Saul Rubinek is one of those actors who make it easy to appreciate them. His long and varied career is marked by one quality project after another, and his presence in any film or TV show has always been an indicator for me that there will be something worth watching. I sat down with him at this year’s Comic-con in San Diego and we chatted about his extensive theatre background- including the play he has written which will be staged in London this fall- as well as about his work on Syfy’s WAREHOUSE 13, which has already been renewed for another season after only three episodes of this one had been aired. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to talk with him. (Hat tip to Brooke Unverferth for transcription work!)
MM: This is Marc Mason in the Comics Waiting Room and I am here with actor Saul Rubinek. Saul, we’re here today to talk about a lot of things.
MM : You’re obviously starring in WAREHOUSE 13 which has been SyFy’s biggest show –
MM: But that is just a small part of the entirety of your career. You’re a theater guy, you got started as a theater guy, you’re from a theater family…
SR: And I’ve gone back to it. Yeah, my father was in Yiddish theater in Europe, after the war. He was a Holocaust survivor, I was born in a refugee camp where my father was doing theater with survivors as a way of…surviving… and trying to forget about the horror that had just happened. I grew up in theater in Canada. As a young actor I did 20 years on stage before I ever set foot in front of a camera, but I’ve just written a play that- I’ve gone full circle- I wrote a play called “Terrible Advice” which is a four character comedy that the great film director Frank Oz is going to direct. It’s his first play as a director. It’s going to be on at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London this fall and you can look it up at MenierChocolateFactory.com and it will tell you the dates and what’s happening with the show, so it’s a big deal for me.
MM: Is this the first time you’ve written a play?
MM: Wow! That’s amazing! Is it something where you’re going to be able to go over and be involved?
SR: Yes. I’m going to be involved in the rehearsal process as the writer because it’s a brand new play, it’s a world premiere, and things change and you have to be on the spot if you can be and I’m going to be there.
MM: You said you’re involved with the casting process, are you feeling pretty good about that?
SR: Yeah, it’s all great.
MM: As a theater actor, you said you waited twenty years before you went in front of the camera…
SR: I didn’t wait. It just happened that way. I mean, I was in love with the theater and I didn’t decide to wait. I wasn’t interested in anything else but theater. And those opportunities in Ottawa and Toronto were not really available to me until my mid to late 20’s.
MM: Once you did step in front of the camera, what was that change like for you? What was that difference like for you, not having that audience, for instance?
SR: It was hugely different. First of all, I liked the change because a change can be as good as a rest, I guess. That cliché can be true- it was for me. I was doing CBC television, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which is kind of like the Canadian version of PBS. There were a lot of great filmmakers who were working for CBC in the 70’s. Uh, both from Quebec and from English Canada, and I had the great good fortune of learning the craft, of playing leading roles that I never might have gotten otherwise. So I wasn’t stepping into features, I was stepping into very interesting independent television roles, and with really unique artists that were working in Toronto in television in the 70’s. And just as the theater scene in Toronto was growing, the independent theater scene and the beginning of English Canadian theater, the phenomena that happened in the 20’s and 30’s in the United States was not really happening in Canada until the 60’s and 70’s. So English Canadian plays found their voice then, as I was growing up, as were the theaters that I helped to found, so that was a really great time. And the same thing was going on in English television and I was very fortunate before I went to New York as an actor- that was my training.
MM: Well, I was looking at your IMDB profile a couple of days ago, and what struck me is the variety there, the variety there. It’s not just one type of role, it’s not just one type of genre, you’ve covered the spectrum really well. Has that been something you’ve aimed for or is it something where directors see you and go, “I can fill him in in something and he’ll cover it”?
SR: Because I’m a stage actor and have to… my life was that world first. I don’t think that many actors can tell you that they choose their careers; your career really chooses you. We make a lot of different choices when we’re young, when we don’t have a mortgage or kids or bills to pay in the same way as you do when you’re older. I’m no longer number one; I have two kids, I’ve been married for 21 years, and I’ve made choices that have to do with the financial security of my family, and I have for quite a while. That said, I still have choices to make that are going to be, not in order to have the widest possible experience on my resume, but in order to work on the most interesting jobs with the most talented people that I can. We all try to do it. We all try to stretch ourselves. We all know that we have to do one for the Pope and one for yourself, you know? You have to do one, as Michelangelo said, you’ve got to one to pay the bills if you have to, and do one for your soul and hopefully it’s the same one. And right now, with WAREHOUSE 13, I’m doing one that happens to cover both areas because I enjoy it immensely and it’s paying the bills in a good way and I’m very grateful that the show has been accepted as it has by an audience. I’m proud of the show, so it’s a really nice thing to happen. But it’s only six months a year; I have six months a year to do other things and this show allows me the freedom to do that, and that’s what’s going on in my life. But I never, you know, set out to have this specific kind of career. I don’t really know many people who have done that. And all power to them, but most of us, writers I know, actors I know, singers, dancers, are in love with their work. The work that life has chosen them. And now it’s the struggle to be able to continue to pay the bills and do what you love, while, if you can. And very few people can generate their own work. I mean, I’ve tried to, I’ve written, I’ve directed for films, I’ve continued to try to generate – I always have been… I’ve been somebody who does not like to sit by the phone and wait for other people to give me a job. So that’s not been my life, I’ve been very proactive, helping found theaters in my youth and I got involved many different ways of, you know, “somebody’s got a barn, let’s put a play in it” kind of world. That kind of attitude, I guess. I always have. I never understand the actors that are thinking about they’re going to do this because this is what it’s going to give them, they’re going to do this because this is what they’re going to get, they’re going to get this out of it. I mean really, the truth is, it’s mostly, it’s gotta be about what you have to give others and everything else becomes a by-product. It’s very hard to hold onto that when you’ve got mortgages and bills to pay and tough times. No, I have never chosen to have a wide ranging career, it happened that way.
MM: One of the things when you’re developing a play you have that sort of lengthy period of time to create that character versus when you’re shooting a feature you may not have as much time. What about in television? How does the television process help you create that character?
SR: Well, we have lots of time, because don’t forget, between the pilot and the show getting picked up, months happen. The writers talk to us about the characters, we help create the characters in a way. Certainly I brought things to the character that they hadn’t anticipated, and embraced and were great about how they collaborated with me and were really generous and I’m fortunate that they were generous and I acknowledge that. So we got prep time. Now when you get scripts while we’re shooting, no. We don’t have a lot of time to prep them. But they know us. They know the characters we’re playing. We don’t really need all that much time.
MM: You know, I was watching the opening episode of Season 3 a couple of weeks back, and it really struck me that the show had fully found itself and found its shorthand. In the final scene, Mika comes back into the warehouse and there’s a moment where maybe they could have overwritten it and given you a full chunk of dialogue, but you just looked at her and said one word, “Good.”
SR: Yeah, yeah.
MM: And that said more than just about anything else than any other piece of dialogue.
SR: True. Yeah, it was great.
MM: Yeah, that was fantastic.
SR: Yeah, we’ve hit a stride.
MM: As you go forward with the character, what are you hopeful to see for Artie?
SR: I hope the writers continue to be in love with show as much as much as they are in love with their boss, Jack Kenney, who has really given them the freedom and direction that they are growing in as writers. That is the key. The key is the relationship between the network, the studio, and the writing room. That has to work. If it’s filled with fear, then, people don’t want to get fired, then you ain’t got, the audience ends up with pablum something that doesn’t stick out, that takes no chances, that resembles other things, so that nobody can be blamed for anything. We have a show where they have a lot of trust with each other, they’ve earned the trust. The audience has given them the currency with which that trust is earned and I want them to continue to take chances the way they have. I haven’t got any complaints in that department. So I don’t really feel the need to talk to them about I’d love to see it go in this direction or that direction. I am really pleasantly excited by their own inventions, you know, and I like putting my imagination up against what they’ve come up with and the marriage is a good one. I don’t want to fix anything that isn’t broken.
MM: Excellently put, sir. Thank you for your time. I’m really enjoying your work on the show.
SR: Thank you. Appreciate it.