of End of Nights, Part 2, Ashley sacrificed herself to save her mother and stop The Cabal. This action-packed and emotional rollercoaster ride of an episode was one that Amanda Tapping, who stars as Helen Magnus, thoroughly embraced, but it was not without an acting challenge or two.
“I always enjoy the physicality of the role and I’m comfortable handling a gun, so all that felt very easy to me,” says the actress. “Obviously, the end emotional scene between Magnus and Ashley [Emilie Ullerup] was really challenging. You want to give something like that the weight it deserves and make sure you’re honoring the situation without going over the top.
“I loved the Kate Freelander [Agam Darshi] stuff and introducing that character to audiences. It was also fun shooting the scene where Magnus is in her lab and talking to the different Sanctuary heads around the world, including Cairo, Tokyo and, of course, London. That’s a big part of the show’s mythology that we’ve sort of blown open this season. I was worried at first about making things too global, and then I realized it made sense because you would need a large enough network to transport and deal with all these Abnormals. And it’s a far bigger network than people first thought.
“Again, though, for me the hardest part of End of Nights was maintaining that heightened level of intensity and staying true to the story without becoming boring.”
Despite having seen her daughter teleport into what supposedly is oblivion, Magnus is not totally convinced that Ashley is, in fact, gone. In the following episode, Eulogy, the scientist sets out to prove that her child is still alive. “Eulogy was a really interesting and hugely emotional episode,” notes Tapping. “Magnus is desperately trying to find answers, and I think being the scientist and kind of woman she is, she fights to the death to make sure she’s explored every avenue.
“This is the first time that Will [Robin Dunne] actually challenges Magnus. He’s mad at her and he yells at her. This season, the Will Zimmerman character has the courage to stand up for himself and what he believes. There’s a real honesty and raw emotion in the friendship now between Will and Magnus, and Eulogy kicks that off in a big way. And obviously he’s mourning, too. Will has lost Clara [Christine Chatelain], and we’re trying to figure out what happened to Ashley. She can’t be gone. What do we do? How do we find her? Can we save her? If she truly is gone, how do we deal with that? At the same time, you’ve got this other timeline going on with Kate and Henry [Ryan Robbins], and you see their relationship starting to develop as they deal with a situation involving an Abnormal. Everyone has such a sense of purpose in this episode, and the jumping back and forth between the A and B storylines keeps things moving.”
Although difficult to accept, Helen ultimately comes to the conclusion that Ashley is dead. The loss of her daughter is not the only tragedy she has had to cope with in her long life. During the past 159 years, Magnus has experienced a great deal, and when she took over her father’s role as head of the Sanctuary, it came with a whole new set of responsibilities. All work and no play is not good, though, even for a fictional character, and Tapping hopes that season two of Sanctuary has seen the lifting of some of the weight off Helen’s shoulders.
“What we’ve tried to do this year is lighten up Helen a bit, not that you see that in the first three episodes,” jokes the actress. “But I think what happens when you put a character in such an intense crisis and such a toxic, volatile situation is that you strip away a ton of layers of defense. So as a result, in season two, I think you’ve seen a far more honest Magnus. She still has her secrets, which is important, but she’s been stripped bare. So, again, you see an honesty about her. Helen’s sense of humor is a bit more prevalent as well, and her warmth is a bit more palpable, too.
“Magnus is such an amazing, eccentric character and I still need to honor that as well as the scientist in her and the adamancy with which she attacks everything because she’s so sure of herself. But there needed to be more levels of vulnerability in her, and you definitely see that. I mean, you see it in the way she deals with the whole Ashley situation, and again in an episode called Pavor Nocturnus. She’s literally stripped down and it’s scary. The first 10 minutes of the story will blow your mind. As in End of Nights, there’s this incredible level of intensity, and the trick as an actor is to find those moments of genuine warmth and humor.
“There’s another episode, Next Tuesday, where Will and Magnus go through an incredible ordeal, and at the end you almost hear Magnus giggle. It’s partly borne out of exhaustion, fear and the situation they’re in, but there’s this real guttural laugh that comes out of her, and it’s so open, too. We weren’t sure whether or not it was going to work, but I said, ‘I want to try this,’ and in doing do we got to see more of the real Magnus bubbling to the surface.”
Besides Magnus’ relationship with Will, those she has with Sanctuary’s technical whiz Henry Foss as well as her former lover (and Ashley’s father) John Druitt (Christopher Heyerdahl) are also further explored this season. Magnus begins to establish a relationship as well with the Sanctuary’s newest team member, ex-con artist Kate Freelander.
“We managed to get Ryan Robbins as a regular cast member this year, so you see a lot more of his character Henry’s journey and what’s happening with him,” says Tapping. “Henry is like a son to Helen and she will protect him to the ends of the Earth. She’s tough on him, like any mother is with her children, but there’s a wonderful relationship between the two of them and it’s developing beautifully and organically as well.
“With Druitt, there’s an episode we did called Haunted where you get a glimpse into why Druitt is the way he is, and it’s not necessarily the teleporting that’s making him that way. It’s something else and we find out about that. We also get a glimpse of the real John Druitt, which helps explain why Helen would have fallen in love with him. So many people ask, ‘How can she be in love with Jack the Ripper [Druitt]?’ The thing is, they didn’t know him before he became Jack the Ripper, and that John Druitt was an incredible man. Suddenly, his and Helen’s relationship makes total sense, and it’s quite heartbreaking.
“As for Kate, the relationship with her and Magnus is developing nicely as well, and there’s a healthy and logical distrust with it. Again, I’d hear from people, ‘Um, I’m not sure if we like Kate.’ The thing is, you’re not supposed to like her off the top. You’re supposed to mistrust her and think, ‘Hmm, I don’t know about this character. Are we going to invest in her? She’s a bit rough around the edges. She’s a bit too cocky; she’s a bit too this, she’s a bit too that.’ There’s an episode that Michael Shanks guest-stars in [Penance] where we find out a great deal about Kate’s back story. My character is the first to actually start to trust her and welcome her in, but in a very perfunctory way as opposed to a lovey-dovey one.”
As Tapping just mentioned, she had the opportunity to be reunited with her former Stargate SG-1 costar Michael Shanks when he shot the season two episode Penance. For both actors, it was like old home week when getting back together, but it was agreed that the onscreen time they shared would be limited.
“There’s a moment where Helen and Jimmy – the character that Michael plays – see each other for the first time, and the smile on both their faces is so beautiful,” says the actress. “When we were watching the edit, I said to Martin Wood [executive producer/director], ‘But that’s Amanda and Micheal looking at each other,’ and he said, ‘But it doesn’t matter, it’s beautiful chemistry.’
“It was really sweet, but we decided, and this was very conscious on our parts, that there would not be a lot of interaction between the two characters. We didn’t want to bring Michael on and make it the Michael and Amanda show, you know? Instead, we wanted to utilize a very talented actor and someone who we love, so it became a Kate and Jimmy episode and it’s a phenomenal one. I’d have loved to have done more with Michael, but I also understood and was completely onboard with developing the story the way we did, and I think the fans will appreciate it for what it is.”
Back in June 2009, the actress made her Sanctuary directorial debut when stepping behind the cameras to shoot the second season’s Veritas. “It was fantastic,” she enthuses. “I wanted to direct, but when it began getting closer to the time, I didn’t want to because we’d already had such an intense season. By the time we got to episode seven, I didn’t think I could physically direct,” chuckles Tapping. “I’m so glad I did, though. I love directing; I love the whole physical concept of it, and the prep.
“For me, especially because I’m in this episode, it was all about the prep. It was about totally understanding my shot list and how I wanted to edit the episode. I practically edited it in my head before I shot it, so I knew exactly how much coverage I needed and didn’t need. I’m going to toot my own horn here because I’m really proud of some of the shots I came up with. There were some beautiful green screen shots that I talked with [visual effects supervisor] Lee [Wilson] and [visual effects producer] Lisa [Sepp-Wilson] about. I explained to them, ‘I have this concept for a shot, can you do it?’ And I was so excited to see how things turned out. I chose my moments, though, because you can’t always go for the cool shot. You have to stick to the story, and this one is such a nice one.”
It does not matter if she is acting or directing, as one of Sanctuary‘s executive producers, alongside Martin Wood and series creator Damian Kindler, Tapping always wears her exec producer hat at work. This time around, though, that task has seemed somewhat easier than last year.
“During the first season, Martin, Damian and I were trying so hard to do everything, and what we realized later on is that we don’t have to do everything,” says the actress. “There are things I can take care of, things that Martin can take care of, and things that Damian can take care of. We don’t all have to be doing everything. This season we found a groove, and I have to say that the three of us are such a good team and so good for each other.
“Because I’m on the floor shooting the actual TV show, I don’t get to step up to the plate [producing-wise] as much until post-production, and that’s where I truly enjoy it. I love doing sound mixes, film corrects and all the other piecing together after the fact. That includes editing, of course, and I run up to the editing suite every chance I get. It’s also my responsibility, because I’m down on the floor all the time, to make sure everything is running smoothly.”
Prior to wrapping Sanctuary‘s second season, Tapping, Kindler, Wood and Robin Dunne took advantage of a quick prearranged press conference to Tokyo to shoot two scenes for the show’s year two finale, Kali. “We flew out on a Thursday, landed on a Friday night, did a location scout all day on a Saturday, and shot on Sunday,” she recalls. “We found this great location, and because it was on a Sunday everyone was out walking around, so we had thousands of extras on this street where we were filming. It was fantastic.
“We also got to work with Tatsuya Ishii. He’s a singer, artist, sculptor, philanthropist and just this incredible Renaissance man who played the head of the Tokyo Sanctuary for us. The best word I could use is that it was an honor to have him on the show.
“So we filmed all day Sunday at Tokyo Harbor, then did the press conference on the Monday, drove back to the hotel, picked up our bags and flew home. Because of the time difference it was like a 40-hour day for us. We were on the plane and I said, ‘Hey, in Tokyo time we’d just be starting the press conference now,’” jokes Tapping. “I then had to be at work at six the next morning, so it was a whirlwind, but so worth it.”
It is not long now before Tapping and the rest of the Sanctuary cast and crew will start production on the show’s third season. Everyone involved is looking forward to taking all their hard work from the past year and building upon that. “The second season, for all of us, felt so much richer and deeper, if that makes sense,” says the actress. “I think we were all far more confident in our roles not only as characters but also producers.
“Season one felt like we were gearing up and figuring it all out, and then this year it was like, wow, now we have this massive and beautiful playground that, again, we’re all really confident in. I was nervous, though. I get nervous all the time, but that’s good. I think it’s healthy to be scared a little bit, but as soon as we started shooting it was like, ‘Hey, this is a really good show.’ So it’s been wonderful, it really has.”
As noted above, photos by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!