Salem will be the first series that WGN America debuts on their new channel. Daily Actor had the opportunity to sit down with star Seth Gabel in a roundtable discussion about the new series at the Television Critics Association preview.
He gave us a real insider’s look at the fresh perspective the show brings to the Salem Witch Trials.
Were you familiar at all with this era of American history?
Seth Gabel: Yeah, I’d played John Proctor once in The Crucible in high school. That was the extent of my understanding of it. What’s so great about this show is the questions it raises and is there really such a thing as a good person or a bad person? And in this show you can… even witches have good in them. On the surface level, everyone begins as a character that you think is good fighting against evil, but as the first episode goes on you realize that he has a lot of hypocrisy and evil within him, but that’s a result of the society that he was born into. So is that… is that something to be critical of in his nature or in society? And I think the show does a good job of dancing the line of, I don’t know, our perceptions of what is good and what is bad.
How much research did you do on the actual Salem Witch Trials?
Seth Gabel: I started to… I went on Amazon and I bought a bunch of books about the Salem Witch Trials and then Adam Simon [Executive Producer] said, “This is going to completely flip…it’s just gonna completely go in a different way than the actual Salem Witch Trials did, so maybe you don’t wanna bog yourself down with that.” That said, I did anyway just to get into the world of it, but…
Did you visit Salem, Mass at all?
Seth Gabel: No. I really want to.
Seth Gabel: This last winter break I wanted to visit it and I hear that our set looks uncannily like it. So that part’s really cool. But in terms of research, I did enough to get into the world of it but I didn’t want to get too bogged down by the fact because I feel this show takes a cool approach in challenging facts by depicting them in ways that perhaps question our interpretation of them or what we were taught before. And in so doing, I feel like you get a real experience of the truth of it rather than just the facts.
In terms of dealing with the grotesque things and having to get sticky stuff applied to you, how does this compare to Fringe?
Seth Gabel: Fringe had a lot of sticky stuff applied to me. This so far has been easier for me. There’s been less sticky things but there’s definitely… I’ve already experienced a lot and the show will definitely have a lot of muck and blood and grime.
Are there actual real good decent people living in Salem?
Seth Gabel: Yeah, there are.
So where are they? Because all we saw were monsters, witches, naked people.
Seth Gabel: They’re around and they’re involved in the show and they’re fighting for good as well, but there’s definitely a, I don’t know, disease to fight against in the show and so I think the evil and the scariness that you see is very present.
Just to follow up, when you call it a disease what do you mean?
Seth Gabel: That evil spreads, that evil begets evil, that it can be contagious.
Now, you’ve said you have some scenes where… you have explicit scenes where you go to the brothel and if you do how are you coping with the, “Alright, I’m going to touch you here now?”
Seth Gabel: Yeah, I’d gotten… one of my first jobs was an arc on Nip/Tuck where I had to do a lot of nudity and a lot of sexual stuff with my mom. And so between that and Dirty Sexy Money where my character would make out with a lot of different women, I feel like I got a lot of that awkwardness out of the way and fortunately in this show the actress I was working with was very generous and allowing and kind of gave permission for there not to be too much awkwardness. And you have an understanding as actors that you’re just gonna go for it and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you like each other. You’re just being professional and making out.
When you saw the trailer it looks like nudity, sex…
Seth Gabel: All of the above.
…changing identities, turning into a witch and all of these kind of things takes up a lot of time in an episode. Would you say that that’s true?
Seth Gabel: It’s true, but everything is fueled and driven by real emotion and real, substantial events. Nothing is unnecessary, nothing is uncalled for, nothing is unnecessarily explicit. It’s all driven by the action in the storyline. The stakes are there. There’s a love story underneath of it, there’s simply caring about people and their relationships and that fuels… you see… when you see things escalate, it’s definitely more dangerous.
There seems to be a little bit of something for everyone. But what do you think the one thing is that will surprise everyone about this show?
Seth Gabel: I had an answer for this before. The truth is not what it seems.
And is here any element to this that particularly appeals to you as either an actor or a viewer? Something you get to do that you haven’t gotten to do before? Something you get to see that you find particularly interesting?
Seth Gabel: Yeah, this show is incredibly dynamic. It’s a period piece but in no way is it boring. It’s a horror piece but in no way is it gratuitous. It’s a blend of all things. It has character, it has drama, it has horrifying moments, it has sex and lust, and each of the characters contends with their own nature in the face of all of those things and so for me it’s incredibly rich and one of the deepest things I’ve ever been able to get into.
Salem premieres April 20 for a 13-episode run on WGN America.