[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!
Andrew-Lee Potts as Hatter in Alice. Photo copyright of The Syfy Channel.
When you are in a strange place it helps to make friends, and not many places are stranger than the setting for the new Syfy Channel miniseries Alice. Innocent people from our world are being taken and brought to a parallel universe known as Wonderland. Once there, their memories are forcibly erased and they become prisoners in a casino where people never lose. The resulting emotional "high" helps sustain Wonderland's residents, most importantly its ruler, The Queen of Hearts, and her husband, The King of Hearts.
When Alice Hamilton arrives there in search of her kidnapped fiance Jack, she turns to come of the locals for help, including a slightly shady character called Hatter. Having not long finished his third season battling dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures as Connor Temple in the hit British TV series Primeval, actor Andrew-Lee Potts was excited about the idea of a potential trip across the pond to work in Wonderland and play Hatter.
"When I first got a call from my agent to go in and read for Alice I thought, 'Oh, wicked! That sounds fantastic and right up my alley," enthuses Potts. "Then I found out that it was for the character of the Hatter, and straightaway everything felt right for me, and even more so when I eventually received the script and discovered it was written using the type of humor that I often use in my work.
"So I taped my audition with the British casting director and I just did my thing. [Director/writer] Nick Willing wasn't there in the room; it was just me and the casting director. And sometimes with that type of situation, especially when you're doing overseas casting, things can get lost in the translation - i.e. how you should be playing the part.
Alice (Caterina Scorsone) and Hatter (Andrew-Lee Potts). Photo copyright of The Syfy Channel.
"And it's funny because I went into the audition and played the role as I thought it appeared to me, and was more sarcastically comedic as well as a bit eccentric. Hatter is a hero of sorts in the story, and the casting lady suggested, 'Maybe you should try being a little more sexy?' and I [jokingly] said to her, 'What do you mean? Am I not being sexy?' So I tried that, and later on when I met Nick, he told me, 'Your first reading of the role was perfect, but then you did something really strange and went all serious.' So although I'm glad I did it both ways so that he could see either interpretation, I'm really pleased that my initial take was what Nick was looking for and that I eventually got the job."
A week after Potts received word that he had been cast, he was on his way to Vancouver, British Columbia to start shooting Alice. "We actually had a few days rehearsal before filming began, and that was really interesting for me," recalls the actor. "I haven't done that many plays and things of that nature, so I've tended not to rehearse a lot of the parts I've played in the past. I like to keep my performance as fresh as possible because I never quite know what I'm going to do with the material. That's something I began doing during Primeval, and as a result they [the producers] allowed me to be a lot freer with the dialogue and to try, I suppose, to get the humour and keep things really lively.
"On my first day of work on Alice, I actually shot my final scene as Hatter, and then went on to do my first scene, which was something like seven or eight pages long. It was just me being the Hatter in his teashop, so I had to gt into the swing of things straightaway. I was a bit nervous, but at the same time really excited. I was playing the character the way I wanted to, and it was a relief to see that Nick looked happy when he came out from behind the monitor after the first few takes
"I suppose as an actor you always think, 'I hope I'm doing the right thing and they're not going to recast me.' I remember we started out filming in this abandoned mental institution up in Kamloops. It was hot and the Hatter wears a leather jacket throughout the whole story. Being British, I'm not used to the heat," he says with a chuckle, "but I survived and it was a lot of fun. Both Nick and I hit the ground running with the character and we carried on having a good time with it."
A brief moment of respite for Hatter. Photo copyright of The Syfy Channel.
In this telling of Alice, the Hatter is part of a resistence force led by Dodo (Tim Curry) and The White Knight (Matt Frewer), whose goal is to overthrow the Queen's (Kathy Bates) tyrannical reign. While eager to take on his character's re-imagined role, Potts also wanted to imbue his performance with some of The Mad Hatter's original personality.
"In the back of your mind you've got the original story where you know The Mad Hatter as being eccentric, crazy and all that kind of stuff," explains the actor. "However, in Alice, we don't have The Mad Hatter, we have the Mad March [Geoff Redknap], who was originally The [Mad] March Hare. So my character is supposed to be the sane one, but what I tried to do the first time you see the Hatter is go with a little bit of his eccentricity because I thought that might be enjoyable to the audience.
"We tip our hat to every single character in Alice in Wonderland. With Hatter I wanted to keep an element of fun and spontaneity of the original. You never quite know what's going on with him. Sometimes he goes really fast and other times he slows down and tries to take control. The first time Hatter meets Alice [Caterina Scorsone] it's an assault of information on her, and from there he tries to take control. He's a hustler and a very conniving one, and I wanted to play him slightly dangerous at the start as well. We have no idea what Hatter is capable of, and as the story unfolds, he does things that constantly surprise you.
"At one point I had to do a hat trick, so I had to have a lesson and learn a bunch of tricks. That was cool, but, unfortunately, the hat I wore was really lightweight and the guy who came in to teach me the tricks was struggling because of that. They usually use a weighted hat, so I had to try to work around that. My character uses his hat as a bit of a distraction tool, especially in fight situations, which was quite fun and interesting. I'm quite handy with my fists in this, as opposed to Connor in Primeval, who couldn't throw a punch to save his life, but Hatter is the complete opposite.
The Hatter and Alice discover their budding friendship. Photo copyright of The Syfy Channel.
"The stunts were neat to do, too, and quite challenging as well because I did nearly everything myself. That included learning how to ride a horse, which I had never done before. I'd never even sat on a horse before. So I went to horse training, which was brilliant. I loved galloping as fast as I could on top of a ridge in the middle of nowhere and thinking, 'I hope I can stop,'" he says with a laugh.
Although Hatter's relationship with Alice starts out as a purely selfish one, it becomes more of a friendship as the story unfolds. "In the beginning, he sees her as a money-making tool," says Potts. "Alice is initially useful to the Hatter in very different ways to the ways that she's useful to him at the end. I think my character finds her absolutely fascinating because she is very headstrong and sure of herself. Even though she's been flung into this incredibly strange world of Wonderland, where the things she sees would instantly blow away most peoples' minds, she manages to keep her feet on the ground and continue searching for what she's come to Wonderland for.
"Again, Hatter finds that attractive in a way, but I don't think he understands exactly why. Like I said, he's a player. He's used to having many women in his life, but not really connecting with any of them. In a weird kind of way, his and Alice's heads work in a very similar fashion. They're equally matched intelligence-wise, which furthers his challenges with her, and they spend a great deal of their time arguing, which leads to some very amusing situations for us to play. Alice has a lot of trust issues and she finds it incredibly hard to trust anybody. At the start, I don't think anyone would trust Hatter, and that's something else I tried to explore with the character. I wanted to make the audience go, 'He's just plain mean,' and that's the fun with Hatter. You're supposed to expect the unexpected with how I played him."
Potts relished the opportunity to work with Nick Willing in developing the many levels of the Hatter that viewers are introduced to. "One of the brilliant things about Nick is that, yes, he has his own ideas, but he doesn't trap you inside them," notes the actor. "He likes to throw everything up in the air and see where it lands. I always feel that that's what makes a better show. Going back to Primeval, I think one of the reasons why my character worked so well is that the producers had the same way of working as Nick does. Connor was supposed to be your typical nerd who liked Star Wars and that sort of thing. He's quite cliché in the original script, but then we did something completely different with him, which was to make him eccentric and more of an accidental hero as well.
Hatter and Alice try to talk themselves out of a tight spot. Photo copyright of The Syfy Channel.
"So they were very open-minded in Alice with how I delivered a lot of the dialogue, and also with making it suit my voice as well, being that I have such a strong Northern accent. At first they wanted an English accent, but Nick said he really liked the Yorkshire in my voice, and also up in the north of England we always enjoy a cup of tea, so it's kind of fitting that my character should run a teashop. I love that the first time we see the Hatter, he's drinking a cup of tea. I'm so pleased with the way he's been written. You don't expect Hatter to be such a strong force in the story. I know it's Alice's journey, but she catapults him into his own journey as well within hers.
"Hatter has been living in Wonderland for years, unhappy with his life as well as with the system and the way things were going. He had a lot of resentment built up towards the Resistence and the Queen's side of things. So he'd kind of been living in a no-man's land until Alice came into his life. She opens my character's eyes and suddenly Hatter has something to fight for, a girl, and he doesn't even realize it, which is lovely. Hatter is a little slow on the uptake with things like that," he jokes. "He thinks he's fighting for himself. Up to this point, Hatter has lived his life very selfishly. One of his lines is something like, 'I've lived life playing both sides of the court and trying to keep everyone happy.' But in this story he actually does good by himself and Alice, which is terrific."
While there is no sign of prehistoric wildlife in Alice, Potts feels that his work on Primeval was excellent preparation for this project. "Having done a big CGI [computer-generated image] show, I actually feel qualified for the first time in my life," says the actor. "I thought, 'This is easy. I've been doing this for the past three years. I can run away from these monsters.' So that was a blast but in a different way because it's less about monsters in Alice and more about the CGI world that we're in. There are a lot of extended CGI sets, which was something I wasn't used to, and far more green screen work, too. We didn't do much green screen on Primeval.
"So every day has been fascinating and I feel extremely fortunate to have been given this role. I felt ready for it as well, though, if that makes any sense, and I don't know if I would have had the same confidence before Primeval. A lot of the stuff I'd previously done were one-off films and projects like that where you only have a short period of time with a character. With a TV series, though, when it progresses, you have the chance to explore all these different angles of your character. And during the four hours on Alice, Hatter shows every side of himself and way of behaving. So hopefully playing Connor on Primeval has helped me in portraying Hatter."
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.
As noted above, all photos copyright of The Syfy Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!
Alice, Alice in Wonderland, Andrew Lee Potts, Caterina Scorsone, Connor Temple, Dodo, Entertainment, Fantasy, Geoff Redknap, Hatter, Kathy Bates, Mad March, Matt Frewer, Nick Willing, Primeval, Queen of Hearts, The Mad Hatter, The Syfy Channel, The White Knight, Tim Curry, TV