This past weekend, Monsters and Critics joined ďSanctuaryĒ star Amanda Tapping in Estes Park, Colorado for a great visit with the star of SCI FIís latest drama
The new series stars the Stargate veteran serving as the lead actor, executive producer and even director at times.
In a former bicycle factory in suburban Vancouver, Amanda Tapping and her cast play their roles against a green screen which will be ďcolored inĒ later by a crack team of visual effects wizards, putting their character Helen Magnus into any imaginable scenario in history.
The virtual sets allows the actors stunningly realistic scenes that take the viewers in and out of time periods with minimal set dressing, if any.
Working without physical sets was something Tapping has experience with from her work on "Stargate," where she played the popular Colonel Samantha ďSamĒ Carter for 10 years.
"The hardest thing with green screen is getting an idea of the scale," she noted.
"For us as actors, we use our imagination and skills to make people believe that you're in that space," Tapping shared at breakfast inside the historic Stanley Hotel, the muse for Stephen Kingís Overlook Hotel in ďThe Shining.Ē The haunted hotel was our three-day destination to get to know Helen, as well as other new SCI FI programming.
SCI FI Channel's new series "Sanctuary" premieres on the cable channel Friday (tonight) with a two-hour episode.
Tapping plays Helen Magnus; she is an ageless 157-year-old doctor from Victorian-era England who runs a sanctuary for abnormals. "The stories and the mythology that is all around us, what we grew up with, the odd little things that you catch you off guard, maybe out of the corner of your eye. She protects them and studies them," Tapping explains, sitting with us at breakfast in the Manor House meeting room, a very haunted and storied part of the 100 year-old Stanley Hotel.
"Sanctuary" got its start on the Web in 2007, shot as a self-produced, two-hour pilot by executive producers Damian Kindler and Martin Wood, as well as Tapping, all of them veterans of the "Stargate" franchise. The team soon realized that a bigger medium was need to properly tell Helenís stories, and they brought in showrunner Sam Egan to round out their team as they moved forward with SCI FI for the transition from webisodes to television series.
Amanda Tapping, star and Executive Producer of SCI FI's groundbreaking new series, "Sanctuary" which premieres tonight, Friday, October 3 at 9:00 pm spoke to Monsters and Critics in Colorado along with other online journalists regarding her new role as Helen Magnus in ďSanctuaryĒ:
You played Sam Carter for so long. Is there an emotional detachment that you go through when youíve played this character for such a long period of time and then moving into Helen Magnus and this whole new world thatís been created for you?
Amanda Tapping: Yeah, itís a weird disconnect that you have to do because Sam Carter was so much a part of me. I mean, the line between Sam and Amanda became pretty blurry at times.
She informed so much of who I was becoming and I informed so much of who she was becoming that, you know, it was a weird - it was a very difficult disconnect.
When I finally decided to not go back to Atlantis - and I ended up doing two episodes this season - so the very first one and the very last one of the season which was great.
But when I said no and I finally had to walk away, I was driving in my car and I had to pull over, I just balled my eyes out, I was a massive emotional mess and my husband was like come on seriously, 11 years sweetheart, move on. I was like you donít understand.
Itís sort of like cutting off your arm and going okay how do I move forward now?
But then after awhile, I mean, for me as an actor the whole joy of discovering a whole new character and of creating this woman was, you move on pretty quickly. Like I said, itís been a very soft landing. If I had gone - if Stargate had been canceled and I didnít have anywhere to go, then that would be I think a lot more difficult to let her go.
But because I had somewhere really exciting to leap into - the hard part for me was last week where I wrapped Sanctuary on September 12 and the following week I was shooting Stargate Atlantis.
I was like oh, Sam Carter, Sam Carter, find Sam Carter, whereís Sam Carter? You know what I mean? I put on the army boots and there she was. It was good.
How did Martin and Damian and Sam come to you for Sanctuary?
Amanda Tapping: Damian wrote the script in 2000 as a spec script when he was a writer living in L.A. and he sort of shelved it, and hung onto it, and in January 2006 brought it to Martin and I.
He brought it to Martin initially and then said I would like to give this to Amanda to look at the part of Helen in it and Martin said yeah, absolutely. And from there it just sort of like was this massive snowball.
We shot testings in June of 2006, got funding, did - in January 2007 shot two hours of Internet material and that premiered in May of 2007. Come July we were starting to get interest from broadcasters and then in May of 2008, started shooting 13 episodes of the series.
So Sam Egan got involved in the beginning of 2008. We needed another shoulder. And it was funny because Sci-Fi said weíll come up with a list and you guys come up with a list. And there was, you know, one name on the list and it was Sam so it was perfect.
Like we said you tell us your name first. And when they said Sam Egan we were all like on this conference call going ah and weíre all laughing and high-fiving each other quietly.
But yeah, it was sort of the perfect - we all wanted him so he came in and itís sort of been the four of us battling it out.
Itís been amazing. Itís been a really - Iíve said this before, but Iím so proud of this team.
And not to hang a lantern on it, but as a woman in this unique position, to work with three men that have such integrity and such honor, and such grace has been a real treat because I didnít know how it would be.
Itís a big learning curve for me. I donít know as much as - like Samís a pro. Heís been doing this for so long. And I just thought I donít know how I fit into this.
But I was able to hold my own and I was able to make mistakes and fall flat on my face, and have them pick me up and dust me off and say good on you. Keep going. So itís been an amazing experience.
How bad do you miss Stargate showrunner Joe Mallozzi and him taking pictures of what you eat?
Amanda Tapping: Oh my God. Like I was just there on Friday and heís like okay letís do a picture. I was like of course we have to. So I went into his office and held up one of his action figures in his office as it were.
He takes pictures of everything. Heís hilarious. I will totally miss that. But, you know, heíll still be blogging.
Amanda, where did your interest for Sci Fi and fantasy begin?
Amanda Tapping: I would say more fantasy. I wasnít a huge Sci-Fi fan. I appreciated the genre but I honestly was more of a Little House on the Prairie girl.
But I grew up with three brothers and they were all the big Sci-Fi shows. And I actually really got into Star Trek: Next Generation and Babylon 5. I guess I slowly got indoctrinated - pulled away from the prairie into space.
What pulls you to this genre?
Amanda Tapping: As hokey as this sounds, itís just a limitless possibility. Itís the fact that you can go anywhere, do anything. Youíre not bound by even normal human physics.
I mean, you can literally do anything and I think that that idea of possibility is what makes it so appealing. But in truth, Sci-Fi as a genre is really not that different than anything else.
Weíre telling the same sort of stories. We just have maybe perhaps a broader palette on which to tell them. But I donít think - and I think Sci-Fi as a genre is blown wide open.
Itís not what it used to be. Itís not - the demographic is a lot different than it used to be. Weíre not just exploring Space. I mean, the genre is much broader than it used to be.
Thereís more female audience members.Thereís a lot of women watching Sci-Fi which is amazing.
What was the hook for Sanctuary for you to pull you away from Stargate?
Amanda Tapping: When I first got approached with Sanctuary, I didnít know what the future of me and the Stargate franchise was going to be. And this was January of 2006 that it initially - the script was brought to me.
At that time I didnít know Atlantis was going to - I was going to be doing Atlantis and I didnít know what was going to happen with SG-1.
So we shot this little test scene and then we got the funding and in January 2007 decided to do a web series which didnít seem at all to conflict with Stargate or how that was going to work. The timing worked out perfectly.
I had finished Season 4 of Atlantis and I got offered Season 5 and it was a really lovely contract. And it wouldíve been very easy to say yes.
But I had to sort of make this enormous leap of faith because Sanctuary was waiting in the wings. We didnít have a broadcast deal yet. We were hoping that we had a lot of interest from different broadcasters around the world and we were hoping that we would get picked up.
Had I said yes to Atlantis, I wouldíve basically killed Sanctuary where it stood because I wouldnít have been available to do it, and it wouldíve gone away.
I felt really strongly - so many people had put their time and effort, and money and support behind it that I thought itís time to make this leap. And I love the character. I love this show.
Stargate was very gracious and understood my need to sort of move on. The fact that there was still the possibility of Stargate movies and that I would definitely be involved in them made it sort of a soft landing because I wasnít actually saying good bye. I was saying see you later.
But I did make this enormous leap of faith whereby I said okay I have to stand beyond this project. I put my money in it. I put my name attached to it and Iím executive producing it. And here I go.
So I took the leap and shortly after turning down the Atlantis contract Sanctuary started to get its broadcasts picked up around the world. So, 'phew' was basically the word of the week.
I just felt I had to stand behind it. And itís a beautiful project and Iím so proud of it and Iím so proud of the people that are involved. And it felt like the right time.
Talk about your new look.
Amanda Tapping: It was a really conscious choice. When I first decided to do Helen Magnus it was a real conscious choice to have absolutely no vestiges of Sam Carter in this character in terms of any - everything from her appearance to her voice, to her walk, to her wardrobe, everything.
I just felt the end to completely reinvent. Partly as a woman, I just felt it was time and as an actress I just felt it was time to just try something completely different.
And itís kind of great because I go places and people donít recognize me; people that Iíve worked with for ten years donít recognize me.
I just shot the final episode of Atlantis last week and I walked onto the set and half the crew didnít know who I was. And I was like sweet, I have accomplished what I set out to accomplish.
And then of course I came back with a blonde wig and they went oh hey AmandaÖIt was funny.
Were you put off by working with a green screen?
Amanda Tapping: Initially it is but you know what, it feels more like doing theater than anything else. And that was my training so it actually feels like youíre putting on a play half the time because you donít have a huge set to play with and you really do definitely have the fourth wall.
So it feels a bit more like theater. But initially the hardest thing with shooting an almost entirely virtual show is getting a sense of the scale.
Weíve shot in the catacombs under Rome and weíve shot in huge chapels and weíve shot in - the Sanctuary itself is this massive structure. And itís really hard to get a sense of just how big it all is.
And so when weíre starting to see now the fully finished effects, youíre like oh my, wow the Sanctuary really is huge. Whoah, okay.
But thatís the hardest thing. The hardest thing is just getting a sense of the scope.
I think we set out wanting to do a lot more. I think weíre probably at about 70/30, 75/25 to green screen to practical.
We built some practical sets. Like Helen Magnusí office, for example, is for the most part a practical set except for the ceiling and what you see out the windows.
You canít help but be drawn into it, I think you canít help but notice how kind of cool it looks. But otherwise it is entirely virtual. And like I said, itís like doing theater. You get used to it very quickly.
David Geddes is our Director of Photography and heís literally an artist.
He creates this palette for you where you believe thereís a window with sunlight streaming in and you can tell what hour of day it is by the way heís lit it.
Honestly at the end of the day all the technology in the world wouldnít mean anything if you didnít care about the characters.
I think that thatís always been the case with good television is if you care about the characters and you care about what happens to them, and youíre interested in their relationships and youíre interested in how they move forward through scenes, then that doesnít matter whatís going on in the background.
I think that at the end of the day the audience will really like the characters on the show and will care about them. And that will save us, technology aside.
Helen Magnus looks really good for 157. Whatís her secret?
Amanda Tapping: She bathes in Botox. No, yeah well actually her - Iíd tell you but Iíd have to kill you. Wait until the episode, The Five, and youíll get it - youíll get the full meal deal on Helen Magnus and how she came to be who she is and why sheís still around.
The beauty of being given a 13-episode arc for our first season is that weíve been able to sort of pull these stories out, like just create this huge mythology that we couldnít do in the two hours of webisodes.
We sort of packed a lot into those two hours. But now weíre able to sort of draw that mythology out. So Helen Magnusí secret is revealed in an episode called The Five.
Which is very cool but thank you for saying she looks good.
Whatís the direction of the series?
Amanda Tapping: Well part of the mythology, like I said in the episode of The Five, deals with these five characters from history who have come together, these forward-thinking scientists and how theyíve come to be who they are; Jack the Ripper being one of them, Helen being another one, and a few other very cool characters from history.
So we start with that as a jumping off point. But the main focus of the show is the creatures within the Sanctuary. And it can be anything from - we have a beautiful episode called Edward where itís a young boy who is an autistic savant and itís his ability - heís like a human camera.
And heís actually a person like this in the world so itís based on sort of pseudo fact. But, you know, thereís his story and how they get him to come out of his shell. It his back-story is really explored.
Iím loathed to say monster of the week because itís not that but we do - every episode has a very interesting focal character that weíre dealing with.
But like I said, we also bring in, and itís now common knowledge, Nikola Tesla is one of the characters that comes to light in the Sanctuary.
Weíre pulling from that. Weíre pulling from sort of the things that go bump in the night mythologies that weíve all grown up with. We pull from that. We pull from history. Weíre also just taking really remarkable human beings and sort of shedding a light on that idea. Letís hope we get an endless well of pickups from the network.
Whatís exciting about the storyline to you, tell us about the series.
Amanda Tapping: Itís centered on my character, Helen Magnus, who is a 157-year old doctor from Victorian England who runs a sanctuary for all manner of abnormal creatures.
Sheís pulls into the fray a young forensic psychiatrist named Will Zimmerman who has always sort of thought outside of the box and has therefore been shunned by regular law enforcement agencies but in fact now realizes that the things that heís sort of tried to investigate are now real.
Youíre kind of seeing a lot of the Sanctuary and a lot of the creatures, and a lot of the mythologies through his eyes as sort of the everyman. But the show has a very graphic novel feel to it.
Weíre shooting almost photo real, half the time youíre not sure if what youíre looking at really exists or whether itís a visual effect and sometimes itís very obvious that itís a visual effect and weíre shooting with a real graphic style.
So itís got a real edgy look to it. So thatís tone, a bit of the plot. I have this really kick ass daughter, Ashley, who is a weapons expert and a martial artist. And, you know, sheís kind of the cool factor.
And we draw from characters in history and from this incredible mythology of my back-story.
How hands on are you as an Executive Producer and what actually does it take to put on a show like this?
Amanda Tapping: Well Iím very hands on; more so than I probably should be. But Iím very hands on. I took the mantle very seriously so part of my job, I felt, was to go out and try to get us the funding to continue to make the show.
So Iím in touch with our financial guys on a regular basis and thatís kind of my job, is to go and get beaten up. Why does television cost so much money? And I have to answer those questions.
Iím involved in the casting and editing, and making sure that the crew is all put together. Now Iím doing post production, mixing shows, color correcting and the sound and everything.
This is a whole new learning curve for me. And I literally found that I do not have a spare minute in my day. As soon as I get to work, which is usually a couple of hours before crew call, if Iím not sitting in the makeup chair or actually acting on set then Iím in a meeting or a conference call.
So my appreciation is that I think actors are wimps. Now I used to think that I had the hardest job in the world. Sam Carter was a really intense character in terms of the volume of dialogue that I had.
I used to think oh my God Iíve got ten pages of techno babble today. Iím working so hard. And now I just laugh at that and go oh wow, there are days where I just want to be an actor again.
How pleased are you with Season 1 as a whole?
Amanda Tapping: Totally, totally proud of it. Iím really thrilled. I think we have some really killer episodes and Iím proud of the fact that our crew stuck around. We wanted to start in February. We didnít end up starting to shoot until May.
A lot of the people we have are feature quality crew members and who have actually been tried to been lured away and they stayed with the show.
I think it speaks volumes about how much faith people have in this project. So Iím proud of the look of the show and the feel of it, and the attitude on set, and the fun that we had.
But Iím really proud of the product. And I think thereís some shows coming up - thereís an episode called Requiem which for me personally was the bravest work Iíve ever done as an actor.
I donít think I wouldíve been able to do that had I not felt so safe. So I mean, I credit the crew and the cast for just - it was a phenomenal experience.
Talk about your crew.
Amanda Tapping: It is the joy of working with people like Damian and Sam because at the heart of it they write really great character centric shows. And Damian and Sam will often go to Lee Wilson, our visual effects producer, and say this is what we want to do. How doable is it?
And, the vis effects sometimes -- and more often than not -- will take a backseat to whatís really happening. And when weíre shooting in the catacombs under Rome, itís basically hey Lee, can you build the catacombs under Rome? Hey Lee, can you build a cathedral?
What are some of Helenís relationships with her daughter in this first crop of episodes?
Amanda Tapping: Well itís really an interesting relationship between these two. I mean, first of all the fact -- and this is something that Iím still trying to wrap my head around how to play this out but -- Helen made a choice to bring this child into the world knowing that she could quite possibly watch her grow old and die - not knowing if Ashley has the same gift that Helen has, not knowing if Ashley will have the longevity.
So she brings this child into the world knowing that she may lose here which as a parent is like the worst thing ever to imagine your children dying before you.
So starting from that as your jumping off point of a relationship is just a weird place to start. And then what happens is theyíre comrades. Theyíre colleagues.
I mean, sheíll fight to the end of the earth to protect her daughter but in the end of the day, itís often her daughter protecting her.
Which again turns the whole mother/daughter dynamic on its head. Thereís a huge amount of respect and thereís a huge amount of chemistry between these two women.
And then thereís times when the mother/daughter dynamic flashes up and it sort of feels weird. Itís like Ashley be careful out there, you know, and yet youíre sending her out to fight a, you know, an invisible monster in the caves underneath the city. Itís like this weird dynamic.
So it plays out - I mean, like I said, at the end of the day thereís a huge amount of respect but there are times when youíll see flashpoints between the two of them and it makes sense only because they work so closely together.
Because of what theyíre facing everyday, thereís these flashpoints. But at the end of it thereís a massive amount of love. But again, I have to stress that itís a weird jumping off point because sheís made this choice to bring this child into the world.
And she doesnít know whether Ashley has the gift of longevity.
With Sanctuary starting out as a web series, had the intention always been for that to be a showcase or a springboard to a traditional TV deal or were there aspects to the web format that were kind of appealing and interesting in their own right?
Amanda Tapping: Well we, in our infinite naivety, actually envisioned staying on the web. We never really set it up to be a model for a television series.
Our initial hope was that we were going to, you know - that the shifting paradigm that this convergence of new media, we were going to do games and having, you know, a full social networking site so that Sanctuary for all became a place where fans could go not just to watch the show, but to get involved in other aspects.
And in ideology itís great and monetization not so much. And we wanted to make a really spectacular show. We spent a lot of money and it needed it. We wanted to do something that was really big and really flashy, and that we would all, you know, be proud to watch.
We probably couldíve used even a few more million dollars to make the vis effects better.
And the thing you need to know about the webisodes is a lot of those vis effects were rendered in 12 days which is crazy...
There are also ancillary revenue streams so we were thinking we would make money this way, this way and this way and still be able to produce the show.
And that just didnít happen. I mean, the Internet being what it is, the (bit torrent) sites, the streaming. It was like - we knew it was going to be pirated and that was cool. We wanted to get the name out there.
What it ended up doing for us was bringing a huge amount of eyeballs to the show from around the world.
And then it sort of became well we donít want to lose this great intellectual property. We donít want to lose the idea of the show so letís go back to what we know and what weíre good at, which is making television. Suddenly it all made sense. Itís like the clouds parted and the sun stream - the little god rays streamed through and we went oh, of course weíre going to do television. What were we thinking?
Now weíre on TV and it makes sense. And weíre all very happy to be here. But I think still our goal is to get back onto the web in a different presence.