Posts Tagged ‘Emilie Ullerup’

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!

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Sanctuary’s Amanda Tapping – Bare Essentials

January 13, 2010

Amanda Tapping as Sanctuary's Dr. Helen Magnus. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

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. 

Fighting side-by-side - Ashley (Emilie Ullerup) and Magnus. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

“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. 

Will's (Robin Dunne) and Magnus' relationship develops new and deeper levels this season on Sanctuary. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

“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. 

Season two's Helen Magnus - a little less emotionally guarded and with a burgeoning sense of humor. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

“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. 

Magnus meets up with a future version of Will in "Pavor Nocturnus." Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

“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.” 

Will and Kate (Agam Darshi) search for Magnus in "Veritas." Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

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.” 

Behind-the-scenes during season one of Sanctuary. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

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.” 

Amanda Tapping on-set directing "Veritas." Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

Discussing a scene. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

Lining up the next shot. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

Working with guest-star Erica Cerra...Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

...and series co-star Robin Dunne. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

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.” 

From season one - Magnus, Will and Ashley. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

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.” 

Casting an eye to the future. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions

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.” 

Steve Eramo

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

Sanctuary’s Robin Dunne – A Will Of His Own

December 27, 2009

Robin Dunne as Sanctuary's Dr. Will Zimmerman. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Syfy Channel

It was not that long ago that forensic psychiatrist Dr. Will Zimmerman crossed paths with Dr. Helen Magnus, but was it fate or happenstance that brought them together? It was, in fact, no accident that the scientist sought out Will and offered him the opportunity to become her protegé and part of the Sanctuary team. His curiosity got the better of him and he accepted. Since then, Will has been helping Magnus protect one of Earth’s oldest and sometimes most dangerous inhabitants, creatures called Abnormals. In Sanctuary‘s first season finale, Revelations, a mysterious group known as the Cabal set a plan in motion to turn Abnormals against humankind. Unknown to our heroes, this was the prelude to something far bigger, and for the actor who plays Will, Robin Dunne, it marked the end of what had been a challenging first year on the job. 

“I had never done a full season of a TV show before, and certainly not one like this,” says Dunne during a break in filming on Sanctuary‘s Vancouver set. “I loved it and it was so much fun doing the things that we did, but it was tough, too. There were some very demanding episodes, so by the end of last season I felt like I’d just crossed the finish line of a marathon. It was great to get to the finale, where we were wrapping stuff up and bringing in other characters. Not only did I get to work with our core cast – Amanda Tapping [Magnus], Ryan Robbins [Henry Foss], Emilie Ullerup [Ashley Magnus] and Chris Heyerdahl [John Druitt/Bigfoot] – but also Jonathon Young [Nikola Tesla], who came back for a visit, and Peter Wingfield [John Watson]. It was such an amazing story and brought together a number of loose ends.  

“Things felt like they were going so fast last season, and then we kind of hit a wall and stopped. It was strange for me because this show was, and still is, a huge part of my life. I was here every day and we were so immersed in the series and believed in it so much that, after we wrapped, I’d initially wake up every morning and think, ‘What am I going to do now?’ or, ‘How come I’m not in the Sanctuary?’ On top of that, I was on pins and needles wondering if that [first season] was going to be it. That’s another strange thing about doing a TV show and bringing its characters through all types of cliffhanger situations where certain things are left unresolved with them. We didn’t know for sure if we’d be able to resolve any of these situations. So it was amazing and weird all at the same time.  

Will and his new "boss," Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping). Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Syfy Channel

“I remember on the final day of filming, I saw Martin Wood [executive producer/director], Amanda Tapping [executive producer] and Damian Kindler [series creator/executive producer], or the Holy Trinity as I call them, together in one of the offices. I thought it would be a good time for me to go up to them and thank them for the amazing thing they’d done for me as far as giving me a part on the show and having the faith in me that I’d be able to do the job. Within 10 seconds of me going into my, ‘Hey, thanks guys…’ speech, I was bawling. And suddenly I looked around at Damian, Martin and Amanda, and all four of us were standing around that office in tears. So it was a swirl of emotions and, thankfully, we’re back here and getting to do it all over again. And as you watch season two, you see that there are some big changes. There are ripples that began at the end of last year that have turned into huge tidal waves for us here in the Sanctuary.”  

In the aforementioned Revelations, Ashley is captured by the Cabal, who uses her to steal a vial of pure vampire blood that Magnus, Will and others risk their lives to obtain. With that blood, they are able to manipulate Ashley’s DNA and that of five others, changing them into super Abnormals. In Sanctuary‘s season two opener End of Nights, these Abnormals almost bring down the entire Sanctuary network. Magnus and her people manage to stop them, but not without great personal sacrifice. As they struggle to deal with their losses, they must also repair the damage done to Sanctuaries around the world as well as continue with their ongoing mission. No longer a newcomer, Will must step up to the plate even more as Magnus’ second in command.  

“The responsibilities that my character has are far greater this year because of what Magnus is going through and the things that are pulling her in all different directions, which is especially true in the first three episodes,” notes Dunne. “My approach to Will and the way he was written last season was sort of tentative. He was between two worlds and wasn’t sure if he really belonged here. The Sanctuary was intriguing to him, but at the same time there was the pull of his old life. So there was just a little bit of uncertainty with him, but that’s gone this year, and I think there’s more of a dive-in approach and aggressiveness to Will. He has a greater confidence in himself and feels without a doubt like he belongs here.  

Out in the field. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Syfy Channel

“What’s gone as well are any of the situations you saw last year with Will being out in the field and going, ‘But I don’t want to use a weapon.’ He’s now resigned himself to the fact that, yes, he’s got to go out on missions, and, yes he’s got to be armed when doing so, and he’s just going to have to deal with it. There’s a ‘hardness’ with Will, and that’s because it’s crisis time. There’s no place for any of this, ‘Oh, God, what am I doing here?’ He and his teammates are dealing with some major Armageddon issues and it’s all business.  

“Also in season two, when Will has something to say to Magnus, he says it,” continues the actor. “There are times this year where there has been a slight butting of heads between the two, but not in an unfriendly way or one which suggests that they’re not getting along. My character is definitely the vice president if you will, and he’s not afraid to step into the president’s office and say, ‘Look, Madam President, you need to do this; you need to do that.’ He has some very strong opinions and there’s no longer any of that social etiquette or politeness between Will and Magnus. These are just two people who are pretty much in-sync most of the time and really speaking to each other and telling one another what they need to hear, whether they like it or not.  

“It’s funny how sometimes things are parallel in the fictional and real worlds. In the real world and with the making of this show, I feel like, OK, this is season two. We’ve cleared the hurdle of being a new show and now we’ve arrived. And I would guess that Damian, Amanda and Martin feel the same way, too. It’s like we belong a little more, and stylistically you’re going to know that you’re watching Sanctuary this season. There is some visual stuff that really pops out at you. So the overall feeling was one of, ‘Hey, let’s just go in there and blow the lid off this thing,’ and it’s exciting. Look, I hate to be one of these bumbling, overly positive Ed Flanders-type of guys, but you know what, we loved this program so much last season, but this year it’s gone to a whole new level. We’re like, ‘Wow, there’s Kismet in the air,’ and I think we’re doing something pretty cool.”  

Will Zimmerman, Sanctuary's "vice president." Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Syfy Channel

Among the lives lost in the effort to save the Sanctuary from falling was Ashley, who sacrificed her own life to save that of her mother’s. Will also lost Clara Griffin (Christine Chatelain), the granddaughter of Nigel Griffin, who, together with Helen Magnus, was a member of The Five. Clara inherited her grandfather’s power of invisibility and died helping defend the Sanctuary in End of Nights.  

“There was definitely a little bit of a spark and an attraction between my character and Clara,” says Dunne. “Unfortunately, poor Will doesn’t have much luck as far as women go. When the world constantly seems to be falling down around you and you’re trying to hold it together with some glue and dental floss, your love life tends to suffer. Sadly, this is one chapter in my character’s life that has come to an end.”  

While no one could ever replace Ashley, Will and Helen have added a new member to their team this season, former con artist Kate Freelander (Agam Darshi). Having been involved with the Cabal in a scheme to double cross Dr. Magnus, Kate ends up joining the good guys when things backfire on her. Because of her past dealings, though, it takes a little time for Will and the others to completely welcome Kate into the fold.  

Will and his new co-worker, Kate Freelander (Agam Darshi). Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Syfy Channel

“It’s an odd relationship that Will and Kate have,” explains Dunne. “It’s a slow build. At the beginning, there’s no real trust between either of them at all. They’re two very different people. Will is not someone who reacts to things without thinking them through first. He will analyze all the options and then try to make the wisest choice. Kate, however, has more of a knee-jerk reaction to things. She does what she thinks is right on the spur of the moment. So Kate and Will clash, and at first he’s not even sure whether or not she’s going to be around for long, or if she really belongs in the Sanctuary. But over time, there’s kind of a mutual, if not maybe a little distant, respect that develops between the two. Agam has brought a wonderful new energy to the show, while her character of Kate has really shaken up the team dynamic.”  

When it comes to the writing for season two of Sanctuary, Dunne does not hesitate to give it high marks. “One of the many great things about this show is the fearlessness and courage that Damian, Martin and Amanda as well as the writing staff have. Then there’s the Syfy Channel, who are right there supporting these ideas,” says the actor. “There is never a time where it’s like, well, let’s not push the envelope. Whenever you pick up a new script and start reading it, you’re thinking, ‘Wow, I can’t believe they’re doing this.’  

“Last year, Amanda and I did a couple of two-handers and it was a really terrific experience. It’s like doing a play in that we shoot them in sequence, which is fantastic. So in keeping with that theme, we have a couple of two-handers this season as well, one of which is set in the future and is called Pavor Nocturnus. In it, Magnus is basically ‘infected’ by this Abnormal that gives her a glimpse into the future. Needless to say, the future hasn’t gone particularly well, and when we meet Will in this episode he’s changed. He looks nothing like the way we know him to look, nor acts anything like the way we know Will to act.

“It was a terrific thing for me to be able to do, and at the same time a pretty tricky acting challenge because it was almost like playing a new character. A great deal had happened to Will; he’d seen so much tragedy and had to deal with a number of things. It was really quite daunting for me to do these scenes, and when they’d say, ‘Cut,’ I’d say to Marty, Damian or Amanda, ‘I don’t know what this is going to look like. It’s possibly going to come out looking terrible.’ As always, they were extremely supportive and said to me, ‘It’s great. Just don’t think about it. Just get out there and do it,’ which I did, and I think it turned out pretty well. It was just weird to take a character that you know and know how to play and try to approach it in a way that you’ve never played him before.” 

Will is not quite himself in "Pavor Nocturnus." Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Syfy Channel

At the time of this interview (June 2009), the Sanctuary cast and crew were shooting the season two story Veritas, in which Dr. Magnus is accused of murdering Bigfoot in cold blood. Besides playing scenes in front of the camera with Amanda Tapping, Dunne joined his fellow castmates in being directed by her as well.  

Executive producer/director Martin Wood and executive producer/Sanctuary leading lady Amanda Tapping during a read-through for "Veritas." Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Syfy Channel

“We’ve been having a good time on this one,” enthuses the actor. “Amanda is amazing to work with as an actor as well as a director, and it seems like our team here is getting to the point where it’s almost non-verbal communication. By that I mean everyone is so in-sync that not a lot needs to be explained. If, for instance, Amanda calls, ‘Cut,’ and starts walking over to me, before she even says anything, I’ll be like, ‘I know, less of this and more of that.’ She’ll say, ‘Yep,’ and then boom, boom, boom, we’re back to it. I think that’s the cool thing about working with such a tight-knit group of people. We’re all on the same page and believe in what we’re doing and know the show so well.  

“Again, this is season two, right? So not only do we know the program that much better, but the relationships between everyone are that much stronger, too, and that goes for us as people as well as our characters. Last year was smooth, but this season is that much tighter and more solid.”  

While working on Veritas, the actor was also busy prepping to shoot episode eight, Next Tuesday. “The next story is another two-hander where Will and Magnus are trapped in a helicopter that crashes into the ocean and they’re dealing with giant squids and all kinds of stuff,” he says. “The two characters are also having a difference of opinion on certain matters.  

There's water, water everywhere for poor Will in "Next Tuesday." Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Syfy Channel

“The fact that this episode takes place in water is a little intimidating, but at the same time totally exciting. I spent all day yesterday at the bottom of a pool learning how to scuba dive. It’s going to be five days of wetsuits and us floating in a water tank. Again, we’re just constantly pushing the envelope and crossing boundaries insofar as telling these stories.”  

Although Sanctuary still had a couple of months to go before wrapping for its second year, Dunne was thinking about one or two projects he was looking forward to during the hiatus between seasons two and three, including one of his own creation which is slated to start shooting in Spring 2010. “I wrote a feature film script last year that I sold to a company in Los Angeles,” says the actor. “It’s called B.F.F. and basically it’s a comedy about two girls who are best friends in high school. Then, however, one goes to New York and becomes a hotshot lawyer, while the other one stays behind in this small town. Ten years later she decided to go to New York to find her best friend, but their lives have taken different paths and they’re not the same people they once were. It was neat to write a sort of girl buddy comedy because you don’t see many of those. I think the script turned out pretty good and I’m really interested to see who they cast.”  

Steve Eramo

As noted above, all photos by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Syfy Channel, 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!

Sanctuary’s Agam Darshi – Beneath The Surface

October 24, 2009
Agam Darshi as Sanctuary newbie Kate Freelander. Photo copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions/Jeff Weddell

Agam Darshi as Sanctuary newbie Kate Freelander. Photo copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions/Jeff Weddell

First impressions, you either love ’em or hate ’em. Sometimes they’re good, other times not so good. Kate Freelander knows that only too well. This young and beautiful con artist hardly endears herself to Dr. Helen Magnus and her colleagues when she first crosses their paths. In fact, Kate quickly discovers just how far Helen is prepared to go when she wants information, especially if it has to do with someone she cares a great deal about. Surprisingly, Kate is able to turn things around in her favor when it comes to relationships with our heroes on Sanctuary. That is a big step for this newcomer to Dr. Magnus’ world, as actress Agam Darshi, who plays Kate, explains.

“First of all, Kate is an amazing character,” says a smiling Darshi, taking a break in-between shooting scenes for the season two episode Veritas. “I really enjoy her just because she is so complex. Kate comes across as really tough and sort of a smart-ass, and it’s not crystal clear whose side she’s on. Does she work for the Cabal? Does she work for the Sanctuary? You’re not quite sure, but as this season progresses, we start seeing this vulnerable side of her. You don’t see that very often, but when you do, I love those scenes because that’s when my character really starts connecting with people.

“So she’s slowly developing relationships with people around her, and each relationship is very different from the other. For example, things with Kate and Henry Foss [Ryan Robbins] are somewhat lighter in tone, but with her and Will Zimmerman [Robin Dunne] it’s more cerebral because she wants to [mentally] challenge him and be taken seriously in the Sanctuary world. So the trickiest acting challenge for me this year has been figuring out how my character interacts with everyone while also revealing more of who this tough girl really is beneath the surface.

“When I read the [audition] sides for Kate, I immediately connected with her. I knew just where she was coming from. I think the danger when playing a character like this is going too far and making her, again, too tough and serious. Kate is also very funny and has a softer side, so I’m trying to show all those aspects of her. I did that in the audition room and everyone seemed to really like what I did, and I’m hoping the audience will as well.”

Kate - tough, clever, opportunistic, but deep down also has a conscience. Photo by Sanctuary 2 Productions/Jeff Weddell

Kate - tough, clever, opportunistic, but deep down also has a conscience. Photo by Sanctuary 2 Productions/Jeff Weddell

In Sanctuary‘s two-part second season opener, End of Nights, Kate is working for the Cabal, a powerful and mysterious organization that is plotting the downfall of the global Sanctuary network. While en-route to deliver a “package” to her employers, she is intercepted by Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping), Will and Henry. They believe Kate has information that can lead them to where the Cabal is holding Helen’s daughter Ashley (Emilie Ullerup). After a high-speed car chase, Kate succeeds in making her delivery, but in the process is caught by the Sanctuary team and interrogated in a nearby warehouse.

“I’m pretty sure we filmed that warehouse scene on my first day of work,” recalls Darshi. “It was really cold and I was overwhelmed because it’s such a big show. I mean, this is an amazing cast and there are also a lot of terrific behind-the-scenes people here who used to work on Stargate. So I was excited, but at the same time I felt like a deer in headlights. I had to try to balance my emotions and give myself confidence as well. Obviously, I understood this character, so I just went with my instincts and things worked out great.

“I had never held a gun before coming onto Sanctuary and I had to fire one in this episode, so I practiced on a gun range beforehand just to get the hang of it. The physical stuff that Kate does has been something else I’ve had to get used to, but I like to go to the gym and do all sorts of tomboy stuff, so that’s been a positive challenge for me. We did a ton of green screen work, too, in End of Nights and have since then. This is my first time working so extensively with green screen and it feels a lot like doing theater, which is where I started out. It’s just you and the other person and it gives you the chance to really connect and use your imagination.”

During the climax of End of Nights – Part 2, Kate runs some interference when Ashley, who has been turned into a super-Abnormal by the Cabal, tries to kill Helen. With the Cabal hunting for her, Kate needs a safe haven and ends up staying at the Sanctuary. When, in the following episode, Eulogy, Helen and Will focus on trying to find Ashley, Kate gives Henry a hand trying to find a runaway Stenopelabilis.

Henry (Ryan Robbins) reluctantly accepts Kate's help in "Eulogy." Photo copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions/Jeff Weddell

Henry (Ryan Robbins) reluctantly accepts Kate's help in "Eulogy." Photo copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions/Jeff Weddell

“There’s this fantastic B-story where Henry and Kate are trying to find this Abnormal that’s just been born and is growing at an incredibly fast rate,” explains Darshi. “In one of the scenes, my character is by herself in one of the Sanctuary labs and looking at these tusks on an Abnormal who she thinks is dead. The tusks are worth a lot and Kate is always looking for things like that so she can sell them on the black market. All of a sudden, I’m blasted by a bunch of goo and this little baby Abnormal pops out of the mother Abnormal’s stomach. My character then has to crawl around on the floor looking for this little creature. It was fantastic because I felt so in the moment,” enthuses the actress. “When you have a scene like that, you can’t think about it, you just have to react.

“We dealt with a lot of goo in this episode, along with a lot of rolling around and French fries. It’s a long story,” she says with a laugh,” but I would go home at the end of the day with French fries literally stuck in my hair from all the goo. It was so much fun.”

Despite initially being at odds, Helen seems to think that Kate is capable of turning over a new leaf, but she’s going to have to earn everyones’ trust. “There’s a lovely scene between these two characters that takes place a few episodes into the season,” notes Darshi. “Basically, Kate thinks that she’s in trouble and is going to get kicked out of the Sanctuary because she sort of went behind Magnus’ back. However, Magnus turns around and says to her, ‘If you want to stay, I’ll have Henry put your things in a more permanent part of the Sanctuary.’ Who knows where that’s going to lead? You don’t know if Kate is actually going to stick around for long, but after that scene it looks promising. At least it was a chance to bring out a side of my character where she can express thanks, in her own way, to Magnus. She and Kate don’t have a lot of scenes together, and this is one of the sweeter ones between them. It says a great deal about what Kate wants and how Helen feels about her.”

Having graduated with a major in visual arts and photography from the University of Calgary, Darshi once considered pursuing a career in photography. However, one of her teachers suggested that she should get an agent and give acting a try, so she did.

Uneasy allies - Kate and Bigfoot (Christopher Heyderdahl). Photo copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions/Jeff Weddell

Uneasy allies - Kate and Bigfoot (Christopher Heyderdahl). Photo copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions/Jeff Weddell

“That was six years ago and I’ve been working ever since,” says the actress. “I feel very lucky to be doing this because it’s what I love. My first job was a recurring role on a TV show called Renegadepress.com. It was shot in Regina, Saskatoon, which I’d never been to before. I was pretty nervous, but it was one of those situations where it couldn’t have been a better show for me. It was about young people in high school, so it was a very safe environment, and being my first gig ever I just tried to absorb whatever I could from the other people my age.”

Although she has only been in the business for a short time, Darshi has already amassed a long and impressive resume. Final Destination 3, Snakes on a Place, Deck the Halls, Watchmen and the upcoming 2012 are among her feature film credits. The actress has also appeared in several made-for-TV movies and done guest-spots on such series as Reaper, Kyle XY, The Dead Zone, The L Word and two episodes of Stargate Atlantis, including Suspicion, where she first worked with Sanctuary‘s Christopher Heyerdahl (John Druitt/Bigfoot).

“I only had one or two lines in that episode and Christopher [Halling] happened to be in the same scene,” says Darshi. “He’s so kind and there were so many extras there and he was trying to explain the story to them so that they could react appropriately. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow, you usually never see these big stars explaining anything to anyone.’ But Christopher was so into it and really believed that these extras, who sometimes tend to be ignored, deserved a chance to know what was going on and feel part of the scene.”

When she is not in front of the camera, Darshi wastes no time when it comes to her craft. “I’ve written three short films and produced them as well,” she says. “I find writing incredibly challenging, but I love it. Sometimes this industry can get a little crazy; sometimes you have work, sometimes you don’t. So it’s always really positive for me to feel like I’m putting energy into other creative outlets, and writing is one of them. It’s something I’m relatively new at, though. I know I can write a good short story, but can I write a good feature? That’s something I’m still playing with and learning about.

Come on, make my day! Photo copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions/Jeff Weddell

Come on, make my day! Photo copyright of Sanctuary 2 Productions/Jeff Weddell

“I’ve always been a very creative person and it’s important for me not to slot myself into one compartment. I can’t just be an actor. I feel better when I’m an all-around artist, whether it’s writing, producing or even things like taking photographs or playing the guitar. It doesn’t really matter. Whatever I happen to be doing at the time makes me feel so much better. And what’s neat is that you learn from the different types of art. The skills you learn as a writer can help you as an actor, the skills you learn playing music can help you write, etc. That’s why I like to do it all.”

Steve Eramo

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

The Syfy Channel Annouces Its Fall Line-Up

July 20, 2009

ON the heels of its successful summer series launches, Syfy will continue its tradition of imagination-fueled original entertainment this fall with a strong line-up of series and season premieres, along with new episodes of some of its most popular returning shows. Syfy’s fall 2009 line-up includes:

Stargate Universe – New Series Premieres October 2nd @ 9 p.m. (2-hour premiere). Airs Fridays @ 9 p.m. beginning October 9th.

Syfy’s upcoming one-hour series, Stargate Universe, follows a band of soldiers, scientists and civilians who must fend for themselves as they are forced through a Stargate when their hidden base comes under attack. The desperate survivors emerge aboard an ancient ship, which is locked on an unknown course and unable to return to Earth. Faced with meeting the most basic needs of food, water and air, the group must unlock the secrets of the ship’s Stargate to survive. The danger, adventure and hope they find on-board the Destiny will reveal the heroes and villains among them.

Set to premire in October 2009 with a two-hur special, the series stars Robert Carlyle (Transpotting, The Full Monty), Lou Diamond Phillips (Che, La Bamba), Ming-Na (ER, Vanished), Alaina Huffman, Louis Ferreira, David Blue, Jamil Walker Smith and Brian J. Smith with special guest-stars, Grammy nominated artist Janelle Monae, Amanda Tapping, Michael Shanks, Gary Jones and Carlo Rota.

Edgier and younger in tone, Stargate Universe will take the franchise in a dynamic new direction, appealing to longtime Stargate fans and first-time viewers alike. The two-part premiere is directed by Andy Mikita (Stargate Atlantis, Stargate SG-1) and lensed by Ronn Schmidt (The Shield, The Mist). Robert C. Cooper and Brad Wright (Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis) serve as executive producers and writers on the new series. Stargate Universe is distributed by MGM Worldwide Television Distribution.

Destination Truth – Season Three Premieres September 9th @ 9 p.m.

This fall, Syfy will premiere the third season of its reality hit, Destination Truth. World traveler and intrepid explorer Josh Gates will return to host nine all-new episodes – each an off-the-map adventure in search of the answers to some of the world’s most intriguing unexplained mysteries. This season on Destination Truth, Josh will travel to some of the most extreme locations on Earth, including the isolated Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan and the heart of the worlds worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl. Viewers will also ride along on unprecedented investigations, including the world’s first overnight exploration of King Tut’s cursed tomb and pitch-black dives in ancient Caribbean caves.

A graduate of Boston’s renowned Tufts University, Josh holds degrees in archaeology and drama, and was recently inducted into The Explorers Club, a prestigious global organization dedicated to the advancement of exploration and field research. An avid scuba diver, he has participated in sub-sea archaeological excavations in the Mediterranean and his work as a photographer has taken him from sweltering African villages to the icy heights of the Himalayas. In addition, he has scaled “the roof of Africa” on Mt. Kilimanjaro, climbed Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Americas, and set foot in more than 75 countries around the world.

Destination Truth is executive producer by Brad Kuhlman for Ping Pong Productions (1,000 Places to See Before You Die, Celebrity Rehab, FM Nation). Bechara Gholam will serves as co-executive producer.

Sanctuary – Season Two Premieres Friday, October 9th @ 10 p.m.

Syfy’s groundbreaking hit original series Sanctuary, the first TV show based on an online series to be picked up for a second season, will return to Syfy in October. Sanctuary follows the adventures of the beautiful, enigmatic and always surprising Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping), a brilliant scientist who holds the secrets of a clandestine population – a group of strange and sometimes terrifying beings that hide among humans. Along with forensic psychiatrist Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne) and her fearless daughter Ashley (Emilie Ullerup), Magnus seeks to protect those threatened phenomena as well as unlock the mysteries behind their existence. Joining the cast in season two is Agam Darshi as Kate Freelander, a con artist and thief who finds herself in an uneasy alliance with Dr. Magnus. Sanctuary also starts Ryan Robbins as tech whiz Henry and Christopher Heyerdahl as the sinister John Druitt.

Special guest-stars this season include Christopher Gauthier (Eureka) and Michael Shanks (Stargate SG-1). Created by Damian Kindler (Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis), Sanctuary is produced in association with Syfy and distributed by Tricon Films and Television. Season Two of the series is executive produced by Damian Kindler, Amanda Tapping, Martin Wood and Keith Beedie.

Scare Tactics – Season Three Episodes Return Tuesday, October 6th @ 9 p.m.

Syfy’s hidden camera reality show Scare Tactics is hosted by famed comedian Tracy Morgan. The hit series captures its frightened victims who have been set up by friends and loved ones. Unsuspecting victims are placed into elaborately staged scary situations involving movie-style special effects and make-up. The horror hoaxes are skillfully designed to tap into the wildest fears of the prank’s prey. Viewers laugh along to the hilarious reactions of the show’s “stars” as they are caught off-guard and on camera. Scott Hallock and Kevin Healey of Hallock Healey Entertainment are the executive producers and creators of Scare Tactics.

Ghost Hunters – All-New Episodes Throughout The Fall – Wednesdays @ 9 p.m. Featuring special guest-investigators Meatloaf and Josh Gates.

This fall, Syfy presents all-new episodes of Ghost Hunters every Wednesday @ 9 p.m. Get in the spirit with Jason, Grant and the rest of the TAPS team as they embark on chilling new investigations including a host of historic haunts as well as some of the most daunting locales featured on the show yet, such as the massive long-abandoned Essex County Hospital in New Jersey. In October, music superstar and longtime Ghost Hunter fan Meatloaf will join the team as a guest-investigator in a special episode featuring a home in Thousand Islands, NY, one of last year’s finalist locales in the Great American Ghost Hunters contest.

Ghost Hunters is produced in association with Craig Piligian’s Pilgrim Films and Television (Dirty Jobs, The Ultimate Fighter, My Fair Wedding). Piligian and Thomas Thayer, along with Rob Katz and Alan David, serve as executive producers.

Warehouse 13 – All-New Episodes Throughout September – Tuesdays @ 9 p.m.

Syfy’s newest one-hour hit dramedy series Warehouse 13 continues through September 2nd with a host of special guest-stars including Battlestar Galactica’s Micheal Hogan; Eureka‘s Joe Morton, Erica Cerra and Niall Matter and Stargate Atlantis‘ Joe Flanigan. Warehouse 13 follows two Secret Service agents who find themselves abruptly transferred to a massive, top-secret storage facility in windswept South Dakota, which houses every strange artifact, mysterious relic, fantastical object and supernatural souvenir ever collected by the U.S. government. The Warehouse’s caretaker Artie (Saul Rubinek) charges Pete (Eddie McClintock) and Myka (Joanne Kelly) with chasing down reports of supernatural and paranormal activity in search of new objects to cache at the Warehouse, as well as helping to control the warehouse itself. Warehouse 13 also stars Allison Scagliotti as Claudia Donovan and CCH Pounder guest-stars as Artie’s boss, Mrs. Frederic.

The series is produced for Syfy by Universal Cable Productions. It is executive produced by Jack Kenny (The Book of Daniel), who also serves as showrunner. David Simkins (Dresden Files) is executive producer and Stephen Surjik (Monk, Burn Notice) is producer/director of the show.

Martin Wood – Into The Groove

June 11, 2009
Behind-the-scenes with Amanda Tapping (Dr. Helen Magnus) and executive producer/director Martin Wood on the set of Sanctuary. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel

Behind-the-scenes with Amanda Tapping (Dr. Helen Magnus) and executive producer/director Martin Wood on the set of Sanctuary. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Are you familair with the classic children’s tale The Little Engine That Could? It’s about this little engine that, despite being decidedly smaller in size than its counterparts, succeeds in pulling a long train over a high mountain, all the time repeating the motto, “I-think-I-can.” Our little hero’s efforts are not unlike those that are applied to many real-world challenges, including making a TV show. When the hit Sci Fi Channel series Sanctuary made the leap from the Internet to the small screen, some people wondered if it would be able to hold its own against slicker, bigger-budgeted programs. Although he experienced all the usual jitters that come with launching a freshman TV series, executive producer/director Martin Wood had every confidence in the final product.

“Right from the start I thought, ‘The world is not ready for this. People are going to be surprised,'” recalls Wood. “Reporters called us after watching the season one opener and I was like, ‘Man, you have no idea what’s coming up.’ I spoke to the head of Sci Fi Productions at the Stargate Atlantis wrap party last year and he said, ‘I had an idea about what it [Sanctuary] would be like, but I had no idea it would be this good.’ I haven’t heard a bad word about the series since we first began making it. Again, I think it really surprised people. It’s one thing to have them react to the season opener, but we sold the show on the Internet pilot, and from there we sort of said to each other, ‘OK, we’re taking the bit between our teeth and running with it.’

“For me, a big part of doing this was being able to show people that we could do this without a huge studio. The three of us – Damian Kindler [series creator/executive producer], Amanda Tapping [series lead/executive producer] and I – picked it up, collected Sam Egan [executive producer] along with our producer, George Horie, and just ran with it. We all embraced Sanctuary in the same way and together decided that we were going to make the series look better than anything we’d ever done before, and it does. And it all has to do with the fact that everyone here is working hard, really hard. I mean, I’ve spent 12 years watching Amanda Tapping go through an awful lot of permutations of Sam Carter [from Stargate SG-1] and even different characters, but I’ve never seen her do what she did this past year. It was exceptional.”

In Sanctuary, Tapping plays Dr. Helen Magnus, a 157-year-old scientist in charge of a global network of top-secret facilities called Sanctuaries. Together with her daughter Ashley (Emilie Ullerup), forensic psychiatrist Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne),technical troubleshooter Henry Foss (Ryan Robbins) and the legendary Bigfoot (Christopher Heyerdahl), she tracks down, studies and protects the strange and sometimes dangerous creatures (or abnormals) that live amongst us. Despite his years of experience as a director and later a producer as well on SG-1 and Atlantis, doing both jobs simultaneously on Sanctuary look a bit of getting used to for Wood.

Martin Wood reaches for new heights directing Sanctuary. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Martin Wood reaches for new heights directing Sanctuary. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

“There were plenty of times during Stargate where I didn’t have to deal with anything outside of directing,” he notes. “I may have been producing it [the show], too, but there were always people above me who made sort of the tougher decisions and dealt with the bigger issues. On Sanctuary, however, if a situation comes up that you don’t have time to handle, there’s no one to hand it off to. So, Damian, Amanda and I will look at each other and go, ‘Oh, right, that’s me. I’ll deal with that.’ And I might then, for instance, have to leave the set to speak with someone from the network or deal with something else that’s unfolding behind-the-scenes. So when I’m trying to answer a question regarding a production issue, it’s all intertwined and part of the big picture. I can’t separate having to make the series as a director and also having to make it as a producer. It’s all one in the same, and every day you’re dealing with something unique.

“When I was doing SG-1 and Atlantis I would do back-to-back episodes, when you prep one, shoot it, and then prep the next one and shoot it. That’s more or less how it worked all the time. In this case, though, I never let anything go. You’re continually working on a story, and it’s a challenge because you wind up getting into situations where, as a producer, you’re not able to stop being part of a single episode. So when you’re watching the VFX [visual effects] being finished for episodes one and two, you’re also dealing with music and reviewing the VFX for episodes three, four and five. You can’t concentrate on one thing, you know? That took a little bit of getting used to for all of us, but it was a matter of moving forward and getting on with it. So each of us had to work at maximum efficiency and maximum capability, and I think it shows on the screen.”

Helen Magnus and her team may be based in one locale, but several of their missions during the first season of Sanctuary took them around the world. While some TV shows might be financially restricted to using their studio backlot to re-create, say, the Scottish Highlands or ancient catacombs beneath Rome, Sanctuary relies heavily on green screen to conjure up whatever exotic location a script might call for.

Director Martin Wood gets into green screen mode on Sanctuary. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Director Martin Wood gets into green screen mode on Sanctuary. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

“With virtually every show we had in season one it was a matter of ‘Can we pull this off,'” says Wood. “When you’re talking about stuff that doesn’t exist, it’s not a question of can we build it in time, but rather is there going to be time for the virtual artists to create a computer program that will make this place look believable. Luckily, we have Anthem Visual Effects, which is headed up by Lee Wilson and his wife Lisa [Sepp-Wilson]. who, together with Sebastien Bergeron [digital effects supervisor] have not slept since we started this show. It’s like having a construction company waiting in the wings ready to build things, and then you say, ‘OK, here are the materials to do your job, and can you finish this by next week because we have something else to build the following week. Oh, by the way, this is the most complicated thing you’ve ever done, and there’s a time limit involved.’ And their response is, ‘Sure.’ I’m very happy to  report that we haven’t ‘killed’ them yet,” jokes the producer/director.

“Besides our virtual sets, we’ve done practical ones as well,” continues Wood. “When we finished shooting [season one’s] Kush, which had the plane crash in the Himalayans, Damian and I looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, that looked cool.’ The crew, however, did not enjoy working in the set we had. It was a practical one because I didn’t want to lock us into a whole bunch of VFX when something could very easily be practical. Not only that, but I had to give the VFX gang a break because they had just finished Folding Man and had Nubbins coming up, both of which were huge creature shows. With Kush we had some big matte painting and things of that nature, but for the most part the entire episode was done practically. Well, the crew was used to working in giant stages, and all of a sudden we were in an airplane.

“We subsequently took that set and turned it into a submarine set for the next episode we filmed, Requiem. We then took Robin and Amanda into that set for the entire story. There’s a brief glimpse of Henry at the beginning, but for the most part it’s just the two of them simply acting, and it’s the best acting I’ve ever seen Amanda do. For me, Requiem was the hardest bit of directing I’ve done. It sounds so weird to say that because it’s two actors in a submarine. Damian Kindler wrote this incredible script and it was all about the acting, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done because I could not let a second go by where I was not on the ball. I had to figure out how far I could push the actors. The things we were asking them to do were incredibly challenging and you’re standing there saying, ‘I need you to do it again.’ Meanwhile, the actors are asking you, ‘Why do we have to do it again?’ but, ultimately, their efforts showed on the screen. Amanda had to go to a very strange place [with her performance] and Damian had to go there as well in order to write the script. So it was a really tough episode for all of us, but it ended up being an extremely rewarding one, too.”

Martin Wood sets up a shot in the revamped submarine set for the season one Sanctuary episode "Requiem." Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Martin Wood sets up a shot in the revamped submarine set for the season one Sanctuary episode "Requiem." Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

This chat with Wood took place prior to the start of filming on season two of Sanctuary back in February. At that time, the producer/director chuckled when asked what his hopes were for the show’s second year. “Season one was a year of scrambling, and I’m looking forward to not scrambling as much in the second season,” he says. “We have a groove that we’ve fallen into where we understand better how this show is supposed to work. We were all neophytes last year, so we’re hoping that the newness will have worn off and we can settle into what we really want to do, which is make the best show possible.”

I had the privilege of spending a day on the Sanctuary set last week and all is definitely going well with the filming of season two. Amanda Tapping was directing that day, and she, Martin Wood, Damian Kindler and the rest of the Sanctuary cast and crew have plenty of twists and turns in store for fans with these new 13 episodes. You can look forward to seeing much more Sanctuary coverage on my blog closer to the premiere of season two – Steve Eramo

As noted above, all photos by Jeff Weddell and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

Emilie Ullerup – Growing Pains

May 22, 2009
Emilie Ullerup as Ashley Magnus in Sanctuary. Photo by Jeff Weddell and courtesy of the Sci Fi Channel

Emilie Ullerup as Ashley Magnus in Sanctuary. Photo by Jeff Weddell and courtesy of the Sci Fi Channel

When we were children, most of us probably spent at least one night looking for monsters under our bed or in the closet. Fortunately, they always turned out to be imaginary. As an adult, Sanctuary‘s Ashley Magnus risks her life searching for very real monsters. An expert in advanced weapons and technology as well as hand-to-hand combat, she is the daughter of Dr. Helen Magnus, head of the Sanctuary, a global network of facilities dedicated to studying and, if necessary, capturing and detaining creatures called abnormals. As if Ashley does not have enough on her plate, she takes on even more when her father, John Druitt, comes back into her life. It has been quite a head trip for our leather-clad heroine, as Emilie Ullerup, who plays Ashley, explains.

“Ashley already had a huge journey in the two-hour [Internet] pilot,” says the actress, taking time out for a chat while shooting the first season Sanctuary episode Warriors. “My character went from living her life as she had through her twentysomething years to being hit in the face with the fact that she has a dad and he is, or was, a monster.

“So overnight her whole world changes and becomes a scary place for a young woman who has never had to deal with anything, really. Emotionally, she’s cut off and focused on her lot in life, which is every day she gets up and might die because she’s going to go fight monsters. Then, all of a sudden, her dad shows up and forces her to think about what she’s doing. I think that’s what took up a lot of her time in the web pilot, but her journey has since changed with these 13 [first season] episodes that we’re doing.”

Ashley and her estranged father John Druitt (Christopher Heyerdahl) have a somewhat unconventional reunion. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Ashley and her estranged father John Druitt (Christopher Heyerdahl) have a somewhat unconventional reunion. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

The two-hour Internet pilot for Sanctuary was filmed in early 2007, but its creator Damian Kindler along with his fellow executive producers, Martin Wood and Amanda Tapping (Helen Magnus), began prep months before, and that included, among other things, Ullerup’s audition for the role of Ashley. “When I originally went in to read I knew nothing about the project other than the three scenes that I’d been sent,” she recalls. “I had that first audition and received a callback relatively soon afterwards. The second time around was pretty much like the first, except after I did the scenes, I think it was Martin Wood who said to me, ‘The show’s stunt coordinator Bam Bam [James Bamford] is here. We’re going to put together a little something for you and we just want to see how you do.’ I said, ‘OK, let’s go.’

“James came in and he and I did a very simple hand offensive [move] and I walked out of there feeling good. A couple of hours later I got a phone call telling me, ‘You’re good to go,’ and I was super excited. We shot the trailer that summer [of 2006] and then seven months later we began filming the web pilot. For me, that meant a whirlwind of learning the fight sequences and putting it all together. I had never had any fight training before in my life, so it was a matter of rehearsing a scene and then walking on-set dressed in leather and high-heels and trying to pull it off. I actually did everything myself, but we had a [stunt] double on-set who would also do the fights in case there was something that I couldn’t sell properly. Bam Bam brought in great stunt performers who I was able to practice with and get a feel for having five people around me that my character would have to take down. So I had all these things working in my favor.”

Along with the onscreen fights, another of the more memorable moments for Ullerup when filming the Sanctuary pilot  is where Ashley learns that John Druitt (Christopher Heyerdahl) is her father. He and Helen were born in Victorian England and were part of a group of scientists called The Five. Back then, Helen discovered that an injection of a serum derived from vampire blood would give all five of them extraordinary powers. Druitt gained the ability to teleport, but the drug’s side-effects turned him into a homicidal killer. This drove him and Helen apart, but not before they had conceived a child. When Helen and Ashley next saw John it was in the present day, much to their surprise.

Ashley and John Druitt "enjoy" some father-daughter time together. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Ashley and John Druitt "enjoy" some father-daughter time together. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

“I went into that scene where Ashley finds out the truth about her father having made up my mind that it wasn’t going to be something that we glossed over easily,” says Ullerup. “Once we started filming that day, the cast and crew didn’t know what to expect with that scene and we took it in a direction that was a little deeper and darker than perhaps anyone had anticipated. It made it so much better for all of us, though, because our characters really connected, and in the process it got frightening, too.

“I remember doing a scene with Chris and I was actually terrified of him that day, which worked great. The scene was quite magical and Martin Wood – I don’t know if he would want me to say this – but he had tears in his eyes. He and the other guys sat behind the cameras and they all started crying with us. We were exhausted beyond belief after 12 hours of doing all that emotional stuff, but it was just a really super day. That’s why we’re all so pleased to be back here. We knew we already had something special, and now we get to play with it more.”

The Sanctuary pilot received such a positive response from viewers that the Sci Fi Channel decided to bring it to TV. Its 13-episode first season was shot during the spring and summer of 2008 and debuted last October. The program’s new venue necessitated changes to the pilot, which was re-shot, and as the story unfolded, the characters’ lives once again experienced upheaval.

Mom and daughter team in action - Ashley and Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping). Photo by Jeff Weddell and courtesy of the Sci Fi Channel

Mom and daughter team in action - Ashley and Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping). Photo by Jeff Weddell and courtesy of the Sci Fi Channel

“Ashley’s world has been turned upside down this season, mostly just in terms of she’s been introduced to the idea of free choice and free thought,” notes Ullerup. “Yes, she’s had that in the Sanctuary, but she’s always been told what to do by her mom and never questioned it. However, with the introduction of her father, he tells Ashley that there is such a thing as choice and that she should think for herself and not simply aim, shoot and kill. So there’s a lot going on with her. I’m not sure where it’s all headed because there are so many different ways it could go, but there’s definitely a great deal of darkness in my character’s life.

“At the core of everything, Ashley loves her mom; she’s the only one who my character could trust up to now. This has provided me with plenty of [acting] challenges because I, personally, come from a very stable family, so trying to draw on not trusting your parents and not knowing who they really are is very strange to me. So I’ve had some big days with both Christopher and Amanda, lots of emotional pulls and tugs as well as a lot of anger and resistance, more than, I think, in the Internet pilot, which is really a thrill for me.”

Like the web pilot, the TV incarnation of Sanctuary uses a tremendous amount of green screen in its production, which allows its writers to set stories around the world. Also, Martin Wood, who directed the web pilot, has directed several of the TV episodes, and his presence behind the camera is much appreciated by Ullerup.

Ashley and Sanctuary's resident techno-whiz Henry (Ryan Robbins) infiltrate a facility run by a shadowy organization known as The Cabal. Photo by Jeff Weddell and courtesy of the Sci Fi Channel

Ashley and Sanctuary's resident techno-whiz Henry (Ryan Robbins) infiltrate a facility run by a shadowy organization known as The Cabal. Photo by Jeff Weddell and courtesy of the Sci Fi Channel

“Martin knows exactly what he wants all the time,” says the actress, “and that’s huge help, especially when you’re working with green screen, where we enter a world of not knowing. Even on the day of filming, we don’t know exactly what’s happening around us, but Martin is great at making sure that we at least know the broad strokes of where everything is. He’s great about taking us aside and informing us of our environment, and that helps us figure out what’s going on inside ourselves. There are days when I’ll be on-set and do something that I think works. Again, though, Martin knows what he wants and he’ll come up to you and say, ‘Listen, that was very good, but can you try it this way.’ As a result, the entire scene is transformed. Martin knows how to speak to actors, and that’s not always the case with a director.”

In the aforementioned Warriors, Helen and Ashley along with Helen’s protege, forensic psychologist Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne) cross paths with The Cabal, a powerful shadowy organization that views abnormals to be a serious threat to the future of humankind. This episode also reunites Helen and Ashley with another family member.

“This story is basically about a fight club for abnormals, but it’s definitely not a voluntary one,” explains Ullerup. “It’s being run by The Cabal, who are looking to create the strongest, fiercest, scariest abnormal ever and are testing their candidates in the fight ring. We  become involved when one of Will’s friends is kidnapped, so we go looking for him and stumble upon this club. At the same time, we find Ashley’s grandfather [Gregory Magnus, played by Jim Byrnes]. My character thought he’d been dead for many years, so now grandpa gets tossed into the mix, too. This is a big episode insofar as family ties and raises the question of can Ashley trust mom? It turns out, though, that Helen had no idea that her dad was still alive either, but it’s still more confusion for her and Ashley and their relationship becomes a bit more tarnished.

Ashley and Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne) on the hunt for an abnormal in the season one Sanctuary episode "Nubbins." Photo by Jeff Weddell and courtesy of the Sci Fi Channel

Ashley and Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne) on the hunt for an abnormal in the season one Sanctuary episode "Nubbins." Photo by Jeff Weddell and courtesy of the Sci Fi Channel

“For me, the thing that’s been big this season is character development, which includes Ashley dealing with her own issues as well as other characters,” continues the actress. “Because she’s sort of the go-to gal who knows the town and all the contacts, I’ve been able to play opposite some really cool abnormals. I mean, I’ve had scenes with an abnormal we call ‘Squid Man,’ who’s this crazy looking guy with prosthetic tentacles hanging all over his face. So that’s been an odd sort of challenge.

“What also stands out for me acting-wise on Sanctuary is getting to do so much of the physical stuff. There are some episodes where it’s needed and others where not so much. Sometimes I wish there were more stunts and fights, but I understand there has to be a balance. It’s not a fight show and we need the story to drive the fights. So overall for me as an actor, I’ve been able to do the emotional scenes as well as physical ones. I’ve also had the chance to be in the background and watch other people play and see their characters develop. I just think it’s a very well-rounded way of telling a story.”

Ashley and Henry are caught in yet another tight spot. Photo by Jeff Weddell and courtesy of the Sci Fi Channel

Ashley and Henry are caught in yet another tight spot. Photo by Jeff Weddell and courtesy of the Sci Fi Channel

Prior to being cast on Sanctuary, Ullerup got plenty of Sci-Fi and Fantasy experience working on such shows as Battlestar Galactica, Blood Ties and the Canadian made jPod. “I was so green when I did Battlestar,” says the actress. “It was my very first audition and I was lucky enough to book it. I had never been on a [film] set before, so I had no clue where I was supposed to be or what I was supposed to do, other than I knew my lines and I was in my costume. Most of my scenes were with Katee Sackhoff [Captain Kara “Starbuck” Thrace], which was really exciting. She and I gelled very well and it was an amazing first experience. Everyone on Battlestar was terrific and it was a fantastic way for me to see how a well-oiled machine works.

“Then I went on Blood Ties. I did their pilot episode and it was a whole different type of set because it was smaller and new and you just got that sense of energetic first-time jitters. I worked with Kyle Schmid [Henry Fitzroy], who’s a fantastic actor and all-around nice guy. Our scenes together were relatively intimate and before we began shooting, Kyle said to me, ‘This could be awkward, but I don’t want it to be, so let’s just have a laugh and have fun,’ which we did.

“And just before Sanctuary I did jPod, which was originally a book written by Canadian author Douglas Coupland [executive producer] and then turned into a TV series. Unfortunately, it only lasted one season, which was a terrible shame because we went out with 15 Leo Award nominations and the series was also nominated at the Monte Carlo International Film Festival. I played a computer animator [Kaitlin Joyce] who was striving to climb the ranks, tended to ignore people and was sometimes a bit not-so-nice. It was a great show to do over the summer, and to then come to Sanctuary and be cast as yet another very different type of character is a real treat.”

Our heroine Ashley enjoys a rare moment of down-time. Photo by and courtesy of Sanctuary 1 Productions/Anthem Visual Effects

Our heroine Ashley enjoys a rare moment of down-time. Photo by and courtesy of Sanctuary 1 Productions/Anthem Visual Effects

In Sanctuary‘s first season two-part finale Revelations, Ashley is taken prisoner by The Cabal and undergoes a treatment that turns her against Helen and the others. Discovering that she has inherited her father’s teleportation power, Ashely steals a vial of vampire blood that her mother needs to cure a virus that The Cabal has unleashed on the abnormals. In the final moments of Revelations, Part 2 it looks as if she has gone over to the dark side. Like the show’s fans, Ullerup is curious to see what is next for Ashley when season two of Sanctuary premieres this fall.

“We were shocked to see where we thought our characters were going and where they ended up,” she says. “In the world of Sci-Fi anything is possible, and in the world of green screen even more is possible. We’ve gone to so many places and seen so many new things, and that makes it easier to stick with your character because nothing is ever the same. It doesn’t become routine when as an actor you’re challenged to explore new places with your character. It keeps it fresh, and I’m looking forward to more of that next season.”

Steve Eramo

As stated above, all photos copyright of Jeff Weddell or Sanctuary 1 Productions/Anthem Visual Effects and courtesy of Sanctuary 1 Productions/Anthem Visual Effects or the Sci Fi Channel, so please no copying or unauthorized duplicating of any form. Thanks!

Robin Dunne – Where There’s A Will…

April 30, 2009
Robin Dunne as Dr. Will Zimmerman in Sanctuary. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel

Robin Dunne as Dr. Will Zimmerman in Sanctuary. Photo by Sanctuary 1 Productions/Anthem Visual Effects and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel

Words cannot quite describe the look on forensic psychiatrist Dr. Will Zimmerman’s face as he follows Dr. Helen Magnus out of a dark passage and into the central hub of a place called the Sanctuary. The circular room extends hundreds of feet into the air and has multiple levels with numerous cubicles, each of which is home to a very special occupant. With a feeling of trepidation as well as curiosity, Will follows Magnus as she gives him a closer look at her guests. Could his mind be playing tricks on him? From a beautiful mermaid to a reptilian creature and even a man with two faces, Will is understandably overwhelmed by what he is seeing.

“How many…more are there?” he asks Magnus.

“Many,” she says, smiling, and leads Will away to continue his tour.

“Cut! That’s great,” enthuses director Martin Wood. “Let’s do it one more time, only from a different angle.”

Those who saw the Internet Sci-Fi series Sanctuary will remember the above exchange from the show’s two-hour web pilot. In May 2008, this sequence was among those that were re-shot for the TV version of the show, which completed airing its 13-episode first season back in January on the Sci Fi Channel. In it, actor Robin Dunne plays Dr. Will Zimmerman, who is chosen by the brilliant and beautiful Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping) as her new protege. Together with Helen’s daughter Ashley (Emilie Ullerup), they find, protect and offer refuge to the many strange, and sometimes dangerous, creatures walking this planet. As with the Internet version, the TV adaptation requires its cast to act against mostly virtual or “green screen” sets, which has taken some getting used to for Dunne.

“It’s great to work on green screen because the possibilities are endless,” says Dunne, taking a breather while the cameras are being repositioned for a new shot. “You can do anything, you can create any type of creature or setting, so it’s amazing. It’s also not difficult to act in this sort of environment because I have the privilege of working with such a talented company of actors. The thing that I did have to get the hang of was the dimensions of space. We do a lot of stuff where we’re running through the Sanctuary and turning corners, and every now and then while filming the Internet pilot, Martin [Wood] would call, ‘Cut,’ and then say, ‘Hey, Robin that was terrific, but you just ran through a wall.’ And I’d be like, ‘OK, what are the dimensions here?’ and they’d put green tape down on top of the green floor to mark off the boundaries. So there were things like that to get used to, but once I did, it was really exciting because with every new script that came out, you never knew where your character was going to end up and what we were going to do.”

A graduate of the Etibicoke School of The Arts High School in Toronto, Ontario, the Canadian-born Dunne was enamored of acting since childhood. In 1994, he made his professional debut playing Judith Light’s troubled son in the made-for-TV movie Against Their Will: Women in Prison, and since then has appeared in several other TV movies as well as guest-starred on such series as Dawson’s Creek, Dead Like Me and CSI: Miami. The actor has also worked on a number of feature films, including a very early one entitled Teenage Space Vampires. It was directed by Martin Wood, who, 10 years later, contacted Dunne about a role in a pilot for a new web-based series called Sanctuary.

“Martin sent me a copy of the script, which wasn’t really a full script but rather a few scenes,” recalls the actor. “I read it and really liked it. I had actually worked with Damian Kindler [Sanctuary creator/executive producer] a few years ago in Toronto on another TV show, so I knew him, too. He and Martin said, ‘Look, we’re putting this pilot together and we’d like you to play Will. There’s just one thing, we’re going to shoot everything using a green screen,’ And I was taken a little aback. I had worked with green screen before, but just in piecemeal. Martin told me, ‘Don’t worry. We’re onto something here and we really want you to be a part of it.”

A very happy, or extremely relieved, Will Zimmerman (Dunne). Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel

A very happy, or an extremely amused, Will Zimmerman. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel

 “So I came to Vancouver to do the pilot, and it was my first time working with Amanda Tapping, which was great. The cast and crew were both wonderful and the experiences unlike anything I’d ever had before. Once we finished shooting, I went back to Los Angeles and then a couple of months later, Damian called me and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to come back up here and see what the [VFX] team have replaced the green [screen] with.’ So I did and I was completely floored. I couldn’t believe how amazing the graphics were. It was like watching a 3-D graphic novel. From there it was the ups and downs of these guys working for a very long time to put this whole thing together. Every now and then I have to remind myself that it’s really happening because I still can’t believe it.”

The bizarre deaths of two police officers at the hands of what appears to be a young boy is what initially draws Will Zimmerman into the world of Helen Magnus and the Sanctuary. He discovers that the creatures, otherwise known as abnormals, she and her associates are looking for are, in fact, missing links to the evolution of humankind. While some people might be afraid of crossing into such unfamiliar territory, Will has no such aversion. Of course, he has plenty of questions along the way, which is a big part of who the character is.

“It’s Will who brings us into this world, and the audience is experiencing everything as he does,” explains Dunne. “So he’s looking at the Sanctuary and all these monsters in cages and processing this information at the same time as the audience. The challenge for me is that I always try to be very honest with my acting and come across as believable as possible. I want to make sure that my character is having these truly amazing mind-boggling experiences, while at the same time never letting the viewers get too far behind and allowing them to experience the awe of it, too. So that’s the kind of thing I really try to keep in mind when doing this show.

“I also think that the character has this faulting curiosity. He’s the type of guy who goes, ‘I know this is crazy and a really radical choice I’m making.’ Basically, Will enters into a world where, once he makes the leap, he can never look back. Nothing will ever be the same, but he still does it because he has this curiosity and is searching for something. Regardless of the perils of what he’s getting into, he’s always going to make that [same] choice and err on the side of, ‘OK, let’s find out more.’ So I always want to keep that fire alight in his eyes and make sure it feels really scary, because it should be. Yes, it’s terrifying, but at the same time I want to make sure that he’s going forward into this world.

Dr. Zimmerman works to track down the whereabouts of an abnormal. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel

Dr. Zimmerman works to track down the whereabouts of an abnormal. Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel

Of all the people who Helen could have chosen to help her, why does Dunne think she picked Will? “There’s a strange relationship between Magnus and Will,” he says, “While she is this worldly individual with all this experience, there is something that she saw in Will and a reason she brought him into her fold. It’s as if she needs his brain as well as insight and ability to connect with these abnormals. At the same time, Will isn’t quite sure whether or not he and Helen are equals. Are they on the same playing level or is she his superior?

“So there’s that sort of murky environment he must contend with. Then there’s Ashley, who’s like, ‘I’ve been here all along and I know what I’m doing.’ However, she’s kind of a loose cannon, and Will wants to reach out to her and say, listen, I’m here if you ever want to talk. Again, as with Helen, my character has to try to find his place with Ashley.”

Let’s look back now to last August and a second visit to the Sanctuary set. At the time, the show’s cast and crew were shooting one of the final season one episodes, Warriors, in which Will is given a very personal glimpse of what it is like to be an abnormal. “My character is injected, I guess you could say, with the abnormal ability to grow into this huge, hulking mass, and tomorrow I will literally be 200 pounds heavier thanks to prosthetics.

Behind-the-scenes during the filming of "Warriors." Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel

Behind-the-scenes during the filming of "Warriors." Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel

“Story-wise, one of Will’s friends goes missing and he tracks him down to an illegal fight ring made up of all abnormals. Of course, my character is sucked into it and forcibly turned into an abnormal in order to fight. It’s been a really interesting and cool experience for me because I usually don’t get to do a lot of the physical stuff. Will is all about shrinking the problems of the mind, so to be in an episode where I’m working quite a bit with the stunt guys to choreograph the fights and wear a muscle suit is a lot of fun. I’ve yet to combine the suit and the prosthetics with the intricate ‘dance’ that we’re going to do tomorrow. That should be interesting. The [muscle] suit itself is a full torso and looks really scary. As big as it is, though, I believe it’s quite an intricate piece of equipment with ventilation and all sorts of neat things, so I think I’ll be alright. Of course, I’m saying that sitting here right now in a nice cool set. This time tomorrow I might just have a different opinion,” jokes the actor.

A pumped-up Will takes on Double Dome (John Desantis) in "Warriors." Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel

A pumped-up Will takes on Double Dome (John Desantis) in "Warriors." Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel

Prior to Warriors, the actor worked on another physically demanding episode called Requiem in which Will and Helen answer a call for help in the Bermuda Triangle and end up trapped underwater. “That story was a great deal of fun to do,” says Dunne with a smile. “It was very much a character-driven piece and almost like doing a play. We shot it in sequence, which is really neat from an acting perspective. It was also an episode that was completely free of green screen, so it was a blast working on such a cool set. It was a challenge, too, because, first of all, it was an extremely emotional episode for Amanda and me. Again, as an actor, it’s a treat to be able to delve deep into a story and turn out some really solid work, particularly for me working opposite such an amazing actress like Amanda.

“Another challenge was the fact that we were meant to be in a sinking submarine. There were pipes bursting and everything was getting flooded. So it was days and days of being soaking wet, but, yet again, we were telling another neat story. We shot scenes where Amanda and I were underwater in a tank and had to wear breathing gear. Martin Wood [Sanctuary executive producer], who directed a number of our episodes, was down there as well. They had a speaker underwater, too, so he was giving us direction while we were submerged. Man, that was crazy,” laughs the actor. “I’d never done any type of scuba diving so I was curious about what it would be like, and I loved every minute of it.”

Will fights to save Helen Magnus and himself from a watery grave in "Requiem." Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel

Taking on an especially nasty abnormal in "Requiem." Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel

Will comes up for some air in "Requiem." Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel

Will comes up for some air in "Requiem." Photo by Jeff Weddell and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel

As mentioned earlier, the use of green screen in Sanctuary allows its characters to travel to such faraway places as a crypt in Northern Scotland to catacombs beneath the city of Rome, and even the Himalayas where, in Kush, Will Zimmerman must relive an horrific childhood memory.

“In this story my character is dealing with his past and the loss of his mother when he was a child,” says Dunne. “On top of that is the fact that he thinks he saw something that, for his entire life, he’s been attributing to hallucination. However, when Magnus brought him into the Sanctuary, she told him, ‘Oh, by the way, what you saw that night when you were a child, it was real.’ So Will has been grappling with that for this entire season. My God, it was like a can of worms that opened up for him, and in this particular episode, Kush, there was a lot of stuff going on for Will. We were trapped out in the snow, there were tricks of the mind happening, and Will was having visions of his mother. That kind of stuff is challenging because it’s emotionally draining, but very much worth it.”

Although it had generated plenty of positive Internet buzz, there was no guarantee that Sanctuary would be a hit  when it moved over to the small screen. Well, it was, and before its first season finished airing, the Sci Fi Channel ordered a second, which is set to premiere later this year. That means more opportunities for Dunne to build upon his work in season one, which, for him, includes following a certain creative “regimen.”

“I’ve run a few marathons in my life and it’s not unlike making a TV show because it truly is a long race,” he muses. “You have to pace yourself in order to keep your energy level up as well as find the time to keep your character fresh and alive. I think it’s something I’ve been able to manage, but I haven’t been doing it for that long at all, especially if you look at Amanda, who worked on Stargate for 11 years. I kind of pull her aside every now and then and ask, ‘How do you do it?’ There is an art to conserving your energy while also bringing your game to the field every day and throwing strike after strike.

“We finished the submarine episode four or five days ago, and the night we wrapped filming I was almost in a little bit of a panic because I felt drained. I had nothing left, and we still had episodes left to shoot. So it’s been a challenge to really bring it to the table and make sure you’re not leaving it in your locker. My God, I’ve used every single sports metaphor I could think of. People reading this will be like, ‘Not another one,'” laughs Dunne.

Our favorite forensic psychiatrist finds himself in yet another life-and-death situation. Photo by and courtesy of Sanctuary 1 Productions/Anthem Visual Effects

Our favorite forensic psychiatrist finds himself in yet another life-and-death situation. Photo by Sanctuary 1 Productions/Anthem Visual Effects and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel

“Again, as tiring and draining as if sometimes is, the truth is this is such a fun job and we have such amazing people here on Sanctuary. It’s like coming to work with dozens and dozens of your good friends every day, and that makes a huge difference. This is the greatest job I’ve ever had and I get by with a little help from my friends. OK, that’s not a sports metaphor, but I’ll let you have it anyway,” chuckles the actor.

Steve Eramo

As stated above, all photos by Jeff Weddell or Sanctuary 1 Productions/Anthem Visual Effects and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!