The SyFy series Sanctuary has changed the scope of television by shooting exclusively with green screens and special effects. While their technology is out of this world, however, the series’ stars Robin Dunne (Dr. Will Zimmerman) and Amanda Tapping (Dr. Helen Magnus) are very much down to earth. The duo recently participated in a conference call where they spoke with about their upcoming episodes, how their characters have changed since the beginning of the series, and what’s in store for Season 4.
Question: Can you talk about the musical episode?
Amanda: The musical episode is our eighth episode. It’s called Fugue. It was written by Damian Kindler and he wrote the lyrics for the music with our composer, Andrew Lockington. And it’s interesting…you’re not going to see an episode of Glee. There’s not big production numbers or dancing or anything like that. It’s actually a very organic way of telling a story, and the songs, even though the songs are sung, it’s sort of like you’re hearing a scene.
Robin: Yes, I think the way that the music and the story are married together, like Amanda says…it’s very organic and it was an amazing episode to shoot. During a lot of the musical scenes, a lot of the crew were saying that it was like they were just watching a scene, and the singing was sort of secondary, which was kind of interesting.
Amanda: What was cool about it was the crew really got into the idea of doing a musical, so everyone on set was singing. You know, “we’re coming up behind you, we’re carrying a ladder,” it was really funny, and it was just a great atmosphere. But it sort of goes with the idea that certain people respond better to frequencies, certain musical frequencies or tonal qualities, than they do to actual voice. So we sort of took that idea and made it a Sanctuary episode.
Robin: It was also kind of interesting, too. It was a very emotional episode to shoot. Something about the music really brought the emotion out in a lot of people, and not just the actors but we had like, burly grip guys standing in the back of the room kind of wiping tears away from their eyes, which was kind of interesting.
Question: Can you talk about upcoming guest stars?
Amanda: Well Ian Tracey is back as Adam Worth, and Jonathon Young is back as Tesla. Peter Wingfield is back as James Watson.
Robin: We have a very, kind of cool new villain this year, played by Brian Markinson.
Amanda: We had him in one episode, and loved him so much that we kept bringing him back. Carlo Rota does a couple of episodes of the show.
Robin: Al Sapienza plays Will’s dad, in a wonderful performance – you know him from the Sopranos.
Amanda: Robert Lawrenson is back a fair bit as Declan, which is great. What you’ve seen over the past three seasons, as we build the Sanctuary family, we utilize them a lot. And I think that’s what I love about the show. If you come on and we really dig you – and we have pretty much dug everyone who’s come on the show – we just keep bringing you back.
Question: What kind of a journey would you say that your characters are on this season?
Robin: I would say it’s the darkest kind of journey we’ve been on. I mean, we’ve been in some dark places, but I think this season there is some real friction and real ugly truths that come out.
Amanda: Yes and it feels like every relationship this season is tested, and thankfully survived, but there’s a difference at the end of it, in the way that the characters deal with each other. Magnus has a big episode with Tesla, and it changes the course of their relationship somewhat. Will and Magnus are on this incredible…you know, she’s still lying to him and they’re at loggerheads a lot, but you can tell at the heart of it all, there’s incredible love between the two characters, and incredible respect. But this is a bit of a darker season. It’s not without its crazy humor, because it wouldn’t be Sanctuary without it, but it’s a much darker season and I think the best way to say it is that the relationships are all tested. I think we say this every press junket that we do, every season, that it’s our best season ever but I really feel that Season 4 has just blown the lid off anything we’ve done before.
Question: What is the thing that the viewers just are going to be thrown for a loop by seeing?
Amanda: Well, we can’t tell you, because then they won’t be thrown for a loop. And we like throwing people for loops. What’s the thing they would be most surprised at…probably the friction between Magnus and Will.
Robin: The audience is going to be shocked by some of the interactions between Magnus and Will this season. And also I think things like Fugue, are really, really going to be really momentous moments.
Amanda: I think even our first couple of episodes, like Tempus that, the fact that it takes place entirely in Victorian-era England in such a bizarre set of circumstances is going to launch the season I think quite incredibly.
Question: Can you tell our fans a little bit about the season premiere, and what they can look forward to this season?
Amanda: Well the season premiere, again, takes place in Victorian-era England. It’s almost a direct cut from how we ended Season 3. So actually, the first two episodes of the season are the conclusion to our season finale last year. And we had initially discussed doing them, sort of flashing back and forth between the two storylines, one in Victorian-era England and one what’s happening in current day. And we just realized that in order to service both stories properly, they needed to be separate. You would need to jog the audience back and forth. So Tempus is Magnus stuck in Victorian-era England, trying to hide from her past self, trying to stop Ian Tracey’s character Adam Worth from altering the timeline. And the second episode, Uprising, is basically how Will and Henry and Kate and Bigfoot are trying to quell the rebellion that’s happening from the insurgents from Hollow Earth. So that’s how we launch. We launch the season in such a big way. We were kind of exhausted by the end of the first two, where we were like, oh God, how do we keep this up? But we take you everywhere. We take you to a remote island off the coast of Africa in an episode called Monsoon. Robin directed an episode called Homecoming, in which we meet his dad, there’s a series of flashbacks with his father, and it’s a really poignant and beautiful episode. We take you to an icebreaker in the middle of the Bering Sea, a musical episode, we take you into a virtual Sanctuary, which is one of our cool episodes called Chimera. And we take you into a cave system in the Andes with Will and Magnus. I mean, we’re all over the place. We’re literally all over the world. And the whole time, the through-line is dealing with the fallout of going rogue, and separating ourselves from the World Government. So it’s an intense roller coaster ride, but again, not without its humor. And then the ending, I wish I could say more about our season ender, our two-parter that Damian directed. But I don’t even want to give you a word, for fear that it will give too much away. It’s incredible, and the way that it ends, I mean, we were shocked when we read the script. All, the crew, the cast, everyone was running around going, “what, what, what? How did you – what?” And so, but of course we did, in typical Sanctuary fashion. And I think it’s quite shocking.
Robin: And we, even just shooting it, just being there and shooting those scenes, it was very emotional, very shocking for us to shoot. And to sort of realize what was happening, not to give it away, but…it’s going to be cool.
Amanda: Which means Season 5, fingers crossed, is going to be even cooler.
Question: In the press release it mentions that the Sanctuary team has to go rogue. How will that alter the way things are done from now on?
Amanda: It makes things infinitely more difficult, I think. Magnus has to find a way to hide her money, to get it out of markets that the government may be able to control. It makes running individual Sanctuaries more difficult. You know, we see that in certain episodes, like the episode that Robin directed, certain smaller Sanctuaries are really struggling without the government’s support. We have to merge a few of the Sanctuaries. It’s the right decision to get it out of the hands of government control, because the government, we realize in certain countries, is too corrupt. But it also gives us a bit more autonomy and a bit more freedom, in terms of how we do things.
Robin: We also have to dress like pirates for the whole season. I mean, the eye patches and the wooden legs and stuff, and Henry has a parrot, it was definitely a choice, you know, I don’t know…we’ll see, again, it’s just another of those thinking outside the box things.
Question: What were some of the pros and cons of going back down to a 13-episode season after the 20-episode season that you did last year?
Amanda: Well, I actually think it really worked for us. That format worked for us. When we did 20, we did 10 episodes and then we took, I think, a four or five-week break, and then went back into the other 10. And it was actually very nice in that we all got a summer with our families and enjoyed it, but it was a slog to get through 20 episodes. It was a lot of work and it was a lot of planning. And 13 seemed somehow more manageable. I mean, at first we were really disappointed that it was dropped to 13. And then it was like, no, wait, we can actually make 13 really kick-ass episodes of this show and service each one of them well, as opposed to trying to spread ourselves really thin over 20.
Robin: I think story-wise it just made the season more compact and I think you’ll definitely see that in the season. But it was a sort of duality going on there too, because, like Amanda said, we did get a break in between tens – the two sets of ten episodes last season – so in another way it almost more grueling to just do 13 straight through.
Amanda: But I think we didn’t waste a minute of footage, you know what I mean? We had 13 to sell this season, 13 to make it amazing, and so there was very little fat to trim…if that makes sense.
Question: How do you think your characters have changed since the very beginning of the series? What’s the most significant?
Robin: I think for Will…Will has kind of gone through a crazy progression. He started out as a guy who wasn’t sure whether he wanted to be involved in the Sanctuary, and then you saw him kind of give in to that and realize that was his lot in life. And then you saw him become a guy who really took responsibility in the Sanctuary, and really believed in it, and believed in what he was doing, and what he was a part of. And I think, in Season 4, you’re going to see the, that sort of commitment, the cracks in sort of his belief, and maybe start to doubt some of the things he took as gospel before, and maybe question some of the choices he’s made to get him to this point.
Amanda: I think he’s a lot stronger, too. I mean that’s what you’ll see between Will and Magnus over the course of the four seasons is that Will’s not afraid to stand up to her. And he calls her out, and especially in this season, he calls her out a lot. And she’s forced to answer in a way that I don’t think she’s ever had to before. Perhaps her protégés have been more towing the party line, whereas Will really, in part because of his background, but he’s not afraid to pull her onto the mat and say, “Okay explain yourself.”
Robin: I’d like to just say, that takes a lot of guts. I mean, come on, Magnus standing there in the field…she’s like three feet taller than him. So I’d like a little credit for Will there, because that’s just, that ain’t easy, you know.
Amanda: For Magnus, I think, so much has happened to her. I mean, losing a child, and trying to continue on after that is one phenomenal feat. But then to shoulder the responsibility of this world-wide network and especially in this season and at the end of last season, where you realize she can’t rely on the support systems in the same way that she did before. It’s not like she can call up JFK and say, “Hey honey, I need your help on this one.” She doesn’t have that same network that she used to have with world leaders and bankers and, so it’s a bit of a different road for her. And I think you’ll find a new strength in Magnus, and perhaps also a bit of a sadness to her. And when you realize where she’s been, after Tempus, when we get back into the season and you realize where she’s been, you’ll see maybe a bit more sadness, a bit more loneliness to her. And yet, she’s been very focused this season, incredibly focused. Because she now sees exactly what she has to do.
Sanctuary returns on Friday, October 7 at 10/9c on SyFy.