The Beast Within: Interview with Sanctuary's Christopher Heyerdahl

By , Contributor

Joe Pugliese/Syfy

Christopher Heyerdahl as John Druitt in Sanctuary

From Shakespeare to other period pieces and also contemporary dramas, Christopher Heyerdahl has spent over 20 years performing in a variety of genres onstage as well as in feature films and on TV. Sci-Fi fans know him best as Todd the Wraith from Stargate Atlantis, and from his dual roles as John Druitt and Bigfoot (a.k.a. Biggie) in Sanctuary.

In the latter’s third season finale, “Into the Black,” Druitt sacrificed himself in order to give his ex-lover and fellow scientist Dr. Helen Magnus the opportunity to prevent one of their former colleagues, Adam Worth, from altering Earth’s timeline. The episode remains a memorable one for the actor.

“It was the culmination of so many things coming together, not to mention the demise of John Druitt,” says Heyerdahl. “It’s always tough to say goodbye to a character, so that’s probably one of the biggest things for me about ‘Into the Black,’ but really the great thing about this episode is that it projects the character of Helen Magnus [Amanda Tapping] into a totally new realm and on so many levels.

“When she was sent back into Victorian England, it threw her into the amazing beginning of what is season four. So basically it was the set-up for the vast adventure that has since unfolded n the show’s fourth year. On top of that, we saw what went down with Biggie and how he, Will [Robin Dunne], and Kate [Agam Darshi] were caught in the middle of what became a confrontation between the world’s governments and the Hollow Earth Abnormals. Getting to play Druitt and Biggie was such a blast and both of them were in a hell of a lot of trouble at the end of last year.”

In Sanctuary’s fourth season opener “Tempus,” Magnus crosses paths with more than one familiar face as she hunts down Adam Worth (Ian Tracey) in Victorian England. Meanwhile, in the following episode, “Uprising,” Dr. Will Zimmerman assumes command of the entire Sanctuary network and works to avert a present day war between the government and Hollow Earth Abnormals. Although Druitt died in the third season finale, Heyerdahl got to revisit his character one last time in “Tempus,” and then step back into Biggie’s furry shoes for “Uprising.”

“Again, in the season opener we’re back in Victorian England and dealing with not one but two Helens,” notes the actor. “There’s the Magnus from the 1800s and then the Magnus from the 21st century, who’s shouldering this enormous responsibility of trying not to screw things up for the entire planet because she’s roaming around back in time. That weight is really heavy, and I think it’s the first time we see Magnus kind of ‘losing’ it as the pressure appears to be getting to her.

“There’s a wonderful conversation between Magnus and Druitt as well as a couple of scenes that lead into the final battle between the two of them, and it’s one with a version of Magnus that Druitt has never seen before. Yes, he’s been dealing with Helen, not on a daily basis but certainly over the years, and now all of a sudden she’s an entirely different person. It was great to play those scenes with Amanda because she played them so well. She was completely different as the young Magnus versus the 160-year-old Magnus. It’s always amazing when she’s given those types of juicy things to play off of.

“As for Biggie, when we see him in ‘Uprising,’ he’s trying to get out of his predicament in the [Hollow Earth Abnormal] camp and help sort out the uprising that’s erupted there. In this episode we see that things aren’t going well between the Sanctuary and the government. That’s one of the big issues that continues to play out in season four - how Magnus and the Sanctuary deal with their history of government funding and the fact that, you’ve got to pay the piper, right? You have to deal with whoever is throwing down the cash.

“A lot of times there’s a tremendous amount of politicking that takes place in any kind of organization that is being heavily funded by the government, big business or what have you, and you have to do what they say and play by their rules if you want to continue to be funded by them. That’s one of the conflicts that starts to build heavily in ‘Uprising’ because you have two completely opposing principles in the way that they’re dealing with the Abnormal population.”

Heyerdahl chuckles when asked what it was like to be directed by executive producer/series leading lady Amanda Tapping in “Uprising.” “It was pure hell,” he teases. “Actually, the question should be is there anything that Amanda can’t do, and, in fact, I should elaborate on that - is there anything that Amanda can’t do completely well? She’s a fantastic director and a natural at it. With this episode there were hundreds of people on set on any given day, so there was that to deal with and also stunts, explosions, and fights. That kind of orchestration would daunt the most experienced director, and yet Amanda remained focused, graceful, helpful, and efficient.

“So it was a pure joy, and not only is she efficient at her job as a director, but she’s also able to relate to the actors. Of course, that’s really our whole world, right? We could care less about anything else; we just want to know about our own character and what’s going on with us. Amanda is able to connect to the actor as well as his or her insecurities and ego. In doing so, she manages to draw out performances that other directors might not be able to do because they’re more concerned with the technical aspect of the piece. She’s so well-rounded and that makes the experience all the more enjoyable.”

As Sanctuary’s fourth season has continued, there have been no further signs of John Druitt, and while such a dynamic persona has definitely been missed, his absence has not necessarily been a bad thing for the actor. “I’d like to think that Druitt has taken his growth or development on to the next level and become some kind of Doctor Manhattan-type energy creature [referring to the character in the DC Watchman comic books and the 2009 feature film of the same name], but perhaps that’s something for Sanctuary’s fifth season,” muses Heyerdahl. “At this point, Druitt is dead and pushing up daises if he could.

“So the development of that character this season was relatively non-existent, but the development of Biggie has been huge. With Druitt gone, it gave the writes a lot more opportunity to give Biggie more to do. It also allowed me to do another TV series altogether. The [Sanctuary] production team was very kind, and when that space opened up as far as time was concerned, I was running off to a production in Calgary, so then my days were filled between those two sets.

“Getting back to Biggie, because of his big open heart, he sort of goes to the dark side a little bit this season,” continues the actor. “I think the true test of any real friendship in my experience - and probably most peoples’ experience - is when something awful happens and you have to decide all over again, is this someone I want in my life? Is this someone who I can trust? If you make it through such challenges, it’s like a renewal of a friendship and that friendship becomes deeper.

“That type of test takes place between Biggie and Magnus in an upcoming episode [“Acolyte”], and it’s wonderful because their friendship changes dramatically and deepens because of how they deal with one another as friends as well as the challenges facing them. I don’t want to let too much out of the bag, but I’ll also say that it’s complex and not easy for either of them.”

Along with “Acolyte,” Heyerdahl also especially enjoyed shooting the fourth season’s “Homecoming,” written by series creator and executive producer Damian Kindler and co-executive producer/writer James Thorpe and directed by Robin Dunne. “In this episode, these two very talented actors, Adam Grayden Reid and Caroline Cave, came in and played a pair of quirky, extremely untrustworthy and yet heart of gold flying Abnormals [Bruno and Sheila Delacourt],” he says. “Their timing was terrific and both of them immediately felt like part of the [Sanctuary] family.

“I had some great scenes with Caroline Cave, whose character of Sheila has known Biggie for a long time. You might remember in [season two’s] ‘Haunted,’ when Kate and Biggie were talking about relationships, including the very odd relationships that he and Magnus appear to have with other people. Kate asks Biggie, ‘What’s the deal with you? How come you’re never with anybody,’ and he tells her, ‘I mate once every five years.’

“There’s a little allusion to the relationship that Biggie has or has had with another Abnormal, and Caroline’s character knows this Abnormal. In ‘Homecoming,’ there’s a neat scene with Sheila challenging Biggie on his male tendencies and, if he’s starting a bit of a relationship with her friend, that maybe Biggie hasn’t called her friend back or is being slightly elusive. I had fun playing that scene and enjoyed that history between our two characters.”

Looking back at Sanctuary’s fourth year and ahead to the penultimate episode “The Depths” and two-part season finale “Sanctuary for None,” Heyerdahl could not be happier with Bigfoot’s overall story arc. “The writers have taken Biggie in so many new and unexpected directions this season, and that’s always a joy to play,” he enthuses.

“As for the culmination of this season, it’s sacrificial in many ways. It’s always hard to finish a season of Sanctuary because it’s not like most other TV shows where you think, ‘Okay, our numbers are good and we’re airing in 170-odd countries around the world, so I think we’re safe and can look forward to next season.’ With Sanctuary we always hope that we get another season, but who really knows. So it’s kind of like saying goodbye every year and this one was no different. Again, this year’s finale is sacrificial, renewing and filled with possibility.”

Besides Sanctuary, the actor recently reprised his The Twilight Saga: New Moon role of Marcus in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1and will be seen again next year in Breaking Dawn, Part 2. He also has a recurring role playing The Swede in the AMC series Hell on Wheels.

Twilight has been incredible,” says Heyerdahl. “I mean, let’s face it, it’s a phenomenon that touches so many people. I can’t tell you how popular I am with my family’s young children and friends’ children. I’ve become like the vampire clown at birthday parties. I recently went on a motorcycle trip with a buddy of mine and we split off in Alberta [Canada] and I went up to Prince George where I have extended family. I went to a birthday party and picked up my second cousin on the way. We ended up chatting with a group of young ladies and some of their mothers. That would never have happened if I wasn’t a part of Twilight, so that was fun.

“Shooting these movies is always a blast. We spent around three months in Louisiana, mostly Baton Rogue, but we did spend one night filming in New Orleans, which I’d always wanted to visit. The final [Twilight] book culminates in this grand battle, which is mostly what we were shooting. There were so many people on this battlefield, many of whom I’d never worked with before, and you got to see so many of the characters from the book come to life.

“With regard to Hell on Wheels, I have to give a shout-out to George Horie, one of the producers and P.M. [production manager] on Sanctuary and Chad Oakes, who is one of the Hell on Wheels producers up in Canada. Between the two of them, they made it possible for me to work a day on Sanctuary, fly up to Calgary, film for a day on Hell on Wheels, then fly back to Vancouver and do it all over again. So the past seven months of my life have been a wild ride,” says the actor with a laugh.

“My Hell on Wheels character is called The Swede, but he’s a Norwegian. He was a P.O.W. during The Civil War and this story takes place during the late 1860s right after The Civil War. It’s about the building of the Union Pacific Railroad and the fight or battle between control over bringing the railroad from the East to the West and the corruption involved in that. Hell on Wheels is actually the name of the town that followed the building of the railroad. It’s a wonderful, complex historical Western series that is incredibly well-written. Joe and Tony Gayton are the creators and main writers on the show, and John Shiban as well, who is the show runner. These guys have done an amazing job of writing the scripts and it’s something that we’re all really proud of.

“So these are three great projects I’ve been working on this year, and it’s been a real dream for me. No matter what you’re doing, you can’t beat getting up every morning and spending the day with people who you respect and enjoy working with. It doesn’t get any better. I’m a lucky guy.”

Please note, first photo above of Christopher Heyerdahl as Bigfoot is by Carole Segal and copyright of Sanctuary Proudctions. All other Sanctuary photos by Chris Helecemanas-Benge and copyright of Sanctuary Productions. Second to last photo from The Twilight Saga is copyright of Summit Entertainment, and last photo from Hell on Wheels is by Chris Large and copyright of AMC.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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