In the Syfy-world, there is a remarkable supernatural/fantasy series that proved that it is possible to make the miraculous leap from webseries to television series. Now entering its fourth season, SANCTUARY is a true success story and no one is more delighted with their devoted fans than stars Amanda Tapping and Robin Dunne, who play Dr. Helen Magnus and Will Zimmerman. Taking a few minutes to chat with the press in a recent conference call, Amanda and Robin teased what is upcoming in this next season and reflected on what makes the series so addictive to its fan-base.
Will we be learning more of Magnus’ juicy secrets this season?
AMANDA: Yes, you do actually, especially in our first episode. You get a sense of what makes this woman tick, and some of the choices that she’s made and why. The whole season builds to a finale that is quite breathtaking, and it’s not until the very last scene of the finale that you understand why Magnus has aligned herself with the people she’s aligned herself with, why the Sanctuary went rogue from government support worldwide. But you don’t ever actually figure it out, and I think people will be very surprised when they see the final ending, and what’s happened. But you do, throughout the course of it, there’s things that Magnus does that you go, “what, why would you, huh?” And then it’s all revealed at the end.
ROBIN: I think more than ever, any other season, I think you’ll see the sort of brilliance of Magnus and the, I think she’s masterminded this season is like, more brilliant than any other time. And again, yes, at times it will be very confusing to the audience as to why she’s doing what she’s doing, but it will all made sense in the end.
Will there be any Helen and Will centered episodes in Season 4?
AMANDA: Yes, in fact, one in particular, which is our typical Magnus and Will two-hander that we do every season, and of course it involves a lot of water. So I don’t know what that is, I don’t know why the writers feel like they need to do that to us every year, but…
ROBIN: Torture, they hate us.
AMANDA: They hate us and torture us, so there is one that is actually, it’s an incredibly intense episode, but so much comes up during the course of this episode, past lives, past transgressions, and it’s…
ROBIN: It’s a very brutally truthful episode between the two characters, and the result of it is that all of these things have happened over the course of the season, even previous seasons, and then the repercussions kind of go right into the end of, into the season finale.
AMANDA: Yes, there’s a massive ripple effect from that episode.
So what kind of a journey would you say that your characters are on this season?
AMANDA: A roller-coaster journey.
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 it, I think Robin put it right, 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.
So what is going to surprise us most this season? 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: Yes, 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: Yes, 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, it’s going to launch the season, I think, quite incredibly.
How many episodes will Magnus’ love interest be involved in?
AMANDA: Well, one. Magnus is – one that we see, but Magnus is, again, very busy this season.
ROBIN: Too busy for love.
AMANDA: Too busy for love, it’s sad really.
How do you view Helen and Henry’s relationship? Is it like mother and son or more doctor and patient?
AMANDA: I think if you were to put a label on it, I guess the most apt would be mother and son, but there’s a real genuine kinship there, and there’s a friendship that sort of goes beyond, I don’t know it can –
AMANDA: The boundaries of mother and son. But, I guess, she’s very maternal towards him in a lot of ways, and obviously having rescued him as a child, she feels very maternal towards him. And raised him with Ashley so, yes there’s definitely that element, I would say, more than anything.
In the season premiere, we see Helen Magnus really lacking in emotional control. In the past, whenever she’s gotten angry she seemed to channel it into a determination and focus to solve the problem, but here she really loses her temper and she’s really kind of a fury. What is it like playing that unleashed version of Magnus?
AMANDA: It was interesting to play, because I was afraid that it was getting too dark, but what was explained to me, and what I finally worked through is, she has to, at all cost, as callous as it seems at times, and as full of rage as she seems at times, she has to, at all cost, stop Adam Worth from altering the timeline. A) because her present, and all the people in it, could potentially be destroyed, but also the fate of the world is in the hands of a madman, who now has technology far advanced of what’s available in Victorian era England, and can literally change the course of human history. So the stakes are massively high, and it’s also very emotional because she’s dealing with a younger Watson, she’s trying to hide from the younger version of herself, she’s dealing with what it’s like to be a woman in Victorian era England, she has to deal with John Druitt in a pretty ugly way, and gets again a sense of, firsthand of what it was like to be with him back then. So it’s an intense episode and, yes, there are times when I’m like, man, she is nasty. But when you realize what’s at stake, and it literally is the course of human history that’s at stake, then you understand why she loses it. And I think she’s so far out of her depth, she’s so far from home and, ultimately playing in the back of her mind is, “How will I ever get back to my present? How is that even possible?” So it’s an intense episode.
Speaking of Druitt, I thought that the revelation regarding him was rather spectacular and kind of key to the way people have been understanding him. What was it like when you read the script and saw that was what was happening?
AMANDA: We actually sit down before the season starts, Martin, Damian and I and the writers, and sort of log out what we’d like to see happen, certain character twists and turns, but then it’s really in the hands of the writers. And Damian wrote this episode and, as usual with his deft touch, he’ll find a turn that nobody sees coming. And so, with Druitt, it made sense that we saw this man at this point in time, I mean it’s right in the middle of the Ripper killings in Whitechapel, and it was important to service that element of his character. So it was shocking to read the script, but by the same token, it’s just another revelation, right? It all helps you understand the character a bit more, and it helps you, in some ways, choose sides a bit more. So we may map out as much as we can, but then the writers will always throw little curve balls in there that no one sees coming. And that’s kind of what I love about getting a fresh script is, okay we’ve talked about this, but how is it going to happen.
What can you tell our fans a little bit about the season premiere, and what they can look forward to this season?
AMANDA: The season premiere, again, takes place in Victorian era England. It’s almost a direct cut from how we ended Season 3. So we actually have, 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. There needed to be not, you know, 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 we’re dealing, 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 it’s, 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.
What can you share about the upcoming musical episode?
AMANDA: The musical episode is our eighth episode. It’s called “Fugue” and it is written by Damian Kindler.
ROBIN: Directed by Damian Kindler as well.
AMANDA: And he wrote the lyrics for the music with our composer, Andrew Lockington. It’s interesting, 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 as 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: But 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.
AMANDA: And we had Pascale Hutton, who plays Abby on our show, figures very prominently in this episode, and we were really lucky to get Jim Byrnes, who plays my dad, who’s an incredibly accomplished blues musician, sing a song for us in the show. So, I think it’s so far outside the box, and yet not, in the way that we presented it.
ROBIN: I think it’s like Amanda says. It’s something very different, but it’ll totally fit in as a SANCTUARY episode.
Can you talk about the musical episode and how the Bollywood episode might have helped you with that?
ROBIN: I think it helped me in the sense that they were both episodes that were extremely daunting to undertake. Both episodes were way out of my comfort zone. And both episodes had me do something that I don’t do very well, which are dancing and singing.
AMANDA: There’s a level of trust, right, like you built up a level of trust with the crew, I think, doing the Bollywood thing, and had so much support that it made, maybe made the next one easier.
ROBIN: Well, I don’t know if I would say easier, but yes, it certainly is a classic SANCTUARY thing where you go, “Okay let’s dive in and let’s do this,” and “Fugue” is probably one of the most amazing experiences of my career, being able to work in that capacity with Amanda and Pascale and Damian, both being the writer and director. It was a really, really amazing thing, and like I said before, there’s something different about song, it brings people together, it hits more of an emotional chord, and certainly we were all feeling that during that episode. Ry Ro has a really lovely song in it, and to me across the board it’s, I’m telling you, it’s going to be something that’s going to really blow people away.
AMANDA: And again, in “Fugue,” there’s only like seven songs, maybe, in the whole episode. It’s an emotional episode that the, it’s not like we sing wall to wall in the episode.
ROBIN: And there’s, like we’ve mentioned earlier, it’s a real organic connection between the story and the singing, and the theme was sort of a joining of those two things where maybe in other TV shows that have tried to do this, there has been sort of more of a story and then a gap between the singing. But certainly here in this Fugue is not the case at all.
What has been you favorite experience on SANCTUARY this upcoming season?
AMANDA: I would say, one of the most interesting, and really fun experiences was doing “Fugue.” It was such a crazy episode to shoot, and it was so far outside of everyone’s comfort zone. And I just felt like, creatively, we all pushed the envelope. And everyone, it was one of those where, you either give in to the idea fully, and just go for it, or you’re not servicing it, and so we all kind of had to take this massive leap of faith, which is kind of the SANCTUARY logline, and it was so much fun.
ROBIN: Just being in the recording studio, recording songs and working with Damian Kindler and our composer Andrew Lockington, who really helped us through that process because as actors and not singers, per se, it was a very daunting task to take on. But it was a really special experience, and I think the episode is really quite…
AMANDA: Yes, and because it took so long, like it wasn’t just, we didn’t just shoot the episode. We had to go in a couple of weeks before and record the songs, and then the week before we shot, we went into the studio and rehearsed. And so it was just, it was spread out over a period of time and, so when we finally came on to the set to actually shoot the scenes where we were singing, we were so prepared and had a real sense of anticipation. But that was really fun.
ROBIN: We had these cool, like, phonics things, they called them phonics things, they’re like invisible earpieces where, we could hear the music but nobody else could, so we could sing along with the track, but get the singing recorded clean and, I don’t know, it was just, it was kind of like being a rock star for a little while, and it was fun.
AMANDA: And I’d have to say for me, “Tempus,” the first episode of the season, just to be back in that era, and wearing those clothes, and playing two different versions of Magnus, you know a much younger, more innocent, wide-eyed version and the fairly beaten-up version that she is now, was really satisfying, creatively. It was really fun.
ROBIN: And also the way that episode was shot, and technologically, how you had to do it to shoot both characters.
AMANDA: Using stop-motion camera, and just the set was, I mean, we built this beautiful Victorian set, and then made it rain the entire time, inside the studio, which seems sort of counter-intuitive when you live in Vancouver, and we have so much rain outside. But we, yes, it was just a really, very cool and soggy.
Can you talk about some of the guest stars that you have that you have coming up this season?
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: Who’s just a phenomenal actor, and 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: Adam Greydon Reed and Caroline Cave are in the show this year.
AMANDA: Oh, your dad, Al Sapienza.
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 is if you come on and we really dig you and we have, pretty much dug everyone who’s come on the show, and we just keep bringing you back. So, and Polly Neegan is back as Henry’s love interest. So it’s just a real sense of family here. Gil Bellows, actually came and did our last few episodes with us, and he’s phenomenal.
ROBIN: The SANCTUARY family is growing. Aww, so cute, it’s like the BRADY BUNCH, but way, way bigger.
AMANDA: Way more dysfunctional, but fun.
What was it like to have Gil Bellows on the show this season?
AMANDA: Oh, fantastic. We got him on for the last two episodes, and he’s just a really lovely man. And he completely got the SANCTUARY vibe, he just kept saying, “What a great set.” And he was so happy to be there. And he’s got a really gentle spirit. I mean I didn’t know a lot about Gil, I know his work most definitely, but he walked on and he was just so, sort of zen. He’s just a really, really interesting man. And we loved it. We loved, because there’s a darkness to his character, so dark, and so nasty. And then you’ve got Gil playing it, it just seems like the antithesis, it’s really, it was very interesting.
ROBIN: And we’ve been so extremely lucky on SANCTUARY, to keep welcoming these people who come into the group, and kind of, after they’re there for a few days, you don’t really remember what it was like without them, and certainly Gil was.
AMANDA: That’s exactly what it was like with Gil and Brian Markinson, same thing.
ROBIN: Brian Markinson, the same thing, and, yes. And also man, like the guy was in “The Shawshank Redemption,” you know, the coolest movie of all time. And I did not geek out on him…
AMANDA: You geeked out a little bit.
ROBIN: Much, a little bit, a little bit.
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 they, 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: And I’d like to just say that, 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, I don’t know, 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.
Now we’ve seen quite a few literary and historical figures on the show SANCTUARY and they’ve been given special powers or abilities. Who in the world of history and/or literature would you like to see as an abnormal, that hasn’t been done already?
ROBIN: Hemmingway. That would be cool.
AMANDA: Yes. Think. There’s some amazing sort of historical and literary figures. Dorothy Parker would be interesting. And that whole group, and Hemingway and his group, the halcyon days in Paris.
ROBIN: Yes, in Paris with James Joyce and F. Scott and all those guys, yes, that would be great.
AMANDA: Wow, we could just list every major literary figure in history and be pretty happy with any of those answers.
What is the one character trait that you admire about Magnus and that you admire about Will that you don’t have in real life, but you wish you did?
AMANDA: Magnus is much more ballsy than I am. I wish sometimes that I had her strength of conviction, without worrying so much about what other people thought. I’m very, sort of conscientious of other people’s reactions to things, and I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But there are times when I wish I could just say exactly what I feel, like Magnus does and consequences be damned.
ROBIN: For me Will can read, and that, I’ve been, I’m working on it. He’s really kind of, with all that book learning smart stuff, and…
AMANDA: Why didn’t you just say that you wish you were as smart as Will?
ROBIN: I wish I were as smart. See, I don’t even know how to say it. I don’t even know the correct grammar to say this. But I wish I was as smart and good at the book learning as Will.
Was there anything that you were surprised to learn about yourselves after taking on the roles?
AMANDA: For me, I guess I’m stronger than I thought I was. But it wasn’t just taking on the role of Magnus, it was sort of taking on the role of producer, and they’re very much interconnected, in the way that the show runs. So I guess I realized that I knew more about film making than maybe I had given myself credit for, and I was a little more savvy than I had given myself credit for, and stronger, in some ways, than I gave myself credit for. Because I’m able to fight the good fight when I need to, which may fly in the face of my previous answer, but yes, I think I’m stronger than I thought I was.
ROBIN: For me, in the same way, this is the biggest job I’ve ever had, and the most commitment and the longest time I’ve ever been on one show, and it’s kind of exhausting in all the things that we’ve been doing here, but again, you surprise yourself at the endurance that you have, to undertake a role so demanding and work on a series that’s got such a crazy pace to it. And that even sort of applies to directing, this year. Lead, going into it I was kind of, very freaked out, because, obviously having never directed before, but as soon as you find yourself in the middle of it, you realize how much more you know than you thought you did, and it was a great experience.
Now that the SANCTUARY team has had 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. And so it’s a bit of a shuffling of the deck for Magnus and the team — 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.
To learn more about the new direction of the Sanctuary team and their changing team dynamics, be sure to tune-in for the return of SANCTUARY on Friday, October 7th at 10PM on Syfy. (Space in Canada)