[caption id="attachment_2561" align="aligncenter" width="236" caption="Erica Cerra as Eureka's Deputy Jo Lupo - Photo by F. Scott Schafer and copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
Intelligent, beautiful, resourceful and sexy - all these adjectives describe Deputy Jo Lupo. Let's not forget that, given just cause, she can also incapacitate you and throw you in jail. With her as one half of Eureka's long arm of the law, the small town has nothing to worry about.
Three years ago, it looked as if Jo would be promoted when her boss, Sheriff William Cobb, was reassigned after almost losing his life to a misguided scientific experiment. Unfortunately for her, the government chose U.S. Marshall Jack Carter as Cobb's replacement. At first, Jo was disappointed and somewhat prickly towards Jack, but they soon became friends as well as a formidable team. Nowadays, she is still helping him police the town, and Erica Cerra, who plays Jo in Eureka, is thrilled with her character's growth and development so far over the show's three seasons.
"Each season, Jo seems to soften up somewhat, which I always think is nice because it allows the audience to get to like her a bit more," says the actress with a laugh. "Her relationship with [scientist] Zane Donovan [Niall Matter] has also helped give her an opportunity to express her feelings and become emotionally attached to someone else. I'm very happy that the [show's] writers have allowed Jo and Zane to more or less take their time and haven't married them off yet and given them children. The two of them bicker a lot, and Niall and I enjoy playing that.
"As individuals, Niall and I get along very well, so that makes our scenes quite easy, and I think that's why the writers are able to give us so much bizarre relationship stuff to do. Zane has almost been taken away from Jo a couple of times, and those moments have given my character a chance to say to him, 'No, please don't go. I really do have a heart.' The [acting] challenges with this and any character are in the scripts, and I always look forward to taking on the next challenge."
[caption id="attachment_2565" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Deputy Lupo on duty in Eureka. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
Midway through Eureka's third season in From Fear to Eternity, Sheriff Carter (Colin Ferguson) must deal with yet another technological crisis when a long-forgotten doomsday weapon discovered in an abandoned military complex threatens to destroy the town. In the process, he ends up trapped inside the facility with Eva Thorne (Francis Fisher), a scientist with a mysterious past and a secret to hide. Above ground, Deputy Lupo and Zane try to help figure out a way to rescue Carter and Eva, but have their own problems when a weird substance literally binds them together.
"The original script for that episode was very different from what ended up on the screen, and it continued to change quite a bit while we were shooting," recalls Cerra. "Jo and Zane were, I believe, on the brink of breaking up in that story, or they were at least fighting; every other episode they're on the brink of a break-up, but again that's fun. It not only gives the characters something to do, but it's also very real. These are two people who passionately care about each other and are trying to find their groove.
"One thing that immediately comes to mind from that episode is that in the scene in which Jo and Zane finally become unstuck, I walk away and say, 'If I had been stuck to you any longer I'd have gnawed off my own arm.' And he yells back at me, 'Well, your mouth is big enough.' That was all Niall, and it was really funny," chuckles the actress. "He just ad-libbed that and they ended up keeping it in, which was great. It's something that, again, is real. It's what a boyfriend might say to his girlfriend when he wants to get a jab in at her, so that line always sticks out for me."
In the third season Eureka story Your Face or Mine - directed by Colin Ferguson - Jo Lupo becomes acting sheriff while Carter takes a Department of Defense (D.O.D.) recertification test. However, her friends being to wonder if the job might be too much for her when she starts behaving strangely. They have no idea that a scientist at Global Dynamics is using her experiment to take over Jo's physical identity. As is typical in Eureka, things go horribly wrong, and Jo comes face-to-face with herself as she fights for her life.
[caption id="attachment_2566" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Carter (Colin Ferguson) and Jo in a scene from "Your Face or Mine." Photo by Marcel Williams and copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
"I was so excited when I got that script," enthuses Cerra. "First off, being given that much stuff to do in a single episode, it just felt so nice to know that the producers had faith that I could handle it. As an actress I had tons of challenges, and having Colin directing was such a cool experience. It was the first time that a member of the cast had directed us, and it was important to me that I do everything to the best of my ability and not let him down.
"Colin and I work so much together that he says, 'I speak Erica,' which I always find amusing. The thing is, I'm not always the best as far as articulating certain things, but somehow Colin always knows what the hell I'm trying to say," she says laughing. "I'd be in a very happy place if I could take him with me as a director all the time.
"So this episode was by far my biggest challenge of the season, and as the remaining 13 episodes went on, the writers gave me other scenes where Jo became emotionally attached to something. As an actor, if you're not emotionally attached to something, there's nothing to really play, right? A great deal of what I do on the program is standard, so whenever I'm given something a little different to play, I take full advantage of it."
When Cerra took time out to do this interview (early January 2009), she and the rest of the Eureka cast were shooting one of the final season three episodes, which was directed by castmember Joe Morton (Henry Deacon). "In this episode, Zane comes back to Eureka after being gone for a month, and there is a possible threat to the relationship between him and Jo," notes the actress. "There's also a visit from an old love interest.
[caption id="attachment_2567" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="L-R - Erica Cerra with some of her Eureka castmates at Comic Con 2009 - Joe Morton, Salli Richardson-Whitfield (Dr. Allison Blake), Cerra and Neil Grayston (Douglas Fargo). Photo copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
"As far as being directed by Joe, it's been fantastic. We get a different director with every episode, and with Joe it feels more like we're all hanging out and playing together, do you know what I mean? It's not that we ever make any of our directors feel uncomfortable, but when someone new comes in, you're trying to get to know them and there's never enough time for that. With Joe, and, of course, Colin, you already know them and they know how to talk with you and know what you need. It's just cozier and easier to sort of give them what they want because you both know how to translate each other's words."
After production wrapped on Eureka's third season, the actress shot guest-spots on episodes of Warehouse 13 and Sanctuary, and can also be seen as Hera in the feature film Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief starring Pierce Brosnan and Rosario Dawson. As for Eureka, the program continues to grow in popularity and has been renewed for a fourth season. While the episodes may be driven by scientific mishaps, there is a lightness and humor involved in storytelling as well, both of which Cerra feels draws viewers to tune in.
"I remember looking at one of the Eureka websites and someone was complaining that the science was wrong. Somebody else wrote in and said, 'Just watch it and be entertained.' and I agree," says the actress. "There are a lot of TV shows about murder and sadness, and what's great about Eureka is that you can sit back, watch it and just be entertained, and in today's world I think that's a good thing."
Steve EramoAs noted above, photos are by James Dittiger, Marcel Williams and F. Scott Schafer and copyright of The Syfy Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!
[caption id="attachment_2258" align="aligncenter" width="224" caption="Allison Scagliotti as Claudia Donovan in Warehouse 13. Photo by Justin Stephens and copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
Knock, knock - everyone is familiar with this opening to an age-old joke, right? It is no laughing matter, though, when a nameless hacker uses this as a calling card to announce that they have gained access to the US government's top secret storage facility for a myriad of strange objects, artifacts and relics, all of which possess unusual powers. Its caretaker, Artie Nielsen, is none-too-pleased with this trespasser, and is shocked to discover that the intruder is someone from his past - Claudia Donovan. She has a proposition for him, one he cannot refuse. It is literally a matter of life and death for her, but for Allison Scagliotti, who plays Claudia in Warehouse 13, it was the start of a brand new acting venture, thanks to not one but three people from her past.
"I know a couple of the guys in the [Warehouse 13] writers' room, Deric Hughes and Benjamin Raab; we had worked together on a web series for NBC called Gemini Division with Rosario Dawson," says Scagliotti. "We'd stayed in touch, and when the role of Claudia surfaced among the scripts in development, they called me and said, 'Allison, you're so right for this part.' They talked with the show runner, Jack Kelly, who, coincidentally, I worked with five years ago on a pilot. So everything sort of aligned perfectly. I spoke with Jack, who explained to me what the show was all about, and then said, 'Let me send you a copy of the pilot script so you can make sure you're even interested in being a part of it.'
"As soon as I read the pilot I was hooked. I was riveted by the chemistry between the Pete [Eddie McClintock] and Myka [Joanne Kelly] characters, not to mention how fascinating Saul Rubinek [Artie] is to watch, and, of course, with the prospect of being part of a show that balances fantasy with comedy. So I went in to audition with Central Casting at NBC, and within a week I went from a full-load school [university] curriculum to working long hours in Toronto. It was awesome."
Scagliotti makes her Warehouse 13 debut in the aptly titled season one episode Claudia. In it, her character of Claudia Donovan kidnaps Artie from the Warehouse and takes him to an abandoned makeshift lab. Since she was a young girl, she has blamed him for an experiment that killed her brother Joshua (Tyler Hynes). Now, however, Claudia is convinced that he did not die but is, in fact, trapped in an alternate dimension and she wants Artie to re-create the experiment in order to get him back. While Artie's colleagues, Pete Lattimer and Myka Bering, try to find him, he sees for himself that Claudia is right. The actress laughs when asked what sticks out most in her mind about her first day on the job.
"That's easy, Saul Rubinek. I was nervous. I don't get nervous a lot, but I love this project so much that I really wanted to make sure everything I did was just right. You can't always be perfect, but you are capable of being great, and I remember connecting with Saul immediately. We had chemistry like we had been working together for 30 years. He is an amazing guy and I've learned so much from him. The scene I shot on my first day is actually my first scene in the episode, and if you saw it you know that it was long and complicated. Saul and I both worked up a sweat and I roughed him up quite a bit. I was concerned that I was going to hurt him, but Saul was like, 'No, let's go. Let's commit. Let's do this.' After that day working with him, I felt right at home. I can't think of a more creative, fulfilling experience than doing scenes with Saul. It's a dream come true for me.
[caption id="attachment_2259" align="aligncenter" width="224" caption="Enemies turned allies - Artie (Saul Rubinek) and Claudia. Photo by Justin Stephens and copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
"As far as working on the entire episode, it was definitely a challenge because the show has this neat balance of comedy with the action-adventure of pursuing artifacts and the fantastical elements and powers they possess. So it was always in the forefront of our efforts - Saul, director Steve Surjik, and me - to make sure that there was a balance. If we were delivering witty dialogue, the emotional stakes could not be compromised, and if we were in the middle of a very dramatic moment, we didn't want things to get too melodramatic and that there was some lightness as well. The [shooting] days were long, but I never got tired because I was having so much fun. I had never worked with that level of special effects before, so that was really interesting to watch. We were filming underground in a church, which was dressed as a lab, and they pumped dust and smoke in there every day to make it look mystical. It was just so exciting."
Although he is an unwilling participant at first, Artie ultimately helps Claudia save her brother. In the following episode, Elements, Artie uses his influence to get Joshua a government job where he can put his scientific genius to good use. As for Claudia, it is decided that her talents would be better served working as part of the Warehouse team as opposed to against it. While it would be easy for Scagliotti to play the stereotypical brainy young know-it-all, she has made her character much more than that.
"Claudia is smart and sassy and has an attitude, but she's also efficient and adds an important skill set to the Warehouse," explains the actress. "She identifies set goals and goes after them with passion, whether it's bringing her brother back from interdimensional space, or showing Artie what can be done with a sort of steampunk take on things, rather than his old, possibly crotchety, set-in-his-ways methods," jokes Scagliotti. "You definitely see my character go from angsty, bitter and possibly lost to feeling really at home in the Warehouse as well as having a genuine gratitude and love for her newfound family and a desire to help in every possible way.
"If Artie is our all-knowing uncle, then Claudia is like the little punk sister to the Pete and Myka characters. Myka would be the overachieving, honor student, older sister, while Pete is the goofball jock. Eddie is the best. There is never a dull moment with him on-set. We're all constantly trying to find ways to mess with each other, Eddie especially. He's kind of a prankster. For example, right before a take, he'll do something to make me laugh and then I'll have to try extra hard to keep a straight face. Eddie does a Don Knotts impression that would blow you away. It's kind of an odd impression to do, but he does it with style."
Having started out in an effects-heavy episode, the actress has grown used to working with green screen along with other visual/special effects and is enjoying that aspect of her involvement in Warehouse 13. "There's an episode coming up where my character becomes magnetized to the Warehouse ceiling," she says. "I was literally 20-something feet up in the air and perched on a steel girder, while behind me it was all green screen. I got to do a lot of cool stuff up on a wire, and I used a zip-line at one point as well. In the episode after Claudia, my character is fixing what she broke while hacking into the Warehouse and she causes a little spark in the power grid that shoots off some fireworks. That was interesting because I wasn't expecting the spark to be as big as it was during the first take. So my reaction was pretty authentic, especially when a spark landed in my hair. Fortunately, I didn't suffer any scalp burn or hair loss," jokes the actress.
[caption id="attachment_2263" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Claudia is put right to work in the episode "Elements." Photo by Philippe Bosse and copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
When it comes to her favorite Warehouse 13 episode, Scagliotti wastes no time in choosing one. "It's the one where we chase after Edgar Allen Poe's pen," she says. "I geeked out over that episode because I'm a huge Poe fan. In fact, the shirt I'm wearing right now has a Poe quote on it. We had the chance to shoot inside a college of theology within the University of Toronto, which was just beautiful with its high ceilings and vaulted, Gothic-style architecture. There are a lot of stunts in that episode, too, including one where I full-on tackle a guy.
"There's also a scene in the episode, again right after Claudia, between my character and her brother Joshua wherein she becomes emotional because he's decided to move on with his life and Claudia has to figure out what to do with hers. It's sort of a transitional feeling, which was a challenge. It's always a challenge to become emotional in a scene, but the director [Ken Giotti] was extremely accommodating as far as whatever I needed, and Tyler, who played Joshua, was great in the scene, so I hope it comes across as touching as we all hoped it would."
Looking ahead to the first season finale of Warehouse 13, the actress hints at what fans can expect. "It starts hot," notes Scagliotti. "In the opening teaser there's a fire going on and the threat of a villain. I can't go into specifics, but the threat is extremely real because this individual has a past connection to the Warehouse. And there's also suspicion that security has been compromised by someone on the inside.
That's about all I can tell you. It was very, very exciting to shoot and the director [Stephen Surjik], who also directed Claudia, is a fantastic guy. During the final days of filming, we were shooting underground in this abattoir, so it was freezing and really smelly. I didn't have to work on those last few days, but I hung out on-set just to spend time with everyone because I could not imagine this amazing ride ending. We were there until four in the morning on that last day, but it was worth it. We've become quite the family team," enthuses the actress.
At the age of five, Scagliotti did an impression of actor/comedian Bill Cosby for her family's pool man. When her Mom saw that, she knew what she had to do. "My Mom was like, 'We've got to find an outlet for this [talent],'" she recalls. "So I joined my elementary school drama department. I also took ballet for eight years and learned piano as well, so if I hadn't moved to Los Angeles I would have gone to a performing arts high school and possibly moved to New York.
[caption id="attachment_2264" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="The Warehouse 13 family - Allison Scagliotti, Saul Rubinek, Joanne Kelly, Genelle Williams (who plays Leena) and Eddie McClintock. Photo copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
"When I was 11, I met an acting coach who was giving a seminar at a Barnes and Noble in the small town of Mandeville, Louisiana where I was living. He encouraged me to try my had at [TV] pilot season, so my Mom and I did our homework and I gave it a shot. I was very lucky to get an agent along with a manager and book a pilot with Chevy Chase, which is pretty much unheard of for an 11-year-old just starting out in the business. But that was the beginning of all this and I never looked back."
Prior to Warehouse 13, Scagliotti appeared in a handful of made-for-TV movies as well as guest-starred on several other TV shows including One Tree Hill, Drake & Josh, ER, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and most recently in an episode of Mental, House of Mirrors, which was shot on-location in Bogota, Columbia. "I had never been to South America before," says the actress, "so that in itself was an experience. It's a place with a lot of layers, and [the city] is at the base of the Andes, which is just beautiful.
"The role itself was a tricky one for me. My character was born a boy, but through a botched circumcision was raised as a girl, her Mom committed suicide, and she developed a condition called dysmorphia. Even though it's a small statistic, it's something that does occur and I read up on the original story that this episode is based on. My main concern was making sure I was truthful as well as respectful to those who were either affected by it or know people who experienced it. It's important to me to never fake emotions going on in a scene, so in some ways I feel like perhaps I committed too much to the emotionality of what was going on. However, I don't regret it because I wouldn't have wanted to fall short of my goals for the impact of the episode.
"The hardest thing to shoot was the suicide scene. The fire was all CGI [computer-generated image] except for one flame bar that they held in front of my face for the lighting. We shot that scene for a while because of the various angles and pouring that bottle of rum, which was actually water, and lighting the match. I had worked with the director [David Jackson] a couple of years ago, and the two of us sat down and talked about how it should go. I was exhausted afterwards, but at the end of the day I'm happy with the episode. I hope it resonated with people, and for people who didn't know that that kind of thing happens, that it educated them and made them aware of this unfortunate condition."
[caption id="attachment_2265" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Claudia tries to put her own "steampunk spin" on trying to solve a problem in the episode "Elements." Photo by Philippe Bosse and copyright of The Syfy Channel"][/caption]
This summer, the actress can be seen in National Lampoon's Endless Bummer and My Name is Jerry. Next month, she starts work on a play being directed by Alden Ehrenreich, who appeared in Frances Ford Coppola's Tetro. Besides her acting commitments, she is a full-time college student and majoring in English. To some, this might sound like a lot to have on your plate, but Scagliotti would not have it any other way.
"I like to have focuses outside of the business," she says. "It's so easy to develop tunnel vision and become obsessive over projects, characters or just the way the whole machine works. And I find if I'm taking a class, it expands me as a person. I become fuller and more aware of the world as well as people and history, all of which I can bring to a performance as opposed to manufacturing it with only a script. So far I've been really fortunate to have professors who have worked with me and allowed me to continue to take my classes as I'm acting. If the workload gets too much, then I trim things. I took 10 units during season one of Warehouse 13 and it worked out just fine. I flew home to take my final and it was all good."
Steve EramoAs noted above, all photos by Justin Stephens or Philippe Bosse and copyright of The Syfy Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!