When she was just 11 years old, actress Sara Canning began performing onstage in school plays and musicals. Back then it was just something she enjoyed doing as opposed to a potential future career. However, all that changed when she got a little bit older and enrolled in university. “Suddenly I woke up one day and realized that I was working two jobs because subconsciously I wanted to move to Vancouver, and I was also spending more time doing plays than my homework,” recalls Canning with a smile
“So I thought, OK, maybe I should give it [acting] a shot.’ Even then, though, I didn’t think that one day I would actually get paid to do this, but things eventually work out if you really want them to and, of course, if you work hard enough at them.”
A graduate of the Vancouver Film School’s prestigious acting program, Canning’s breakthrough role came with the made-for-cable TV movie Taken in Broad Daylight. Since then, she has amassed a varied and impressive list of feature film and TV credits. Currently, the actress can be seen playing Dylan Weir in the SPACE Channel’s new Sci-Fi series Primeval: New World. Her character is part of a team based in Vancouver, British Columbia that deals with prehistoric and in some cases futuristic creatures as well as people that come through rifts in time called Anomalies.
“One of the neat things about Dylan is that she’s a predator expert; that’s her job description, and she joins Evan Cross’ [Niall Matter] team,” says Canning. “She sort of comes upon Evan in the middle of the woods, and all of a sudden there are dinosaurs and these weird flashing lights. If that’s your first meeting with someone, you can’t help but probably be angered but at the same time rather intrigued as well.
“This is the sort of conflict that you see between Dylan and Evan in the first couple of episodes, but it’s not long before Dylan is onboard with what Evan and his team are trying to do. My character is very good at her job and also extremely skilled at observing and analyzing what’s going on with people on the team. Her expertise doesn’t necessarily stop with animals when it comes to behavior.
“Something else that’s been cool about playing Dylan is that she’s super-tough. She needs to be, though, with the entire team risking their lives every day and witnessing a great deal of death. So that tough side is important to show with her, but at the same time she’s observant as well as empathetic and can sense when someone else is feeling anxious about something. That happens quite often on this show, as you can probably imagine.
“While all this is going on, Dylan has had to redefine her philosophy as far as her job. She’s been trained to put down animals at a certain point when human lives are in endangered, but now she is forced to reexamine that as there are a thousand other factors to consider when dealing with prehistoric creatures. If you take out one dinosaur, you don’t know what else you might be taking out along with it and how that might change the timeline. So we’ve gotten to see some of Dylan’s weaknesses together with her struggle to understand exactly what she’s dealing with, and it’s been wonderful for me as an actor to play all those aspects of the character.”
Primeval: New World is a spin-off of the hit UK series Primeval. That show’s cast had five seasons to get used to the idea of being chased by and fighting imaginary dinosaurs. Canning and her fellow cast have had to get into that same mindset. Fortunately, they have actor/stunt double Chuck Campbell to help them do just that. In fact, he just happens to be on-set today dressed in his “dinosaur garb.”
“I hadn’t done a lot of Sci-Fi before this, and when it comes to the dinosaurs, it’s often the actors deciding where our eye line needs to be in relation to how big the creature is,” explains the actress. “Lucky for us, we have Chuck Campbell, who is so amazing and has saved us on a number of occasions. I freak out when people chase me; let’s just say I was bad at playing tag when I was a kid,” she jokes. “I’d scream hysterically when anyone chased me.
“So it’s great to have Chuck running around in his grey suit, and I’ve had so much fun with the whole creature thing. As a kid, my imagination reached into the stratosphere, and now as an adult it’s neat to be reminded I need to be constantly exercising that imagination. That’s what actors do, and it’s a joy to have a job that encourages and actually demands that. All of our directors, in particular Martin Wood [executive producer], are adamant that each new creature be terrifying in a different way from the previous one. Maybe they’re terrifying or majestic or whatever, and with Dylan it’s important for me to be specific with the way I’m analyzing each creature and how it’s striking her interest as well as level of fascination.”
Dylan Weir’s fellow dinosaur hunting teammates include techie Toby Nance (Crystal Lowe), weapons expert Mac Rendell (Danny Rahim), Angelika “Ange” Finch (Miranda Frigon), who is in charge of running Evan Cross’s micro tech company, Cross Photonics, and Canadian government liaison Lt. Ken Leeds (Geoff Gustafson). Of all her relationships, her most significant so far is with Evan.
“Evan and Dylan are often arm in arm fighting dinosaurs, but the interesting thing about their relationship is that it’s not very definable right now,” notes Canning. “They need each other equally, and the New World writers have done a terrific job of presenting these two individuals who really function well in the sense that what one is lacking, the other brings to the table, whether it’s a skill set, an emotional tendency or a communication thing. So it’s been very cool to chart where one is able to save the other’s butt and vice versa.
“From an acting standpoint, Niall and I work well together and I think we’re very much aware of how the other’s character is being viewed. We’ve been working hard to make Dylan and Evan a powerful team, but also a flawed one because the most interesting protagonists are those that can be related to. You can see that there’s a lot of conflict going on between them and they’re not exactly perfect at what they do. That’s always more interesting to watch.
“Dylan is also right in there with the rest of the Cross Photonics team,” continues the actress. “I’ve had the pleasure of having scenes with all the other regular castmembers. I’d love to do more with Geoff Gustafson’s character because up to this point it’s been more like head-butting run-ins between Ken and Dylan. It’s been fun to see where Dylan fits in with everyone else, and, again, the show’s writers have been really good about making sure all the characters are interacting with and reacting to one another.”
Fans of the original Primeval will be pleased to see Andrew Lee Potts, who plays Connor Temple in the UK series, guest-starring in New World. Canning had the opportunity to work with the actor and has nothing but good things to say about the experience. “Andrew is lovely and a good guy to have around,” she says. “He came over to Vancouver to do Primeval: New World with such a positive attitude and he just fits in so well. His character of Connor is an important part of this show, which I’m really happy about and I hope that continues. Andrew is great to work with. He’s funny as well as laid back and knows exactly what’s going on, having gotten quite good at this whole Primeval thing after five seasons. We’re lucky to have him here.”
A very familiar face to TV audiences, Canning is most known to her many fans as Jenna Sommers from the hit CW network series The Vampire Diaries. She and her fellow castmates won the Cast of the Year award at the Young Hollywood Awards as well as the 2010 People’s Choice Award for Favorite New TV Drama. The actress also guest-starred in two other CW series, Supernatural and Smallville.
“The Vampire Diaries was an important turning point in my career,” says Canning. “Not only did I get to move to the States, but it was my also first time being a series regular, which is a big deal. Instead of having three weeks on a TV movie-of-the-week to develop your character, you’re suddenly given a season to do it. I really loved playing Jenna and working on that show. I would have happily continued doing so, but they have so many significant deaths on that program, all of which shape the journeys of the three lead characters. I got to guest-star in the season three finale, though, after having been gone for an entire season, so that was awesome.
“Supernatural was a great time too. Everyone Tweets me all the time about that episode and tells me, ‘I can’t believe you made out with Jensen Ackles [Dean Winchester].’ He’s a gentleman as well as a terrific guy to work with and a very generous actor. I was excited about the role because it’s such a feminist little subplot in the middle of that [seventh] season. You had this storyline involving Amazons seducing men and then having their offspring kill them because they’re creating this perfect feminist society. I just thought it was quite dark, ironic and kind of amusing all at the same time.
“Last but not least, Smallville, which was my third acting job. It was a little guest spot as Tess Mercer’s assistant, who was played by Cassidy Freeman, who’s just lovely. She had just booked that role when I did my two episodes, and I was really excited for her because she’s such a cool gal. I mentioned earlier that I hadn’t done much Sci-Fi prior to New World, but I have done these types of genre shows. However, they were more on a human-based level as opposed to chasing imaginary things on a green screen.”
From vampire to predator expert, Canning always tries her best to make sure each new role that she plays is as different as possible from her prior ones. “I’ve gotten to dabble now in Sci-Fi with New World and before that I did a comedy, which I loved,” enthuses the actress. “It was such a funny script, but the director also encouraged me to improv, which took me back to my teenage days. I’ve also done period pieces, which I love, and I can’t wait to do another one.
“I’ve been very fortunate to work with the people I’ve worked with and to have played the characters I’ve played because the directors as well as writers involved have been willing to listen to my thoughts on where I felt my character was at and how I saw them. It’s just so important to walk out into the world as an actor and observe everyone and want to understand what makes people tick. I’m so grateful to have had those experiences with the characters I’ve played and I hope that continues to be true for a long time to come.”
As noted above, The Vampire Diaries photo copyright of the CW Network and all Primeval: New World photos copyright of Bell Media/SPACE, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!