Posts Tagged ‘Peter Wingfield’

CSI: NY’s Hill Harper & Supernatural’s Misha Collins in Syfy’s Stonehenge Apocalypse

June 11, 2010

Hill Harper (as Leshem) in Stonehenge Apocalypse. Photo by Ed Araquel and copyright of the Syfy Channel

In Stonehenge Apocalypse, premiering Saturday, June 12th @ 9:00 p.m. EST/PST on The Syfy Channel, the ancient sandstone pillars of Stonehenge suddenly come to life, shifting along the Earth’s power grid and creating devastating natural disasters around the world. Is Stonehenge really an alien terraforming machine, orginally used to create a fertile, life-sustaining planet? And is its accidental re-activation going to destroy the planet? It is up to brilliant and eccentric radio host Jacob (Misha Collins, Supernatural) to prevent this by stopping a crazed cult leader named Leshem (Hill Harper, CSI: NY), eager for Armageddon. Also starring are Torri Higginson (Stargate Atlantis) as Kaycee, Peter Wingfield (Riverworld) as Dr. John Trousbale and Brent Stait (Andromeda) as Major Peatman. 

Jacob (Misha Collins) and Kaycee (Torri Higginson) work together to try to stop the end of the world as they know it. Photo by Ed Araquel and copyright of the Syfy Channel

Leshem is obviously pleased at what his Foreman (Nimet Kanji) and her team have uncovered for him. Photo by Ed Araquel and copyright of the Syfy Channel

As noted above, photos by Ed Araquel and copyright of the Syfy Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

Riverworld’s Tahmoh Penikett – Serious Heroics

April 18, 2010

Tahmoh Penikett as Matt Ellman in Riverworld. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

He has battled the criminal element in Cold Squad, fallen in love with a humanoid robot in Battlestar Galactica, and doggedly pursued those in charge of a mysterious organization capable of creating the ideal human being for any situation in Dollhouse – such roles have allowed Tahmoh Penikett to exercise a wide range of his acting talents. In the Syfy Channel miniseries Riverworld, (Sunday, April 18th from 7-11:oo p.m. EST) the actor once again reached deep down into his bag of thespian tricks to bring the character of Matt Ellman to life. It is a role that he admits to having an instant connection with.

“This has only happened to me a few times, including with my character of Helo on Battlestar, which is when I first read the [audition] sides for the character of Matt in Riverworld I thought, ‘I understand this guy; I know where he’s coming from,'” says Penikett. “When the pieces fall together like that, you’ve got to trust your instincts, so I was really eager to get into the audition room.

“I met with [Riverworld director] Stuart Gillard and, honestly, I was a bit rusty as far as the audition process goes. You can be a professional actor who has been working all year long, which I’d been, but if it’s been a while since your last audition it can feel a little weird. So in this instance I had a couple of rough starts, but I subsequently worked on three scenes with Stuart and he seemed pleased with what I’d done.

Matt (Penikett) doesn't quite know what to make of his new surroundings. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“A week later my manager phoned to tell me that we were in negotiations to get me the part. At that point I still hadn’t read the entire script. When I auditioned it was last minute; I got the sides and just had to go in and do it. So when I began reading the script and realized that Matt was the lead in the piece, it was kind of an extra bonus.”

Based on the series of popular award-winning novels by Philip Jose Farmer, Riverworld follows the adventures of daredevil war correspondent Matt Ellman (Penikett). When he and his fiancée Jessie (Laura Vandervoort) meet an untimely demise, they are reborn on a strange world where billions of other deceased humans have been reborn as well. Ironically, it is Matt’s almost obsessive desire to do some good in the world that has landed him and Jessie in this predicament.

“Matt is a young man who has been tempted and put himself in a number of very dangerous situations,” explains Penikett. “There’s a part of him that gets off on that, and there’s also a bit of a sadistic side of him that likes punishing himself. My character has a lot of guilt because of past experiences that’s he’s been through, and one, in particular, that we touch upon in our story. It haunts Matt every day and is part of the reason he constantly takes on jobs as a war correspondent that most other people would turn down. Matt is forever putting himself and his cameraman in danger, but not out of selfishness. I think he feels in some ways that this is his attempt at redemption. Either that or he’s literally just punishing himself for mistakes he believes he’s made in the past.

Matt (Penikett) shares his thoughts with Tomoe (Jeananne Goossen). Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“My character is excellent at what he does, but he’s also a little bit careless. Matt is an incredibly ambitious man when he starts out as a war correspondent and he’s a brave man, too. Well-educated and raised by loving parents, he goes into this job with a great deal of drive and determination to make a difference because he believes he can. And then this one event takes place that changes him. It’s something that he cannot forgive himself for and he continues to put himself in harm’s way, probably even more so than he did in the past, in an effort to redeem himself.

“I think it’s clear right off the bat about what kind of bond Matt has with his best friend Simon [Arnold Pinnock]. They’ve been through so much together and literally saved each other’s lives multiple times. Through their relationship, you get a sense of what an incredibly loyal guy Matt is. He doesn’t have a lot of people left in his life, and when the story opens, you find that Matt and Simon have just been through yet another hairy situation. And my back story on this incident is that once again Matt sees how fragile life is. He realizes how quickly it can be taken away from you and how important it is to move on. That’s when my character decides to marry this incredible woman who he’s fallen in love with and only known for two months.”

Sadly, Matt and Jessie are victims of a cruel twist of fate, which is how they end up on Riverworld. One of the early scenes in the miniseries is of Matt being reborn. This was among those filmed on the first day of the production and one that sticks out in Penikett’s mind for several reasons.

Our hero emerges from the banks of the mysterious river. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“My number one memory of that day is the location that we shot at, Britannia Beach, which is just outside of Squamish in British Columbia,” he says. “This is God’s country and the geography is incredible in that you can have whatever type of look you want. Drive four hours away and you’ve got desert-like conditions, while in and around Vancouver you have gorgeous rainforests, beautiful oceans and majestic mountains, and this location was beautiful. We were blessed with terrific weather, too, and we had an excellent DOP [director of photography, Thomas Burstyn] as well, so all the shots are outstanding.

“The very first thing we filmed on-location is the scene where my character wakes up in Riverworld and literally comes out of the water. So within an hour-and-a-half of getting a little haircut and having make-up put on, they threw me in the ocean. Man, was it ever cold. I froze my ass off for a couple of hours doing that,” says the actor with a chuckle. “It was early April and not exactly warm for that time of year up in B.C., but, again, it was a gorgeous day.

“I also had one of my first scenes that day with Jeananne Goossen [Tomoe], and funnily enough it’s one of the last scenes in the miniseries. It was an interesting test as actors to film what essentially was an integral beginning scene, and then jump right into one of the end scenes. It was good, though, and everything felt right. I really liked the crew straightaway; everyone seemed to be on point and Stuart and I had already established a little bit of a relationship beforehand just discussing the Matt character and his back story. I immediately had a good feeling about him and he proved to me on day one that he was going to be an excellent director. Stuart was an actor, and I often find that some of the best directors are actors, were actors or at least tried it. They know how to talk to actors and understand us. Their dedication to do that is just incredible to me, and I can’t tell you how much it means to an actor, too.

Who is this mysterious blue individual and what is he or she saying to Matt (Tahmoh Penikett)? Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“Actors need to be communicated to. We’re here to serve the story. We make strong choices and as you become more experienced and confident in your craft, you’re going to bring a lot to the table. But a good director can always bring out the best in you, and Stuart spoke my language. He was completely open to any suggestions I had to try to better the script or anything I could offer up that might allow us to touch on a different angle or aspect of a scene. For my first leading role, to have that kind of relationship with a director who is so open and so intelligent was, for me, a real confidence builder as well as inspiring and I learned a great deal from Stuart.”

Although Matt has known Jessie for only a relatively short period of time, there is no doubt in his heart that this is the woman for him. “If you’ve done any traveling in your life and spent a week with someone else, that’s like knowing that person back home for four or five months,” says Penikett. “Oftentimes when you’re travelling you’re not bothered or distracted by responsibilities. You’re completely present and focused on the individual you’re with, and in my character’s back story that was the case with Matt and Jessie.

“He saw her helping an old lady in the street and couldn’t resist introducing himself to her because it truly was love at first sight. Matt had never experienced that before. This is someone who has had a lot of loss in his life. In the back story I came up with for Matt, he lost his older brother as well as his parents. The only family member he has left is his sister, so in a lot of ways he’s very guarded and closed off to true love. So when he sees this girl he just can’t believe it. Jessie is the most beautiful girl Matt has ever laid eyes on, and then the two of them share eight passionate weeks together and they just click. They’re soul mates, and Jessi is one of the few people who can break through all the pain that Matt carries with him and help him deal with it. That’s why when he finished his last assignment with Simon, he realizes, ‘I have to go for this. You only get this chance once in your life, and this is the woman I want to be with.'”

Jessie (Laura Vandervoort) and Matt, destined to be together forever...or are they? Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

They may have died together, but when Matt and Jessie get to Riverworld they are separated. Penikett’s character sets out to find her with the help of a few others, including a 12th century Samurai warrior named Tomoe.

“There’s an immediate connection and attraction between Matt and Tomoe,” notes the actor. “Yes, Matt is madly in love with Jessie and his first and foremost goal is to find her, but he and Tomoe are thrust into this situation and they form a bond with and love for each other. They go to amazing lengths for one another, and it’s a neat parallel to Matt’s and Jessie’s relationship in that as that story goes on, the respect and friendship that Matt and Tomoe share continues to grow. So there’s a lot of potential there with them too, you know? I also think that it’s confusing to both of them, but Tomoe’s loyalty and bravery is obvious.”

Matt and friends travel up the mysterious river in search of Jessie on a riverboat, courtesy of Samuel “Mark Twain” Clemens (Mark Deklin). “I was very excited about the paddlewheeler because I’m from the Yukon and they’re historical up there,” says Penikett. “Most of them were burnt down, but the S.S. Klondike is probably the most famous one that’s still in the City of Whitehorse. I grew up with that being an historcial site. These boats were from the Gold Rush days when everyone was coming up from Skagway and trying to head up to Dawson City to make their fortune.

Matt (Penikett), Simon (Arnold Pinnock), Sam Clemens (Mark Deklin) and Youseff (Kwesi Ameyaw). Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“So I couldn’t believe it when I found out we would be shooting on an actual paddlewheeler. We did a ton of scenes in and out of it, and it’s very much another character in the miniseries. Within days of us being on it, Mark Deklin was saying, ‘This boat is an integral and important character in the story,’ and we all adamantly agreed Some of the most important scenes in this four-hour miniseries play out on that boat.”

Our heroes eventually cross paths with British explorer/adventurer Sir Richard Burton (Peter Wingfield), who claims he can lead them to Jessie. Matt, however, is less-than pleased when the arrogant and duplicitous Brit admits that he has developed an affection for her, and vice versa.

“That really throws my character off,” says Penikett. “The Powers That Be in Riverworld let Matt know that he and Burton have a connection that needs to be dealt with, and possibly only one of them will survive. It’s a strange experience for Matt, but all the signs keep on showing him that there’s this truth out there and he doesn’t have a choice in the matter. So he ponders carefully and moves forward as he tries to deal with it.You’ve got to understand that Matt and everyone else in this place want to know, ‘Is this a nightmare? Are we in heaven, or hell? What are the rules? Are we here to atone for the mistakes we’ve made?’ There’s a total sense of loss and confusion there, which really messes with Matt and most of the relationships he has in Riverworld.”

Could this be it for Matt (Penikett)? Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

Matt and Burton eventually come to blows, literally, towards the end of the miniseries, and Penikett enjoyed the physical challenges associated with putting together as well as executing this fight. “Our head stunt coordinator, Marshall Virtue, was excellent,” he praises. “His family is a legendary stunt family from here in B.C. They’ve worked on a lot of projects and Stuart has worked with Marshall’s father Danny for 25 years.

“Marshall is a smart kid and for this project he brought in one of the best martial arts fight coordinators in the business, Larry Lamb, and to get to work with someone of his caliber is just exceptional. I’m a martial artist myself, and Larry and I connected right away. Having done a great deal of this [type of fighting], too, I tend to pick up the fight choreography fairly quickly. With Riverworld, we were constantly changing things, and that’s just the nature of filming.

“Oftentimes you’ll choreograph an incredible fight, but due to time and delays in shooting, parts of it will usually be cut out. When we went to shoot our big fight, we actually ended up cutting out a couple of little chunks. No matter what, though, it’s really important to always be safe with the fighting. If you take a wrong swing or use the wrong hand, there’s a chance that someone is going to get hurt. I have to give a shout out to our stunt guys because they were amazing. On the day of filming there was a point where I jumped off the stairs and straight-kicked one of them. I’ve got a big foot and I didn’t actually hit him, but because I was above him, I did hit his stomach pad. He went flying off the stairs, but he took it like a champ.

Matt (Penikett) and Tomoe (Jeananne Goossen), a dynamic fighting duo. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“I also had this one final scene between Matt and Burton, and once again I was fighting with a stuntman. We rehearsed it numerous times and I was supposed to throw a roundhouse kick at him. Well, my pants were so loose that they kept slipping down, which, of course, is going to impede how high you can kick. Right before the roundhouse kick, I did a bunch of other kicks. Well, my pants came down, but I didn’t realize it and I went for the roundhouse kick, which was probably a good two inches lower than it should have been. Luckily, the stunt guy ducked right under it.

“Fortunately, we all walked away pretty much unscathed. I love that sort of stuff, though, and the more I do it, the better I’m getting at the whole fight choreography thing.”

Who will live, who will die? Who will win Jessie’s heart, Matt or Burton? You will have to tune in to Riverworld to find out, and Penikett is confident that audiences will enjoy the ride. “Every actor in this miniseries really invested himself or herself in their character and I think the bar was set high right from the start,” enthuses the actor. “I worked my ass off and so did the rest of the cast as well as the crew. Everyone was very focused, ambitious and present. Ultimately, we did everything we could to make the best story possible.”

Steve Eramo

As noted above, all photos by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

Riverworld’s Peter Wingfield – Not So Mr. Nice Guy

April 17, 2010

Peter Wingfield as Richard Burton in Riverworld. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

Peter Wingfield is just itching for a fight today, but, in fact, he is not the only one. It is a warm and sunny Friday in Vancouver, British Columbia, and one of the last days of filming on the Syfy Channel miniseries Riverworld (Sunday, April 18th from 7-11:oo p.m. EST). Inside the warehouse studio, a two-level platform with stairs has been erected in front of a huge green screen. This is where Wingfield, who pays Sir Richard Burton, and the show’s leading man, Tahmoh Penikett (Matt Ellman), have spent the better part of the day shooting a fight that took quite a bit of time to prepare for. 

“Last Sunday was the first time that Tahmoh and I actually looked at this fight,” says Wingfield during a break in filming. “There are several fights in our story and the stunt guys as well as Tahmoh have been really busy all the way through. The stunt choreographer had gone off and created this fight with his guys, and then last Sunday, Tahmoh and I spent two hours at the gym working through what the fight would look like. This week we’ve tried to find time during lunch breaks and such to, not practice it physically, but just sort of talk through the shape of the fight. 

“Now here we are on set-today and because of the constraints of the location, we have to change bits of the fight. So things that we learnt, we’ve now got to wipe those from our minds and stick something else in there instead. We’re also dealing with time constraints, so we’re shortening the fight, which is comprised of 60 or 70 moves, in one of the parts. 

Burton (Wingfield) plots his next move. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“This is a big throwdown, knockdown, smackdown conflict, and that makes sense given that it’s the end of our characers’ journey and their final conflict. We have a quick exchange at the start of the story, then we have the journey, and now we get to this point and this fight is absolutely personal. My character surprises Matt, and he could have simply knocked him out and killed him, but doesn’t. Burton chooses to get into a fistfight, the reason being that he wants to cause Matt pain, and he wants to see it, too. Burton wants to relish the physical contact and the suffering. It’s all rather dark and ugly,” says the actor with a smile, “but it’s also a really good, really cool, intense story.” 

In Riverworld, Sir Richard Burton is among the countless human beings who, following their deaths, have been reborn on the riverbank of a mysterious new world. Intent on reaching this great river’s headwaters and destroying this place, Burton hijacks a riverboat being captained by Samuel “Mark Twain” Clemens (Mark Deklin). Clemens and his passengers, including an American war correspondent, Matt Ellman, and a 12th century Samurai warrior named Tomoe (Jeananne Goossen), have been searching for Matt’s missing fiancée Jessie (Laura Vandervoort). Carrying on with their search, they must now also deal with this unwanted adversary and any other dangers that await them along the way. Like a few of his fellow Riverworld actors, Wingfield’s character is, in fact, based on a real-life individual. 

“In-between putting a couple of audition scenes on tape for Riverworld and receiving a call to meet with the director, Stuart Gillard, I was sent the script,” he recalls. “I read it and did some research on Victorian explorer Richard Francis Burton, who was quite an extraordinary guy. He spoke 25 languages and, with dialects, was probably fluent in 40. Burton was also an explorer and visited several countries. He went on a pilgrimage to Mecca disguised as a Muslim from Afghanistan. This was at a time when if they had known that an infidel was in the holiest of holies, they would have cut him up into little pieces and eaten him. 

Vivienne (Meg Roe) has a rather unsettling exchange with Burton (Wingfield). Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“Burton translated The Kama Sutra as well as One Thousand and One Nights, what we know now as The Arabian Knights. He seemed to be interested in so many different things. Burton was an explorer in the most general of senses, but not just of the physical lands but the emotion and cultural landscapes as well. He was a poet, too. However, the thing that struck me was the sense of danger about this guy. He was a James Bond-type character, not only going undercover, but dangerously undercover. 

Riverworld is based on the books by Philip Jose Farmer, which use the idea that Burton, along with the rest of humanity, has been reborn again on this other planet. When I read the script it had this interesting Sci-Fi flavor and an alien-created world, but the concept allowed you to bring in these various characters from human history, which seemed like a neat idea. So for instance, we have Mark Twain, or Samuel Clemens, and the Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro [Bruce Ramsey]. I really liked that because it means you can bring in anybody, and you can also kill them off and then decide to bring them back again. How perfect is that for TV?’ 

Burton (Wingfield) decides to take the upper hand. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

Having done all this research, there was only so much of it that the actor could apply to his portrayal of Burton. “The thing is, there are several different [research] sources that are not identical,” explains Wingfield. “You’ve got the real person, then the character in the novels, and finally Burton in this miniseries. While they’re related to each other, they are not the same. The novels aren’t about the real Richard Burton. They are taking the idea from the historical facts of his life and how he might have lived in this fantasy world. Meanwhile, the miniseries is not a literal translation of the novels, but rather a reinvention of them. So there are some things that you can take with you, and others that are not the same. 

“Ultimately, the story that I have signed up for and that I’m telling is of Richard Burton on the miniseries,” continues the actor. “All the information that is significant is in the script of this four-hour TV movie. So there’s a lot of juggling going on. I’ve taken inspiration from a number of different places, but the facts that I have to work with are just those in the script. And to me what is, I think, the most powerful and demanding of these facts is the darkness of my character. Burton is a scary guy. He’s a really dark and violent man, and yet he is also tremendously witty as well as charming and sexy. I mean, he has love scenes with the two major female characters in the story, and they’re both very different and tell you a great deal about the character. 

“I’ve always felt that love scenes, just like fight scenes or a dance, reveal aspects of a character. Very verbal or very intellectual characters have some sense of control over what they’re saying and what they reveal to you when they’re speaking. However, when you watch them doing something physical, particularly something where they have to some extent lost control, such as a love scene or a fight, they reveal different things about themselves. 

Burton (Wingfield) and Allegra (Romina D'Ugo). Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“One of the great joys about playing Burton is that there are two dissimilar stories involving the two women with whom he has liaisons, and I was quite interested in just the visual imagery of that. One of them is a very verbal scene, and the other is completely without words. I spoke at length with our director about this, because we wanted to be telling very different sides of Burton’s story. And that’s been both the challenge and the thrill of playing him, those extremes that are within him. He has a high level of culture and education, but then there’s a brutality and connection with an almost animal-like quality and rage inside him. It’s been quite a trip for me [acting-wise]. I’ve tried to make him the most complex character that I’ve ever played because, again, I feel the Richard Burton who genuinely lived was an extremely complicated individual.” 

Although this is Burton’s first encounter with Matt Ellman and vice versa, Wingfield’s character seems determined to get rid of him. Why? “I didn’t realize when I began this project how simple the heart of this story is,” he muses. “It’s a love triangle. When it all comes down to the final showdown, it’s a woman who has very different sides of herself fueled or expressed by Burton and Matt. However, both men recognize something in each other. Yes, they have a conflict because of this woman, but they also see the world almost the same and yet slightly differently. 

“It’s that slight difference that has taken Burton and Matt in opposite emotional and spiritual directions. From the outset, Burton has been described as a bad guy, but having read the script I thought, ‘In what world is he the bad guy?’ There is a part of Burton who wants to see the world the way Matt sees it, and there’s also clearly a part of Matt that wants to see the world the way Burton does. 

Determined to be the victor in his "final conflict," Burton (Wingfield) prepares to strike. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“So once they’re in absolute conflict with each other, there is a sense of recognition insofar as the equality of both these warriors. Here are these two adversaries who are worthy of the fight, and that has very much developed throughout the filming of Riverworld. I didn’t see that initially. However, as we’ve gotten towards the end of shooting I could see that that was where it was going. I looked back at the story we told during the filming and realized it was there all the time.” 

Wingfield recently guest-starred on the TV series Human Target and Caprica, and can be seen in the upcoming Syfy Channel Saturday Night Movie Stonehenge Apocalypse. Prior to shooting Riverworld, he played a multi-episode arc on 24 as well as reprised his role of Dan Clifford back in his native UK in the TV medical drama Holby City. The actor also appeared as Dr. John Watson in the first season finale of the hit Syfy Channel series Sanctuary

“That was a great character,” says Wingfield. “In Sanctuary, John Watson was supposedly a real person who had inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write Sherlock Holmes on the stipulation that he would also write the detective a sidekick and call him John Watson. 

Burton channels his not-so-nice side when threatening Hal (Matt McCaull). Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“So he was a brilliant man from Victorian times and Watson and Dr. Helen Magnus [Amanda Tapping] had a history together in that they were part of a group called “The Five.” In this episode,  the four surviving members reconvene and we learn that through his brilliance and ingenuity, Watson has kept himself alive by creating a machine that could fight off aging. 

“It was such a fun part to do. I’d known Amanda Tapping from Stargate SG-1 years ago, but I hadn’t worked with Chris Heyerdahl [John Druitt] before and it turned out to be a real pleasure. There are some actors who you just connect with and it works, and Chris and I had a relationship where we immediately trusted one another and could play with the scenes – not just get through the lines, but mess with them and change the intention. So they would always remain alive, interesting and fun. 

“There was this one really powerful scene that we were shooting. It must have been two in the morning and the end of what had been a very long day. And I remember it with great affection because once we finished, the crew, who had probably done a 17- or 18-hour day, were all totally focused and concentrating on this scene. Over the next few days, one after the other said how great it was to have been a part of shooting it. That doesn’t happen very often.” 

Allegra (Romina D'Ugo) and Burton (Wingfield) appear surprised by someone's unexpected arrival. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

While working on Riverworld, Wingfield had the chance to spend some time with his young son. Of all the roles he has had, the actor considers this one to be his most important. “Fatherhood is the only thing of significance I’ve ever done in my life,” he says. “It’s the real thing, and all the rest is just mucking about. 

“I love being a father and it’s tough in this business to be a solid fixture in your child’s life. I have a fabulous wife, though, and whenever he’s able to, my son comes to visit me if I’m away filming. He’s had his Spring break while I’ve been doing Riverworld, so he was up here in Vancouver for a week, which he absolutely adored. We still have family here – his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – and he spent a couple of days here on-set hanging out with me along with the rest of the cast and crew on a paddlewheel steamboat. His favorite department is props because he gets to see all the guns and swords. He especially enjoys hanging out when we do the special effects, like blowing stuff up and setting fire to things. It’s tough to impress nine-year-old boys, but if you can blow stuff up they’re usually interested,” notes the actor with a smile. 

Steve Eramo 

As noted above, all photos by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

Riverworld’s Mark Deklin – Southern Comfort

April 14, 2010

Mark Deklin as Samuel "Mark Twain" Clemens in Riverworld. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

If you are an admirer of Samuel Langhorne Clemens a.k.a Mark Twain, then you probably know him best as an author and humorist. Did you also know, though, that he had an interest in, among other things, becoming a steamboat pilot? Having spent two years studying 2,000 miles of the Mississippi River, Clemens received his steamboat pilot’s license in 1850. In the upcoming four-hour Syfy Channel miniseries Riverworld (Sunday, April 18th @ 7:oo p.m. EST), actor Mark Deklin gets to put Twain’s expertise in this area to good use. It is just one of the things that makes his portrayal of this real-life literary figure unlike any other previous feature film or TV incarnations.

“I’m playing the historical Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens, but in a very different context and one that, obviously, the Sam Clemens we know never ever experienced,” says Deklin. “The other neat thing is that not only is it fictionalized, but it’s heightened as well. My character isn’t this sort of older Sam Clemens or the icon Mark Twain who we’ve all come to know, but he’s not a young man, either. He’s an old man who’s enjoying a young man’s body.

Sam Clemens reborn - an old man enjoying a young man's body. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“This Sam Clemens has been reincarnated in the prime of his life, but he’s still an old man with all the wisdom and pain of an old man. Funnily enough, that wasn’t so much a challenge to play as it was a pleasure to sink my teeth  into. My character is written as swashbuckling, fun and spirited. He’s also a literary genius with a healthy sex life and who’s going around kicking ass.

“I have an English degree and there were a couple of years where I was trying not to be an actor and I taught English, specifically Mark Twain. In addition to Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, I taught some of his lesser-known works as well, so even in terms of getting into the mindset of Twain, I felt very familiar with his work and where he was coming from. Here was a hard-fighting type of guy who loved confrontation, but he was also a pacifist who hated war. He wanted to be an Atheist, but wasn’t because he believed in God, he was just mad at him.

“Twain was a Southerner through and through, but at the same time he was a stanch abolitionist and hated slavery. He was an artist and an intellectual, but he was also a manual laborer. All that made sense to him, which is what made him so American – essentially 19th century American – and I was more than happy to hold onto those contradictions when playing him. It’s sort of like when you’re rock climbing and you look for oppositional holes. You grab one and use it to push off to find the next one. So every contradiction was, for me, something that made my job of portraying Twain that much easier, and I had a blast. I’ve been very lucky to play some very rich roles, and this may well be my favorite.”

Simon (Arnold Pinnock), Youseff (Kwesi Ameyaw), Matt Ellman (Tahmoh Penikett), Tomoe (Jeananne Goossen) and Sam (Deklin). Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

Riverworld is set on another planet where human beings are supposedly reborn on the banks of a massive river after they die. When Matt Ellman (Tahmoh Penikett), an American war zone reporter, and his fiancée Jessie (Laura Vandervoort) are killed, they awake in this strange new world. Separated from Jessie, Matt joins forces with a 12th century Samurai warrior named Tomoe (Jeananne Goossen), and Sam “Mark Twain” Clemens (Deklin). They journey upriver on Clemens’ paddlewheeler in search of not only Jessie, but also to find out exactly where they are and who brought them there. A number of scenes were shot on-location in Squamish, British Columbia, an experience that Deklin thoroughly enjoyed.

“Technically, we were filming on this fjord,” explains the actor. “It’s a salt water inlet, hundreds of feet deep, surrounded by these sheer cliffs and we were actually on a riverboat. They brought up this rear-wheel paddlewheeler and we would spend our days from pre-dawn to post-sunset on this riverboat in the mountains. These were long, hard days, but Tahmoh and I would eat lunch up on the roof of the boat and we’d just look at one another and go, ‘How lucky are we? This is our job. We’re being paid to sit out here on a riverboat on this gorgeous day in the mountains. What’s not to like about that?’

Clemens (Deklin) onboard his paddlewheeler. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“Our crew was given some tremendous challenges and, again, we worked really long hours. For the most part we were lucky with the weather, but logistically it was still a difficult shoot. However, we were very fortunate with our producers and our director, Stuart Gillard, who’s not only a top-notch director, but a top-notch human being as well. I think the tone and attitude on a set starts from the top and works its way down, and I suspect Stuart is the same kind of guy who George Washington was in the sense that he’s a leader you want to rally around. Even when it got tough and you felt like complaining, you’d look over at Stuart, who was always working so hard and aways cheerful and attentive, and tell yourself, ‘You know what, I can suck it up.’

“So having acknowledged that this was a challenging project, I think all in all everyone really had a great time and appreciated being there. We all believed in this project and not only author Philip  Jose Farmer’s original vision for his books [on which Riverworld is based], but also how we’d extrapolated from that. We really poured our hearts into it and I hope it shows in the work. I think it does, and like I said, on the flip side, even though the crew had it hard, for my money, I think us actors had it easy. It felt like it a vacation. I was thrilled to go to work every day. I’d take pictures outside my trailer and think, ‘This is my office. This is where I work.’ So I was biased,” he reveals with a chuckle, “and I loved it.”

When asked about a favorite scene in Riverworld, the actor has a hard time choosing. “That’s a difficult question to answer only because I had so much fun with the whole project,” says Deklin. “I was extremely fortunate, and aware of that, too. In fact, Peter Wingfield, who played [British explorer/adventurer] Sir Richard Burton, and I talked about how lucky we were to both be playing characters who were writers, so we were given really juicy things to say. A lot of times as an actor you have your great scenes, and then there are scenes where you’re a bit superfluous. You’re there, but in the background and not the star of the scene, which is all good and part of the job. However, this was one of those characters where if he was onscreen, he had a reason to be there, and it was a good scene. Please believe me, I’m not tooting my own horn, it’s just that that’s the way the script was written.

Mark Deklin (Clemens), Tahmoh Penikett (Matt), Riverworld executive producer Robert Halmi Sr., and Peter Wingfield (Sir Richard Burton). Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a flashback scene where Sam Clemens is remembering his last night on Earth. It takes place in 1910 in Connecticut, and my character is 75 years old. Now, they could have hired an older actor to play that scene, but Stuart Gillard didn’t want to do that. He wanted me to do that scene, and I’m so grateful to him for that. So he and I sort of made a point of saying, ‘We need to make sure that this make-up is right. It can’t look like cheesy young man in latex make-up. This has to be convincing, or else we’ve blown our credibility.’

“Well, boy, oh, boy, talk about an incredible job. Our head make-up artist and the prosthetic specialist she brought in, who was a friend of hers, did it so right. I was stunned when I looked in the mirror, and in a way they did a lot of my work for me. By that I mean I didn’t have to so much act old because it was already there for me. And that particular scene, which was between Sam and his nurse, was quite beautiful. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but this is an historcial fact – Halley’s Comet was in the sky the day that Sam Clemens was born, and it was in the sky when he died. He had a premonition that when the comet returned, that it would be his last day, and he sort of made a joke of it in typically grim Mark Twain fashion.

Mark Twain (Deklin) and his nurse. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“He said, ‘I’m certain this will be my last day, and if it isn’t, then it’ll be the greatest disappointment of my life because I’m sure God looked at me and Halley’s Comet and said, “These two freaks need to leave at the same time.”‘ So there is this terrific [story] beat in Riverworld where Clemens and his nurse are sitting by the Connecticut River watching Halley’s Comet go across the nighttime sky and he’s telling her, ‘This is it. I’ll be dead in the morning.’ Of course, she says, ‘Don’t be silly,’ and he’s insisting, ‘I mean it. I’m really serious.’ It’s such a lovely scene and as an actor it was a real treat to do.”

Deklin also enjoyed filming his scenes with actress Romina D’Ugo, who portrays Allegra, a 16th century Venetian courtesan and Clemens’ lover. “The way it was originally written, she was just using my character,” notes the actor. “In a sense, they were using each other, and that was fine. However, the more Romina and I worked together – and she is one of the most present actresses I’ve ever worked with – we found all these little nuances in their relationship, and it actually has a journey to it. So when you first meet Clemens and Allegra they are, in fact, using one another, but by the end of our story they’ve developed a true relationship, which is nice.

“At one point, Romina and I were doing this sort of passionate scene. It wasn’t a sex scene, but still quite fiery. Our characters are bickering but it’s also romantic, and because Romina is Italian she was throwing in bits of Italian all over the place, so I asked her to give me a few Italian phrases to throw in there as well. I got the notion that because Sam Clemens was such a scholar and a well-traveled guy, it made sense that he would have picked up little bits and pieces of all kinds of languages. So I asked Stuart Gillard about that and if I could throw in phrases from random other languages and he said, ‘Absolutely.’

Allegra (Romina D'Ugo) and Clemens (Deklin). Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“So when, for example, we meet Ludwig on the Zeppelin, he and Clemens have a couple of brief exchanges in German. There’s also a point where I thought that Clemens and Tomoe needed a moment of connection. So I looked over at her and said a phrase in Japanese that literally means, ‘You must be very tired,’ but it’s meant as a sign of respect. It’s basically saying, ‘I respect your work. You’ve worked very hard; you must be very tired, and you’ve earned it.’ So she and Clemens had this brief exchange as well, and that’s one of the little things that I hooked into and decided, ‘That’s a part of Sam. That’s who he is. He’s a guy who knows how to relate to different people in different ways and is very adept at doing that.'”

The actor and his fellow Riverworld castmates and the crew were together for quite a while shooting the miniseries, and he looks back at that time with great fondness. “There were 50 people in the cast, so I can’t say that we all became close, but the core cast did,” says Deklin. “There were no big egos in this cast, and there were no divas either. Everyone was there to do the work, and because we all have sort of nurturing personalities, we’d look out for one another and have each other’s backs

Youseff (Kwesi Ameyaw) dresses Clemens' (Deklin) wound. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“So it was one of the best working environments I’d ever been in, and I felt so free as an actor, whether I was working with, say, Tahmoh, Peter, Arnold Pinnock [Simon] or Kwesi Ameyaw, who plays Youseff. Again, talk about someone who’s present. There was a scene that Kwesi and I were doing where our characters had just killed some people, and Clemens is saying how he recognized that they needed to kill them, but he still didn’t like it. We did a couple of takes and Kwesi was so present and right there with me. I knew I was with a friend and in friendly space if you will, and the tears just started rolling out of my eyes as I was delivering this monologue. Never in my mind did I think, ‘I’m going to cry here.’ It just happened because Kwesi was so present.

“There’s another scene involving me, Matt McCaull, who plays Hal, and Arnold, and Arnold and I actually became particularly close. We called each other our brother from another mother,” jokes the actor. “In this scene, Arnold kind of threw down the gauntlet and said, ‘Sam is always so together. I want to see him really lose it for once.’ So I asked Stuart Gillard, ‘Would you indulge me in this one thing. I just want Sam to go off on God for what he’s just done. I know you won’t use it in the final cut, but it might help me get to the place I need to be.’

“Of course, Stuart is so great, and he said, ‘I’d love it.’ Well, we’re up on this cliff, the wind is blowing, it’s beautiful, and I don’t know what it was, but everything just began pouring in on me at once. Stuart said, ‘Action,’ and I just started screaming my head off and cursing God out. Then I sat down and thought, ‘Surely he’s going to cut the camera now,’ but Stuart just kept going. So we all sat there looking out at the valley and then we finally collected ourselves. Clemens made some grimly humorous remark and off they went. It was just such an unreal moment because Stuart had the insight to realize, hey, something really special is happening here between these three actors and we need to just let the camera roll. So that’s what he did and it was tremendous.”

Matt (Tahmoh Penikett) and Clemens (Deklin). Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Deklin began performing onstage in school plays, but back then he never thought he would ever become a professional actor. “My Dad was a sub-contractor/building supplier, so I grew up on construction sites with contractors,” he recalls. “That to me was a real job. Acting was just something I did for fun, and it seemed sort of ludicrous that someone could ever contemplate making a living doing that.

“I started out as a journalism major in college and then switched to English literature and history. After I graduated, I worked on a construction site for a while and then I went to work for Greenpeace. From there, I worked in publishing as an editorial assistant before going to grad school for English literature. I was still acting on the side, just for fun, and one day I came home from rehearsing a play and I felt just great. It’s that high you get when you’re creating a character and you just feel like you really belong to the universe. I sat down to work on my thesis and suddenly it hit me. I thought, ‘Who am I kidding. I should be doing what I love.’ It really was one of those light bulb moments.

Simon (Arnold Pinnock), Youseff (Kwesi Ameyaw) and Clemens (Deklin). Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“So I called the head of my department to tell him that I was dropping out and he couldn’t have been happier for me. He said, ‘Ive seen you onstage and I think that’s what you should be doing.’ Then he went on to say, ‘If you want to stay here a little longer, you can drop out of the English program but I’ll keep you on as part of the faculty. You can teach classes and if you also want to be taking acting classes while you’re here, great. This way you can be working and saving some money while figuring out what you want to do.’ That was really kind of him, so that’s what I did.”

A year later, the actor moved to Seattle where he got his MFA in acting from the University of Washington. Deklin stayed in town for a while, performing onstage as well as doing a little bit of TV work, before deciding to relocate to New York. There, he worked as a bartender and continued doing theater, both on and off-Broadway, along with more TV and some feature film work. In 2001, the actor was cast in The Lion King and spent the next year-and-a-half with that stage production before moving out to Los Angeles to pursue more movie and TV work. One of his first jobs there was a guest-spot on the Aaron Spelling series Charmed.

“I played a low-level demon called Bosk who had sort of an Indiana Jones fetish and was looking for a lost city,” says the actor. “He dressed like an archeologist, had a genie in a bottle, threw fireballs and rode on a flying carpet, which was a lot of fun. It was all green screen work, which I always get a kick out of. They built what I can only describe as a bucking mechanical bull but with somewhat better gyroscopic technology. They put a board on top of it, and a carpet on top of that. I’d kneel on the carpet, then they’d put a see-through strap across the back of my legs so that they could really throw me around, and off I’d go. We spent a week or so shooting all the flying carpet stuff, but in the final cut it was only like 10 seconds long. Still, it was an awesome experience and I enjoyed myself.”

Sam (Deklin) takes aim! Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

Nip/Tuck, Life on Mars, Desperate Housewives and CSI: New York are just a handful of Deklin’s other TV credits, with his more recent small screen work being guest-spots on such shows as Two and a Half Men, Better Off Ted and The Mentalist. While some people pursue an acting career in the hope of gaining fame and fortune, this actor has always focused on another goal.

“I find fame a little scary,” muses Deklin. “A certain degree of fame might be nice, but there’s nothing appealing to me about the paparazzi following you around 24 hours a day. And with fortune, sure, who doesn’t want to be rich; that would be wonderful.

“For me though, I’ve always thought that when I’m an old man and look back at my life, what would make me feel successful is if, in a broad sense, I was able to make a living doing what I love. That’s always been my starting point, so whenever I feel like, ‘Oh, my career isn’t quite where I want it to be, boo hoo,’ I sort of take a step back and think, ‘You know what, how many people on this planet can say they make a living, and a good living, doing what they love.’ It’s a finite number, certainly, so I take a great deal of comfort in that.”

Steve Eramo

As noted above, all photos by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

The Syfy Channel’s 2010-2011 Original Movie Line-Up

March 25, 2010

DURING the 2010-11 season, the Syfy Channel, one of television’s most prolific producers of original films, presents a talent-rich Original Movies line-up showcasing stars such as Hill Harper (CSI NY), Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight), Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings), Lauren Holly (NCIS), Colin Ferguson (Eureka), Isabella Rossellini (Blue Velvet), Jewel Staite (Stargate Atlantis), Alan Cumming (Tin Man), Felicia Day (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Ryan Carnes (Desperate Housewives, Doctor Who), Lance Henriksen (Aliens) and Barry Williams (The Brady Bunch).

Movies include Riverworld (previously reported on SciFiAndTvTalk), starring Alan Cumming in an epic adventure based on the award-winning series of Philip Jose Farmer novels; The Phantom, and 24 of the popular Stargate Original Movies, including Red, a re-imagining of the Little Red Riding Hood story starring Felicia Day, Roger Corman’s Sharktopus, starring Eric Roberts (also previously reported along with Red on this blog) and Lake Placid 3 – sequel to the most watched Saturday Original Movie ever (Lake Placid 2). Below are some highlights of these upcoming projects.

The Phantom – Four hours, premieres in June – Ryan Carnes stars as The Phantom and his alter ego Chris Walker in this re-imagined version of the classic comic strip transported to present day. A favorite costumed hero for more than six decades, The Phantom relies on his wits, physical strength and skill with weapons instead of superhuman powers. Isabella Rossellini guest-stars in a villainous turn as Lithia, the head of an experimental mind control program. Also starring are Cameron Goodman as Chris Walker’s love interest, Renny, and Sandrine Holt (24, The L Word) as The Phantom’s trusted advisor, Guran. Director: Paolo Barzman (The Last Templar). The Phantom is produced by Muse Entertainment and RHI Entertainment.

Mega Piranha – Premieres Saturday, April 10th @ 9:00 p.m. EST/PST. An unusual alliance tries to stop a mutant strain of giant ferocious piranhas that have escaped from the Amazon and are eating their way to Florida. Stars Barry Williams, Tiffany and Paul Logan.

Mothman – Premieres Saturday, April 24th @ 9:00 p.m. EST/PST. The legendary West Virginia monster returns to exact revenge on five childhood friends who covered up an accidental killing. Stars Jewel Staite.

Mongolian Death Worm – Premieres Saturday, May 8th @ 9:00 p.m. EST/PST. A treasure hunter who has been searching for a tomb containing Genghis Khan’s treasure teams up with an humanitarian UN health worker to stop the Mongolian Death Worms, awakened by experimental oil drilling in the Mongolian desert. Stars Patrick Flannery and Victoria Pratt.

Witchville – Premieres Saturday, May 22nd @ 9:00 p.m. EST/PST. This first Syfy production in China is a sweeping fantasy tale of a kingdom besieged by witches who are sucking the very life out of the land. Only the new King can save his people, but his mysterious connection to the Red Queen of the witches may be his undoing. Stars Luke Goss.

Lake Placid 3 – In this sequel , a game warden, his wife and their young son move into their aunt’s cabin on Lake Placid, where the lonely boy stars feeding baby crocodiles he views as pets. Three years later, the crocs start looking at him and his family as their food. Stars Colin Ferguson.

Stonehenge Apocalypse – When the giant stones of Stonehenge begin to move and cataclysms occur all over the Earth, only a fringe radio talk show host who’s an expert in UFOlogy figures out that the ancient monument is really alien technology. Stars Hill Harper, Misha Collins and Peter Wingfield.

The Lost Future – In a post-apocalyptic world, both humans and animals have devolved back to the Stone Age. But a small group of wise men knows there is knowledge in the mysterious artifacts called books. Now they have found a young man who knows how to read. If they can defeat the warlord who rules the city where the books are kept, the young man can help them defeat the disease that decimated the world and restart the civilization. Stars Sean Bean.

Scream of the Banshee – An archeology professor unearths a dangerous relic, releasing a creature that can kill with her bone-splitting scream. Stars Lauren Holly and Lance Henriksen.

Morlocks – An experimental time machine opens a window into the future and mutated monsters (the Morlocks) use it to come back to the present and go on a murderous rampage. Stars David Hewlett (Stargate Atlantis).

8th Voyage of Sinbad – Sinbad searches for the golden head of the long lost Colossus of Rhodes and, instead, finds an island where the mythical Minotaur still rules, protecting a vast treasure. Sinbad and his crew have to battle the creature and its minions to get the treasure and save their own lives. Stars Manu Bennett.

Sanctuary’s Robert Lawrenson – Soldiering On

March 8, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Eramo 

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

Sanctuary’s 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!