Exclusive interview with Saul Rubinek of Warehouse 13 - June 29, 2011Interview by Jamie RubyWritten by Jamie Ruby
Tonight, July 11, marks the return of Syfy's most successful series to date, Warehouse 13
. The series follows two government agents as they track down strange and problem causing artifacts and return them to safety in a top-secret warehouse. The caretaker of the warehouse, Artie Nielsen, is played by Saul Rubinek.
Rubinek is a seasoned actor, having been in the business over forty years. He has worked on films such as Unforgiven
and True Romance
, and appeared on popular television series, such as Frasier
, Stargate SG-1
, and Leverage
. Rubinek even had a small part in the ABC series Lost
Acting is not the only thing Rubinek is good at. He wrote and produced the documentary So Many Miracles
and directed four films, such as Jerry and Tom
, for example.
Rubinek recently talked with Jame Ruby of SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview about the new season of Warehouse 13
and what's next for Artie.
Rubinek won the part of Artie after auditioning, and made the part his own. "I was not the first person considered; I know that they went through a number of Arties. At first I think that they weren't sure who Artie was. They had an idea of what it was, and I had my own ideas. And because they were open [to it], I improvised a little bit. They were willing to allow that, they were open-minded.
"It was a suggestion by one of the heads of Syfy, Mark Stern, who said "You know, this may be a good idea." I'd worked with Mark before...and I'd also done NBC Universal shows because I think I had already done Psych and I'd already done an episode of Eureka
at that point so they knew me.
"And when I went in I had a different take on Artie. Artie wasn't Artie yet and I thought he would have a darker, more screwed-up, more neurotic personality - a love-hate relationship with this place, that he would be less a master of ceremonies kind of guy, a host, less a boss character that was happy being a boss character than a guy who was eccentric and open and screwed up by the place, obsessive-compulsive.
"I'm a Family Man
, married for over twenty years, I have a twenty year old daughter and a fifteen year old son, and I have a life outside of this business, thank God, but Artie doesn't. But I might have gone in that direction and there's a part of me that could have, if I had taken a different path. So I think there's a part of me that understands what it was like to be married to your work and lose other important things in your life. And as a result, the importance of the new family Artie has is crucial to his character and to the show."
Even if Artie's character was partially a collaboration, the actors do not improvise much during filming. "We improv a little bit when we're required to. Very little is necessary. Jack [Kenny; show runner] encourages it sometimes; he'll come up with a moment when we fool around. Eddie [McClintock] does, I do, we all do a little bit, because there's a humorous side to that. Jack will hear us screwing around and go "That's hilarious; let me change it like this." And luckily, 90% of the time he's on the set. He's a former actor and a very funny guy, and that's part of what we do on the set."
The actor reveals what challenges him as an actor. "The challenge for me as an actor, at this point in my career, is to remember – like it would be for any other role, really – to get out of my own way. I think people will find that most actors, writers, painters, dancers, singers, composers, artists of all kind will tell you the same thing. The challenge is keep it fresh and stay out of your way, don't think too much and you need to have perspective.
"I'm doing this for six months a year. I really love the show; I'm very proud of it, and I don't want to get too comfortable. That's a challenge. Comfort can lead to smugness, can lead to going on automatic a little bit. I want to keep it fresh; I want to find new things in it.
"But you know, a lot of that work is done before I get there. It's done by the writers who have figured out new ways of approaching things.
"And I've never been on a show that's lasted three years....I've never been a regular on a series after one year...
"So the challenge is, keep it fresh, stay on your toes, keep bringing something to the game, and don't get in your own way. But these are not different from other stuff. That's just the way it is on this show."
The actors of the series are not allowed to reveal much about the upcoming season, but Rubinek could talk about a few of the upcoming guest stars. "We have Lindsay Wagner; Rene Auberjonois is back...
"I can tell you that Kate Mulgrew is part of this, as a Regent, and that she's connected to us in a way that's unexpected. In what way I can't tell you."
Lindsay Wagner, who appeared on last season on Warehouse 13
, will return as Dr. Vanessa Calder, who Artie has quite a crush on. Rubinek says that the scenes are fun because "it's an episode where I'm asked to help her out professionally and I think I'm trying to use the opportunity personally and that gets me into trouble."Warehouse 13
is good with bringing back characters. "The show is really developing a kind of a company of wonderful actors that are coming back for recurring roles, which is really making us happy because they're wonderful people. They like being on our show. Everybody says that our set is really friendly and stress-free, which is something we're proud of. We have a lot of fun; we laugh all day long. Except at hour fifteen when we're exhausted.
"But, you know, it's a great group of people, a great crew that have become part of our family and we really have a great time doing the show. And I'm hoping that translates."
This season there is also the addition of Aaron Ashmore, who plays Steve Jinks, to the cast. "He's great...It's hit or miss when you bring somebody on and he's really full blast into the season. I mean, he's almost in every episode. And you either fit into this group of people or you don't.
"And I can tell you what that means. We have a kind of show where it's not a procedural, even though it's set up to look like it: send agents out to find artifacts. Unlike The X-Files
, which may have done one humorous show every eight episodes, or had some humor in it every now and then, our show from scene to scene or sometimes from line to line, goes between suspense, thriller, and comedy, and we try to walk a pretty fine, thin tightrope and not try to fall off too deeply on either the comedy or drama side.
"So we need actors that are versatile and also willing to make fools of themselves, which is essential for comedy. And also go for the drama when it's there and also just send it up a little bit, the next second and find the humor in the situation, not take ourselves too seriously.
"So we have a range of really versatile and game people, if you know what I mean. They're really willing to go with the flow of that. Because you can have an episode that's really filled with great drama...
"No one ever got cancelled because the show was just too damn funny. You get canceled if you're boring or predictable...If the fans are not sure what to expect next from episode to episode and even from scene to scene, if [they] go "I wasn't expecting that," that's great.
"So that said, Aaron Ashmore fit in because he's a very skilled actor for someone so young. Reminds me of the kind of chops that Allison [Scagliotti] has. I mean, he's young and he's very experienced, talented, very professional in the sense that he really knows his stuff."
Rubinek thinks it is important to keep your performance fresh. "Your danger [as an actor] is that you fall into the trap of becoming, of doing what we call "putting in a cassette." You're starting to do it robotically or by the numbers. Because you're working sometimes fifteen hours a day, you're playing the same character, you're in your third season or more, in this case we've done forty episodes already. And it's dangerous because you might start to go on automatic.
"And we don't. The writers keep us on our toes. And the directors that are hired are expected to keep that tightrope taut so that we are always unpredictable.
"So you've got to have your stuff together...If you don't, you're not going to be able to roll with it. You'll find yourself in the middle of a scene not knowing how you got there in terms of the writing. Because the writing is very deft. It's not wildly complex, but it's witty and it requires you to be on your game."
It all works out because both the cast and crew work really well together. "I would say that you've got an unusual situation where studio executives and network executives are very proud of the show, proud of the fact that it's so successful but also proud of the fact that it works. I mean, it's a concept that might not have worked. It's taking a bunch of concepts that have worked before and putting a new spin on it.
"They were very smart in hiring Jack to be the show runner of this piece because he doesn't bring a real sci-fi cred to the show. He brings humor and a really good sense of what it is for a family to operate. And in order for you guys to care for your audience – our audience and your readers – to care about this show, to want to watch it, they're going to have to care about these characters. This is a cliché, but sometimes you're watching [a show] because a procedural just works really well, and it's really well-produced.
"And that's not our show, that's not what we're doing. We are well-produced; they spend a lot of money on this. They spend close to network dollars to give you the eye candy and the look of the show. It's amazing. The production design of the show is second to none of television.
"It really has not been recognized yet because there's only about four million viewers and it's not up to network numbers and it's not recognized that way by mainstream press yet. "Oh it's a sci-fi show," I don't think they really get it.
"But I get it. I get it because when I go out, I'm recognized whether it's for Unforgiven
or True Romance
or Family Man
, but now more often than not it's Warehouse 13
. And the ages of the people that are saying "hey, good show," go from twelve years old to eighty five years old and it doesn't matter. Families are watching the show.
"So the network executives have found a way to communicate the tone of the piece, through Jack to us, in a way that's unusual. Because very often a network and a studio won't see eye to eye with production. And that's why you see such a change of guard with the show runner and creative differences, and we've got a new person here, and they're changing this out and no that's all changed now and there's a whole new regime. That happens quite often with television which, you know, is a huge business and it's got to operate from year to year.
"...There's got to be a synergy between the bosses. They've got to see eye to eye and they've got to get along. So I kind of hand it to them on that level because I've been a part of shows that don't work that way."
Another person that Rubinek enjoys working with is Allison Scagliotti, who plays Claudia in the series. His favorite memory of the two of them working together is during the first episode they did together. "It felt like we could work together in another lifetime forever."
Rubinek loves comedy, and he's good at it, which is important for Warehouse 13
. "I think that I have a sense of humor; I love comedy...I think it's part of who I am and I think that if I were ever hired by somebody was expecting that not to be there on some level, some grain of salt, then they're hiring the wrong guy."Warehouse 13
both did crossover episodes (with each other) last season. Rubinek would love to see that with the new Syfy series Alphas. "I'm hoping they find a way to do some kind of crossover with Alphas, because David Straithairn and I, we did an independent feature maybe fifteen years ago and he's a wonderful actor. And I like the show and I hope it does really well."
The actor has worked on other great projects besides Warehouse 13
. "One of the things that I had the most fun [on], I did a TV movie with Treat Williams a number of years ago called 36 Hours to Die, [in] which I played this kind of mafia accountant who turns into a real demon bad guy throughout the course of the show. That was really fun, so that's unusual.
"I really enjoyed playing Donnie on Frasier
. I loved doing W.W. Beauchamp on Unforgiven
. One of my favorite roles was playing Lee Donowitz in True Romance
. I loved playing the dual characters I played on Family Man
with Nick Cage.
"I had a great time playing the first villain on the pilot of Leverage
, a character called [Victor] Dubenich who I'm hoping will come back to Leverage
...I love that show...I think that's a really well run show and a great series.
"And those were really, really fun; those roles are highlights for me. I recently did a one-scene role in Barney's Version with Paul Giamatti that was a great, dark, twisted character, kind of a right-wing, fundamentalist Jewish guy and that was a really fun role to play, that was great fun."
Another role that Rubinek really enjoyed was on Stargate SG-1
. "Stargate was really interesting. I came on to do this journalist. The show was long and rather than cut it back they were kind of awesome and they said "You know what? Let's make this a two-parter."
"And that was great, I love that cast, great people on that show. I don't know if they got the recognition that they deserved. Really great actors, really well-written show, they are doing a lot. And I got a chance to explore it in a different way than other people by playing this character, Bergman, that journalist who they think is going to trash them but is really telling their story in a respectful way.
"It was unusual. That was the unusual thing, is that the show was long and instead of taking the easy way out and cutting it back they said "Let's expand it and do it right." It was really, really courageous of the writers and the producers of that show. I am always indebted to them because I love that character. It was called "Heroes Part 1" and ["Heroes] Part 2." It was great."
Rubinek recalls a strange fan encounter. "I was sitting in Vancouver with Joel Wyman, who's one of the executive producers now of Fringe
...Before he may have not even directed his first film, I did a movie with him called pale Saints years ago which he wrote and directed, a really cool film. He's a really smart, talented guy. He was an actor at the time. And he's one of the show runners of Fringe
"And he and I were in Vancouver...and we were sitting outside and from twenty yards away? – "Hey Saul!"
"...I looked up and I thought it was just a fan. Now it was a guy who was late thirties, early forties. Big guy, over six-two, six-three. He had a camouflage jacket, kind of scary-looking because he was coming closer. "Hey, remember me?" And I said "Oh okay, it's Vancouver. So I've worked in Vancouver a lot; it's an actor." Who I don't recognize. I wish he'd say his name.
"Data!" He's pointing at himself. Now Data [from Star Trek: The Next Generation
] is Brent Spiner who's a friend of mine and who I know really well, and it wasn't Brent Spiner. Now I thought, "OK, he's crazy. Is he armed?" And Joel is looking around at me...I go, "I have no idea. He's not Data; this guy is crazy."
"He's getting too close now. This could be an awkward or semi-violent, he had a violent vibe about him, and as he got closer his eyes looked like they were spinning in his head. He looked like he was out of his f***ing mind.
"...So now what do I do? I got up, shook his hand. "Hey of course! Hey how ya doing? Right in the middle of a huge meeting, I got to just take this meeting. But so cool to see you!" I kind of stunned him and we just got up and walked away as I was smiling and waving at him. And I thought if I'd done the wrong thing I could have been killed."
This kind of meeting, however, is not the norm for Rubinek. "I don't want to disparage fans. Fans are usually great.
"Now what happens to me with fans, what's really cool is that throughout the years with my kids, we could usually spot whether it was a fan of True Romance
, a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation
, of Unforgiven
, or Frasier
. Those are the bigger shows that people would recognize me for.
"First Season of Warehouse 13
I was traveling with my son across country, we were going on a cross-country drive, and 90% of the time people would recognize me from Warehouse 13
and they were all ages. It was the first time we could not tell what show it was because the cross section was too big. That's why I know there are more people watching it than are being reported, because families are watching the show."
Rubinek's life has changed for the better since becoming involved with Warehouse 13
. "I have a regular job that allows me to support my family without worrying about where my next job is coming from, which is how actors spend their entire lives unless they're huge superstars. So it's great to have a great job.
"My life has changed that way. We've moved to the east coast, instead of being on the west coast. My life has changed mostly because of my kids because I have a daughter who has just finished her second year of college and my son just finished his second year of high school. So living on the east coast as opposed to fifteen years living in L.A., that's changed. And it allows me a little bit of freedom six months of the year, you know, to do other things. So that's a really cool thing."
And for now, however, Rubinek is happy to stay where he is. "I'm on the best Syfy show, that's what I think. So I'm thrilled with where I'm at, to tell you the truth. I'm very happy with what I'm doing."