Interview: Robin Dunne From ‘Sanctuary’


We had the pleasure of chatting with Sanctuary‘s Robin Dunne and Syfy executive Erika Kennair at the Syfy Digital Press tour last week. They talked with us about the series, Amanda Tapping’s charity, and more. Check it out below!

You just got here from Vancouver. You guys are still shooting; right?

ROBIN DUNNE: Yeah, we are still shooting. We’re shooting nights, which is interesting.

Not disorienting at all.

ROBIN DUNNE: Not really, not at all. The three-hour time difference. If I fall over here, just pick me up.

What would you say is kind of the most exciting thing for you this year?

ROBIN DUNNE: A lot. “Sanctuary” has gone — is continuing on the path of being very innovative. The writing is amazing, as always. I think the change from 13 episodes to 20 episodes is really amazing this year because there’s these really beautiful story arcs that go in and out of the series. And you’re going to see things that happen to the characters that sort of have impact throughout the entire series. Twenty episodes is kind of like — it feels more of a puzzle this year, like a jigsaw puzzle. We’re going to go to — there’s a new Abnormal this year, and it’s not the type of Abnormal that you’re expecting. It’s more of a place. But it’s really, really a cool thing. And it kind of brought me back to the first days of “Sanctuary,” getting used to the green screen, because the way we’re shooting this new place takes the sort of visual effects to a new level literally. So yeah, I mean, it’s cool. There’s some new characters this year. There’s some returning faces. There’s — as you mentioned, Polly Walker is on the show this year, which is really exciting. There’s some romance, some breakups, some hookups. It’s not going to be “Melrose Place” or anything, but a little romance never hurt anybody. So yeah, it’s exciting. Another thing that I just — I’m constantly amazed by with “Sanctuary” is — the visual effects get a lot of talk. We talk about the visual effects on the show a lot, and rightfully so. I mean, Anthem does an amazing job. But I’m always blown away by what the practical sets are on the show, the set dec people, what they do. You saw it last season with turning our tiny little parking lot at our studio into the slums of Mumbai. And this year, it’s — I mean, right now we’re working on that new set, and it’s amazing. What they do, what they can turn a small little parking lot into and different places, it’s amazing. So, it’s an exciting year for “Sanctuary.” Yeah.

One thing I want to mention about that is what’s really interesting about the personal sets is, for the new season, I think Martin and everyone came down, and they said, “Okay, we’re going to have new sets this year,” like new interior sets. Because I don’t know how many people realize that the — it’s beyond the fantastical sets that are virtual, but a lot of the sets inside the actual location themselves, like the library set, don’t exist. Major parts of them don’t exist. They said, “Look at our new library, and we’re going to basically” — and they decided to just open up the library into another few stories and make it bigger. And since it’s all digital, it was no big deal.

ROBIN DUNNE: Yeah. I mean, it’s a crazy thing too because from the acting standpoint, you have this mental sort of mind map in your head of what the Sanctuary is, and what the library looks like and everything. And then when they say, “Okay, this year there’s going to be this extension over here, so the library actually” — “there’s a new room to it” and stuff. And you’re like, “Oh, no, wait a second. Wait a second. I’m used to the way” — “where we are.” And this is all a virtual thing; right? And you’re like, “No, I’m used to it the way it is.” And they’re like, “No, no. There’s a new room” —

Those two little pieces of tape are, like, the whole new wing.

ROBIN DUNNE: “Yeah? Oh, okay, great, yeah.” Sort of hit us with it hard. So yeah, it’s pretty cool. It’s really exciting.

Because of the success of “Sanctuary” going from a Web product into a television product, that we’re seeing a lot more, I guess, types of programming that could be viable that’s making its start on the Web, that’s making its way over. What kind of support would you — what would you offer as an actor from an acting standpoint? Because obviously you took a risk by becoming involved with a Web project, and now it’s paying off well. Is there any type of advice you would give people who might be participating in these types of projects maybe to encourage them to keep going, even if they’re not really getting the bites from networks like “Sanctuary” did?

ROBIN DUNNE: I think one of the great things, obviously, about “Sanctuary” is that we did premiere on the Net. And we garnered a really great grassroot fan base that has carried over into being on Syfy. The thing that drew me to “Sanctuary” in the first place was the writing. That first pilot script that Damian wrote was really extraordinary. And the characters — obviously Will is a very fun character to play. And Magnus. So, you know, I think advicewise, I would say to any actor, “Look, if you think this is a quality script, if you think the story is compelling, you think it’s a great character to play, then yeah, go for it. And no matter where it’s shown, you’re going to have that.” And, the wonderful thing about the Internet, it’s just presented the opportunity for networks to see — instead of going into a room and saying — and describing a show and saying, “Okay, this is what it’s going to look like,” I think a network is able to actually see the potential here. And I think maybe that’s what you guys saw in “Sanctuary.” And obviously the show has grown in scope from the webisode days. But I think the potential to see what’s there is certainly intriguing.

Yeah, I would say that the webisodes definitely demonstrated, more than anything, that you could create those kinds of environments. It was the first time that I’d seen those kinds of virtual environments used to that effect that deeply. And the story was great. The casting was phenomenal except, obviously, for your character.

ROBIN DUNNE: Oh, come on. See, now you’re taking — But I think the ability to do what you guys did on that kind of a shoestring budget was really impressive.

ROBIN DUNNE: Yeah. I mean, the cool thing about “Sanctuary” — and again, I don’t want to come off as too corny and too sort of earnest, but it’s just — it’s a very can-do show. It’s a group — there’s no sort of “We can’t do that.” That sentence doesn’t really exist on our show. And, the things — certainly we’ve taken it to a whole new — the scope has just gotten even bigger this year. It’s just amazing to see a group of people, creatives and technicians, get a script and just kind of fall in line and just figure out how to do these unbelievably huge things. And especially towards the end of Season 3, you’re going to see — it’s just — it’s bizarre. I was just on set on Friday night, Saturday morning before coming here and just kind of stepping back, taking a look around and going, “Wow. This is our show.” It’s crazy. It’s going to melt your brain. In a good way.

As grand as amazing as the special effects and the green screen is on your show, one of my favorite episodes was Bermuda Triangle episode where it’s just you and Amanda Tapping for, like, an hour.


And I wanted to know if you’re going to be tackling some similar stories this season, just because it ratcheted it up the tension for those characters so much. And I just really enjoyed that. I wanted to know if there’s something similar to that coming up.

ROBIN DUNNE: Yeah. It’s interesting you bring that up because, yes, once again, we talk a lot about the visual effects on the show, and rightfully so. They’re amazing. But you’re absolutely right. I think without the coupling of really good storytelling, you don’t really have lot. It’s just pretty pictures. And certainly “Sanctuary” — the scripts are amazing. This year there are some one-on-one episodes. There’s one coming up — we haven’t started it yet. We’re actually just in the middle of shooting number 18 right now. So the next one is sort of a two-hander, Magnus and Will, in a very different way. There also is a two-hander that Magnus is involved with another villain. There’s a new villain this year that I can’t really say too much about, but — played by Ian Tracey. It’s just one of those iconic — like classic “Sanctuary”; right? It’s a character out of history and literature, an iconic character that sort of gets an abnormal twist. And I think it’s going to be — this is going to be a character you’re going love to hate. It’s going to be like the Smoking Man or Lecter. So there’s — then there’s an episode with sort of a facing off between him and Magnus. So certainly there are those episodes this year where the scope is big, but then we kind of go down to the macro and just show an episode kind of one-on-one. Yeah, you won’t be disappointed in that regard either this year. It’s wild, wild. And just on the subject of returning characters, we have — Peter Wingfield is back, obviously. You’re going to meet Nigel Griffin this year. The Five are back in full force. Just in the way that we flashed forward into the future in Season 2, Episode 5, “Pavor Nocturnus,” we’re kind of going to go back, back to the past. Does that even make sense? Is that grammatically correct? Anyway, you know what I mean. And we’re going to see the history of the characters that we know on “Sanctuary.” And we’re going to see them — what effect they had on historical events. I feel like I should have, like, one of those shock collars, like — “And then at the end of Season 3, there’s going to be” (getting shocked). But yeah, that’s another thing we’re doing this year is playing with time. I think I’ve said this before. There’s no thinking in the box on “Sanctuary.” There’s no box really. And even for me as an actor, I pick up a script; I’m like, “Wait, what? Okay.” You kind of have to get with it for a second. “Sanctuary” is not a show that is ever going to meet you on your terms and kind of take you by the hand and spoonfeed you through an episode. It’s always going to be a wild ride.

There’s another episode we do this year where it’s entirely from Will’s perspective. Will gets infected, and it’s kind of — and it’s shot — literally I wore this — I think it was, like, a bicycle helmet kind of thing with a camera screwed into it, and literally shot the entire episode. There were these cool kind of glasses like you get at the dentist with sort of the viewfinder of the camera. Very, very strange thing to shoot, but I just saw a cut of it, and it looks really amazing.

And I think that’s another thing too, is technologically there’s a lot of risks being taken on “Sanctuary.” It’s a pretty kick-ass job. Oh, see, now I’ve cursed. Now I’ve cursed. I said “ass.”

As an actor, there’s no box; it’s all outside the box. So how do you deal with the challenges of things you have to wrap your head around and all the abstract things that you’re not really used to? How do you do that as an actor?

ROBIN DUNNE: I think the short answer is you don’t, It’s like skydiving. If you think about it too much, you’ll never do it. You just kind of jump. A lot of the show — we’re in Season 3 now, so we’re kind of — we’re used to the way things work. Like we were talking earlier, we know the dimensions of the virtual sets. We know — we’re at home in the Sanctuary particularly, so we know — even though it doesn’t actually physically exist, we know the dimensions of it, so you’re used to it. But I think you rely on the story. I rely a lot on the directors and the creative team. I’m really right there with Martin Wood and Damian Kindler and Amanda, just kind of making sure we’re all on track. And then Lee Wilson at Anthem has been very good. Every now and then there’s sort of “Hey, look at this printout. This is the monster. You know that thing that’s going to be chasing you tomorrow? This is it.” So you kind of get a mental image of it. Inevitably what always happens to me is that you — so you get the image, and you go, “Okay, that’s what it is.” And then you kind of work on it. We shoot the scene. And then months later you see the finished product, and you’re like, “Yeah. Oh, that’s way cooler than what I was thinking.” I actually have a terrible imagination. But yeah, I mean, that’s kind of the deal. It’s a lot of green.

What would you say is your most absurd moment where you’re just suddenly like, “Look at what am I doing right now”?

ROBIN DUNNE: Yeah. There’s a lot of “Okay, now look up here.” Or there’s, like, the guy with the tennis ball. “Okay. Yeah, now it’s over here. Now it goes up.” There’s a lot of sort of, from the back of the room, the director going, “Okay, now it goes up, and everyone look at that second place on the wall.” Or as actors, you’re sitting there going, “Okay. So what are you going to look at? So where — oh, so the creature’s eyes — see that little kind of scratch on the wall? No, no, no, not that. There’s one above it. Yeah, oh, that one. Okay. So that’s its eyes. And then when it runs over here, see the focus puller? See his shoe? So we’re going to go from there to there.” There’s a lot of that kind of stuff going on on the show, which —

What’s been your favorite Abnormal?

ROBIN DUNNE: My favorite Abnormal has been, from the beginning, Two-Faced Chuck, just because he’s funny and — Chuck Campbell plays him, and it’s a very funny character. He’s the guy with sort of two faces, which — that’s probably why he’s called Two-Faced Chuck. Just kind of hit it on the head there. Just right down —

You’re really going on a limb there.

ROBIN DUNNE: Right down Broadway. No sort of messing about there. But I like it because it brings some humor into the show. And actually, this year in the episode that I was referring to with me shooting with the camera on my head, we have a — there’s a scene with Biggy and me and Two-Faced Chuck kind of — you know, Will is unable to go out on a mission because he’s not well. So he kind of gets left behind and ends up going down to the Abnormal lounge that’s in the Sanctuary, biggy’s sort of little hideout, and hanging out with Biggy and Two-Faced Chuck. It was a really fun scene to shoot. And dare I say that there might have been some whiskey involved. In the show. We weren’t actually — it was orange juice or something — or apple juice that we were actually drinking.

But yeah, the thing about the show too is that I like it when there’s humor. It doesn’t have to be all serious all the time. I think the writers do a really good job of bringing the humor into the show. Chuck is definitely someone who does that. Henry, Ry Ro’s character, certainly is a character that brings humor. That kind of — it makes it fun.

Can you tell us a bit about Amanda’s Sanctuary for Kids Charity?

ROBIN DUNNE: This will mark the first year that we participated in Amanda’s Sanctuary for Kids charity, and what an amazing event to be part of. I think they were hoping for somewhere — to raise about $25,000, and we ended up getting somewhere in the ballpark of 95,000. And it was really an inspirational thing to be a part of, to see how generous the fans were towards that. And, Amanda and Damian Kindler and Jill Bodie have really done an amazing thing. And hopefully, it serves as an inspiration for other shows to do the same thing because it’s — all around, it was just a win for the show, for the fans, for the charities, most importantly. So that was yet another very cool thing about it.

Sanctuary for Kids is a charity started by Amanda Tapping and Damian Kindler and Jill Bodie to help children in crisis. So we had a convention this year where we sold a whole bunch of stuff and — up in Vancouver. Fans came from around the world. And again, I can’t stress how generous they were. I mean, they were buying all kinds of things. And yes, there was a love of the show, but there was also an understand that this was a very important charity. The money is going to help Haitian relief. It’s going to help a local Vancouver charity to get women off the street, mothers off the street. There’s the Nepal Orphans, getting these girls off the streets, setting them up — I believe $2,000 sets one of these girls up for life, gets them off the street. So, there’s a lot of — this is year one.

We’re going, hopefully, continue to do it. And, you know, $95,000 can do quite a lot. So it’s — I mean, it’s just a cool thing and a cool thing to be a part of all around. I mean, hey, it was easy for me. I went there and kind of did this kind of thing and just sort of didn’t shut up. But it was really inspirational to be a part of, and hopefully it’s a trend that will continue and sort of — other shows will sort of be inspired to do it as well.

Syfy Press Tour Coverage By: Emma Loggins

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  1. Great interview! Robin Dunne is awesome! I really love this show! Really glad that the new season just started.