Robin Dunne Talks About Sanctuary

Transcription by Katrina King. Katrina is an abnormally exceptional transcriptionist!

Since early 2007 Robin Dunne has portrayed forensic psychiatrist Will Zimmerman on the hit web and TV series Sanctuary. On October 15th, Sanctuary begins its third season, expanding from 13 episodes to 20. We spoke to Robin recently about the upcoming season and what’s in store for his character.

POP CULTURE ZOO: We last talked on the phone when the whole football kerfluffle was going on…

ROBIN DUNNE: Well, not to get back on my soapbox about that, but we all saw what happened to France in the World Cup, y’know, so, revenge…

PCZ: There ya go… [laughter]

RD: Not that I’m bitter or anything. [laughs]

PCZ: At least it worked out right?

RD: Yeah, exactly. Cheater never wins.

PCZ: Exactly. So I see on Twitter, you’re now singing Celine Dion and Rick Astley songs, is that true?

RD: Yeah, I’m going to come out with my new album, that’s sort of my covers of the cheesy classics, I think it’s gonna be a big seller. I think it’s important to kind of branch out, and do different things. Definitely, if you’re acting and you’re on a series, you definitely should come out with an album, that’s just sort of par for the course.

PCZ: Oh, absolutely!

RD: I gotta go that William Shatner route you know.

PCZ: Exactly! you know there’s going to be a group of us now, expecting to see this on the Season 3 outtakes.

RD: Right, yeah! Hopefully there won’t be a rights problem!

PCZ: Yeah, exactly! And speaking of extras on DVD sets, I thought it was very cool on the Season 2 set, that you walked us through how you prepared for that wonderful Bollywood number at the end of the season.

RD: You know, that was a really fun thing to do. Damien [Kindler] kept saying, “What idiot had the idea of giving Robin a video camera?” because I just sort of was in everybody’s faces a little bit throughout the whole year. But it was a lot of fun to kind of just document that process, because it was a completely terrifying thing to go through. As you can see on those DVD extras, I didn’t have a lot of time to really rehearse and learn how to do this thing. I think you can actually see on this footage, the lovely girl who was my dance instruction, kind of just looking and just going, “Oh my!” You can see actually her face just going, “Oh my god, this guy has absolutely no rhythm and no talent for dancing. I don’t know how we’re going to pull this off!”

[both laugh]

RD: But yeah, it was a lot of fun to sort of be there and to have that go on the DVD extras was great.

PCZ: Well, not only as someone that has three left feet (being me!), but knowing how TV works, you could have very easily had creative cuts and a dance double, so it’s very impressive that you decided you wanted it to be authentic and you wanted you to do it, so kudos to that!

RD: Well that’s the thing, that’s like one of the great things about Sanctuary is they’re really open to those kind of things, and I did say, as a lot of us do on the show, “Look, I wanna try to do as much as possible.” My attitude is always, I say to Martin and the directing crew, if I can do as much as absolutely possible of those shots, then that just gives them more stuff to be able to cut to and be able to use, and they don’t really get locked into stuff. Obviously, when you’re using a double, you can only cut it from certain angles, and et cetera et cetera. They’re really good about that stuff. They really say, hey, okay, if you want the challenge then here it is and run with it. There’s also something to be said for our stunt coordinators. Marshall Virtue is our stunt coordinator and his partner there is Rob Hayter. Those two guys are really great. They know that I want to do as much as possible and they let me do as much as much as they think I can do. And then, we have a pretty good relationship there where if they say no then I know it’s completely dangerous, that they’re going to be bouncing off a car windshield or something. I’m probably, more than likely, still going to press them to do it, but they let me go as far as possible. That says a lot about the trust of the show. And again, y’know, if you can have the actor in doing that stuff for as much as possible, then you just have that much more to cut to in the editing room.

PCZ: I had spoken to Damien and Amanda earlier in the year, but it sounds like Damien is out to get you!

RD: I think he has this secret thing that he just wants me to die. Yeah, he wants to kill me without making it look like it’s his fault. And I think it’s probably because of all the borderline, horrible practical jokes I play on him relentlessly. But yes, this year, we’re actually just gearing up to do a huge, huge episode. I don’t know that I can mention too much about it, it’s the war episode. So we’re all gearing up for that and that’s actually starting on Wednesday. I think it’s going to be our biggest Sanctuary episode to date. We’ll be in there and it will be like being at war I’m sure, the way the script is kinda coming up.

I think you and I have talked about this before, but, that is the amazing thing about Sanctuary – yes, it’s difficult and it’s exhausting and it’ll probably put me in an early grave but it’s great to be working on a show that, y’know, forget about thinking outside the box! There’s no box! It’s just hey, these ideas come out of Damien’s head and the writer’s and the writing team, “Hey, can we do this?” And everybody kind of just says, “Yeah, sure!” It’s amazing to see an entire crew of people just sort of get in line and commit to an idea, however crazy, whether it be doing a Bollywood episode, or doing an episode in a sunken submarine, or underwater, or whatever – on top of a mountain – and just kind of going with it, and running with it, and that’s really the essence of Sanctuary. A team that just embraces these huge ideas. Again, as we’ve said before, we’re not a big rich blank check kind of show. We have a relatively small crew, and we don’t have the huge budgets of some other shows, but we still manage to pull off these landmark episodes. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we have a team of believers, y’know?

I always go to this sort of corny thing, but it’s true. It’s not just the actors, or the writers, or the directors who believe in the show. It’s everybody, down the line. The guy who’s running the generator. Everybody is there and committed to the show, and that’s an amazing thing to be part of.

PCZ: It seems like the question for your show is not: “Can we do this?”, instead it’s: “Why shouldn’t we do this?”

RD: Yeah! The answer is usually, “Yes, this is insane, but okay we’re doing it!” I think everybody’s come to accept the fact that every episode there’s going to be something different about it or something out of the ordinary about it and that’s just the given, so people just go about the task of figuring out how to do it. We did another very, very cool episode this year, where pretty much the entire episode takes place from Will’s perspective, Will’s point of view. He’s infected with this thing and so they had this camera rig like a bicycle helmet, literally a bicycle helmet with a camera mounted onto it and all these cords and wires coming out of it. I would wear this thing, and basically all these actors would be looking at me, but they’d be looking right at the camera and I just saw an early cut of it and it’s just a very cool idea, and I think it’s going to be a very cool episode.

I keep saying the thing is like Season 1 we did all these cool things, how could we do any more, and Season 2 they took it even farther, and after Season 2 I was like, well we have to hit the plateau at some point. And Season 3 is just another sort of crazy, crazy roller coast ride. And also it’s 20 episode! The first 2 seasons we did 13 and this year we’re doing 20, it’s like adding 40% onto a marathon!

PCZ: I was gonna ask you about that. How has it been shooting 20 instead of 13? It seemed like you guys were up to the wire on post-production on thirteen episodes, how does that change your schedule?

RD: Well, I think that from an acting point of view, it seemed like we were going into Season 3 going, “God, 13 nearly killed me and now we’re going to do 20!” But I think a few things happened. Firstly, we’re into Season 3 now, so you’re kind of used to the treadmill of work and you’re used to that pace. We shot 10 episodes, and then took a hiatus. It wasn’t a lie on a beach kind of thing, we still had a bunch of things to do like Comic-Con and those kind of things, but we had a good 6 weeks of break which makes a big difference. So here we are going into 16 now, and I don’t feel as burnt out as I did at the end of 13 last year, which is a good thing! It wreaks havoc on Lee Wilson and the guys at Anthem Visual Effects ’cause they’re just working around the clock taking four, five, six actors standing around on a green screen stage and trying to create a world for them, and trying to create monsters, abnormals and all kinds of things. Yeah, it’s a hectic pace. It’s always funny when we get to the wrap party and, this has happened 2 years in a row to me, where I’m sitting having a drink with Lee Wilson, our visual effects guy, and I say, “Hey, so another year, we’re done now! Wow!” And he just looks at me, he goes, “I’m not gonna be done for another 6 months. This is not a wrap party for me.”

PCZ: That’s just him taking a break before the real work begins!

RD: Yeah, exactly!

PCZ: So obviously, since you’re still with the show, Will survives the season finale, and I’m not going to ask you to reveal how he does, because we all want to watch and see it, but my question along those lines would be, is the experience that he has with Big Bertha/Kali something that will continue with him over the course of the season or does that get resolved fairly quickly?

RD: I think it does continue with him in a character sense. We saw in Season 1 Will kind of being trepidatious, in Season 2 he’s resigned himself to this is his life. I think you’ll see in Season 3 that he goes that much deeper, and there is definitely going to the other side and making the ultimate sacrifice for the team. That’s going to really impact the character in a way. You’re going to see him go through that and then be faced with the decision of whether to go back again. I think it’s an interesting thing when you see these characters that you’ve known for two seasons – the bond gets so strong because they’re relying on each other for survival and you’re going to see the individuality sort of give way to the team and what’s best for the team, and even that means sort of jumping on the grenade, so to speak.

The first little bit of Season 3 is definitely very difficult for Will, but I will say that, without giving anything away, that other areas of his life may get a little brighter, like his personal life as the season progresses. So there is at least that. Who says you can’t have a social life when you’re in the Sanctuary? Actually, I’ll answer that question. Helen Magnus says you can’t!

PCZ: Sure! Well, not only for Will but for the other characters, in would be nice if… well, I wouldn’t want to see their personal lives get any darker, let’s say that!

RD: You kinda need a little lightness here and there just to be able to deal with all those crazy things that we’re going through every day.

PCZ: The other thing I’m curious about is do we get another episode that’s just Will and Magnus trapped somewhere and having to work things out? You guys do such a tremendous job together and seeing you two isolated and playing off that is pretty fantastic!

RD: Those episodes are really, really fun to do, and particularly a treat for me, because it’s being able to work one-on-one with Amanda, which is such a lot of fun. We do have one coming up, it’s towards the end of this season, but you are going to see sort of Will and Magnus stuck in a situation. It’s going to be more different than you’ve ever imagined and it may not, at the outset, it may not look like it’s going to be one of those episodes, but it certainly will become one. I’m really looking forward to that. That’ll be, wow, that’ll be 19. That’ll be the second to last episode of the season. That’s coming up in a couple weeks. I was just actually talking to Damien about the script over the weekend, and he says once he finishes 18 he’s going to launch into that. But that story is there, and yeah, it’s going to be a really, really cool episode.

PCZ: Does it ever seem odd to you, now that you’re talking about episodes 16 and 17, that you shoot so much of the season before it even airs and you get any kind of feedback on it?

RD: The one thing about that that’s hard is that we’re always so excited about the show. I’d love to be able to sit here and talk with you and go “Hey, so what did you think of episode whatever because this is what we were feeling and did you get?” It is kind of hard to sit here and go, “I can’t really tell you exactly what’s happening but it’s really cool!” and it’s hard to sort of hold back on that excitement. I think this is actually going to be the first year where we will still be in production, we air October 15th in the United States and Canada. So we will actually be in production as it airs, and another reason why that, I think, will be cool, is because we’ll be able to sort of come to work on Monday morning and the crew will be like “Hey, so it’s aired!” and kind of get a reaction. Because it is nice to be able to share something you’re excited about with people, and it’s hard to do that when people haven’t seen it.

PCZ: Talking to any of you guys at this point with the questions I have it’s like, well we can’t really answer that, so yeah, it gets interesting.

RD: Yeah, I can answer it in the vaguest possible way that really doesn’t satisfy your question.

PCZ: [laughs] Exactly. Well, I know you’ve had a busier schedule with Sanctuary this year, but have you had any time to do any side projects?

RD: I’ve got a bunch of things in development and kind of pushing them forward, but I really haven’t been able to focus on anything the way they need to be focused on. I think come November I’ll take some time and sort of dive into other projects. I write too, and I really enjoy the writing process and getting projects off the ground. I can keep things moving forward, but it’s just not realistic to be able to donate all my time when I’m working 15 hours a day. So, I think come the end of the year I’ll figure out what I want to do next. If I’m not dead, that is…

PCZ: If Damien hasn’t killed you yet! Well, we’re very excited for Season 3 premiere, very much looking forward to that. And hopefully maybe after a few seasons have aired, especially some pivotal ones with Will, we can talk again and really dig into it about those.

RD: Any time, I love to talk and let’s do that, because it would be nice to be able to talk specifically about stuff and I always love to hear what you guys think and what your reaction is, so let’s plan on doing that!

Joseph Dilworth Jr.

Joseph Dilworth Jr. has been writing since he could hold a pencil (back then it was one of those big, red pencils, the Faber-Castell GOLIATH. Remember those? Now that was a pencil!). As the instigator of this here website he takes full responsibility for any wacky hi-jinks that ensue. He appreciates you taking the time to read his articles.