At this year’s San Diego Comic Con I had the pleasure of speaking to both Amanda Tapping and Robin Dunne about their new web series turned SCI FI show, “Sanctuary.” Amanda plays Helen Magnus, who was born sometime in the Victorian era and through an as yet undisclosed accident became immortal. In the present day she hunts various terrifying monsters that lurk in the dark. In the pilot she encounters Robin’s character, Will Zimmerman, a respected psychiatrist who eventually becomes Magnus’ assistant. Though he aids her in her battle against the supernatural forces, Zimmerman still holds to a scientific explanation to all mysteries. “Sanctuary” premieres on October 3rd. Check back for our follow up interview with Amanda Tapping and possibly others in the cast and crew in mid-October. For now, here’s what we talked about back in July:
PCZ: So, how are you?
Amanda Tapping: Very good, thank you.
PCZ: Can you talk a little bit about what sparked the genesis or the beginning of “Sanctuary”?
AT: Well, it was actually a spec script that Damien Kindler wrote about seven years ago while he was living in L.A. and instead of sending it out he shelved it. He hung onto it. I think he knew that it was something special. He showed it to Martin [Wood] in, gosh I’m trying to think how it goes now, January of 2006, and then they showed it to me. Then the three of us tried to figure out what we could do with it. In July of 2006 he shot a little test scene, about fifteen minutes. They presented that to funders and investors. In January of 2007 we shot the eight webisodes, a full two hours. It’s like a little slow moving train that keeps rolling down the track. Here we are now, two and half years after we first started talking about it and making a series.
PCZ: Is there going to be a lot of changes between the web series and the first episode of the show?
AT: In concept, no. In feel, no. But we’ve rewritten the entire pilot. We’re taking the first hour of the webisodes and fleshed it out to two hours. That’s our pilot, ostensibly. The second hour of the webisodes has become a separate episode. We’ve fleshed out the characters more, fleshed out the concept, fleshed out the look and the feel.
PCZ: Are you going to keep some of the same guest stars you had?
AT: Oh yeah.
AT: We had to change some of them because of availability. Peter DeLuis, for example. David Hewlett. But those are characters and actors that we definitely want them back.
PCZ: You’re shooting thirteen episodes, is that correct?
PCZ: So, you’ll maybe continue some things that were in the webisodes over the thirteen episodes?
AT: Definitely. What this has allowed us to do is take the story arc that we’ve always conceptualized would play out over thirteen episodes – how our first season would play out. Now we have the luxury of being able to do that. So we’ve taken what was sort of a little nut of an idea in the webisodes and fleshed it out. Definitely, there’s things that will carry out.
PCZ: And you’re keeping your feet in the Stargate universe?
AT: I am. I did an episode of “Atlantis” at the beginning of the season, and I’ll be doing an episode at the end of the season. I’m due to shoot in their 100th episode, and, fingers crossed, the word on the street was that there was hope for another SG-1 movie.
PCZ: That’s what we heard in the Continuum panel.
AT: So, we’re pretty stoked about that.
PCZ: How happy are you with Continuum? I would assume quite happy.
AT: I love it. I am. You know, it’s one of those where it doesn’t – it felt like a movie. The excitement of making it was so cool. Truly getting the band back together again. If you were in the panel, you heard us say that, and it’s not untrue. We were all really excited to see each other again.
AT: To watch it last night on the aircraft carrier was a surreal experience.
PCZ: That was amazing!
AT: Wasn’t it crazy?
PCZ: That’s the place to do a movie premiere.
AT: I leaned over there to Ryan Robbins who came to the screening, and I was like “We’re sitting on an aircraft carrier and watching a movie!”
PCZ: Yeah, the was just completely surreal. Popcorn and everything. Wow. Totally bizarre. That was a great party. I thought Continuum was awesome. Ark of Truth, while it was a great movie, it still felt like an extended episode.
AT: Ark of Truth did exactly what it was intended to do, which was round out the series. Tie off the loose ends of the Ori storyline. It had a purpose and it fulfilled that purpose. That meant Continuum was a whole new ball of wax. Continuum was like here’s the blast off into the potential world of features.
PCZ: Yeah, I think Continuum kind of set the blue print to what the movies could be.
AT: Yup, I agree with you. Absolutely.
PCZ: So, assuming maybe “Stargate Atlantis” comes back for a sixth season, even if you’re still doing Sanctuary, are you still up for coming back? [Editor’s note: Obviously since this occured in July, it was well before the announcement of “Atlantis” ending in January]
AT: Oh yeah, I’ll never turn my back on my Stargate family. Absolutely. You can’t be that embedded in a show and it’s that much of a cherished experience for me that I could never turn away from it. “I’m so over Stargate.” I could never say that.
PCZ: I can’t imagine any of you guys saying that. Just the way you talk about it.
AT: I know, its way too special. We all hold it with such reverence.
PCZ: How do you get through actually doing a day’s filming with Richard Dean Anderson?
AT: It’s very painful. It was hard getting through the panel!
PCZ: I was amazed – I was actually going to ask a question about how difficult it was to get back in the role of O’Neill, and then I realized when he got up on the Red Carpet, that that’s just him.
AT: O’Neil started out as a completely different character, and then became Rick.
PCZ: Yeah, definitely. So, with “Sanctuary”, you’re Executive Producer still? Are you also involved in doing any of the writing? Maybe possibly directing?
AT: I’m the go-to director. So, for example, Martin was away at a television festival and I directed Sanctuary while he was away. As far as writing, I’m involved in the white-boarding of a story, and the concepts, but I leave the writing up to the people that are good at it. I don’t have the time and I don’t have the aptitude for it. I really enjoy the concept and sitting down and going “Okay, but then what if this happened, and what if this happened.” And then I let other people flesh it out.
PCZ: Excellent. Make them do all the work.
AT: (laughing) Sure! Exactly.
PCZ: I know the big thing with TV series, especially Sci-Fi series, is that “we’ve got several years mapped out.” Is that similar with “Sanctuary”? Do you have kind of an idea of where the characters are going?
AT: Yeah, certainly. We have a two-year plan for it. But really our focus, when we found out we had thirteen [episodes], it’s kind of the perfect number for us because you have a very succinct thirteen episode arc. You know, crossing fingers that we do get picked up for a second season…yeah.
PCZ: Is it possible that season one could get extended beyond thirteen?
AT: I don’t think so. You know, we’re in a good position in terms of the timing of the roll out of the show. I think that it is – thirteen is what it’s going to be. If anything, we can hope to get an early renewal, an early pickup on season two.
PCZ: Right. So, when you’re not doing Sanctuary or doing Atlantis, what else do you have going on?
AT: A three-year-old.
PCZ: Me too.
AT: Yeah, so that’s pretty much it. “Sanctuary” has been all-consuming from the time I wrapped “Atlantis” through September of last year. I got pulled onto the corporate side of trying to keep “Sanctuary” alive. And the rolling out the show, we really wanted to start shooting in February, but we didn’t start shooting until May because we had so many changes to make and so much to get into line. That was like a daily thing, that was my job. My non-paid job for like a good eight months was trying to keep the show alive and get it going. I did a film [Dancing Trees] for a director called Anne Wheeler, in Canada, during the off season, but right now “Sanctuary” is my baby. Doing that and another SG-1 movie and raising my daughter.
PCZ: Congratulations on that. I think that might be all the time I have. Thanks very much for letting me talk with you.
AT: Thank you.
Robin Dunne [Note: Robin started things off by being intrigued with the gadget I was recording the interview with]
Robin Dunne: What’s this?
PCZ: It’s a Creative Zen.
PCZ: It’s an MP3 player, microphone, FM radio, pictures, video.
RD: Very cool. I’m so not technologically up to speed.
PCZ: No technical support in your background?
RD: No. I actually got myself a Blackberry, which I’m very proud of.
RD: What are they called? Crackberries?
PCZ: Yeah, exactly. For a very good reason.
RD: So, how’s it going?
PCZ: It’s going great.
RD: This is fun, this is very cool.
PCZ: Have you been here long? Did you just come in?
RD: I’ve just come in, I haven’t even been to the [Comic Con] floor yet.
PCZ: It’s insane.
RD: I’m sure it is.
PCZ: Its 50,000 to 100,000 people. It’s something else.
RD: Just how awesome is it? You know, when I was a kid you kind of had to hide the fact that you were into comic books, and how great is it to be able to see that 180. Comic books, great comic books like Watchmen, winning literary awards. That’s just great. Finally, we’ve come full circle.
PCZ: You’ve got mainstream people that are like “This is the coolest thing ever! Where did this come from?”. So, “Sanctuary”.
PCZ: Can you talk a little bit about how you became involved with “Sanctuary”?
RD: Absolutely. Actually it’s a very integral part to the show I think because – you know, Martin Wood called me, we’d worked together years ago. He called me and said “Look, there’s a script, we want to shoot some scenes. We don’t know what it is.” I read the script, I said, “Look, this is great. I’d love to be involved.” We shot, like, a promo. And we waited, you know. We got to do some webisodes. We did a bunch of webisodes and took the show to the next level. After that we waited, and waited, and kind of hung in, and turned down other work because we all really wanted to do this show. Now here we are lending it the perfect home – SCI FI Channel. It really is a dream come true, but more importantly it really galvanized in us a feeling of believing in the show. Really recognizing that this is something different, that this is not just your average job that you get as an actor or director, that this is something different. Hopefully, that feeling, that excitement that we all have – we’re working on the show, but we’re huge fans as well, and for me the excitement of talking about it that I’ve experienced this really cool thing and I can’t wait for you to as well. Hopefully that’s a feeling that comes through and people can – it’ll transcend and people will hook into it as well and say, “Hey, this is different, this is something..” because that’s how we see the show and that’s what we believe in.
PCZ: I think it was a huge risk. I think at the same time because of technology and the way the internet is doing the webisodes was really such a smart way to do it. It shows SCI FI or whoever that there’s a demand for this.
RD: Absolutely. The great response that we got – the fans are so supportive, you know, writing in. And even last year, we were here at Comic Con and the show hadn’t even really launched yet and people were here with T-shirts and they knew about the show and really that’s – that’s exciting to us. It’s also one of the main reasons we’re here because of the support we’ve had from such amazing fans. Hopefully, those fans will become a bigger group.
PCZ: Absolutely. Do you know – Amanda said you guys had a two-year plan for this – do you know where your character is going and is that something that you’re going to start feeding into some of the early episodes?
RD: Yep. Absolutely. I mean, that’s another great thing about the show is that we have a plan for all these characters and to sort of take them into different places and to create solid characters that people can play into. One of the many cool things about working on the show is that the approach is that it’s all our show. There’s no sort of creative room and that trickles down to the rest of us. It’s everybody’s show, so we all get input, we all say, “Hey, what about this, or this would be cool.” To have that involvement and to really feel like you’re part of the creative process, it makes it special and different.
PCZ: Excellent. I know you’re doing all of this on a virtual set. I know a lot of times the question is “How hard is it doing everything in front of green screens” and all that, but it seems like that would almost free you to concentrate on the character and what you’re doing and saying.
RD: Yeah. I mean, hey, I get to work with a great company of actors, and Amanda being definitely a major part of that, so it doesn’t really matter for me. And also, the great story teller. We’ve got some really great stories to tell. The fact that we’re standing in a green room doesn’t really matter. I’m getting to act with Amanda Tapping for god’s sakes. But, the cool thing about that as well is that the green screen allows us to do absolutely anything. You can go anywhere and do anything, so the possibilities are really limitless and that’s exciting as well. I get a script every week and I say, “Where are we gonna go next? What’s the adventure?”. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. But, the weird thing about shows like this is that you could have the coolest visual effects and technology on earth, but if you don’t have really cool storytelling, you really don’t have a lot. I think that this show is that beautiful meeting of the two roads. What Martin was saying in the panel – we will send our effects guy, or part of our effects team, when they come to fix a shot it’s like “Oh, my god. That’s what we shot.” It’s mind-blowing. To couple that with such compelling storytelling and great characters. The world that Damon Kindler, and Amanda, and Martin, and Sam Egan have created, that hopefully will come through as making it something that is special.
RD: I used that word “special” like, four hundred times, but it really is. But there’s no other word to describe it.
PCZ: You guys definitely have the advantage having done the webisodes and you’ve had so much time to get to know your characters and you go into it from that strength, as opposed to starting with the pilot and taking a season to discover your characters and what you want to do.
RD: You know, developing your character for the web – the character is here. Then we get to start over in a sense, and go, “Okay, well, let’s take it to another level.” We have the luxury of time. That time was very, kind of, nerve wracking because it was like, “Well, are we going to go? What’s going to happen? Is the show going to happen or not?” But, there was a luxury in that, kind of, to go, “Let’s make this as cool and as complex and let’s make these characters really as interesting as we possibly can.”
PCZ: Well, that’s all I have.
RD: Thanks. Thank you for your time.
PCZ: And thank you for your time.
Thank you to both Amanda Tapping and Robin Dunne for taking time to talk to me and for SCI FI for providing the time at Comic Con.