, which airs Fridays on Syfy, follows a real estate team, led by Luke Roman (Tim Rozon), who specialize in selling homes that no one else can: those that frighten away buyers because they are haunted or posessed. The Roman Agency also includes team member August Ripley, played by Maurice Dean Wint, the technology specialist who always has a word of wisdom for the team.
Wint recently talked to Jamie Ruby of SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview about working on the series, including how he connects to the character, his favorite of his inventions, how he almost didn't take the role, and more.
Be sure to check out the transcript following the video interview, and stay tuned for part two!
Can you talk about how you first got involved in the show?
MAURICE DEAN WINT:
There's a story that I tell, and it is true story. Last spring, when the global pandemic was beginning to take hold, I, like a number of other actors, began to wonder what the career implications might be, and it became increasingly clear that the entertainment industry was going to get seriously affected by these extreme measures. So, it was just a strange sort of quiet, calm time and an uncertain time.
In early 2020, I had one confirmed gig. It was booked and contracted, and it was a theater gig. It was a fabulous job, but I began hearing stories and news about live theater venues shutting down across the country. I thought to myself, “Man, that is truly unfortunate for so many theater actors,” but companies are being forced to shut their doors. I hadn’t heard any new news about my gig, so for a brief period of time, I thought, “Wow, how lucky I am to still have this job,” but my relief was short lived. I received a phone call from the artistic director, and he said he unfortunately had to cancel the theater season.
So, there I was, officially unemployed and convinced that COVID-19 was going to kill our industry for the remainder of 2020. A part of me was resigned to the fact that it was going to be a cold long, dry year.
So, I retreated to the garden and to the wood shop and began filling my time with projects around the house. So, I was going to grow this long, unruly pandemic beard and become a gardening, carpentering, wine-sipping hermit, but then, one day, out of the blue, my agent called and sent me a self tape audition request for a new series for Syfy. She was unusually enthusiastic about the material. I mean, she really loved the material, and she thought I would too, and it piqued my curiosity.
So, I put down my garden hoe and my power drill and my glass of - well, no, I didn't put down the wine, but I held on to the wine, and I went inside, and I pulled up the script and the sides on my computer, and I was immediately fascinated with the material and the dimensionality of the character of August Ripley, and [it had] a terrific blend of drama and humor in the writing. There were about twelve pages of text in the audition material, and it was quite dense and technical in nature, as you can imagine, for this character. And the casting director was requesting a self tape in two days.
So, I called up my agent, and I told her I was totally on board to read for the part, but I said that I didn't want to rush all that fabulous, beautiful text into a short preparation time. So, I requested an extension past the weekend to really play with the material and develop the character, and the casting director was happy to accommodate. So, I began playing around with Auggie and absorb the really sharp, intelligent, wonderfully balanced writing, and the extra time I was given enabled me to really search for the soul of the character.
By Monday morning, I was as well-prepared as I could be, and an old friend helped me put myself on tape. And the rest is history, as they say.
But, of course, there was a strange element of fate mixed into the story, because had that play that was scheduled for October not been canceled, I may never have even taken a look at the script. I have a funny way of putting blinders on to other projects once I commit to something, and I hate to back out of something once I've made that commitment. Now that's not to say that I couldn't have been persuaded to think twice about that moral stance. A television project like SurrealEstate
doesn't come along every day, and in the cold light of day, I might have had to make a tough decision, because I really loved that theater project that I was [part of], but thankfully I didn't have to.
So, in the middle of 2020, I was offered the role, and my hermit-ing, gardening, woodworking days came to an abrupt end, and I started receiving scripts and preparing for a four-month shoot in St. John's, Newfoundland, and I got to keep the beard.
Did you do any taping with the other actors virtually, because I remember on one panel, Tim had said something about auditioning over Zoom. I was just curious if you saw anybody else, I guess, before you actually went to film.
Any of the other cast?
No, no. I had met Tim on occasion, because we worked together on a series called Diggstown
in Nova Scotia. I've been on that series for three seasons; he was on it for the first season. But up until the point that we did a Zoom read through in Newfoundland, none of us had had met each other at all. So, it was quite a strange thing, and it just sort of felt like an icebreaker when all of a sudden everybody popped up on camera. It was just fascinating just watching everybody, because everybody seems so perfect for their parts. I was just sitting back there, and I was just taking it all in.
Other than the script, was there anywhere else you had gotten inspiration from, like, anything that you kind of connect to with him that you thought about as you worked creating him?
Well, you know, George Olson, our creator and showrunner, is such an incredibly skillful writer that all of the subtle shades of the character were right there in the material. I could envision August Ripley just closing my eyes or skimming through passages of his dialogue, and I didn't have to look too far afield to find inspiration on him.
You know, of course, every actor relishes the opportunity to bring a little personal touch to the role, so one can't help but draw on individual rhythms or innate qualities that bear some sort of resemblance to the scripted character. So, there is some of me, perhaps a lot of me, in August, but I also drew inspiration from interesting, unique, memorable personalit[ies], you know, professorial type characters that I remember, for example, the great Cornel West, or the American physicist Julius Sumner Miller. It was nothing overly overt or specific, but just drawing from cadences or speech patterns or inflections, sometimes from memory and sometimes remembering clips from their television appearances. You know, it was just all of that added up to a wonderful addition to a bag that sort of was Auggie’s character bag.
I mean, there's one thing that I don't really know whether it influenced the way I play the character, but there's a story I tell about when I was a kid and my father, funnily enough, his nickname for me when I was a kid was “Professor.” He used to pat me on the head in the evenings as the TV watching hour would draw to a close for me and my younger brother, and he would say, “Okay, Professor, time for bed,” and off I would go, slumping, dragging my bottom lip on the floor up the stairs to bed way too early for my liking. But I don't know. Was I colored by the fact that my father imagined me as a professor? I don't know. Maybe.
August always has a quote. Do you have a favorite one that you can think of? If you can't, that's okay, but just kind of off the top of your head, maybe a favorite of one of the ones he spouts off?
Well, I mean, the one that has gotten the most sort of media play is the line from that episode where Sarah Levy and I are in the attic and the raven is around, and he just pulls a quote from the the Edgar Allan Poe poem, “The Raven.” He just says “Nevermore.” She says, “That must have been a crow or something like that,” and I say, “It was a raven.” And she goes, “Are you sure?” And I say “Nevermore.” That was just such a classic, beautifully timed piece of dialogue. So, he's got some great quotes, and I could sort of dredge a few others up, but that one is the first one that pops to mind for me.
What about his inventions? Do you have a favorite? And are there any that you can maybe tease that are coming up?
Well, that's a bit of a difficult question, because episode by episode, George and the team of writers and the production team come up with some completely kick-ass things, and I don't want to be a spoiler, so I don't want to talk about the wonderful devices that Auggie comes up with for later episodes, but up until episode four, I guess I sort of got a kick out of that gizmo that I was walking with in the street in “A House is Not a Home,” the one that was all tricked out with those revolving metal spirals and ominous whirrs and blips. It was, as you would know, designed to detect psychokinetic energy activity. I thought that was really cool the way that - I mean, the props people would just sort of plop something into my hand, and I would go, “Wow, it must do something,” and so it was just so great. The fun part really is when something gets sort of dropped in your lap. You find a way to make the audience believe that you know everything about it, and so that was one of the devices that I thought was pretty cool. Another one was the device he invented in that same episode that would allow Luke to “instantly render an entity into irreparable particles.” That was pretty bizarre. And of course, I love Auggie’s specialized goggles and eyewear. I get a sense the fans get a kick out of them as well.
Yeah, that's probably something people will cosplay coming up. I'm sure you'll see that at some point.
Is it hard kind of remembering all his tech jargon and those kind of things? And also, I mean, even the quotes a lot of times the way he delivers them, they're kind of, you know, very exacting.
You know, I've been asked on a couple of occasions whether Auggie's technical jargon or use of colorful, flowery quotes from great writers in time was difficult to manage, and I have to say “no,” because George Olsen managed to create such a realistic and dimensional and articulate man in August that it just made perfect sense that he acted as a voice of wisdom, sometimes his own and sometimes as a conduit through which the wise and profound thoughts and musings of great literary minds pass through. Having this material for me actually made me constantly eager to read the books and seek out the information on the authors quoted while I was in Newfoundland on location. I ordered a number of books on Amazon based on all these quotes from certain episodes, stuff like Alistair Crowley and Edgar Allan Poe, Pearl S. Buck, Albert Camus. So, ordering those and having them arrive was just sort of like a special little gift that I treated myself to.
Yeah, I recognized the Good Omens Crowley stuff, because I mean, I didn't read it, but I saw the series not that long ago.
So, is there any author or quote or anything that, you know, if they came to you, I mean not that it'll happen, but somebody like you'd love to just have him quote, if it were up to you? If the writer came to you and said, “Who do you want him to quote?” Do you have like a favorite author or favorite, I don't know, scholar? Somebody?
I love William Blake. I love T.S. Eliot. You know, when I was in university, I used to read a lot of stuff that was - I did a course on existential philosophy, and so some of the Russian [authors] - Dostoyevsky and Kafka and people like that. And it's just, I mean, I couldn't begin to tell you if there was one favorite, because there's just so [many]. I love poetry, and I love the work, the writings of Blake and T.S. Eliot.
And it's interesting that you bring that question up, because every now and again, in anticipation of the second season - which we know is coming; we know is coming - I am constantly just sort of poking around online or in books, and I come across things and I say, “Yeah! August has got to say that. August has got to say that.” So, I mean, that's a part of the character that I think I sort of bear some sort of a resemblance to in that I'm fascinated by great, profound or, you know, seemingly simplistic but deeply profound expressions or sayings. So, whether this character had come along or not, I think that would still be a part of me, but having this character to play just made me realize how much I cherish those little things, those little gems of wisdom that have been delivered to us through greater minds than ours.
Now, there's nothing official right? I mean, you're just hopeful. I mean, I hope so too. I really like it. But there's been no news or anything if there is a season two, has there, that I missed?
Syfy has whispered nothing in my ear…
Yeah, well, well, hopefully. Hopefully it will. I mean, I like it.
So, do you guys have any improv on the set for the comedy or is it mostly all kind of scripted? Your character, maybe not so much.
I love the stuff they write for me, and I'm always of the mind, unless it's just a badly written script and underwritten characters, but I can't come up with something in thirty seconds that a writer has taken four or five hours to come up with, so I tend not to mess around with dialogue. If something spontaneous comes up in the moment, I'll throw it out there, but not with the intention of derailing the scene or making it appear as if I want to one-up the writers and do something better, because I don't usually find that I need to do that with George's writing.
Some characters, Mr. Adam Korson, for example, this man is Mr. Spontaneous, and he loves to riff, and he loves to button a scene up with a joke or a funny bit here and there, and it really works for his character (Father Phil). My character is sort of reserved and clipped and very precise, so anything that I use that might be humorous at the end of the scene is probably better out of the pen of an author than out of my mouth, you know?
Yeah, he's a bit more serious.
So, is there someone that maybe you want to have more scenes with that you haven't gotten to work a whole lot with yet?
Absolutely, yes, Sarah. We have a wonderful little WhatsApp chat group we started it up when were in Newfoundland, and it continues to this day, and we constantly just sort of check in with each other as the shows are airing and as more information comes out. And I mentioned that, in the first season, I had a special moment, a special scene with all the characters, and it's not to say that I haven't had a moment with her, but a really, really full fleshed out scene wasn't there for me and her character. There's a sort of beautiful sort of chemistry, I think, between all the characters, yes, but when she was sort of a bit of the outsider in the beginning, August still stands up and pulls out her chair and greets her. He might roll his eyes at her way of being a little bit, but he's a gentleman, and he understands that bossman Luke didn't bring her in for no reason. He knows what he's doing, and so I give her that type of respect, but I've mentioned to Sarah on a number of occasions that I look forward to a second season, because I'm looking forward to that, to that scene. I'd love to do a special scene with her.
Okay, cool. If you have time for a couple more, I'm just gonna ask; I did get a get a fan question. They wanted to know, are we going to get any more backstory on your character soon? “Do we know where he was before he came to the agency,” was actually what they asked.
See, now, this is the thing. When I was having conversations with George leading up to the beginning of the season and even in preparation for my audition and stuff like that, it became quite clear to me that the writers were drawing this character as a bit of an enigmatic figure, and so there are elements of my character that will probably not be revealed as quickly as some of the other characters, but I think that's a purposeful thing. I see my character as like a bearded onion. That's gonna be my quote, “a bearded onion.” August Ripley, the bearded onion. And his layers, I think it's intentional, but his layers are going to get slowly revealed over the course of [the show], so I don't want to go into elements of backstory except for things that have already been revealed, because I believe it is their purpose that they want to sort of take their time. And because Auggie has got this sort of quality that when he is in a comfortable environment, there are times when you see a bit of the warmth that is there. I mean, there are different sides to Auggie, right? There's this weird sort of quizzical, sort of uncle character who's always popping off these weird quotes and shit. Then there's this…fatherly quality that he adopts in a beautiful scene. I'm not going to be a spoiler; it's a beautiful scene between Auggie and Zoey (Savannah Beasley), but there is this scene, and I think that our fans are going to really love that. It's a really heartwarming moment, and it reveals a bit about her character.
…And up until episode four and into episode five, slowly, bit by bit, you see elements of his character revealed in his relationships...The wonderful thing about this script and about this project, and it's not there with all episodic television programs, because sometimes, relationships and dialogue are interchangeable. You close your eyes, one character speaking to the next could be any one of five or six characters, mostly in procedural cop dramas. It's just like, any one of those five characters, and I won't blow off the great ones, because they do it better, and that's not the case with them, but with a lot of them, it's just like you could shuffle the script around, and you could pass any set of pages to any of the five actors, and it's all the same. I think the wonderful thing about this is that there really is a sense that when you're watching and when you're listening to the characters as they deal with each other, there is a clear way in which one character deals with one as opposed to another.
There is this chemistry, like Zoey has got a certain - I think I'd be accurate in saying she's got this sort of warmth and affection for August. [She] sees him as almost like a father figure or an old older uncle or whatever, and there's almost an uncle-like quality or a brotherly type quality with [Luke]; there's a warmth. August in a couple of the workshop scenes early in the season, there are moments where you can feel August's affection and care. When he sends Luke off into the field with a new device, he's genuinely concerned about his wellbeing.
So, I think in terms of what I can say about a backstory, there are things that will be revealed. There are things that will be revealed this season, and I just don't want to jump ahead of the train and blurt out anything, because I think that others will address that their own way. I just think that George and the writers, the production went to the effort of crafting a character that just sort of exposes himself one piece at a time. So, I think that the question you're asking me is a genuine interest from people who are watching the show, because they don't know yet. They don't know, and they want to know. Just tell them, “Just sit back and be quiet, because I’m not going to tell you.” [laughs]
…I just want to ask you, I was a huge Haven fan, can you just really quick talk about just kind of working on that? And have you seen any of that cast since then?
You know, I don't see the main cast, because most of them are down in LA. I'm up here in Toronto. There are a lot of people who played recurring characters on that show that are up here.
Funny enough, a series that I'm working on now just finished wrapping the third season, called Diggstown
. Vinessa Antoine, who is the lead in that series, played a character on Haven
. We didn't have any [scenes] with each other, but when she and I were both [cast] - well she obviously she's the lead in Diggstown
; I was cast as her father - that's one of the sort of plugs that they use to promote our relationship, that we were both together on on Haven
. There are some fans who love SurrealEstate
…and there are a number of people who are really hooked on this show and are happy that it's had a good outing so far and almost sort of compare it in a way to the success that Haven
enjoyed on Syfy. So, the answer is not really, I don't. You know, all of the cast, well most of the cast of SurrealEstate
, I could have run into here on occasion. Some are down in LA, Tim's in Montreal, but I haven't seen the Haven
folks in the longest time.
Okay. I'm just curious. I miss that show.
It was a fun ride. It was a fun ride. It went for five seasons, and I was on it, and I think I spoke the very first line. I appeared on camera and spoke the very first lines of dialogue in the very first episode of that show, because I was Emily [Rose]'s FBI handler, and I was the one who sent her off to Haven, and I made it through three seasons. And they seemingly killed my character off, but he was this sort of immortal-type figure.
I mean, the funny story is that Agent Howard had some great suits, and I said to my agent, “You know what? Can we get in my contract that I get to keep the suits?” They said, “Yeah, not a problem.” So, when they killed my character off in the third season, they packed up my suits and shoes and socks and some shirts and they shipped them. They FedExed them to me here. So, I had them, and I had these great suits that I could wear out and wear to auditions and stuff. Then, a year or so had passed, and my agent called me up and she said, “You know those suits and things that Haven
gave you?” She said, “Well, they want them back.” And I said “Oh, shit.” And [she said], “They want you in them!”
I was going to say, I thought you came back in the in the disappearing barn. It’s been a while since I've seen it.
Yeah. They they brought him back, and he became this, I can't remember the term, this sort of, [he was] the barn whisperer.