Will Power: Interview wIth Sanctuary's Robin Dunne

By , Contributor

Joe Pugliese/Syfy

Robin Dunne as Dr. Will Zimmerman in Sanctuary

It was a dark and stormy night (no, really, it was), when Dr. Will Zimmerman first encountered Dr. Helen Magnus. He had no idea of the impact that this “chance” meeting would have on his future. During the past four years, the forensic psychiatrist has been Magnus’ second in command of the Sanctuary, a worldwide network of facilities established for the express purpose of protecting and preserving a species of unusual and powerful creatures called Abnormals.

More than once, Will’s job responsibilities have put his life at risk, including at the start of Sanctuary’s third year when he “died” in order to stop an especially powerful and dangerous Abnormal nicknamed “Big Bertha” from destroying countless lives. The stakes are even higher for our heroes in the show’s fourth and current season, and Robin Dunne, who plays Will, has been more than happy to take on the challenge.

“Every season we say that this is our best one yet, but this really is an incredible year,” says the actor. “Having done 20 episodes last year and then going back to 13 this year, we wanted to make sure that each of our episodes really hit all the right [story] beats.  The season opener [“Tempus”] is phenomenal and that carries though right up to the two-part season finale, which is just like a feature film. It’s unbelievable when I look back at the things that we did in it. At one point we were on-location in the middle of the night, which is rare for us, and everything going on around me just felt so surreal. I also got to direct this year, which was a fantastic experience.

“As far as my character, we’re going to reveal some of Will’s back story this year and meet his dad. There’s a musical episode [“Fugue”] this season, too, which we did in classic Sanctuary fashion. it was pretty cool, not to mention terrifying ,to actually walk into a recording studio, especially not being used to doing something like that at all, and think, ‘I guess I’m going to have to sing.’ Fortunately, Sanctuary’s musical composer Andrew Lockington was there in the studio taking us through the process and making us feel comfortable. I mean, I walk around the set singing silly songs at the top of my lungs, which probably isn’t the greatest thing for everyone around me, but that’s very different from doing it in front of a camera.

“There’s this big parapet scene between me and Pascale Hutton, who plays Abby [Corigan, Will’s girlfriend], and it’s a real, kind of right out there, at the top of our lungs, emotional exchange. At the end of the day, the show’s director of photography, Gordon Verheul, walked over to me and said, ‘You know, after the first couple of takes, nobody really thought about the singing. It was like we were caught up in a regular scene and the singing was just kind of there.’ Damian Kindler [series creator/executive producer] wrote and directed this episode, and he endeavored to make sure that it wasn’t a case of, OK, here’s the story, now we’re going to sing a song, and then we’ll jump back to the story. In fact, the singing and the story are intertwined in a truly organic way. Again, you just had to put yourself out there, which was the case more often that not this year, and it turned out great.”

Sanctuary’s fourth season picks up right where year three left off, with Helen Magnus trapped in Victorian England and, in “Tempus,” trying to stop Adam Worth (Ian Tracey) from altering the timeline. The following episode, “Uprising,” is set in the present and finds Will in charge of the Sanctuary. He along with his teammates Henry Foss (Ryan Robbins), Kate Freelander (Agam Darshi) and Bigfoot (Christopher Heyerdahl) are trying to avert an all-out war between Abnormals and the worlds’ governments. This story was directed by executive producer Amanda Tapping, who also plays Helen Magnus.

“It’s very difficult for any actor to direct, but particularly Amanda because she really carries the show,” explains Dunne. “She’s virtually in every scene, so they flipped the filming order and shot this episode first and then the fourth season opener, ‘Tempus,’ in order to give Amanda time to prep before filming began.

“I love being directed by her. We have such a good connection and because of that, there’s a wonderful shorthand between us when we’re working together, and especially when I’m being directed by her. It’s really comforting to be in that sort of environment as an actor and to be directed by someone like Amanda, who’s not only a very gifted director but also an actor, and therefore intimately understands the process.

“I think ‘Uprising’ was more of a challenge for Amanda to direct simply because it was a much bigger episode than those she’s previously directed. They [“Veritas,” “One Night,”] were more character-driven and delved into relationships between the characters. This one certainly had those elements, but it was also a big sweeping tale with plenty of moving parts. I remember arriving at work one day and out there in our parking lot - which has been transformed into everything from World War II France to Mumbai - was Amanda. It was freezing cold and pouring rain, but she was right there working the camera and techno-crane through a shot. It was so neat to see another side of her directing ability where she’s able to take those types of action scenes and really embrace them along with the scope of the episode.”

Will’s handling of events in “Uprising” proves yet again that Helen Magnus has made a wise choice in putting her trust in him. The decisions he makes, however, are just the first of many that will directly impact the development of Dunne’s character in the fourth season.

“It’s been a really interesting progression for Will as a character over these four years,” says the actor. “We’ve seen him go from this scared guy who wasn’t really sure what he was getting into, to this scared guy who realized what he was getting into and had to sort of deal with it, and then a guy who braves the responsibility. I think you’ll see this year, starting with ‘Uprising,’ that my character is headed in a different direction. Yes, he’s a die-hard member of the team who takes his responsibility in the Sanctuary and support of Magus very seriously, but cracks are beginning to form that will eat away at the foundation of his beliefs. Will is going to start to question not only that kind of blind, I’ll-follow-you-to-the-ends-of-the-Earth belief that he’s had in the Sanctuary, but in Magnus, too.

“Those thoughts are going to weigh on him as well as trouble him, and that unbreakable bond between Magnus and Will is going to be put to the test. I don’t want to give too much away, but I think it’s really going to be put in jeopardy. A lot of pebbles are thrown into the pond early on this year, which cause ripples that turn into these huge waves right to the end of the season. Oh, we’ve also got this cool, sort of nebulous good/bad guy this year [Greg Addison] played by Brian Markinson, and there’s a certain love/hate relationship between him and Will. It’s by far our darkest season yet and a time where things that our characters as well as the audience have taken as absolute truths are seriously questioned.

“I’m telling you, it’s like this crazy labyrinth this year, and here’s another fun thing about season four - it’s more of a puzzle than any other year,” continues Dunne. “Look, Magnus is brilliant, truly brilliant. I like to think of her as presidential in a way that in the real world, senators can be arguing and the president is hearing all these dissenting voices, but still has the ultimate bigger picture in his or her mind. That’s Magnus.

“Will, Henry, everyone, can be asking her, ‘What are you doing? Don’t you see that if you do this, then this is going to happen?’ Magnus is hearing them, not disregarding them but taking their concerns in as valid points, but she’s always seeing that bigger picture in a way that Will and the others can’t. That’s a brilliant character, and you’re going to see that aspect of Magnus this year in a way that you’ve never seen before.”

As Will’s professional life experiences some changes in Sanctuary’s fourth season, so does his personal life and relationship with FBI Agent Abby Corigan, whose new assignment has her investigating cases with possible links to Abnormals. No doubt this will cause some occasional friction with her and Will, which viewers have already seen in the episode “Monsoon,” but behind-the-scenes, the mood is nothing but harmonious between Dunne and Pascale Hutton (Abby).

“First of all, just working with Pascale Hutton” is a joy,” he enthuses. “She’s amazing, and one of those people who, ever since her first day on-set, you can’t really remember what the show was like without her. I know that the term ‘family’ is corny and cheesy, but she immediately became a part of our Sanctuary family and fit right in.

“With Will and Abby, when that relationship first began, I think a lot of fans were asking the question, ‘How really well-matched are they?’ Yes, they were/are both involved in the FBI and sort of had similar jobs, but they’re different in many other ways. I kind of like that, though. I like the fact that this relationship has already faced a number of obstacles. There are so many times that Abby should have run for the hills and disappeared, but she didn’t. Will could have done the same thing, but he sticks around as well.

“So they’re both committed to this relationship, which is going to go through some serious tests as well as a lot of scares this year. As a result, it’s also going to be further strengthened, and that’s something Will needs. He has his relationship with Magus, but with that comes the responsibility to her and the Sanctuary. There’s really not a great deal of escape from that for him, but with Abby, he gets that. He gets to step outside the Sanctuary, if only very briefly, and that keeps him going. There’s also this deep rooted fear of losing Abby. We’ve looked at what happened to Will in his past, in particular with his mother, but also losing other girlfriends and just having his life ‘stolen’ from him many, many times. He’s afraid that the same thing is going to happen with Abby, and he’s definitely faced with that a couple of times this season.”

As the actor previously mentioned, Sanctuary’s fourth year marks his directorial debut on the show with the upcoming episode “Homecoming” (airing Friday, November 11th @ 10:00 p.m. EST/PST on Syfy). “I was so excited when I was first told I’d be able to direct an episode this season,” recalls Dunne, “However, that excitement quickly faded into sheer terror, but that fear didn’t come out of anything except the fact that we’re such a tight group here on Sanctuary. Everybody is right alongside each other in the trenches trying to make the best TV show possible, and the last thing anyone wants to do is let the team down.

“I’ve never prepped so much for something as I did for this, and the only reason was that my three best friends - Damian Kindler, Amanda Tapping and Martin Wood [executive producer/director] - had given me this opportunity and there was no way I was going to let them down. The first scene I shot was in Magnus’ office with Henry and Magnus, and from that moment on I was having the best time of my life. It was such a great experience. The crew was unbelievably supportive, and it was amazing to direct my fellow cast mates and work with them in a way that I had never done before. We also had some awesome guest-stars, including Al Sapienza [Mikey Palmice from The Sopranos], who plays Will’s dad. It was a magical experience and, again, I couldn’t have done it without the support of the cast and crew.”

Although he has to refrain from revealing any specifics, Dunne is able to talk in general about Sanctuary’s fourth season finale and what fans can expect. “I’ve spoken about this season being like a puzzle, this 3-D, kind of impossible Mensa-like brain teaser that Magnus is putting together and that really doesn’t make any sense to Will throughout the entire season,” notes Dunne. “However, during the finale, my character finally gets to see this extremely complicated plan that Magus was carrying out come together. In certain ways it’s interesting because a kind of humbleness comes over Will. This plan brings everything sort of full circle for him - from the beginning of season one to the end of season four - and it's almost like a new beginning for him and, in fact, all the characters.

“I think the fans will be troubled by this season. They’re going to have the same experiences as Will. The thing about my character is that in many ways he kind of gets to be the audience, right? So the fans are going to go through the same types of things that Will goes through this year. Again, they’re going to be troubled as well as shocked by certain events, but, like Will, it’s all going to pay off in the finale where they’ll go, ‘Oh, my God. OK, wow, now I get it.’ It’s a beautiful launching pad to go into season five.”

The actor chuckles when asked about a project called Space Milkshake, which he will be producing as well as acting in during the hiatus between the fourth and hopefully fifth seasons of Sanctuary. “Every time I describe this film to people I get this sort of long silence because no one can seem to process it. I wanted to do something totally different so I chose this movie about four people who get trapped on board a spaceship and realize that this rubber duck has come to life and it’s chasing them through the ship in order to kill them.

“When the script was first presented to me I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’ But then my producing partner, Rob Merilees, said to me, ‘Just read the script.’ So I did and became really enamored of it. It kind of has a campy Chucky [a.k.a. the 1988 feature film Child’s Play] feel to it. So that’s what I’m going to dive into next, and that will take me to the end of the year and then, fingers crossed, the fifth season of Sanctuary.”

Please note, all photos above copyright of Syfy.

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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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