Exclusive Interview: WAREHOUSE 13’s Saul Rubinek Talks The New Season, Shmacting and The Dangers of Acting

Saul Rubinek as Artie Nielsen

Did you miss your weekly dose of artifacts? Well, the Warehouse 13 crew is coming back next monday with a kick ass premiere, brand new storylines and amazing casting. Daemon’s TV was lucky enough to catch up with the very talented Saul Rubinek, who plays Artie Nielsen, the smart but impatient leader of the Warehouse 13 team.

Mr Rubinek opened up about what fans can expect from the new season, the joy of “schmacting” and the insidious dangers of acting. Check out what he had to say below and don’t forget to tune in for the premiere this coming Monday, July 11 9|8c on Syfy.


Congratulations on a third season of ‘Warehouse 13’

Saul Rubinek: Thank you. We’re thrilled. We’re having a great time. It’s been a fun season.

How does it feel to be over that sophomore hump?

Saul Rubinek: Well, it’s kind of exciting. It happens so rarely in anyone’s career, if it even happens once that you’re a number one show on a network. Sometimes networks try a formula and you guys who write about shows usually can smell a rat a mile away when there’s a cynical group of people trying to come up with a formula for a hit, trying to throw in everything and the kitchen sink that’s worked in the past. In this case, believe me, it was intuition and good fortune and great chemistry. So, we feel blessed, and like any show that’s popular I’m sure you hear that word a lot, that we’re ‘blessed’ with a good show.

There have been a lot of changes to the crew. Aaron Ashmore is joining the team.

Saul Rubinek: Yeah. It’s a very exciting and interesting part of the show and part of what we’re hoping people are going to tune in for, to see what happens with that decision that Myka made to leave the Warehouse.

I know. So, what’s going to happen this season?

Saul Rubinek: Well, it’s fantasy/adventure. Anything can happen and they have a lot of fun with that. Aaron is a wonderful addition to our show and it really has an interesting arc this year. One of the things that works best about the show is the way they’ve deepened the mythology of the warehouse, for the three thousand years, whether it’s Warehouse 1 to Warehouse 13. You know there’s a reason that these warehouses exist and it’s a deep mythology and history to how the hierarchy of the administration of the warehouse works.

We’re really getting into how the regents operate and what their jobs are and what their own hierarchy is. It creates a really interesting danger and suspense in the show when you find out about how the regents work and who might be after them. So, that’s been really interesting, and plus, Warehouse 2 and Warehouse 12 played a huge part in our last season, and so, how that mythology works on the show is one of the things that we like best about it. I

I guess the thing that I like personally best about the show is that you can’t tell from one second to the next whether you’re going to be doing comedy or some kind of suspense or drama. We have a joke on our show; we have three types of performing our show. Regular acting we call acting. Then we have schmacting, as in acting schmacting. Schmacting is when you’re working in front of a green screen. Then we have what they normally throw to me which is called facting. Facting is when they throw me exposition and I have to spout off very quickly and in as entertaining a way as possible what the hell these artifacts are, their history and what they do. Facting, schmacting and acting.

Speaking of schmacting, we often get the rough screeners before the special effects are added and we see what you see –

Saul Rubinek: Oh, so you see schmacting. It’s fun.

We’ll just see, the words ‘ball of light’. How do you deal with that?

Saul Rubinek: You ask. First of all, it’s like working on a bare stage when you’re rehearsing before you get into the theater. You’re marked out with masking tape. You have some of the furniture and some of it’s not there. You use your imagination. It’s like saying, like, ‘How do you play a character?’ It’s the same thing. We’re having fun. We’re kids. At the best of times we’re like kids and we play the game of pretend and when it’s fun, like on our show when there’s no stress on the set and we laugh all day long and we know we’re a part of a hit show and we’re supported the way we are by a studio and a network, then acting and pretending is fun.

Here’s when it’s not fun, and your readers know because you guys are pretty sophisticated now about how shows are made; one of the things that goes wrong, which we’re very lucky to not have gone wrong on our show, is when there’s a disconnect between a studio who is making the show, the network that is airing the show and the production that is actually in the trenches. When there’s a disconnect there, when there’s a disagreement, people are worried about getting fired, and what happens is you end up with the lowest common denominator, the least offensive, the highest quotient of pabulum so that it’s not really going to stick out so that people don’t feel like they’re going to get fired. The recipient of that, the viewer, is the one who gags on it because it has no taste. It’s bland. It has nothing different.

It feels like it’s several different shows put together. You can say that there’s a bit of ‘X Files’ in here and a bit of that, but that’s as far as it goes. Everything else is unique, and one of the reasons for that is that the studio to the network are the same people really. Mark Stern is the person who developed this show and it eventually became the show that they used to re-brand the network so that they could expand from sci-fi and space into fantasy/adventure and get a larger female audience which means the show had to have more romance and more fantasy and wittier. They had to be wittier and smarter to attract women which is something that they were smart enough to know. And it’s funny. Its got a sense of humor.

What do you think viewers are going to take away from this season in terms of the mythology?

Saul Rubinek: Well, the great thing about the viewers and what they’ve added to the show, when they make a show popular, when they give us their vote they tell us and they tell the network and the writers, they tell them what they’re trusting. What happens is in season two, once we knew the show was getting an audience, they went in the direction of saying, ‘We’re going to deepen the history of these characters.

We’re going to tell them more about what makes them tick, and we’re going to tell them a little bit more about the warehouse mythology. We’re going to tell them that there was a Warehouse 2, that it disappeared, that it’s having an effect on the present, that there was somebody from Warehouse 12 that didn’t who’s got revenge in her heart,’ and those things might’ve gone wrong. They might’ve said, ‘We’re not interested in that. We don’t care about the mythology of your warehouse or the intricacies. We want you to hunt artifacts and give us some suspense.’ That’s not what happened.

The viewership deepened and as a result of that season three will go farther to explore the history of our characters. We’ll go father into the mythology of the warehouse. So, I’ve given you a hint by telling you that you’ll find a bit more about the administration of the warehouse in terms of regents and how the regents operate. You’ll find out a little bit more about the past of our characters and how it effects the present. So, we’ve gone further in the area that our audiences have learned to trust us in and given us the benefit of the doubt.

Artie is a complex character. He has a deep affection for his team and also cares deeply for the fate of the world. How do you approach that complexity?

Saul Rubinek: What happens is that you’re playing it moment to moment. You don’t have to play the forest as an actor. Your really just have to play one tree at a time and let the complexity play itself out. What he’s got to do is multi-task. He’s an eccentric man because he’s lived alone for so long without a family and without children. In that sense he’s a lot different than me. I’ve been married for over twenty years. I’ve got children who are twenty and sixteen and I have a life that’s apart from show business. In a way Artie is a road that I didn’t travel.

I might’ve gone in the direction of eating, sleeping, drinking theater when I was a young man because I was in love with it, but you end up with a love/hate relationship with the things that you’re obsessed by and that’s certainly true of Artie. His redemption, his saving grace is the fact that he’s got people he cares about, that there’s a surrogate daughter in Claudia, that he’s got someone he has to report to that’s smarter and wiser and even more odd than he is which Mrs. Frederic and in that she has people to report. Myka and Pete as his other children, the people that he knows, they’re very dangerous in the way that they operate and dangerous Valda. She quit last year, the character, Myka. And we don’t know what will happen. That said, you also know that I died at the end of season one. So, we want people to tune in to find out how it plays itself out. This year we’ve added a character played by Aaron Ashmore, Steve Jinks, who’s very interesting because he has qualities that none of the other – a particular quality – agents have that’s dangerous and very useful as a quality for the warehouse.

So there’s a chemistry between the people that’s interesting. To go back to your question, I feel that I don’t have a problem, that it’s a joy for me to be able to multi-task and to have a kind of ADD that Artie has to have in order to function because he hates the place for what it can do to you. But he knows that it’s given him a reason to live. In that way I can relate as somebody who as a young man was really obsessed with theater and it could’ve really driven me away from having a family like the way that it has Artie. So, I relate to it.

Is there a question that nobody ever asks you that you’ve been dying to give an answer to?

Saul Rubinek: That’s a really good question. Here’s one for you that no one asks; is there a danger in acting in a series? Can you develop bad habits and how is it good for you and how is it bad for you? That’s a question that I’ve never been asked.

What’s your answer to that?

Saul Rubinek: I’m a family man. So I get to support my family doing a job that I love with good people, and that’s the best answer for what I like about doing a series. In a world that’s very uncertain where you’re always a contract player and you don’t know where your next job is coming from, if you’re on a hit show on a series you have a feeling that you have some continuity. Nothing lasts forever, but certainly it’s a joy to be in something that’s popular and know that I can support my family and do what I love at the same time and it’s only six months a year. Then I have six months a year that I can do other things. So, that’s the best part of it.

What’s dangerous, and it’s not as dangerous on this show and I’ll tell you why, but what’s dangerous is doing a series you can do what actors call putting the cassette in. This is like putting yourself on robotic automatic. You can feel when people are phoning it in. Sometimes when people are doing procedurals where it’s basically the same show every week and the only fun part are the guest stars or the killers or something like that, an actor can very easily just not be there. Their presence is there. They’re not trying anything new. Nothing new is being required of them. They’re not being stretched as performers. They’re very rarely given more than three to five minutes of personal story for a procedural. You can come up with bad habits as an actor. So, when you go to another show they can carry over and people are wondering, ‘Well, why is this actor so bland? Why aren’t they trying new things? Why aren’t they bringing something to this table that’s different?’ We’ve all seen it. We’ve all seen it in ourselves and we’ve seen it in others. It’s a danger in every job, when you become so superficially competent at something that you become glib and your passion goes out the window. You’re surviving and you’re coasting and your gliding. Those are the verbs. Those are the dangers of doing series television.

In our show, because every show is different and because our writers and our network are supporting the idea that we’re on a tightrope, you don’t know from one second to the next whether you’re doing suspense or comedy. In fact, you’re usually doing one of each. One line will be suspenseful. The next will be funny. So we’ve got to be on top of things because no episode is the same as any other episode tonally. It’s very hard for a show to have that because most shows have the same tone and if they’ve found a formula that’s successful with the audience they’ll keep it so that you know that ‘Law & Order’ is going to do this or ‘Criminal Minds’ is going to do that. You look at the hour long shows that have a formula. What’s our formula? Other than the fact that we go out and search for artifacts can you tell me that there’s one tone to our show?

No, I can’t say that there is one.

Saul Rubinek: No. So, you don’t know. As an actor we’re avoiding some of those bad habits. I’m not saying that there’s not some danger of putting yourself on remote, but most of the time we can’t. We wouldn’t be able to survive at all. We have to be on our toes and be spontaneous because the type of episode is going to demand it. It’s not like the last episode which was more farcical or the last one was like in Russia with Torquemada’s chain that was dark. This one is completely fanciful or this one falls between a disaster movie and an old fashion horror movie or this one is really tongue and cheek or this one is straight ahead drama and this one is very sentimental. So we’re on our toes all the time. So, there’s an example of a question that no one has asked me.

If you could guest star on any other show which one would it be?

Saul Rubinek: Justified.

You didn’t even blink there.

Saul Rubinek: No question.