We talk with the actress who plays Warehouse agent Claudia about gay BFF agent Jinks, her music, her Nickelodeon past and much more.
I’ve gotten the chance to interview many of the people involved with Warehouse 13 – Eddie McClintock, Aaron Ashmore, and executive producer Jack Kenny. But I’d never talked to Allison Scagliotii, who plays Claudia, tech girl and BFF to Jinks. Scagliotti let me know in the first seconds that it was about time we talked to her.
The Backlot: Welcome Allison. I feel I should apologize for not having interviewed you by now. Of course we’re here to talk about Warehouse 13, but what I just realized is that you were on Nickelodeon’s Drake and Josh.
Allison Scagliotti: That’s right! Little baby toddler Allison on Nickelodeon.
TBL: How much fun was that? Everybody on that show has gone on to big things… Drake Bell, Josh Peck, Miranda Cosgrove and you of course.
AS: I can honestly say, I only look back on that show with fondest of memories. I did my first episode when I was 13, The show wrapped when I was 16, and a couple of years later we shot the Christmas special and we went back when I was young enough it wasn’t work yet, it was just fun. Drake and Josh themselves were some of the funniest guys I’ve ever worked with. There was never a dull moment. They were a natural Martin & Lewis from the beginning. I think it was sort of the glory days of Nickelodeon, Pete & Pete, Figure It Out. It was a great era, before every sitcom for children became about being a performing artist.
TBL: Even at my age, I’m a huge fan of everything Dan Schneider has done, from The Amanda Show to iCarly.
AS: Dan is just so wonderful to work with. He recognizes talent, how to cultivate a show into something that kids will like. And he’s so great about being loyal to his talent. Jerry Trainor played Crazy Steve on Drake & Josh, wound up as the older brother on iCarly, and now he has his own show on Nick At Night which is perfect for him. I love all those guys, and only have the best memories of them.
TBL: Of course we’re here to talk to you about your grown up project, Warehouse 13. You came into it in the first season, right?
AS: Yes. The way I came into it was as a guest star likely recurring. I had no idea it was to become a series regular.
TBL: So how much of your personality do you share with Claudia? I know you have your music background, and people seem to say you’ve got that edge and that punk rock scene. How much of that did you bring and how much did Jack give you?
AS: It’s funny, because I’m not a tech person. The music thing was all me, reminding the writers that I do this thing, and I’d love to make it Claudia’s thing. I think the biggest part of me that’s in her is my sarcasm and that tough exterior to mask that she’s just a girl trying to figure out growing up. Which is what I think is probably what makes her so relateable to our young female fans who reach out to me on Twitter [@allisonscag] and are like “I love Claudia. She makes being smart and nerdy cool.” That’s awesome. But it’s more than that. It’s vulnerability and humor I think.
isn’t in life threatening (or GBF threatening) danger.
TBL: It is. You’ve got a very dry sense of humor on the show. But you were brought in to be the daughter to Artie. The whole show is a family dynamic. You’ve got the goofy older brother with Pete, the serious sister with Myka. You were brought in to be the daughter. But Claudia’s grown up a lot. Like the scene where you went to rescue Steve’s body and walked across the lobby in the heels and the wig [Allison giggles]. Was that fun to take that to the screen? Because that was very un-Claudia.
AS: It was so fun. I was so grateful to Jack and the writers for throwing me that bone and going with that Girl With the Dragon Tattoo-esque storyline. It was one of my favorite storylines of the seasons, because as much as I got to play this tough almost assassin character, you know that it was all just motivated by loving Steve and knowing that she really just couldn’t live without him, not only in her life but in the world.
TBL: That entire episode was a tour de force on your part. You ripped our hearts out with those scenes with the metronome, and it wasn’t just that you were saving one of the few gay characters in sci-fi. It hurt to watch those scenes. How do you get ready for such emotional stuff? Because it was very different from most Claudia scenes.
AS: Those emotional scenes are so exhausting. The emotional exhaustion gives way to physical exhaustion. But there’s something so cathartic about it. People used to ask me if it was hard to muster the emotion at the end of season three to see Steve dead. But that wasn’t that hard, because the emotion came naturally. That relationship has been so richly and carefully developed I don’t have to do some emotional acrobatics to get there. I watched my friend, playing dead, and it wrenched my heart anyway. So of course, working with the maven of science fiction Kate Mulgrew was such a pleasure. And coming back to Kate, whenever she comes to town, she and I party.
TBL: You party with Kate?
AS: I party with Kate, and it’s one of the best parties ever.
TBL: Since you brought it up, Warehouse 13 gets the best guest stars for a nerd. Are there any of them that just stopped you dead when they walked on set?
AS: There is one, and I can’t say his name yet, because he hasn’t been announced, but I’m kind of a nerd for musical theater and…
TBL: Joel Grey?
AS: Yes! Yes! Joel Grey. But we can’t announce it yet.
TBL: Yes you can. I knew about it a month ago, but TV Guide put it out there.
AS: Well, then yeah. When Joel Grey was on set, I was Sally Bowles for Halloween last year, that’s the level of my nerdiness about Cabaret. I didn’t have any scenes with Joel, but when I walked on set I was totally star struck and blushed and ran away.
TBL: You did get back to him?
AS: I wish I had. I never mustered up the courage to go up to him.
TBL: I can completely understand. He is a legend.
TBL: Tell me about you and Artie for a bit. It looks like that relationship is really real, even off set.
AS: I can honestly say it is. Saul (Rubinek) has probably been the most important relationship in my life of the last four years next to my mom. I know that’s such a weighty thing to say, but it’s true. He’s been such a mentor to me and I’ve been so welcomed into his family when I’m in New York. I’ve been over their house for Jewish holidays and I love it. Saul is an incredible actor and a really exemplary human being. The relationship you see onscreen is us. We have as much fun as it looks like we’re having, and there is as much love as there looks like there is.
TBL: No one has ever said a bad word about Saul, and I’ve interviewed basically the whole cast. But you’ve got a big brother in Pete, and a big sister in Myka. And I know that’s how Jack writes. He writes about a family, them puts them in a weird situation like a warehouse with artifacts. Does that fit for you, because the show had Claudia’s brother on, but your coworkers are your family. How do you believe in families that you choose as opposed to families you’re related to?
AS: Oh my god, that’s such a great question. As actors, performers, we’re constantly finding ourselves separated from our blood families and thrust into these new groups we have to assimilate with and figure out who we are and how we relate to them. I believe surrogate families are all around us. We at Warehouse got lucky that we gelled so well. And we’re not without our disagreements. People who spend ten months, five days/week, sometimes sixteen hours/day together are going to have their bickering, but in comparison to other shows I’ve heard about where one cast member is crazy, or others don’t speak to each other, we are incredibly lucky to get along and laugh and support each other the way that we do.
I live alone, in Los Angeles during hiatuses and I fly up to Toronto when we’re shooting. I can feel like a bit of a hobo sometimes. We’re still waiting to hear on season five, so I don’t know how the rest of my year is going to go. I can’t make any plans. It’s really comforting to have something as stable as the surrogate family we have as a cast.
TBL: Your addition to the cast surprised me, because from the first episode it felt like Pete and Myka were almost going to do the Dave and Maddie thing from Moonlighting, and you came in and changed everything. Did you realize you were changing the show when you came in?
AS: I had no idea what I was getting into. Jack and I had worked together on a pilot that didn’t get picked up. When I auditioned for Claudia, he sent me a copy of the pilot and said “Make sure this is something you’re interested in, something you want to do.” When I watched it, I got so excited. I wasn’t necessarily a sci-fi fanatic, but that wasn’t what I connected with. I connected with Myka’s sharp wit, her dynamic with Pete, Saul, immediately radiated off the screen for me. The supernatural element of Mrs. Frederick was eerie and fun to watch. And when I came on set, what they explained to me later was that I was auditioning to change the show, to become the fourth leg of the table. And I’m glad that I didn’t know, because that’s a lot of pressure on an 18-year-old who just thinks she’s booked a recurring gig on some sci-fi show.
TBL: The fifth leg of the table was when Aaron Ashmore came on as Steve. Most people thought you were getting the love interest. But you knew up front that he was gay, right?
AS: Yes. The character was originally written to be Asian, much like Claudia, Claudia was written to be Asian, but something just didn’t gel, and here I am. But the same thing with Steve. I read with a bunch of fantastic actors, but SyFy wouldn’t approve any of them. And then we had Aaron. He was immediately so easy to work with. Pretty much on day one I was like “Here’s how this is going to be. I’m going to treat you like my gay best friend from now on.” And he was like “Okayyy.” And from that point on, I was speaking in slang and snapping in a star, just so great.
TBL: It sounds like you may have some gay best friends in the real world.
TBL: It sounds like you’ve been for the gays at some point in your real life.
AS: At all points in my real life.
TBL: Well, you did say you were a musical theater nerd.
AS: Totally. Musical theater nerd, all of it. My closest friend is a lesbian who is an aspiring TV writer, who just moved out to L.A. to pursue the dream. I hope she’s the next Diablo Cody.
TBL: I ask everybody on the show this question, and I get the same surprising answer each time: Is working with CCH Pounder as creepy as it looks?
AS: Hell to the no! Let me tell you why. That woman is so good at being intimidating on camera, and she is a striking presence when you meet her, and she possesses this great authority, but I have never met anyone more capable of being silly.
TBL: Everyone says that. I can’t find a single person to say that she’s scary.
AS: She’s hysterical.
TBL: We’ve talked about the guest stars you’ve had, but who haven’t you had that you want? You guys seem to be able to get anyone with a sci-fi pedigree.
AS: I know that this sounds a little weird and trendy, but I want Betty White. I want to work with Betty White so bad.
TBL: That one I was not expecting.
AS: I grew up watching the Golden Girls, and I want to work with Betty White. She’s reached that sort of status where she can just do anything, and I would love to just round the corner in the warehouse, and there’s Betty White, hanging out as herself.
TBL: It could be made to work somehow.
AS: We’re Warehouse 13, we can do anything.
TBL: Maybe have her and George Takei be a couple of retired agents on the show?
AS: Yessss! We can get George Takei so fast.
TBL: He’s pretty much the only Star Trek veteran you haven’t had. Now, another question: Which was your favorite artifact so far?
AS: I always say the metronome, because it brought Steve back, and has a lot of emotional weight for Claudia, but in the new season, this is so tough, I think Beethoven’s Clock. Because that was a really fun excursion. That’s also Claudia’s 21st birthday episode with the musical number.
TBL: Yes! With Cherie Currie.
AS: We had a whole list of musicians that we really wanted, but Cherie was my favorite that was available. And she brought her son, who is a really talented guitarist in his own right with his band Maudlin Strangers. We had such a fun time in the studio who was going to trade off which piece of lyric. It was so real, it was so fun.
TBL: Since you’re so into music, what are you listening to right now?
AS: Well, I just got back from Coachella last weekend, so it’s almost like the tongue in cheek recaps of what it’s like to listen to bands in the middle of a sandstorm. I really like the Chicago band the Smith Westerns. They’re about to release their third album. I’m friends with the drummer, who used to be part of one of my other favorite bands, Unknown Mortal Orchestra of Portland. I getting ready to shoot a music video for a Chicago band called Bummer. I’m choreographing a dance for that right now. If all goes well, I should be shooting that in the first week of May. Nick Cave! Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds were the best bands I saw at Coachella. I think I hit second puberty watching that band perform. It was sexual.
TBL: I’ve reached that age where I look at the bands at Coachella and go “Who?”
AS: The thing about Coachella is that it’s so diverse, you can have your own experience. You could go with just retro throwback bands, you could go just with hip-hop, you could go with indie-fuzz-pop movement. It’s a lot. It’s something for everyone. It’s a very full weekend.
TBL: Danny DeVito’s Twitter feed from Coachella was inspiring to read.
AS: Hilarious. I didn’t know until the drive back. Danny DeVito was at all the shows I was at, how did I miss him?
TBL: What artifact would you like to make up, or what effect would you like it to have? Because everyone always says the same thing, and I think you’re going to say something different.
AS: Oh, yeah. I’m totally going say something different. Because I’ve been in this mode of dancing so much, I want a pair of point shoes that just magically make me dance like Victoria Cage.
TBL: You are completely unique. Mostly people just want to fly.
AS: That’s so easy. That’s like “What would your superpower be?” I think my second choice would be a guitar that once I strapped it on I could play like Jimmy Page or Jimmy Hendrix or another Jimmy.
TBL: So what other projects do you have going on? You’ve got some time to kill while you wait for a pickup for season five.
AS: I’ve been really lucky to be busy. I participated in this photoshoot for the independent clothing brand Hollywont that was created by these really two talented brothers who wanted to make an independent brand for the independent creator. The photos are on their Facebook and Twitter pages. It’s obviously a pun on Hollywood that I really love. I did this play called Unhealthy in New York at HERE Arts Center in early December. It was so fulfilling. It was such departure from my character on Warehouse 13. It was great being on a stage and getting that symbiotic connection with the audience you miss when you’re filming. It’s a very different process and I loved that.
I’ve got an episode of Person of Interest airing April 25. My episode of Tabletop will be live this (last) Thursday.
Photo credit: Geek and Sundry
TBL: You did Tabletop? What did you play?
AS: Tabletop is an online gaming show, we played this game called The Resistance, which is really a game about lying.
TBL: I’m a fan of Wil Wheaton, so I’ve been following as he built the Tabletop community.
AS: I really admire Felicia [Day] and Wil and that whole crew, and I count Chris Hardwick among them for being independent creators and igniting new trends. They’re so smart and such genuinely nice people when they say “Do you want to be part of this?” I just say yes. An opportunity to go spend time with people who are actively creating and know what they’re doing.
TBL: I’m actually jealous that you occasionally get calls from Wil Wheaton and Chris Hardwick to go do something. I’m green with envy. [giggles] I remember when I first starting writing for AfterElton, I found a picture of Chris Hardwick in a Speedo from Attack of the Show…
TBL: He responded, saluting all the gay nerds out there, and that just made my month.
Wrapping up, What do you think Claudia’s journey is for the rest of the season? Because she had a dark journey the first half of the season.
AS: She did. We all did. In this remaining ten episodes, it’s a really important time for Claudia to be coming into her own and realizing this destiny that she thought she had no control over and she realizes that she does. She’s embracing her role in the future of the warehouse, and taking the opportunity to assert herself and her abilities to make executive decisions, as you saw in mid-season finale culminating in a really big cliffhanger between her and the big bad. I’m just so proud of her.
TBL: She has become tough. And if she becomes the new Mrs. Frederick, do you hope to be able to just appear in rooms and creep people out.
AS: So badly. I want that so bad. But Jack said he’s only going to let Claudia do that once, and then Artie’s going to be like “Don’t ever do that again.”
TBL: That would be such an interesting dynamic, because he’s been the father figure and then you become the Mrs. Frederick.
AS: I know. A little bit of role reversal.
TBL: That might be the best argument for renewing the show, beyond the show continuing of course, is just to give you the chance to try and pull that off with Artie.
I want to thank you so much for talking to us, I’ve had so much fun. I of course hope Warehouse 13 gets that renewal. We’re all such big fans.
AS: Thank you so much. I am so glad I finally got to talk to you. I can’t wait to send all my gay best friends my first AfterElton [The Backlot] interview!