Transcription by Katrina King. Katrina is not an abnormal, but she would play one on TV!
Amanda Tapping and Robin Dunne, two of the stars of the hit Syfy series Sanctuary, are probably the coolest persons to interview. As you’ll see below, they enjoy kidding around almost as much as they love talking about their show. While the last few episodes of season three air Monday nights at 10:00 PM, production has just begun on the fourth season. I was able to catch the duo by phone during a recent lunch break and we discussed their characters, what it’s like to direct on a show you’ve been starring on for a while and a tease or two about what’s to come (at the risk of my life!). Here are the results:
POP CULTURE ZOO: So thank you guys for talking to me today, I really appreciate it.
AMANDA TAPPING: Thank you, Joe!
ROBIN DUNNE: Thanks…You’re welcome!
PCZ: So, does it seem at all kinda weird; you guys are well into production on season four, but now you’re backtracking and trying to remember and talk about season three?
AT: You know, it just feels like one big, huge season. We finished season three awhile ago, and “Normandy” is about to air and it’s like we shot it yesterday.
RD: We constantly have the feeling of, though we’ve been off for several months between seasons, you get back to the stage and you get back into it, and it feels like we’ve never left. It’s one big mishmash of Sanctuary adventures.
AT: Yeah, it really is, it’s interesting. And I can recall really specific moments from shooting last season that, yeah, like I said, it feels like it was yesterday.
PCZ: Well good! One of the big things you set up in season three was the Hollow Earth, and everything that that involved. That paid off quite a bit in the mid-season, and I’m just wondering, since it’s been mentioned a few times; are we going to see that more leading up into the season finale?
AT: Yeah, you see some of the big culmination of that story line at the end of season three, and that’s what launches us into season four as well. So, it’s hard to go to somewhere like Hollow Earth and not have it pay off multiple times. We do actually try to wrap the story up in season four, but it’s Hollow Earth! So, not going anywhere.
PCZ: And can we hope we’ll see some more of Magnus’ father and the wonderful Jim Byrnes?
AT: Oh yeah, I hope so! I mean, any opportunity we have to bring Jim back, we do. He’s just quite literally the coolest cat out there. He’s an amazing amazing guy.
RD: What an amazing presence on set. He is definitely just, like Amanda says, the coolest. Far cooler than any of us. Ten times more!
RD: Ten times more! Yes, absolutely!
PCZ: Well, I don’t know about that, but he is very cool.
AT: He is.
RD: We were just testing you, and you passed! Good.
AT: Yes, thank you Joe!
PCZ: The call can continue! [laughter] One of the other things I found interesting, you guys set up the idea of these super-abnormals, that there’s these abnormals that sort of acted as avatars for these all powerful godlike beings. Are we going to get to explore that any more?
RD: Uh, the short answer is possibly. But not definitely? But maybe? But not certainly. How ’bout that?
AT: It’s such a great conceit, right? That all these major abnormals have almost a godlike deity controlling them. And once you open that up, it’d be a shame not to explore what other deities are out there, that are controlling the abnormals of Earth. But as of yet, maybe.
RD: But we’re not guaranteeing anything.
AT: Yeah. It’s a definite maybe on that one, Joe.
PCZ: Definite maybe, possibly, kinda sorta?
AT: Yeah, possibly, yeah.
RD: Oh yeah, I forgot “kinda sorta.” That’s a good one too. Yeah, put that one in there.
AT: It’s a kinda sorta definite maybe… ish.
PCZ: See, we run up against this every time we talk, it seems like, there’s this stuff that you can hint at but can’t really say.
RD: It’s worse than knowing people at the CIA, isn’t it? It’s like you’d get more information out of them than us.
AT: We’d tell you, but we’d have to kill you.
RD: If we told you Joe, there’d be a trap door that’s under the place where you’re sitting right now and you’d just fall endlessly, forever.
AT: Or get hit by lightning bolts.
RD: Oooooh. I like that!
PCZ: Oh, wow!
RD: There’d be silence from Joe, and then it’s like “bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz” Joe? Joe are you there?
PCZ: Uh, look at the time… I gotta run!
PCZ: So, I like the episode that Amanda directed this season. Very cool, and I understand that right out of the gate for season four, it seems like you’re already directing another one?
AT: I am, I directed the first episode we shot this season, which will actually appear as the second episode of the season. So I directed that right out of the gate. And you’re actually here on a very auspicious day, because it’s the first day of prep for Robin Dunne directing an episode! Robin’s directing out sixth episode of the season, so he just started his first day of prep. Yeah, the inmates have taken over the asylum, let’s just put it that way.
PCZ: The sinking feeling is happening for everybody, now that Robin’s going to be in charge?
RD: There’s absolutely no parental supervision here anymore.
AT: It’s a little frightening. But we both have really big episodes. The episode I directed was more action and explosions and stunts than I had ever dealt with. Most of the stuff on Sanctuary that I’ve directed has been very linear story telling and this is really outside of my comfort zone so it’s been quite fun. And Robin has been thrown completely into the deep end for his episode, which has massive viz effects and stunts and fights and prosthetics and insanity.
RD: Like Amanda said, she directed episode two of season four, but we shot them out of sequence, so it actually was the first thing we shot. And kind of starting off the season was daunting.
AT: Cuz you’re kind of setting the mood for the entire crew, and now I’ve made them all insane and just in time for you!
RD: More insane!
AT & RD: More insane.
PCZ: And Robin, you did such a wonderful job as the camera dolly in Metamorphosis, so I mean y’know…
RD: Yeah, the difference between that and this is enormous, as I’m finding out. We were just talking earlier before your call, Amanda and I were saying there are so many things that us actors don’t really have to worry about that when you become a director you realize, “Oh my god, there’s so many details!” All these little details that you have to think about.
AT: You have a whole new appreciation for it. I find that actors who end up directing ask a lot less stupid questions on set when they’re actors.
PCZ: I guess at this point everybody knows what they’re doing, so it’s got to be a little bit easier to get performances and character moments out of people.
RD: Wait, did you just say everyone knows what you’re doing? Ha ha ha!
AT: God, you’re fooled! No, it’s true, everyone knows their characters so well, and the nuances, the relationships. And our crew is so well seasoned, so it’s just like being at the helm of a well-oiled ship.
PCZ: For Robin in particular, this being your first episode you’re directing, how prominently does Will feature in the episode, how much acting are you going to have to direct yourself in?
RD: You know you’d be surprised, I’m in actually quite a lot of it, which I don’t think was the original intention, but it just sort of worked out that way. Thankfully, I’m kind of incapacitated for a lot of it, more incapacitated than I am in just normal life.
AT: So no acting required! [giggles]
RD: No acting required.
RD: As though I act anyway…but yeah, it’s gonna be odd. It sort of kind of worked out that there’s two A stories, but that’s not what I’m not actually worried about. It’s more the logistics of the big sequences and guns and things that I’m kind of more tossing and turning about.
AT: [in a British accent] Oh, you’ll be all right darling.
RD: [also British] Thank you darling.
AT: [still British] It’ll be all right. I promise not to point my gun at you.
PCZ: And you also have to do the prep work while you’re shooting other episodes, correct?
AT: Yeah, what’s happening with Robin right now is, we’re shooting an episode that he’s not in very much. So his first five days of prep are pretty much clear of having to be on set. And we have a three day weekend coming up in Canada, so there’s an extra day there which is awesome, so we’ve tried to make it look as easy as possible.
PCZ: Lure him in…
PCZ: So going back to season three real quick, Will has an interesting new love interest, who I think has probably been around more episodes than Will’s other girlfriends, will she continue or is season three it for her?
RD: You mean will she continue or will she go the way of all Will’s other girlfriends?
PCZ: Will she meet the curse?
AT: No, you’ll see her again. We see her in episode… 319? Our second to last episode, she’s in it in a really cool way. And she’s already been in once this season, and is back again…
RD: Yes, definitely there’s one coming up that she’s gonna be in.
AT: Yeah, so you’ll see her again. Pascale Hutton is her name, and she’s wonderful. We love her.
RD: Yeah, she’s great. And it’s definitely nice when new actors come on the show, and they fit in so well that you can’t really remember what the show was like without them. And that’s certainly the case with Pascale and Pauline Egan, who’s come on as Henry’s love interest. It’s really nice, in such a corny way… maybe you can stop yourself from gagging, but when the family grows, it’s really nice to be part of that.
PCZ: That’s been the fun of the last part of season two and all of season three, really opening up the story, but also opening up the universe, and the characters. You’ve got Declan and now Will’s girlfriend and other characters that come in and out. That’s been really fun seeing that.
AT: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s kind of the great joy of being given more time in that extra season, you go “Wow, where can we take it now?” And now we have such a rich tapestry, and a rich backdrop to play with.
PCZ: It seems like on all the conference calls I’ve been on with you guys, and other interviews I’ve seen, everybody asks about Magnus having a love life, having a love interest. I’m wondering at this point, is that sort of… does she kind of derail that because she maybe still has a torch for Druitt in some weird way?
AT: I’ll tell you what happened, is at the beginning of this season, when the writers and Martin, Damian and I were talking about potentials for the season, I said, “Y’know what would be great?” at the very end of this long conversation about story ideas, “if Magnus had a love interest this season. Y’know I don’t care what gender the person is. I don’t care where we go with it. Whether it’s just a one off, but I think Magnus, we need to show this woman is actually capable of love in a context that doesn’t involve a psychopathic murderer.” So, I just thought it would be nice to show that she’s capable of some semblance of a normal relationship outside of the weird men that she has chosen to align herself with. [In a British accent] Could I please just have a relationship with someone who doesn’t kill a lot of women.
RD: [Also in a British accent] Not a serial murderer. [shifts to normal] Could we start there and go up.
AT: Yeah. That’s not good. Could she have a real relationship. To that end, we just shot a really fun episode.
RD: It was really cool.
AT: Episode four, “Monsoon.”
PCZ: It still kind of adds the mystique to Helen. Because everyone else, we see what they do in their off time. But Helen just kind of seems to go away.
AT: Yeah.. and Helen doesn’t do a lot, and Helen doesn’t take down time. But! Having said that, you will find something very interesting at the beginning of our fourth season as to how we get out of our third season and it’s… well, gosh, Joseph, we just can’t tell ya, but it’s …
PCZ: Oh, all right!
AT: Helen gets a little bit of an opportunity to take a small break…
RD: [in a British accent] A respite.
AT: [also in a British accent] A small respite.
PCZ: She went through a period of time after Ashley died where she didn’t want to be immortal any more, and maybe not necessarily even be alive, and then she kind of faced this year the actual possibility of dying. So I’m kind of wondering, what is her head space about that right now? Is she back to being okay with who she is?
AT: No. I don’t think that she ever will be. I think that’s something you just never get over. I think that she’s just learned to, like she always does, contextualize it if you will. She’s learned to live within the parameters of this new state of emotional being. And it’s not without joy, or without laughter or without potential, but certainly there’s a part of her that will never recover from that. Although, she’s just learned to function within it. Does that make sense?
PCZ: Gotcha, yeah, definitely! So then Monday we’ve got the “Normandy” episode, which promises to be a pretty big episode, we get to see The Five and Helen during World War II. What can you tell us about this episode?
RD: Just that it’s the biggest episode in scope and every aspect that we’ve ever done and it was an amazing experience. Again, one of those classic Sanctuary episodes where thinking outside the box is the norm. And just being there on set and experiencing that, we were all really blown away. I can’t wait for people to experience it.
AT: It’s a whole different Sanctuary. It’s a different look.
AT: We desaturated the colors so it really has the palate of an old World War II film. There was a reverence on set while we were shooting that belied the actual conditions we were shooting under. We were on the top of a mountain in the pouring rain, freezing cold; not a single person complained because we realized we were telling a story where the people we were paying homage to went through a million times worse than what we were dealing with, and it just was a very very interesting, I think unlike anything most of us have seen on a TV show.
RD: And having just seen the episode, the last credit..
AT: Yeah.. oh..
RD: It gets me every time, it was just magical.
PCZ: Ok, I will look for that. I know you guys joke around and have a good time and you guys do wonderful acting week after week. But does being in a location like that really just super-focus everyone on what’s going on and what you’re doing?
AT: Yes. It absolutely does. Yeah, there wasn’t as much sort of goofing around on set; it was joyful and we had a lot of fun shooting the episode but people were a little more reserved, I think. It was like I said, it was just a really interesting dynamic, and very respectful and I think when you tell the story about real people, or about a period in history that is so real and so poignant and still so close to the bone for so many people. You have to do it with a sense of pride and reverence and honor. And that’s what we strove for. I hope we achieved it. I mean, obviously this is Sanctuary, so we’re taking history and we’re turning it on its ear. It’s a revisionist approach to a major historical event, but we didn’t want it to be trite.
RD: We did a behind the scenes, as we do of many episodes, and a lot of those episodes are us making asses of ourselves, and joking, and goofing around, and people taking their pants off and all kinds of ridiculous things…
AT: People meaning Robin!
RD: People meaning the Royal People. But we did one for “Normandy” and it wasn’t conscious, it wasn’t something we were thinking about, but after the fact I was sitting down watching it with Martin, Amanda and Damian, and I was like, wow, none of us are goofing around in this. All of us are very serious and focused on what we were doing. And I think that’s a real good indication of the material affecting us and taking us to a different place. Don’t get me wrong, we’re back to taking our pants off and goofing around, it just sort of took a little break.
PCZ: When all that stops, then we’ll know you guys are tired of doing the show at that point.
AT & RD: Exactly.
PCZ: Since this takes place during World War II, do we still get to see all the rest of the regular characters or the actors in some other fashion?
AT: Um, we see some.
RD: Yeah, it’s very interesting the way we brought Will into the story. In a manner of speaking, Will is there.
AT: You see Tesla, Druitt, Watson, and Nigel Griffin, the full complement of The Five, and, like Robin said, you see Will in a very interesting way, but it’s back in time, so some people aren’t there.
RD: And you see how Magnus and The Five have really altered the course of history, which I think is very cool.
PCZ: Very cool, well I think that’s all I have for you guys for now. I definitely appreciate your time.
RD: Thank you very much.
AT: Great to talk to you as always!
PCZ: Yup, and we will definitely talk again soon. Hopefully see you guys at Comic Con this year.
AT: Yeah! Excellent!
RD: Yeah! Absolutely. And we can’t wait to hear what you think of “Normandy,” so let us know.