Posts Tagged ‘Chris Gauthier’

Sanctuary’s Robert Lawrenson – Soldiering On

March 8, 2010

Actor Robert Lawrenson. Photo courtesy and copyright of Velocity Public Relations

When Dr. Gregory Magnus originally founded the Sanctuary network, he did so with the intent of surrounding himself with like-minded individuals who were just as dedicated as he was to the survival, preservation and protection of Abnormals. Magnus’ daughter and fellow scientist, Helen, did the same when she took over the reins from her father. Among her most trusted allies is Declan MacRae, who became head of the UK Sanctuary after the death of John Watson. The handsome Brit is smart, techno-savvy and knows how to handle himself in a tight spot. Sharing his character’s UK heritage was a big help to Sanctuary actor Robert Lawrenson when initially stepping into Declan’s shoes. 

“I was very fortunate in some respects that Declan was a Brit,” notes Lawrenson. “I believe it was Michael Caine who said, ‘you only have to play the differences,’ and I take that to every role that I do. I start with me and compare myself to my character. I work out what the differences are in our personalities, then focus on those and think about where I need to extend my own personality in order to create the character. 

“With Declan, it’s nice because there are similarities between the two of us, with him being an authority figure and me being kind of a quiet, authoritative type in my general sort of persona. So that’s an extension of myself. However, I don’t have an ex-military/SAS background, so that’s a huge difference right there, and that brings with it [acting] challenges, too, because Declan is a very tough ex-Special Forces guy. He’s totally comfortable with, for instance, handling weaponry and storming into a situation where there are enemy targets, but those types of things are totally foreign to me. 

“Luckily on Sanctuary, we have some really good stunt coordinators as well as a team of guys called Def-Con-5, who basically taught me what I needed to know about Declan’s military side. I understand that these guys have an actual military/Special Forces background, so they taught us everything from handling a gun and how to hold your arms, to how to survey and secure an area. To be honest with you, I’m probably ready to go to war now because that’s how much they showed us,” jokes the actor. 

“Apart from maybe a couple of times in stage productions where I’ve held a gun, I’ve never had to be that kind of tough guy in terms of a military sense. So I had to present Declan as totally switched on and clued-in about every situation and totally confident walking into enemy territory. It was interesting to learn what the professional view of that is and then try to bring that to my performance.” 

It was a year-and-a-half ago that Lawrenson came to Vancouver, British Columbia from the UK and began working with an agent to pursue acting opportunities on this side of the pond. “Funnily enough, everything I’ve done over here so far as been Sci-Fi related,” he says. “I did an episode of Smallville [Abyss] as well as a Syfy Channel original movie, Beyond Sherwood Forest, which actually starred Robin Dunne [Dr. Will Zimmerman] as Robin Hood. I played his father before being stabbed to death about six minutes into the movie. 

Declan (Robert Lawrenson) confers with his colleagues regarding their next move. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

Sanctuary then came up. I’d been looking at a few other projects when I received a call to come in and meet with Martin Wood [executive producer] and Amanda Tapping [Dr. Helen Magnus and executive producer]. At the time it was just a guest-star role to play Declan in one episode. It was literally for that week’s filming. I really hit it off straightaway with Martin and Amanda – I would challenge anyone not to because they’re fantastic individuals. It was a very relaxed casting session and they really enjoyed what I did, so they booked me for the role. 

“After a couple of days of shooting, Martin came over to me and said ‘I’m really liking this Declan character,’ and then he started talking in terms of recurring the role throughout the series. Martin mentioned a couple of ideas that he had about where the Declan character might go and when it might recur, so it just went on from there and I ended up doing four episodes in season two.” 

Audiences are introduced to Lawrenson’s character in the second half of Sanctuary‘s season two opener, End of Nights, Part 2. In it, Helen and her people help Declan defend the UK Sanctuary when it is attacked by a small group of super-Abnormals, including a transformed Ashley Magnus (Emilie Ullerup). Despite his military background, dealing with this type of threat is a brand new experience for Declan, and the same was true for Lawrenson when first starting out on the series. 

“On my first day of work I found myself standing on this completely green-walled, green-floored set with just the lighting rig above me and my fellow actors around me,” recalls the actor. “I’ve done some presenting and hosting on a green screen, but never a drama, so this process was quite daunting to me and I wasn’t quite sure how to react to it. 

“I told Amanda Tapping how I felt, and she said something to me that made it all click. Amanda explained that she looks at working on the green screen like working in the theater. Oftentimes in the theater, you’re working in an acting ensemble with no scenery or props, and it’s all about the script as well as the other actors and the communication between them and their characters. 

“That was the perfect thing to say because my background from childhood is theater, which I’ve done a great deal of. When I lived in England, I spend every year performing plays at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, so I tend to gravitate towards the stage. That’s where I found my love of acting. So what Amanda said to me made such sense and I thought, ‘Wow, you’re absolutely right. What does it matter that I don’t have an actual wall there. As an actor, it’s something that I can just visualize for a scene.’ It was incredible, and it still sticks in my mind because it totally put me at ease.” 

Will (Robin Dunne) and Declan contemplate their next move. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

Declan’s next appearance is in the season two episode Hero, where he, Helen and Will pursue a flying do-gooder (Chris Gauthier), who has dubbed himself “The Adjuster” and has interfered in their efforts to protect an Abnormal. “Hero was a lot of fun,” enthuses Lawrenson. “Chris Gauthier is an absolute star and it was a laugh-a-minute the whole time he was there with us on-set. This was a big episode for Declan because the London Sanctuary had been heavily damaged, so he came over to spend some time at the Old City Sanctuary. This is when we really kicked off the relationship between Will and Declan in that they became sidekicks, which was then flipped on its head in a later episode, Veritas, where they were totally opposite of each other. 

“In terms of specific scenes in Hero, I remember me and Chris Heyerdahl [Bigfoot] wearing safety harnesses and standing on a warehouse railing on the show’s set. We were probably 30 or 40 feet up and pushing this old refrigerator over the railing and onto an imaginary monster that was going to be ‘painted’ in later during post-production. That was quite memorable because I wasn’t quite sure whether or not I was going to fall off with the fridge. 

“There’s another little scene at the start of the episode that I particularly like and it’s just after Will and Declan have been attacked on their motorbikes. They’re back at the Sanctuary nursing their wounds and the girls are laughing at them and taking the mick out of Will. I’d love to do more scenes like that. In fact, I got to talk with some of the guys at the Syfy Channel and they told me that they really enjoyed the comedy of this episode, so hopefully we’ll have more opportunities to see the lighthearted sides of these characters as well.” 

Amanda Tapping directed Lawrenson’s third Sanctuary story, Veritas, in which Helen Magnus is accused of killing Bigfoot. “I put Amanda Tapping on such a high pedestal; I don’t have enough blocks to raise her up,” says the actor. “She is an outstanding individual. To give the performance that she does week-in-and-week-out, and to give the performance she gave in Veritas whilst also directing, having only directed once before on both Stargate SG-1 and Sanctuary, was just amazing. 

“As an actor, this was my first time working with an actor/director, and Amanda has a way of connecting with an actor. I mean, so do the other directors. Martin Wood is a fantastic director and I’m not in any way comparing them, but Amanda has a different understanding of the process because she sees it from an actor’s point of view as well. So being directed by her on Veritas was brilliant. Whenever we were struggling to find the right way to pitch a scene, Amanda just seemed to have the right thing to say, and that was really great. 

“There’s a scene I played opposite Robin Dunne where our two characters are having a big argument in Magnus’ office. Will comes in and Declan has his feet under Helen’s desk and is sitting there tapping away on her computer looking very much at home. We had a scene prior to that, where Declan has his feet in front of the roaring fireplace in her office, and because of both these scenes, the audience is becoming suspicious of my character’s motives. Amanda just found the right away to communicate to me exactly what she wanted from my character’s point of view in this episode, so that made it a real joy for me to do.” 

A quiet moment for Declan - something rare in the Sanctuary world. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

With Dr. Magnus temporarily relieved of her lead Sanctuary position in Veritas, it may at first seem as if Declan is trying to “move in” on her territory. On the contrary, he is doing his best to protect Helen as well as those working directly with her and the future of the Sanctuary network. Lawrenson is looking forward to not only learning more about Declan’s and Helen’s relationship, but also uncovering more about his character’s background. 

“Declan massively respects Helen Magnus,” he says. “This is a very character-driven show and there has been a lot invested in the back stories of the characters. However, not much has been revealed about Declan. We had hints about him in End of Nights, Part 2, where Nikola Tesla [Jonathon Young] says to him, ‘James Watson [Peter Wingfield] must have told you about me before he died,’ So there is obviously a suggestion that Declan had been working with James Watson. There are other things as well, like the argument I spoke of earlier between Declan and Will in Veritas, where my character is suspected of trying to take over the Sanctuary network. He says to Will, ‘You have no idea of the political landscape,’ which implies that Declan is quite entwined with the politics of the network. 

“So to come back to what I was saying, that there isn’t much of a back story that’s been provided yet for Declan, and that’s really exciting for me. Again, we had the hints I just spoke of and also those in the two-part second season finale Kali, where Declan is mentioned throughout. Having laid all that foundation, I’m looking forward to seeing where our excellent writers hopefully go in terms of further fleshing out my character. As far as how I position Declan in my mind, I think he’s spent many years fighting other peoples’ wars, and to now be involved in what Helen is doing with the Sanctuary network, he’s found a ‘war’ that he wants to fight and a cause he truly believes in.” 

Born and raised in his native England, the actor made his stage debut at the age of 12, performing in musicals with a local youth theater group. A number of years later, he made his TV debut when he was cast in an episode of the long-running British drama series Heartbeat

“That was a fantastic first role for me because of the people I got to work with,” says Lawrenson. “I was on-set with great British actors such as Robert Glenister, David Calder and Celia Imrie, who was my mentor that week. We all stayed at this lovely manor house hotel in Yorkshire, and the night before filming began, everyone went out together for dinner. There I was sitting with these actors whom I had watched and admired for many years on TV and they were fantastic with me. The next morning, Celia sent me a note that said, ‘Don’t worry about your first scene, you’ll be wonderful.’ I’ve kept that card for years. To work with someone like her on my first scene was just amazing.” 

Holby City, Emmerdale Farm, Fat Friends, Where the Heart Is, The Royal and Doctors are among the other hit UK shows that Lawrenson has guest-starred in. Regular watchers of Coronation Street will also recognize him from his recurring role as PC Glaister. “That was another fantastic show to work on,” says the actor. “It’s very much like Sanctuary in terms of its friendly, good-natured, hard work ethic. 

Will, Henry (Ryan Robbins) and Declan race against the clock to try to solve a problem. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

“At one point on that show, I ran into another of my screen idols, Sir Ian McKellen, who was in an episode that I was also in. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any scenes with him, but one day I rounded the corner from my dressing room on the way to the green room, and he was standing there in the hall talking to Johnny Briggs, who played Mike Baldwin. I thought, ‘There’s Gandalf [McKellen’s Lord of the Rings role] speaking to Mike Baldwin. Wow, that’s not a sight you see every day.’ I’ve worked in this industry long enough that I don’t tend to get starstruck, but when I saw Ian McKellen, I got starstruck for a moment.” 

Besides acting in front of the camera, Lawrenson also does a great deal of voiceover work for TV narration, advertising, corporate shorts and charity fundraisers, the latter of which he finds especially rewarding. 

“There was a charity project I did for the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool,” he says. “Yoko Ono is the patron of their society, obviously because of [her late husband] John Lennon. The hospital is around the corner from where he grew up. I think their charity is called Imagine [the Alder Hey Imagine Appeal], and she licensed the use of the Beatles song Imagine to them. David Morrissey had done the voiceover for one of their earlier videos and I was working with the production company that made it. David wasn’t available for their next campaign, so I offered to do the voicing for it. 

“I get personal reward and personal pride in the work I do. When I really nail a scene, I feel great, but I see that a selfish reward. When you’re able to contribute part of what you do for a living to a cause that’s going to make a practical difference in other peoples’ lives, that’s truly rewarding. I don’t do enough of that, and I’d like to do more. Amanda Tapping and Damian Kindler [Sanctuary creator/executive producer] have set up Sanctuary for Kids [S4K], and I’m hoping to help out with that charity in whatever capacity I can. 

Currently, the actor is busy doing more voiceover work, including some animation projects, as well as continuing to audition for various Vancouver-based productions. “I’m waiting to hear, too, about my possible involvement in a feature film, which would actually be shot back in England later this year,” he says. “And I’m also looking forward to finding out about Declan’s involvement in season three of Sanctuary.” 

To find out more about Robert and see clips of his work, check out his official website at www.robertlawrenson.com . 

Steve Eramo 

As noted above, Robert Lawrenson photo courtesy/copyright of Velocity PR, and Sanctuary photos by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

Sanctuary’s Alan McCullough – The Write Touch

January 24, 2010

Writer/co-executive producer Alan McCullough in his Sanctuary digs. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

When Stargate Atlantis‘ TV run was brought to an end after five years, series writer/producer Alan McCullough, who had previously served as a writer/story editor on Stargate SG-1, relocated from the Pegasus Galaxy to take on a new creative challenge. He joined Sanctuary as a writer as well as co-executive producer and penned four scripts for the show’s second season. In his first one, Hero, Chris Gauthier, best known as Walter in Eureka, plays an ordinary man who is transformed into an unlikely costumed crusader against crime in the show’s fictional New City.

Hero was a really fun script to write,” says McCullough. “It’s a fast-paced and humorous episode, which I never really had the opportunity to do on Stargate. There was always humor embedded in the dialogue in Stargate, but it was rare that I got to write a comedic script. There were people who were sort of the go-to guys for that; Martin Gero and Brad Wright, in particular, and Rob Cooper also wrote a couple of great comedy scripts and Carl Binder wrote one, too. So when I came on Sanctuary there was a chance for me to do the same.

“In Hero, our people are on a mission to track down an Abnormal when all of a sudden they’re thwarted by a guy in a neoprene suit. He drops out of the sky, grabs the person we’re chasing and flies off, so we’re left wondering where the hell this guy came from and how he can fly. He’s apparently human and appears to be wearing a homemade outfit, but nevertheless seems to possess miraculous powers. Chris Gauthier played the part to a tee. He was hilarious in it and brought so much to the role.

“The actual shooting of this episode was difficult because there were a lot of stunts. We actually brought in a flying rig which, I believe, is one of the most advanced ones you can get. I’m not well-versed in the technology of it, but you sit in front of a giant computer screen and program in all the moves you want to do and draw all the vectors on the screen. The operator then turns the rig on and it flies you around in the exact way that it was programmed to. So they did a full day of shooting just with that rig and came away with some fantastic stuff, including a scene where, at one point, our superhero has to fight a monster.

“Again, it was a fun episode and Chris has a blast and we had a blast working with him. It was a nice break, too, in the season. We had just come off shooting the two-part End of Nights, which is an energetic and tension-filled story where we’re fighting for the survival of the Sanctuary, and if you saw the episodes you know that something big happens to one of our characters at the end of part two. Then in the following story, Eulogy, we’re dealing with the death of a character. It’s a very poignant episode, so it was good to then come in with episode four, which was lighter in tone and a total breath of fresh air. Personally, I think Hero is one of the best scripts I’ve ever written and one that I’m really proud of.”

There was a very specific idea in mind for McCullough’s next Sanctuary script, Veritas, but, as is often the case in the world of TV, it eventually evolved into something quite different. “We started out with marching orders to come up with a background story for Bigfoot [Christopher Heyerdahl],” explains the writer. “We pitched story after story to the Syfy Channel but there was always one thing they didn’t like, so we would go back and try to retool the script. However, by pulling out that one thing, the whole story collapsed.

“So we’d start fresh, and ultimately we came up with a story that the network loved but that had nothing to do with Bigfoot’s back story whatsoever,” chuckles McCullough. “It does, however, involve Bigfoot in a very major and pivotal way. At the very beginning of the episode, Will [Robin Dunne] arrives back from a trip and he’s frantic; he’s been told that Bigfoot has been killed. Will goes to the morgue where he finds Bigfoot lying there with two bullet holes in his chest, and we further learn that Magnus [Amanda Tapping] is the prime suspect.

“From there, it becomes a bit of a murder mystery that takes place within the context of the Sanctuary. They have specific charter rules for how they deal with situations such as this, including summoning what’s called The Triad, which is a group of telepaths that arrive on the scene and start questioning people. Within the Sanctuary network we have individuals with these incredible abilities, so why not use them to solve crimes. Will, of course, sets out to prove that Magnus had nothing to do with this, but the deeper he digs, the more evidence seems to mount that she actually did shoot Bigfoot.

“It’s a real mindbender of an episode where, quite honestly, all is not revealed until the very end. We designed it so that at every single turn you think, ‘Oh, they’re going to tell us who really did it,’ but you get no satisfaction until the story is nearly over. This was another fun episode for me to write and, coming off Hero, much more of a subdued, emotional type of potboiler. We had a great guest-cast, too, including Erica Cerra [Deputy Jo Lupo in Eureka], who did a fantastic job playing one of the telepaths. And Amanda Tapping did an incredible job directing the episode.”

The writer’s third Sanctuary script, Penance, reunites Helen Magnus with an old friend, Jimmy, played by Tapping’s former SG-1 costar Michael Shanks (Dr. Daniel Jackson). Although it would have been tempting to pair them up on the screen, Shanks actually shared the majority of his scenes with the show’s newest castmember, Agam Darshi, who plays Kate Freelander. Writing-wise, this one was a bit of a whirlwind for McCullough.

“We received notes on the outline last Friday night from Syfy,” he recalls, “so I started writing the script on Saturday and Sunday and, hopefully, I’ll finish it up today [Monday, June 1st, 2009]. It’s certainly the fastest that I’ve ever had to turn around a script. This one starts out with a really action-packed teaser where our characters are in Old City to meet an Abnormal who’s a ‘mule.’ By that I mean he has a pocket in his body that can transport hazardous or very sensitive material, and in this case he’s carrying a container for us in his belly.

“So we get there, but, of course, the bad guys are on our tail and all hell breaks loose. Our people get separated and Kate and Jimmy end up trapped in a derelict hotel room. Kate has been shot and the two of them spend a considerable amount of time together getting to know one another. In the process, Kate opens up to Jimmy and we discover a great deal about her past, including how her father was killed. With Kate being a new character this season, we felt this was a good opportunity for audiences to learn more about her. Meanwhile, Magnus and everyone else are out there looking for Kate and Jimmy, and it’s a bit of a chess match to see who’s going to arrive first and save the day.

“The neat thing about this episode is that we’re going to be doing some location shooting. We do almost all our filming downstairs in the studio, much of which is using a green screen, and we also shoot outside on the studio lot or in the nearby streets. We usually don’t have trucks to go out on-location with, but for episode eight [Next Tuesday], we’re packing up all our equipment to go film at a pool. Thanks to some scheduling magic, we have the truck for the rest of the week, so we’re taking advantage of that and going to shoot for two, possibly three days on the old Watchmen set. At least that’s the plan. We went out to look at the set, which is on Marine Way, and we’re going to use that as Old City. It’s perfect because the story has a lot of skulking around as well as gunplay and a bit of a car chase, so I’m really excited about that.”

Despite being a freshman with Sanctuary, it has not taken McCullough long to find the voices of the new characters he is writing for. “Obviously I’d worked with Amanda before, and although this is Helen Magnus and not Sam Carter, I still hear Amanda’s voice in my head, so it’s just a matter of finding the right words,” says the writer. “Ryan Robbins, who plays Henry, has a very distinctive voice, so I seem to be able to hear his voice quite easily, too.

“The character I struggled with the most was Will. I’ve since found his voice a lot more, but with my first script, Hero, I really struggled. Ultimately, I don’t think anyone picked up on that. The episode moves so quickly and there’s so much going on that I don’t think you would have the time to sit there and think, ‘Hmm, that didn’t quite sound like something Will would say.’ I noticed it, though, and when I’d write a line I’d think, ‘That doesn’t sound right,’ so I’d delete it and write another one. So it took me a while to get Will’s dialogue to sound right, but episode seven is wall-to-wall Will and I think I found his voice a little better for that one.

“It helps, too, that Damian Kindler [series creator/executive producer] is always around, and we go through the scripts with a fine-tooth comb. We’ll look at each line and if there’s one that bothers any of us, we’ll find another way to say what it is we’re trying to say.”

The writer’s fourth and final contribution to Sanctuary‘s second season is part one of the show’s two-part season ender, Kali. The germ of the idea for this episode came from a prior one, while the setting was the result of a previously discussed story that never came to be. Catching up again recently with McCullough, he was happy to talk about Kali‘s development.

“Earlier in the season we were breaking a story called Justice,” recalls the writer. “It was set in a small town, which is tough to do on our show as we don’t have suitable sets and didn’t want to go out on-location. So Martin Wood [executive producer/director] proposed setting Justice in a Mumbai slum, as that would be relatively easy to re-create. We loved that idea so much that we decided to save it for the [season] finale. Unfortunately, Justice never got produced, which is too bad because it was a great story.

“The idea for Kali came partly from Veritas, where we introduce an Abnormal called Big Bertha, who is capable of creating earthquakes. I’m pretty sure it was me who suggested that we use Big Bertha in the season finale as well. I proposed that Magnus had lied to the heads of the Sanctuary network about destroying the creature and secretly kept her alive in an enclosure at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. And then later on in the writers’ room, we came up with the idea for the Makri, the small spider that telepathically links to Big Bertha.

“We went back and forth for weeks with this story,” continues the writer. “It’s probably the toughest one I’ve ever had to break. We knew we were on to something and felt like it could be big, but we just could not find the story for the life of us. Eventually, and after numerous rewrites, we shaped the story into Kali, parts one and two. Later in the process I was reviewing part two, which Damian wrote, and went to him with a logic problem. Basically, something Will was doing made no sense. And I distinctly remember what followed next; Damian sat back in his chair, thought about it for a long time, and then said, ‘I think I know what to do – Will has to dance a Bollywood number.’

“I nearly fell off my chair. He was exactly right, of course, but I thought we’d be marched right out of the TV business for good if we tried to do a full-scale Bollywood number in a Sci-Fi show. Luckily, Mark Stern [Syfy’s Executive Vice President for Original Content ] bought into the idea and off we went.

“Also late in the game, Damian, Martin, Amanda and Robin were invited to Tokyo by Syfy Asia and decided to take advantage of the exotic locale to shoot a scene for the show. We brainstormed and felt it belonged in my episode, and it turned out to be a great way to start things off. Shooting the Mumbai sequences took place on our [studio] backlot, which is where we built a massive labyrinthine Mumbai slum, and it looked photo real. To top it off, it was over 40 degrees Celsius, or 104 Farenheit, pretty much the whole week we were filming. Everyone was dying from the heat, but it helped with the authenticity. I’m not sure how we’re going to replicate that in part three, which will likely be shot this coming February or March.”

Having thoroughly enjoyed his first year with Sanctuary, McCullough is eagerly awaiting the start of work on season three. “I’m definitely looking forward to the challenge of us doing 20 episodes and really pushing the boundary with our season [story] arcs,” he says. “And also somehow getting ourselves out of the conundrum we created at the end of Kali, Part 2.”

Steve Eramo

As noted above, photo is by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

Sanctuary’s Martin Wood – Season Of Change

December 15, 2009

Martin Wood (front left) on the Sanctuary set. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

Having honed his craft directing such Sci-Fi TV shows as Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, Andromeda, Jeremiah and Earth: Final Conflict along with helping produce both Stargate series, Martin Wood has brought all those years of experience to his role as an executive producer as well as writer and director on Sanctuary. Debuting last fall on The Syfy Channel, Sanctuary began on the Internet as the story of Dr. Helen Magnus, who operates a worldwide network of facilities, or Sanctuaries, that were established to provide shelter for, and in some cases imprison, creatures called Abnormals. The series returned this past October for its second season, and while its overall premise remains the same this year, it has further grown and developed, as Wood explains. 

“When we came back this year and talked about where we wanted to go with the second season, we all knew that we now had an idea of what this show could be,” recalls the director. “The direction that Damian Kindler [series creator/executive producer], Amanda Tapping [who stars as Dr. Helen Magnus and also serves as an executive producer] and I wanted to go in was to make Sanctuary bigger and better. And everyone here took that to heart and ran with it, which I think is great. 

“We went through a whole range of different things as far as how we were going to start the season and what we were going to do. That included looking at a bunch of audience reactions to season one, because we wanted to react to what the viewers felt. As a result, we decided, ‘We have to shake things up a little bit.’ You know my philosophy on major characters; I always feel that they have to be expendable because the only thing that keeps a TV show alive is if its characters are in real jeopardy. If not, every time one of them gets into a dire situation, you know they’re going to come out OK on the other end. 

Emilie Ullerup (as Ashley Magnus) and Martin Wood. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

“We decided to take the Ashley [Emilie Ullerup] character and ‘Sci-Fi’ kill her, meaning she could come back in other episodes and different incarnations. After all, we have a 158-year-old Magnus, so her daughter could possibly come back. There are a number of things we could have done in terms of introducing jeopardy into our story; this is the way we wanted to go and Emilie embraced it with both hands. She was outstanding,” praises Wood. “In the first two episodes, she utters one word, ‘Mom.’ That’s it. The rest of her acting is done with just her face, which is tough, but Emile did it beautifully. I told her at the end of shooting the second episode [End of Nights, Part 2] that it was some of the hardest acting she had ever done on the show and she did a terrific job.” 

At the end of Sanctuary‘s first season, Dr. Magnus’ chief rival, the Cabal, manages to turn Ashley against her mother and everything Magnus stands for. In the two-part second season opener, End of Nights, Ashley and five other individuals are transformed into super Abnomals and used in a campaign to bring down the entire Sanctuary network. Wood was given the monumental task of directing this story, which, among other things, has a fast-moving action sequence featuring new series regular Agam Darshi who plays con artist Kate Freelander. 

“I thought, ‘If we’re going to open things up, let’s really open it up,'” says Wood. “I said to Damian, ‘We need to have a car chase,’ so in the script he wrote the words Magnus chases Kate. Then we decided that Henry [Ryan Robbins] needed to be there, too. OK, Magnus and Henry chase Kate, but in two separate cars, and Magnus had to drive something hot. So I asked Damian if we could use his BMW and he said, ‘Sure.’ 

Martin Wood (back to camera) with Amanda Tapping (Helen Magnus) and Robin Dunne (Will Zimmerman). Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

“The idea was that if it was a sunny day we could have the top down on the car and Magnus with her hair blowing in the wind and driving this convertible. Then we found a place where we could actually shoot the scene, and without Damian knowing it, I set up this type of camera called the Ultimate Arm, which is a Mercedes SUV with a giant crane hanging off the side of it. You can stuff six people into this thing, and as the director I get to sit in the back sideways, because there’s a little hatchback in the rear. We travel twice as fast as the cars in the scene in order to beat them and get in front of and beside them. By doing it this way, we could have Amanda driving Damian’s car, Ryan Robbins driving a car, and Agam Darshi driving a car as well. 

“So we were able to drive beside them like that, but when we got into the hot and heavy stuff, Amanda said to me, ‘I’m going to keep driving.’ She’s used to driving a sports car anyway, so that’s what we did. We were shooting for about six hours and halfway through the day, Damian came out to see how things were going. The first words out of his mouth were, ‘My car!’ as he watched Amanda winding around a corner. And he had just put on his good tires, too,” chuckles the director. “Damian had no idea it was going to be a minute-and-a-half chase sequence, so that was fun to do.” 

Although it has been known since season one that Magnus’ Sanctuary organization is a global one, it was felt in year two that this fact needed to be visually reinforced to the audience. Wood and his fellow executive producers also wanted to give Abnormals a greater onscreen presence this time around. “One of the things we decided to do in season two was put more Abnormals into everything we did,” says Wood. “So, for example, in the season opener there was the fight with the big giant Abnormal. We had a huge stunt guy dressed in a green suit. He was only half the size of the Abnormal you see on the screen, but we still had more stunt guys jumping on top of him during that scene. It was pretty cool. 

Martin Wood running through an action sequence with Robin Dunne. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

“We also showed our Sanctuaries in London and Tokyo. We had talked about them before, but now we were actually in them. There’s that great scene with the nine monitors and Magnus talking to nine different Sanctuary heads, including Medusa in Japan, who you see after the Tokyo Sanctuary is attacked. There’s also the actual attack, where Ashley and two other super Abnormals drop through the skylight. I had talked with Lee Wilson [visual effects supervisor] about doing that practically. We went through all the machinations of what the set would look like and all that, and he said to me, ‘You know what, just let me do it [using VFX].’ Lee then took it and just ran away with it, and it was so amazing. It really was a remarkable visual effect for something done completely through a computer, and the entire process took about two weeks, too. 

“That’s something else that happens with our show. We end up getting so little time to do feature-film-like effects. You hear some people saying, ‘But it doesn’t look like it does in the movies,’ but it sometimes takes up to a year to do movie VFX. That’s why these sorts of things aren’t done very often on TV, because of the time involved. Sometimes I’ll be sitting with our visual effects guys, who will show me things on the computer, and my only reaction is, ‘Oh, my God, that’s so cool. OH, MY GOD, THAT’S SO COOL!’ And I’ll keep amplifying that response until everyone in the office is hearing me. They never hear me say, ‘Oh, that doesn’t look that great.’ We’re fortunate to have some really good [VFX] artists working on Sanctuary. I love the fact that in our first two episodes alone this year we have half the number of visual effects as we had in all of season one. That’s one of the ways we ramped up the show this year.” 

In End of Nights, Wood enjoyed the opportunity to direct some complex fight sequences, including one where John Druitt (Christopher Heyerdahl) battles Ashley and two other super Abnormals. “Damian said, ‘I’d like to do a sword fight,’ and I said, ‘OK.’ So we set it up as a serious sword fight with Chris using two swords, and that came from our fight coordinator, Rob Hayter, and our stunt coordinator, Marshall Virtue,” notes the director. “It was one of those things where you get into the shooting of it and think, ‘This is either going to be the coolest fight we’ve ever done, or the most unbelievable one.’ 

Setting the stage for the big fight sequence. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

Chris Heyerdahl (John Druitt, dressed in black, back to camera) in "action-mode" with Martin Wood right beside him. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

Martin Wood (right) checking out the shot. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions.

“Chris Heyerdahl came in and started rehearsing, and on the day leading up to the sword fight, whenever he had a break, he’d walk over to the side of the set, grab the practice swords and fight. He had the [stunt] guys there the whole time so he could practice, so when the time came to shoot the fight, it was mostly Chris doing it. Mike [Desabrais, stunt player] and the two stunt doubles were there for a couple of shots for when it got really violent, but otherwise all the activity you see on the screen is Chris. When we cut it together and I watched the scene for the first time I was like, ‘This is definitely worth it.’ It was very convincing and unlike any fight I’d ever shot before.” 

In the final moments of End of Nights, Ashley regains control of herself from the Cabal just long enough to save her mother’s life, but in order to do so, she must sacrifice herself. Not surprisingly, it was an incredibly moving moment for all involved. “Damian, Amanda and I massaged that scene in so many ways,” says Wood. “We sat down and looked at all the different scenarios for how Magnus could come across Ashley and how she couldn’t shoot her. Amanda then came up with the sequence of events, and then I said, ‘Well, Magnus has to put her gun down at some point.’ And that’s how that whole scene came together – the three of us sitting in Damian’s office and deciding how we wanted to play it out. 

“Then during the actual shooting of the scene, Amanda collapsed on the floor like she was supposed to, and I was standing behind the cameraman, who I kept pulling further and further back. It was so hard to watch Amanda cry like that. She was so distraught [in the scene] and the entire crew was waiting for me to yell, ‘Cut!’ Amanda was also looking at me as if to say, ‘Why aren’t you saying, ‘Cut!’ But I just kept pulling the cameraman back and having him continue to shoot way longer than is comfortable in a situation like that. I really felt, though, that that’s what was needed at the end of this episode where Magnus is saying goodbye to her daughter under the most heinous of situations. It was very emotional and we don’t shy away from that on our show. We allow that to happen as opposed to keeping it light.” 

Green screen work on the Sanctuary set. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

Following Sanctuary‘s season opener, Wood directed episode four, Hero, in which a very ordinary man is unexpectedly thrust into a very extraordinary, and life-threatening, predicament. “This story shows us that, yes, human beings can ‘fly,'” says Wood. “It’s an amusing romp as well as a standalone story and a chance for our characters to take a bit of a breather from all that’s been happening to them. 

“Damian wrote a Stargate SG-1 episode called The Other Guys, and it was the first story of his that I directed. It was a great deal of fun, so he did the same kind of thing with Hero.  It’s like Sanctuary‘s The Other Guys. Chris Gauthier from Eureka guest-stars in it, and his character [of Walter, “The Adjuster”] is one that we would like to bring back in the third season. 

On-location with Martin Wood. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

“We’ve done a lot more 3-D creatures as well in season two, and Hero has one in it called a Coleanthropus, and it looks great. The first time you get to see it in all its glory is in-between two garbage bins. Then it stands up and you’re like, ‘Yikes!’ There’s a huge fight with it during the climax of this episode that’s neat.” 

The director had been slated to shoot the episode Pavor Nocturnus, but the schedule subsequently changed and Brenton Spencer, another name very familiar to Stargate and Sanctuary fans, directed it instead. “When we finished the episode, we looked at it and said, ‘It doesn’t quite end the way we wanted it to,'” says Wood. “So we rewrote the final two scenes to give the story a bit more of a twist and I then shot those. Brenton did a fantastic job of directing what is a really, really dark story that includes a scene where Magnus gets physically abused. 

“My next episode was number eight, Next Tuesday, which is this year’s Requiem [referring to a season one story], and it’s Amanda Tapping and Robin Dunne [Dr. Will Zimmerman] in the borehole of an oil rig in a crashed helicopter. They spent five days with me in a pool of water that was 72 feet across and 20 feet deep. Everything was done with Amanda and Robin, no stunt people, and it was quite incredible. I wanted to see one morning how long I could tread water without holding on to anything – I went four-and-a-half hours directing from a treading water position. And Amanda and Robin were in and out of the helicopter, in the water, underwater, you name it. It was a very hard shoot for them, but it turned out to be a beautiful episode.” 

Martin Wood directing Amanda Tapping and Robin Dunne in "Next Tuesday." Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

Treading water for four-and-a-half hours! Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

Something nasty is lurking behind the door...Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

Behind-the-scenes shot from "Next Tuesday." Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

Wood’s final directing credit for season two of Sanctuary is the show’s two-part season finale, Kali, and it might surprise some viewers to learn that the episode has a Bollywood dance sequence in the second half that feature Robin Dunne. “It’s very much part of the story and it comes off perfectly,” says Wood. “I think episode 13 is probably the best show we’ve shot so far. And we actually did some filming in Japan for episode 12 as well. We were invited over there for a quick press conference and were going to be in Tokyo for a little over 72 hours. I looked at Damian and said, ‘Let’s shoot something while we’re there,’ and he said, ‘Sure.’ 

Singer, songwriter, artist and industrial designer Tatsuya Ishii, Robin Dunne and Amanda Tapping shooting in Tokyo. Photo courtesy of and copyright of Martin Wood

On-location in Tokyo with Robin Dunne and Damian Kindler - who have been up for 74 hours. Photo courtesy of and copyright of Martin Wood

“We’d been flying for 11 hours and after arriving in Tokyo we went on a little tour of the city and thought, ‘OK, we can shoot something here, and we can shoot something there.’ We even arranged to use a celebrity from there, Tatsuya Ishii; he’s a pop star as well as a Renaissance man, a beautiful sculptor and just a really cool guy. We wanted him to play the head of the Tokyo Sanctuary. 

Martin Wood, the director, as the cameraman ("I was the only one who knew how to use the RED camera"). Photo courtesy of and copyright of Martin Wood

Damian Kindler, Martin Wood, Robin Dunne and Amanda Tapping in the pouring rain! Photo courtesy of and copyright of Martin Wood

Amanda Tapping and Robin Dunne shooting in Shabuya. Photo courtesy of and copyright of Martin Wood

“Damian wrote two scenes, and when we got to the filming location there was a soundman along with a camerman, but the cameraman didn’t know how to operate the RED camera [ultra high-definition camera] that we use. So it kind of fell to me to say, ‘OK, I’ll do the shooting.’ Damian was sort of wrangling things from a production assistant standpoint, so we filmed the scenes and just had a ball.” 

More shooting in Shabuya with Martin Wood. Photo courtesy of and copyright of Martin Wood

Final touches! Photo courtesy of and copyright of Martin Wood

With a second season of Sanctuary under their respective belts, Wood and the rest of the show’s cast and crew cannot wait to start work on number three. “This year has been just spectacular,” enthuses the director. “Amanda Tapping went further [as an actress] than I’ve ever seen her go in anything before. Robin Dunne, Ryan Robbins, Chris Heyerdahl, Agam Darshi, Robert Lawrenson, who plays a new character, Declan Macrae, and Jonathon Young, who came back a couple of times as Nikola Tesla, all really pushed themselves creatively as well and I loved that. 

Sanctuary DOP (director of photography) Gord Verheul and Martin Wood. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

“As for season three, we’ve talked a lot about that already and are very much looking forward to it. In the meantime, we couldn’t be more pleased with the show, and the fans seem to be happy with it, too, so it’s all good.” 

Cut and print! Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

 Steve Eramo 

As noted above, all Sanctuary photos by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions, and all on-location Tokyo photos courtesy of and copyright of Martin Wood, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of ANY kind. Thanks!

Sanctuary’s Damian Kindler – Creative Spirit

November 13, 2009
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Sanctuary creator, executive producer and writer Damian Kindler. Photo courtesy of Damian Kindler

Last fall, The Syfy Channel added a new face to their stable of strong heroic female characters, Dr. Helen Magnus of Sanctuary. As head of a global network of facilities, or Sanctuaries, she as well as her daughter Ashley, techie Henry Foss, and forensic psychiatrist Will Zimmerman, risk their lives to protect humankind from creatures called “Abnormals” and vice versa. Created by Damian Kindler and executive producer with Martin Wood and Amanda Tapping (Magnus), the series made the jump in October 2008 from web-based to the small screen. Season one was a hit, and earlier this year, Kindler was back on the show’s Vancouver set with the cast and crew to start production on year two, which began airing back in October. As with the first season, the prep process was an involved one.

“Alan McCullough [series co-executive producer], Sara Cooper [consulting producer], James Thorpe [creative consultant], who came to us a bit later on, and I spent last Christmas as well as this past January and February developing story ideas and inching towards Bethlehem if you will. And sure enough it all eventually came together,” says Kindler, taking a break in-between production meetings.

“So we went forth and came up with this big two-part second season opener, End of Nights. We’re very proud of the episode and the performances in it are amazing. Our story opens six weeks into Helen Magnus’ search for her daughter Ashley [Emilie Ullerup], and it’s quite revealing about the way the Sanctuary works in a larger sense. You actually get to see other Sanctuaries around the world because there’s a global threat that’s made very real. We’re also made privy to how the Cabal plays its hand, which affects our heroes in a bad way. Essentially, it’s a giant kind of worldwide James Bond-ish, action-packed chess match between Magnus and the bad guys. There are some really cool human moments and Martin Wood just directed the hell out of it in a very short time.

“At the end of part two, people who are interested as well as invested in the show are going to be blown away because things careen into this incredible shock. Look, this sounds like I’m playing up the PR spin on the show, but we’ve literally pulled our heads up from the rabbit hole recently, looked around and said, ‘The first four or five episodes we’ve done are terrific.’ Season two is rolling out in such a smooth and heightened way, and the network has been incredibly generous with their feedback and saying how there has been a quantum leap in the way Sanctuary feels and in the entire creative process.

“The episodes are ramped up, revealing and really good character stories with cool monster beats. I think the show has definitely hit a very important stride right out of the gate in season two, and I don’t say that because it was all part of the plan. I thought we’d just continue on, but there was something about the wind at our backs when we sailed into season two that was extremely confident. We had been given this chance to come back and do this all over again. It was such an amazing life-changing experience doing the first season and everyone was so excited about doing a second season that they’ve brought their A+ game to the table.”

Last season, Kindler and his fellow writers established Sanctuary‘s main characters, and this year they will be building upon those foundations with some big twists and turns to come. “This season really is about the characters,” notes Kindler. “In season one we played through the growing global threat and shift in power. It was all very Lord of the Rings-like. This time around, though, I felt that we really needed to get to know not just our characters individually, but how they work as a group and how they like or don’t like one another.

“There are changes that happen to our heroes in the first three episodes this year that are profoundly dramatic. I mean, at the end of the season opener Ashley is killed – she dies saving her mother. During the final moments of End of Nights: Part 2, Magnus watches as Ashley is blown up and the screen then goes black. So viewers are left with this very harsh vision and they subsequently need some sort of ‘let down,’ which comes in Eulogy. One of my favorite episodes this year, it’s written by Sara Cooper and has Magnus and Will [Robin Dunne] playing out the possibility that Ashley could have survived, but in the end, coming to the realization that she is, in fact, gone.

“When I initially showed the ending of this episode to a few people there wasn’t a dry eye, and there are two reasons for that. One being that there’s an actual memorial service for Ashley, and then there’s a little bit of a ghostly visit where Magnus has a vision of her daughter and they say goodbye. Also, there was a woman named Nora O’Brien who worked for both Syfy and NBC and who died suddenly. She was very close friends with a lot of us here at Sanctuary, so Martin, Amanda and I came up with the idea of dedicating a story to her this season, and we all agreed that Eulogy would be the perfect one.

“This is one of those episodes where I believe Sanctuary is at its finest because it deals with the characters in such a human way. The thing is, it’s cool to have a very structured plot, a clever plot twist or high-concept idea, but if it doesn’t service the characters, then it’s not going to feel like a Sanctuary. It’s going to feel like a CSI only with monsters. There are moments in this story between Will and Magnus where you expect things to get overwrought, but, instead, they become quite realistic. Eulogy also features a really neat hunt for an escaped Abnormal. So it’s fun, too, and it serves to sort of reset the series if you will.

“I’ve just written an episode called Next Tuesday where Magnus and Will are stuck in the central well of a decommissioned oil rig. They’ve been trying to transport a sea monster to the Sanctuary, but their helicopter becomes tangled up in the guide wires hanging above the well and this creature escapes. And to make matters worse, there’s a second monster, too. We shot the episode on this cool set where we got to spend some time with Magnus and Will. I wanted to give you a chance to watch these two people bickering about their lives. Yes, there’s a monster and how are our heroes going to get out of there, but more important is the question of what happens when you spend 30 or 40 minutes of almost real time with your two leads talking to each other as people. Our goal was to have an ongoing personal conflict between Magnus and Will and watch that get resolved while being sure we told a cool monster story.”

As if Ashley’s death is not enough to deal with, the dynamic between our characters is further turned upside-down in season two of Sanctuary with the introduction of a new character, con artist Kate Freelander (Agam Darshi). “I’m going to totally mea culpa here and say that every show runner is like, ‘I want a Han Solo on my series,’ and that was our idea with Kate,” admits Kindler. “There are obvious ways you can go with a character like this. You can make her tough, but there was something cool about making Kate a bit like Ferris Bueller, where she’s working for the bad guys because that’s who’s paying her. Deep down, though, she’s really a hero who has sort of been in denial and hiding for a while. All she needed was to find someone who she could trust.

“Kate Freelander is an opportunistic freelance operative who has been working for the Cabal as well as other people. She knows about Abnormals, is very good at what she does, and crosses paths with our gang in part one of End of Nights when she kind of mucks things up for our heroes. Basically we’re trying to get to an Abornmal before the Cabal does, but Kate spirits him way before we can do that. There’s a big car chase – they used my car, by the way, and drove the heck out of it – where Kate is eventually caught and interrogated by Magnus. There’s a very kind of gripping scene where Helen is pretty out of control when it comes to dealing with her. Kate manages to escape, but she eventually ends up at the Sanctuary, a bit out of an attraction for what they are doing, but mainly out of desperation because the Cabal has put a hit out on her.

“She’s somewhat reluctant at first to help Magnus, but slowly becomes more cooperative,” continues the executive producer. “Kate is sort of the person in the middle and you can’t quite trust her. She’s an opportunist who has a very selfish way of working, but she’s changing. Kate is inspired by our heroes, but she has a different style, and that’s important when it comes to our storytelling. She thinks outside the box. Where we might take a very scientific, academic or particularly structured approach to a problem, she’ll be like, ‘Why not just call this guy. He has what we need. Who cares where it came from.’ Kate gets stuff done, and I like that because it shakes up some of the pomp and circumstance of our story, making it a bit more streetwise and fun as well.

“We had auditioned Agam Darshi for roles in the past and had always been impressed with her work. She’s a great actress who brings a lighter, edgy, interesting, mischievous tone to a lot of the stories that we’re doing. At any given moment, Kate could potentially steal something for money and then turn around to Magnus and the others and say, ‘But I never saw it.’ Again, though, she slowly begins to realize the value of the work that the Sanctuary team does.”

Kindler chuckles when asked to talk about some of the more memorable episodes from season two of Sanctuary. “More memorable than hanging a real helicopter over a pool of water?” he asks with a smile. “Well, our season opener has something like 400 VFX [visual effects] shots, and Eulogy is beautifully done and well-directed. Episode four, Hero, is, I think, the first openly amusing episode of Sanctuary that we’ve ever done. Anyone who is a fan of comic book heroes will love this one. I’m guessing it will be a fan favorite; I know it’s one of ours this year and it guest-stars Chris Gauthier [Vincent] from Eureka, who is a wonderful actor. It has some really good monsters in it as well as some funny, rather poignant beats, and overall is just a good, back to basics fun romp.

“Episode five [Pavor Nocturnus] is an unbelievably unique experience. It’s what looks like an alternate future gone to hell. Magnus wakes up in the Sanctuary and it has literally been abandoned for years and years, and the outside world is in such disarray. The story is dark and strange and has elements in it that are very disturbing. There’s an interrogation/torture scene that some people will watch through their fingers. Fragments is a neat episode, too. It’s a strong Henry [Ryan Robbins] story that was directed by Steve Adelson, who did Instinct last year.

“The episode we’re currently filming [early June], Veritas, which was written by Alan McCullough, is wonderful and Amanda is directing it so well. She’s an incredible director, and that’s beyond just delivering cool visuals and amazing performances. Production-wise, Amanda is bringing this story in under-budget and early, which is very difficult to do on our limited budget.

“Like I said, I’m so happy with how things are going this season. Again, the show has found its groove, and it really had to because it’s been paired with Stargate Universe. So Sanctuary can’t sort of just keep bubbling its way upward. It had to find its legs and run, so the pressure is on for season two, and so far so good.”

Launching Sanctuary‘s original two-our pilot on the Internet was a huge accomplishment for everyone involved with the show, and then bringing it to TV was yet another major creative hurdle surmounted. It has proven to be a great deal of work, but you will not hear anyone complaining.

“We’re all exactly where we want to be, doing exactly what we want with exactly the people we want to be doing it with,” says Kindler. “As sugary sweet as that sounds, though, the truth is there’s nothing better than appreciating what you have. It’s been such an amazing, crazy train ride getting her, and there were so many moments where it should have gone off the rails and crashed into the river, but it didn’t.

“Every time there’s a problem, like, oh, boy, here’s another late night at the office, or, here’s another weekend I have to spend writing, or whatever, you realize what enormously high class ‘problems’ these are. This is what we want to do. We don’t have any big plans for global domination…yet,” jokes the executive producer, “but if the series could just keep building upon its fan base that would be great. That’s all we ask.”

Steve Eramo

As noted above, photo is courtesy of Damian Kindler, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!