|A note from Karen: This is Steve and Chiara's interview in toto, as it was submitted to me. The only changes I've made are in spelling. Mr. Sinelnikoff has approved all the content. There are several pages; links are at the
bottom of each page. Enjoy!
The Lost World is a television series based upon a book of the same name penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is a romantic adventure staged at the close of the Victorian era
reminiscent of such works as â€œSheâ€� and â€œKing Solomonâ€™s Minesâ€�. According to the [TV series] tale, the Challenger Expedition - two scientists, a beautiful young
heiress,[a big-gmae hunter] and a newspaperman - set out for South America to validate a journal. Entries made by one Maple White include a description of a plateau inhabited
by dinosaurs. The diary also includes a photograph of a Pteranodon, a flying reptile extinct for millions of years. Having attained the summit of the plateau, the Challenger
Expedition is trapped in a lost world and befriended by a girl stranded there years before their arrival. Following a fierce battle with native tribesmen, one of their number,
Professor Summerlee, played by Michael Sinelnikoff, is wounded and lost. No longer on location, Michael agreed to an interview and spoke with Chiara and I about his involvement
in the series and about the people he worked with in front of and behind the cameras .
Steve: Canadaâ€™s Cirque Du Soleil ( Circus Of The Sun ). You were the show's first director. Please tell us more about it and how it eventually led to your role as Professor
Michael: The Cirque indirectly led to my becoming Summerlee. I had a lot of experience doing low-budget theater, so I took the Cirque on for one year to get it started. The
venture was fraught with problems, but opened successfully, developing into the enormous organization it is today. I'm in the process of documenting how it all got started. Look
for a lengthy article entitled "The First Year of the Cirque du Soleil" one day soon. It will appear on one of your search engines. Iâ€™m sorry, but I can't reveal any more details at
Steve: Luc Campeau. He was your assistant that first year and then a production manager. We have him to thank for your becoming Professor Summerlee, isnâ€™t that right?
Michael: Yes, but let me tell you a bit about him and how this all came about. Luc was just starting in film production at the time, and I knew him to be a super-efficient and
responsible individual. I persuaded the Cirque people to hire him as my assistant. He was my right hand, enabling me to have the greatest freedom a director can have - to go
through the whole process with nothing in my hands. Luc kept extensive notes. He was responsible for the daily schedule. He dealt with countless problems before they came
to my attention. Since then, heâ€™s functioned as a production manager on many international films. Heâ€™s been a First Assistant Director and Line Producer, a function he's
filling on a major production called The Virtual Bible currently being filmed in Morocco. Luc spoke with Bob Keen, director of the 1998 production of The Lost World starring
Patrick Bergin, suggesting that I assume the role of Professor Summerlee.
Chiara: What was your motivation to try for the part of Summerlee in the current television series? How did you prepare for it?
Michael: ( laughter ) The money! But joking apart, the chance to take on a whole new adventure at my age, to get exposure in a major series and spend a long time on a new
continent I never imagined I'd even visit. Preparation wasn't much of a problem as I'd already played Summerlee in the 1998 Montreal production and was able to bring a lot of
"baggage" that was relevant to the audition. I knew the old boy quite well by that time.
Steve: You and fifteen other actors auditioned for the role of Summerlee in the series. After waiting five weeks, you learned you had gotten the job despite the fact you had
played the professor in the 1998 version. I understand this came as somewhat of a surprise as producers generally employ fresh faces. Did casting pretty much know at the outset
that you were the man for the job?
Michael: It was the producers, actually, not the casting people. They weren't present at the audition. They screened the audition tapes later. The person running the audition
was "helping out" and asked me to play a scene in a harsh way, which seemed altogether wrong to me at the time. I obliged, asking if I could do it "friendly" as a separate take.
I'm glad I did. It was the friendly quality that got me the role. Still, I was so sure that they weren't interested (especially since I was an hour late for the audition!) that I went
away and forgot about it, only to have my agent phone me five weeks later and tell me that I was going to Australia - in a week!
Steve: Sounds like fun â€¦
Michael: Oh, it was. There was a mad scramble for work visas, passport, medical, travel arrangements, organizing supervision of my apartment in my absence, etc., but I made the
plane on time, and started the two hour pilot which filmed on the Gold Coast near Brisbane in September and October of 1998. Then there was a long wait until the series was
confirmed around March, 1999.
Steve: A lot of people identify with you as Dr. Summerlee. Have you any idea why? Were you picked to play the role because in reality you ARE Professor Summerlee?
Michael: Gosh no! I'm not in the least academic, although I've read my share of books in my lifetime ... Any writing I've done has been dramatic, and my professional experience
has been theater and television, about as far removed from the hallowed halls of learning as one can imagine. I'm into computers. I've had a computer pre - Windows version 1,
science fiction and movies. Summerlee and I share two things, however - a love of cooking (you should taste my late Mother's authentic Beef Stroganoff) and music. Jascha
Heifetz , RCA Victor's Violinist of the Century, was my godfather, so I was in a more or less musical milieu since I was a kid. I used to play the piano, but not very well, although I
did give a mildly successful recital at school with some Brahms and not-too-hard Chopin ... I think I got the role in [The] Lost World because the producers felt I could give them
the Summerlee they wanted - that's every actors ambition really. I think I look Summerlee-ish, and can certainly sound like he was supposed to: my English pronunciation helped
me a great deal.
Steve : Could you go into more detail about the Gold Coast where you were living and working? Is it in the state of Queensland?
Michael: Yes. The Gold Coast runs from Brisbane on the East Coast, south to Coolangatta, where New South Wales begins. The Gold Coast is a strip of shoreline about 100 miles
long, very similar to Miami. Beach areas feature large hotels, luxurious high-rises, expensive condominiums and fine residences. The main streets are jammed with tourist shops,
restaurants, clothing and souvenir stores. The beaches are beautiful, with white sand and the famous surf one sees in the movies. We stayed at Surferâ€™s Paradise, famous for
the Honda Indy car races that are such a huge attraction every October. What makes the Gold Coast special for movie-makers is the Hinterland: a range of low inland mountains
just a half hour's drive, maybe twenty miles, from the Coast. It's an area that has a whole menu of countryside. You've seen a lot of it on The Lost World, from rolling hills and
craggy quarries to tropical rain forest. So one can film all day and then get the cast and crew back to the civilized luxury of Surferâ€™s Paradise in thirty to forty - five minutes.
Lost World locations are often rented from ranchers and other private individuals.
Steve: You had luxurious accommodations. Did you all stay in the same building?
Michael: No, we were mostly in different buildings, depending on what the company could rent for us. David Orth was in the same building as I was. I guess because we were
both Canadians. We were neighbors. All the rented condos had two bedrooms and two bathrooms so we could have guests come and stay with us. The hotel supplied us with a
TV/VCR and the Fox network. Unfortunately, Gold Coast residents are in a state of denial about their weather, so not all the condos had air-conditioning!
Steve: You enjoyed spring temperatures during winter shooting. The sun went down by 4:30. You could have coffee on your balcony in your shirt sleeves. But, you usually had to
be up and dressed between 3:30 and 4:00 am. Right?
Michael: Not always - it COULD be that early if we were "first-up" i.e. in the first scene to be shot.
Steve: Avis Rental supplied the vehicles that transported you to and from shooting locations and sets. So, you all traveled together in a Commodore?
Michael: Well, not exactly. The company rents about ten vehicles from Avis, and there are maybe six permanent drivers, who also act as company runners. Members of the cast
are called to and released from the set at different times. So drivers pick up everyone called at the same time ( schedules differ every day ). The Holden Commodore is probably
the most popular Australian car.
|ALL ABOUT PROFESSOR SUMMERLEE AND THE LOST WORLD: An Interview with Michael Sinelnikoff
by Stephen M. Faust and Andrea - Chiara Krofges
written October 19, 2000