Warehouse 13's Artie Nielsen (Saul Rubinek)
Having been for several years the Secret Service agent in charge of the mysterious government repository called Warehouse 13, Artie Nielsen knows only too well the dangers that certain historical artifacts pose to the world and why it is so important for his team to snag, bag, and tag them as quickly as possible.
He is just as insightful when it comes to assessing the true character of those around him. In season two of Warehouse 13, Artie was the only one who objected to reinstating former warehouse agent H.G. Wells to active duty. He was overruled and H.G. accompanied fellow agents Pete Lattimer and Myka Bering on a mission to Egypt to find the legendary lost Warehouse 2. They succeeded, and in the season two finale “Reset,” H.G. tried to use an artifact she stole from Warehouse 2 to trigger another ice age on Earth. Luckily, Myka stopped her in the nick of time. While Artie was not surprised at H.G’s betrayal, the actor who plays him, Saul Rubinek, initially had no idea what to expect with this episode.
“As a cast we’re fortunate in that we have read-throughs of the episode that we’re going to be doing next about a week before shooting actually begins on it,” says Rubinek. “However, because we’re so busy filming, we don’t get the chance to read scripts too much in advance, so when we do, they’re always page-turners thanks to the amazing group of writers we have working on this show.
“The whole concept for us of the lost Warehouse was wonderful, and it also looked huge. It looked like we were doing a multi-million dollar movie, and you wondered, ‘How are they going to get this all done in an eight-day shooting schedule?’ Well, we also have a super visual effects [VFX] team here on Warehouse 13 along with some of the best designers on television today.
"I’ve been at this for a long time now and there are so many different ways of doing things and so many different budgets for a show, but what our people do here as far as sets, visual effects, etc, is just extraordinary. The thing is, each episode is different from the last one and the one before that. Is this week’s story going to be funny, is it going to be serious, is it going to be a thriller? You know it’s going to be all three, but then what direction is it really going to go in.
“I was most happy about that fact that last season we began getting into the mythology of the Warehouse, which is one of the show’s most interesting and continuing characters. Come to find out that there was a Warehouse one through 12, and then they [the show’s producers/writers] brought H.G. Wells [Jaime Murray] back from Warehouse 12. Here’s this woman - who had been ‘bronzed’ and held for years as a prisoner in Warehouse 13 - with a chip on her shoulder that was the size of destroying the world. It was a brilliant stroke, and the fact that we had to go back and find Warehouse 2 was kind of awesome as well. That whole storyline was really fun for all of us to work on.”
At the end of “Reset,” Myka (Joanne Kelly) leaves the Warehouse, blaming herself for ever trusting H.G. and supporting her bid to become reinstated as an agent. Artie’s immediate superior Mrs. Frederic (CCH Pounder) has no choice but to fill the vacancy left by Myka’s departure. She chooses ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) Agent Steve Jinks (Aaron Ashmore), who, in Warehouse 13’s third season opener “The New Guy,” confronts Artie, Pete (Eddie McClintock), and agent apprentice Claudia Donovan (Allison Scagliotti) while the trio is out in the field on a mission. Although Artie is genuinely pleased to have Steve on the team, he is still concerned about bringing him into the fold.
“You have to remember that Artie has quite an eccentric past,” notes Rubinek. “In last season’s Christmas episode [“Secret Santa”] my character was reunited with his father [Izzy Weisfelt, played by Judd Hirsch] after over 20 years, which was pretty neat for him, but he has no other real family other than the people in the Warehouse. So Artie feels a genuine sense of responsibility to these people when he sends them out on missions, because he knows how dangerous these missions are and how unique you have to be in order to be part of the Warehouse team.
“Certainly Artie was curious to see how Steve was going to fit into the group, and that journey continues in an interesting and scary way as the season goes on. I can’t reveal too much without spoilers, but I will say that Steve’s presence significantly alters how Artie and the others operate. Now that Steve is part of the team, there are certain things that happen that never would have happened had he not been there, and these things that happen are not always benign.
“Steve will form a bond with one of the other Warehouse agents in ways that are unexpected and that leads to danger as well as excitement. Being new to all this, Steve is going to deal in a unique way with the ethics of procedure with regard to how our characters operate as a team. Ethics will become a major issue this season and, again, the bonds that Steve forms will be very interesting.”
What has it been like for Rubinek to work with series newcomer Aaron Ashmore? “As the fans of Warehouse 13 already know, and as I said earlier, you can’t tell from moment to moment which way this show is going to go. As an actor you have to stay on your toes and be ready with your comedy chops or your drama chops, because your character might get a pie in the face just as easily as a dagger to his or her throat.
“So there are some pretty big jumps that you have to make in order to score and for a scene to work, and Aaron is able to do that without a problem. He’s an accomplished and versatile actor as well as a funny and very nice guy. He reminds me of Allison. He’s just a few years older than her, not by much, and he has great overall [acting] chops. If you’re the type of actor who wants things to be the same and your character to be set in stone rather than flying from place to place, then Warehouse 13 isn’t the show for you to be on. Aaron, however, is on the right show and it’s a pleasure to have him as part of our family.”
When Pete and Myka first met in the Warehouse 13 series opener, they had serious doubts about whether or not they could work together, let alone with Artie. As for Claudia, she never imagined being part of his team, especially after kidnapping him in season one’s “Claudia.” All these different personalities have come together, though, and with the addition of Steve Jinks as well as Myka’s return in “The New Guy,” Artie’s team is stronger, and quirkier, than ever. Balancing his emotional attachments to his workplace family with his Warehouse responsibilities is not always easy, but it makes Artie who he is, and provides Rubinek with a welcome acting challenge.
“The challenges are always unique because the artifacts are unique as are the dangers from them, and that really defines all of our characters,” says the actor. “I mean, Artie and the others each have a journey and their own challenges, some of which I can’t reveal and that have to do with the arc of every episode. In this case I’m not telling tales out of school by saying that this season you will continue to find out things about our characters’ pasts, at the same time that we continue to explore the backstory of the Warehouse and how it affects the present.
“It’s all tied together. When you’re doing a play or a movie and especially a TV series, you can’t separate the challenges that an actor has with a character from the challenges that the writers have with the material,” continues Rubinek. “Whatever joys and problems they’re having in resolving those challenges are going to come down the line to us actors. We are then given the opportunity of dealing with the results of a group of writers that couldn’t ask for a better job. It’s obvious with each new script that they adore the show’s premise. I think we’re lucky that that’s the case, especially because after a few seasons it can become a struggle for writers on some shows to come up with story ideas that are new and fresh and keep the interest of viewers.
“For me as an actor, the biggest danger of doing a television series might have been going on automatic, becoming much too comfortable and not giving the viewer the quality of work that would be required to earn their tuning in each week, but that’s not a problem on Warehouse 13. We love the show as much as our biggest fans do because we’re fans of it as well. We love reading the scripts and, again, because our characters are constantly evolving, we as actors have to stay on our toes.
“We’re also fortunate that our show runner [executive producer] Jack Kenny is a former actor and a very funny guy. He loves the relationships between the characters along with the humor and the drama of the situation - not to mention that he’s on-set 90% of the time - we’re able to deliver in a way that we might not if this were a different show.”
In the aforementioned “The New Guy,” Pete and Steve go out in the field to investigate a series of mysterious deaths, while Artie, Claudia and Leena (Genelle Williams) deal with a pair of statues that are exerting their electrifying “personalities.” The banter between Claudia and Artie is quick, witty and entertaining. The off-screen rapport that Rubinek shares with castmate Allison Scagliotti is what helps make their onscreen dynamic a treat to watch.
“From the first time Allison worked on episode four of season one it was as if we had worked together for years,” recalls the actor. “We really bonded quickly. She’s a consummate professional, way more experienced than her years would tell you, and she is a delight. We make each other laugh and we work as colleagues, not as father and daughter, but that’s a dynamic that’s certainly there because I’m so much older than her and it’s there in our relationship. So we use it as the writers use it and that’s really fun.”
The actor chuckles when asked if he has a favorite season three episode so far. “One of the great things about this year is that we get to see Artie’s bedroom, which was beautifully created by our brilliant team, including Franco De Cotiis, who is such a great production designer. There’s an episode where Artie is sick in bed and doing all this work on the Farnsworth [communications device]. Jack Kenny and I were trying to figure out some funny things to do with Artie’s illness and how it would play out, and it was one of the times that I laughed the hardest ever on-set. There I was in bed and Jack and I were just coming up with more and more ridiculous stuff, a lot of we knew would have to be cut, but we just had a riot together.”
Not surprisingly, the season three premiere of Warehouse 13 was a big hit with audiences and Rubinek promises that there is plenty more for fans to look forward to.
“It’s a great season, and I think in many ways it’s our best year yet,” he enthuses. “There are moments from every season that are indelible and unique, but it feels like we’ve really hit a stride this season, and we’ve done so without resorting to a formula. It’s very rare in any actors’ life to be part of the number one show on a network, and instead of any of us - writers, producers, network executives, cast or crew - resting on our laurels, we’ve continued to take chances and try to give our audiences something unexpected and fun to watch.”