[caption id="attachment_4767" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Actor Zak Santiago. Photo by Mitchell Parsons and courtesy of Zak Santiago and The Promotion People"][/caption]
In the Syfy Channel's Alice, the title character goes through the looking glass and ends up in a world filled with quirky and colorful characters. Just like the Lewis Carroll books on which this miniseries is based, Wonderland is ruled over with an iron fist by The Queen of Hearts, an ill-tempered monarch who, for some reason, has it in for Alice. Eager to meet our heroine in-person, The Queen dispatches two of her most trusted minions to bring Alice to her. Enter the 10 of Clubs, played by Zak Santiago.
"My character is kind of a righthand man for The Queen of Hearts [Kathy Bates], and in this story he's rolling with Mad March [Geoff Redknap]," explains Santiago during a break in production. "They are sent to find and capture Alice [Caterina Scorsone] and bring her to The Queen, who wants this very special ring [The Stone of Wonderland] that Alice was given. Mad March and 10 of Clubs are bounty hunters, so they possess a sort of severe coldness, but because there is such a humor in [director] Nick Willing's writing, they're almost like Laurel and Hardy. Here are these two deadly villains who aren't so much bumbling, but who don't really understand one another.
"The Mad March can be described as this reconstructed, almost half-robotic assassin, and my character, the 10 of Clubs, is usually the one in charge of this type of operation. However, when Mad March is brought back to life, I have to bow to him a little bit, and this guy is really cold. So 10 of Clubs is trying to be ruthless, while at the same time trying to develop a relationship with this machine-like assassin. And the thing is, 10 of Clubs is usually a tough guy, but there are other times where he'll show his cowardice.
"As an actor, the trick is to find these comedic levels with your character without being too campy, and to be part of this fantasy world without descending into caricature. You don't want to be false; you have to be 100% committed, even if the situation gets ridiculous at times. That's one of the hurdles, though, with this type of storytelling. It may be a children's story, but adults are going to watch it, too, and there's dark humor in it. So it's much more difficult to play as opposed to a broad farce, sitcom or straightforward children's show. So that's a challenge, but a good one, and my character has definitely been fun for me to play."
[caption id="attachment_4768" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="The 10 of Clubs (Santiago) in the Syfy Channel's Alice. Photo copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
Santiago had just returned to Vancouver from Los Angeles when he was sent the [audition] sides for Alice. As soon as he read them, he could not wait to try out for the 10 of Clubs role. "I was excited for a number of reasons," says the actor. "When I was a kid, I read The Lord of the Rings series of books long before I thought they would be made into films. I also read C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and played Dungeons and Dragons and Middle Earth. I loved the idea of fantasy as well as legends and mythology and all that kind of stuff. And Alice is one of those stories you read as a kid and that just opened up your imagination.
"I think I'm from one of the last generations of kids who didn't learn on computers in school. There wasn't an Internet, either, and we didn't have cable TV, video games or a VCR. So everything existed in these books and what you could draw, paint, write, create or otherwise imagine for yourself after having read them. So Alice ties into that part of my childhood. I've always been drawn to otherworldly sorts of things, so I was thrilled to find out that I had a shot at helping tell this type of story.
"Once I booked the job and before filming actually started, I found out a little more about [the production company] Reunion Pictures as well as Nick Willing and the legacy that he brings with him, which includes his work on [the 2007 Syfy Channel miniseries] Tin Man. Then there were the sets as well as the costumes - we have an Academy Award-winning costume designer [Angus Strathie] working on Alice - and, of course, the rest of the actors who had been cast. I began to get even more excited because I realized with Nick's vision, and once I'd read the script, that this was going to be incredible."
The actor's first day of work on Alice was on-location in Kamloops, British Columbia. "I had never been there before and the set they built was very surreal," he says. "We also shot in downtown Vancouver and all over the lower mainland, but most of the filming has been at our main studio here in Aldergrove, which is about an hour-and-a-half outside of Vancouver and in the suburbs. This is where the throne room set is along with the casino set as well as where all the green screen work is done.
[caption id="attachment_4771" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Putting his imagination to good use, Santiago enthusiastically took on the role of the 10 of Clubs in Alice. Photo by Mitchell Parsons and courtesy of Zak Santiago and The Promotion People"][/caption]
"Kamloops was my first time being on-set and putting on my character's costume and the make-up. The 10 of Clubs wears this long, pointy goatee-type beard, so that's been a bit of work for the make-up women, all of whom do a fantastic job of fashioning the beard and gluing it on me every day. It's meant a bit more time for me in the make-up chair, but otherwise the rest of my make-up is fairly standard. As for my costume, I wear an Italian suit with amazing woolen cloaks as well as bowler hats and 10 of Clubs headpieces, so I feel pretty regal. It's almost like playing a cardinal or a cross between one of Emperor Palpatine's men in Star Wars and some sort of evil lawyer," jokes the actor.
While the 10 of Clubs starts out working for the bad guys, his allegiances begin to shift as his eyes are slowly opened to who his so-called rulers truly are. "First off, I have to say that it has been incredible working with Kathy Bates and Colm Meaney who plays The King of Hearts, both of whom I'm a fan of," says Santiago. "My character's relationship with The Queen and King is one of fear and super-reverence. However, as things spiral out of control for them, The 10 of Clubs gets to see a weaker or less regal side of both of them, and it reaches the point where he turns his back on these two monarchs.
"So that relationship basically disintegrates over the four hours of our story, but with Alice, it's very much the opposite. She's one of the good guys, and the 10 of Clubs eventually comes over to her side and ends up watching her back along with that of the Hatter[Andrew-Lee Potts] and The White Knight [Matt Frewer]. He's not a turncoat, but rather the ultimate revolutionary. My character helps the campaign to overturn the despot, tyrannical ruler.
"Again, my main challenge with the 10 of Clubs has been making sure I really believe in what he's saying and doing, otherwise it's going to be hard for people to take him seriously because he's a pretty eccentric guy. What's great, though, is that acting-wise everything has just been so clear to me because the scenes and dialogue all make sense and everyone in this cast is so talented and committed to the script. I've worked on a lot of projects and, honestly, this one has been almost a no-brainer.
[caption id="attachment_4772" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Actor, writer, musician, dancer and more - Santiago is a modern-day renaissance man. Photo by Mitchell Parsons and courtesy of Zak Santiago and The Promotion People"][/caption]
"Another huge plus has been Nick Willing, who is an actor's director. He's so specific about his vision and I can tell that he's a real fan of the fantasy genre, too. We've been working some really long days, and it's been hot and you've got something like 150 people in crazy outfits and all this other stuff going on, and yet Nick still finds a way to be true to this vision, you know? He doesn't sacrifice anything because of time. Nick makes certain that he gets all the shots and is always funny and cracking jokes. There are some directors you work with who are craftsmen and are good because they make the day and keep to the schedule. When you're doing episodic TV there's so much you've got to get done and they know how to bang things out. But Nick is a true artist and this has been one of the best ever experiences I've had with a director. There are only two more days of work for me and I'm going to be sad when this [shoot] is over."
Having boxed for several years, Santiago reached a point in his life a while back where he felt a career change was necessary and decided to give acting a try. "When I was still boxing, I ran into a fighter friend of mine one day and asked him what he was doing in this part of town," he recalls. "My friend told me, 'I'm going on an audition.' I asked him, 'For what?' and he said acting.
"Years later I went back to that exact same part of town and looked at every doorway on that side of the street until I saw one marked 'acting studio.' I took a class and liked it. I eventually got an agent and slowly began chipping away at it [an acting career]. I've always been an artist, though. I danced when I was younger and still do, and I've also been a musician my entire life. But I never thought I would ever be an actor. It's either my curse or my luck," jokes the actor, "but I'm still doing it, so I guess it's a good thing."
Santiago made his TV debut in an episode of Poltergeist: The Legacy and has since appeared in several made-for-TV movies as well as guest-starred on dozens of shows such as Da Vinci's Inquest, The L Word, The 4400, Smallville and Eureka. He was also a series regular on Young Blades and the Canadian comedy series Robson Arms.
[caption id="attachment_4775" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Santiago as Hal Garcia in Robson Arms. Photo copyright of CTV"][/caption]
"Young Blades was great fun," enthuses the actor. "It was a sword and sorcery/period-type piece with wizard characters and other fantastical elements. I played a musketeer and got to ride horses and fight with swords. Having boxed, I like anything physical and with lots of movement, so that was terrific. I also got to write for the show. My character [Ramon Montalvo Francisco de la Cruz] was a Spaniard and a poet as well as a lover of food and wine, a lover of women and a lover of words. And as it turned out, I wrote a sort of soliloquy for my character for each episode. It was like a monologue in poetry that he read at the end of the episode that encapsulated the events of that particular story.
"That show was a challenge because, again, it was a period piece and an action piece, but it was fairly low-budget as well. Those types of programs are hard to do unless you have the money because of the lavish costumes along with the castles and other things of that nature. It takes a lot to string everything together, so we all worked really hard and I'm still good friends with the cast. It was a wonderful time in my life.
"Robson Arms was even more of a low-budget program, and a neat one, too. Everyone did it out of love, and some of my best friends were my castmates on that show. As a young filmmaker I enjoyed it because it was such an amazing training ground for new directors. There was an incentive to hire first-time directors as well as young writers on that show, so it was exciting to be a part of. The producers had a great deal of heart, and, man, oh, man, was the show funny."
Santiago can be seen in upcoming episodes of the Syfy Channel series Caprica, and only a few weeks ago the actor guest-starred in the Stargate Universe episode Time. "Years ago I did a Stargate SG-1 [Evolution]; my friend Peter DeLuise directed that and he then ended up being one of my castmates for a season on Robson Arms," notes Santiago.
[caption id="attachment_4776" align="aligncenter" width="203" caption="Hal (Santiago) takes charge of a slippery situation in Robson Arms. Photo copyright of CTV"][/caption]
"Another good friend of mine, James Bamford, who was the stunt coordinator on Stargate Atlantis and now Universe, had been trying to get me on Atlantis as a Wraith or to do some stunt work, so it was cool when I got to play a Marine [Corporal Rivers] on Universe. I got to kiss a really pretty girl as well, and that's always fun when you're acting. I was told that my character could be recurring; we're all on this ship and I haven't been killed off yet, so I'm hoping to come back and develop my character a little more because I really had a ball in the short time I was there."
From listening to Santiago speak it is obvious that he is a people person, and for him, that is a big part of what makes his job so enjoyable. "I'm so grateful for all the friends and relationships I've made, and the collaboration," he says. "In this business you've really got to look at it as a whole bunch of people working really hard to come up with something that's worthwhile. However, when any one of us forgets that we're just a piece of the puzzle, that's when you start to look at this as being something different. So as long as you keep in mind that you're part of a team, then you'll come away with these relationships and friends along with work that you're proud of."
The first two hours of Alice airs Sunday, December 6th from 9:00-11:-00 p.m. EST on The Syfy Channel and concludes Monday, December 7th @ 9:oo p.m. EST. For more information on Zak please check out www.zaksantiago.comSteve EramoAs noted above, some photos by Mitchell Parsons and courtesy of Zak Santiago and The Promotion People as well as copyright of The Syfy Channel or CTV, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!
[caption id="attachment_1007" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Director Andy Mikita hard at work on the Stargate Atlantis season five episode "First Contact." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
As a longtme member of the Stargate family, Andy Mikita has lent his creative talents to directing as well as helping produce dozens of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis stories. He kicked off the fifth season of Atlantis directing the opener, Search and Rescue, followed by The Daedalus Variations and The Shrine, in which one of our heroes almost met his maker. Mikita barely had time to catch his breath before he began prepping to direct the mid-season two-parter First Contact and The Lost Tribe, which guest-starred SG-1's Michael Shanks as Dr. Daniel Jackson.
"First off, I want to say how great to was to have Michael on the show," enthuses Mikita. "He just brings so much to the table and the chemistry between his character and David Hewlett's [Dr. Rodney McKay] was phenomenal. We shot both these episodes, which were written by [Atlantis executive producer] Martin Gero, together, and he did some of the directing as well. Martin did the lion's share of the scenes with Michael and David, including the one where the little Asgard alien came out of the spacesuit. So it was a really sensible approach to shooting these stories. We were able to divide the schedule between Martin and myself, which kept us on track financially and time-wise. Because Martin is also a director I felt completely confident in his execution of things, and I really enjoyed all the work he did.
"Probably the biggest challenge with First Contact and The Lost Tribe was making sure that the spacesuits were going to be functional as well as believable and have the desired impact. Real kudos go to our art department and model shop for designing and constructing some incredible suits. They had qualities of a lot of different ideas in there. Also, Iron Man was just coming out at the time we were building these suits, and while we didn't want there to be obvious comparisons to the movie, I will say that we went straight out and copied the inside-of-the-helmet shots. In The Lost Tribe, specifically, we did close-ups of Michael and David when they were wearing the suits and we literally put in an inside-the-helmet point of view using VFX [visual effects] graphics.
"The VFX team did an amazing bit of work, and I thought the effects in both these episodes were incredible, especially in First Contact where the aliens in their spacesuits came out of their ship and entered Atlantis. The whole concept that Martin came up with involving the transport bubble that allowed the aliens to move through multiple surfaces was really clever and extremely well-executed by the VFX guys. With that, you got another sense, again, of the size of Atlantis, and the concept of finding Janus' [Gildart Jackson] secret lab was quite compelling. It was a fun episode, or episodes, to shoot and I'm very pleased with how they turned out."
[caption id="attachment_1010" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Mikita confers with Amanda Tapping (Colonel Samantha Carter) on the set of "Search and Rescue." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
Mikita's next episode, The Prodigal, sees the return of the human/Wraith hybrid Michael (Connor Trinneer), who comes to Atlantis to execute yet another insidious plan. "This was a tremendous action-packed story with some great fight sequences choreographed by Bam Bam [stunt coordinator James Bamford]," says the director. "The Michael/Ronon [Jason Momoa] fight was really cool and culminated with Ronon actually going over the Atlantis Gate Room balcony. Then there was the big penultimate fight on the rooftop with Michael versus Sheppard [Joe Flanigan] and Teyla [Rachel Luttrell]. That was a tough sequence to shoot. We were fairly limited as far as how large in scope we could build that [rooftop] set piece. To help sell that idea, we used a large projection screen so we could see off into the background and the moonlit sky. Then there was the big sort of helicopter shot that shows the very top spire of the city and just how high up our heroes are when they're fighting. That was another impressive VFX sequence.
"Obviously, staging a fight on a ledge or precipice like that is pretty tricky. For instance, when Michael throws Sheppard down the ledge and he's left dangling, the first time we shot that, the Sheppard stunt double went right over the edge of the set. If that was real life, he would have been a goner. After that, we were joking around and saying, 'Well, that's it. Michael wins the fight, the series is over.' Also tricky to shoot were the scenes in which Major Lorne [Kavan Smith] and Woolsey [Robert Picardo] run afoul of Michael's stun bubble and we had to choreograph their falls. We had a fantastic Woolsey stunt double who looked so much like Robert that at times if you were standing a little bit away from him, you couldn't tell the difference between him and Robert. And the stunt double did such an amazing job on the fall as well. This was a real highlight episode for me to shoot and definitely one of my favorites from season five.
"Something else I thought was really cool with The Prodigal was how [Atlantis executive producer] Carl Binder, who wrote this episode, gave the character of Amelia Banks a much more significant role. We got to see her as more of an active participant in the story as opposed to just being a technician when she and Ronon take on one of the hybrid guards. The actress who plays Banks [Sharon Taylor] is quite proficient at martial arts, so she got to show off some of her skills onscreen and I think the fans picked up on that."
The director along with the Atlantis cast and crew spent a little over a week last August trying to keep cool while filming inside a very hot Wraith set for the fifth season episode Infection. "We had a fairly limited Wraith set, so as our characters were walking through the ship, we were basically reusing the same set over and over again," explains Mikita. "So we had to move things around as well as relight and redress the sections in order to make it feel like we were constantly on the move and create a sense that it was a much larger space than it actually was.
[caption id="attachment_1011" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="David Hewlett (Dr. Rodney McKay) hangs around with Mikita during the filming of season five's "The Shrine." Photo courtesy of and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
"Then, of course, there's the fact that in our story, the gene therapy that Dr. Keller has been developing really isn't working as well as we hoped, so we come across these new gruesome creatures onboard the Wraith ship. They were based somewhat on the Spoils of War [season four] creatures where we saw the birthing sequence of the Wraith warriors. In this episode, we took it a step further and, as a result of the gene therapy, the Wraith lost their ability to feed with their hands. So they basically became flesh-eating monsters and needed to eat using their hands and teeth and ingesting the way we humans do. So that was another challange to make the attacks from these monsters scary and, again, believable, and I feel we achieved both to a great extent."
In mid-September 2008, Mikita took on the job of directing the 100th episode of Atlantis, Enemy at the Gate, which, ironically, was also the show's season/series finale. "I was absolutely honored to be given that opportunity," he recalls. "At the same time, it was kind of a daunting responsibility, given that the episode was shooting at the same time as Rob Cooper's [Atlantis co-creator/executive producer] Vegas. That was a big hallmark episode as well in that it was a real departure type of story that takes place in an alternate reality, so a great deal of attention was going to that one, too.
"By the time we got around to Enemy at the Gate, we had to be very careful because we didn't have any extra money or time to shoot it," continues the director. "We couldn't make it any bigger or splashier than any other story we had previously done, but we did want to make a really good, solid, conventional Atlantis episode with the stakes essentially being that the Wraith are attacking Earth. The highlight for me was having Amanda Tapping [Colonel Samantha Carter] back, which was just sensational. It was a very proud moment for the cast and crew to have made it to the 100th episode mark, but also a very bittersweet time because we'd had so much fun for five years and now the series was coming to an end."
[caption id="attachment_1015" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Director Andy Mikita. Photo courtesy of and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
Although his time on Atlantis may have ended, Mikita still remains very much a part of the Stargate franchise and has already begun his involvement in the second spin-off, Stargate Universe. "I'm hoping I can take what I've learned from SG-1 and Atlantis and apply it to whatever new challenges I'm given on Universe," he says. "We're approaching that show from quite a different perspective stylistically, so that should help me grow even further as a director for sure."
Steve EramoAs noted above, photos by Eike Schroter and courtesy of and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!