Elyes Gabel (pronounced EL-ee-as Ga-BELL) will be known to fans of various genres. The London-born actor, who also lived for a time in Canada, is familiar to GAME OF THRONES viewers as the loyal but ill-fated Dothraki Rakharo. Zombie aficionados may have seen him in Britain’s Channel Four miniseries THE DEAD SET and will soon see him playing a virologist in WORLD WAR Z. Medical show enthusiasts may know Gabel from his seven years as Dr. Gurpreet “Guppy” Sandhu on the BBC’s CASUALTY.
Now Gabel has his first regular role on a U.S. network series, ABC’s BODY OF PROOF, which ends its run this Tuesday at 10 PM. Gabel plays police detective Adam Lucas who, with his partner Detective Tommy Sullivan (Mark Valley), helps medical examiners Dr. Megan Hunt (Dana Delany and Kate Murphy (Jeri Ryan) solve homicides.
At a party thrown by ABC for the Television Critics Association, Gabel happily discusses projects past and present.
AX: Your BODY OF PROOF character, Detective Adam Lucas, is new to BODY OF PROOF as of this season.
ELYES GABEL: A few of the characters who were in the previous series left the show. So myself andMarkValley are playing new detectives on the show.
AX: You use an American accent for the character?
GABEL: Yes, it’s pure American. It’s decent enough to fool people [laughs].
AX: Did you already have an American accent in place before you got the job?
GABEL: Yes. I’ve been Canadian for a good eight years of my life now [laughs] I lived there for quite a long period of time. My dad did not like the weather inEngland, and therefore, he did not like the weather inManchester. He was like, “Listen, we’re going to get the hell out of here.” We moved toMontreal, which was likeBrighton seasons, and then we moved back. So I was there for about eight years. I’ve got the thick “Ls” and the flatter, thicker consonants and vowels, and that kind of helped me out as well.
AX: BODY OF PROOF is set on the East Coast, though it’s filmed in Los Angeles. Were you concerned at all about the regional accent?
GABEL: You know, the first time I went through for the read-through, I was trying to sort out the nuances between the characters, and in the end, I think the conclusion they came to is, you straighten it, you Americanize it and you try to work out the nuance of the character, rather than working on the accent, which is going to take you away [from working on the character]. We wanted to work mainly on achieving whatever the dynamic was between myself andMarkValley, Jeri Ryan or Dana Delany, or [the rest of the cast]. We try to work on the dynamic of the characters, so that the accent doesn’t become the thing that guides us, it’s the story.
AX: Did you come to the U.S. because of GAME OF THRONES?
GABEL: No, I didn’t. I’ve been sort of cursed with bad pilot voodoo. In the last two years, I’ve shot pilots. I shot a pilot [in 2010] called EXIT STRATEGY, which was a procedural for Fox. I suppose they had designs to make it a new 24. It was a nice show. It had Ethan Hawke, who played the lead, but it didn’t go. I shot another one out here about [in mid-2012] and then I booked this job fromEngland, actually.
AX: So you auditioned on tape for BODY OF PROOF?
GABEL: Yeah. Not for the other two pilots – I was out here the last two times. Third time lucky. Well, this one I didn’t do the pilot – I just came for the straight-up series.
AX: What can you say about your character?
GABEL: He’s a newly-minted detective, he’s about thirty years old, so he’s one of the young whippersnappers, they call them. Most of the people in his division are a lot older than him. So I think there’s constantly the need to prove himself. I’m the son of a high-powered legal defense attorney [who] represents the crooks and I didn’t want to represent the crooks, I didn’t want them to get away. I’m a young detective with a smart mouth.
AX: Mark Valley’s character Tommy is Megan Hunt’s ex-boyfriend. Does your character have any hesitations about Tommy working with his ex-girlfriend?
GABEL: I think the strange thing is, he finds it a curiosity. And that’s why he starts poking at it, at the start. It also kind of informs – when anybody tries to form a bit of banter or a bit of a dynamic with somebody else, they’re obviously going to include somebody else. So there are a couple of bits where Megan’s character is out there, they’re talking about the actual situation with the dead corpse there, and [Adam] brings up the fact that they’ve had a relationship. Which is kind of strange.
AX: So would you say Adam is maybe a little clueless? Or tactless?
GABEL: No, I think there’s a difference in terms of being clueless and tactless. I think the tactless aspect is him trying to enforce his information so that he becomes part of the dynamic and part of the group. So every time you’ve got this little hyena who’s in there, just trying to grapple onto them and say, “Listen, man, I can play, it’s cool.” And I think that’s what he’s trying to do. Rather than being clueless, I think the fact that he’s informed leads him to those situations.
AX: Did you have to learn anything to play a detective, like how to handle police-issue weaponry?
GABEL: Oh, yeah. We did arms training with one of – the arms expert on the show is a guy called Chick Daniels, and he took us out on ride-alongs, he took us out to shoot in a couple of different areas. There was L.A. Gun Club. So we got to handle a load of different pieces, so that we felt we looked at least a little bit more comfortable whilst we were holding [weapons]. And I think it all kind of seeps into you, it becomes symbiotic. You have developed this relationship with a rifle or a gun – it’s that whole thing about it being an extension of yourself, kind of weirdly, with a gun.
AX: Have you had any action playing a cop that’s made you think, “Man, I can’t believe people really do this”?
GABEL: I was definitely on a couple of ride-alongs where I saw some strange things happen – weird, off-key hobos, people who were known to that area, so in Needle Park, they would come throwing out bits of vocab or whatever their lexicon was, and I was like, “Wow, this place is odd, man, you have people walking around the streets.” But in the show, [what’s surprising is] just the extent to what you’ll do physically. The stuff that I’ve had to grapple with – Mark is the guy who gets to shoot people [laughs]. So I know one of the stunt coordinators, and they were thinking, it’s better to even it out and balance it out, so I got to shoot a couple of people later on in the episode. I’m not saying that’s necessarily positive, but at least you get to use the gun. But they kept us quite active.
AX: Did you sort of have to psych yourself up to think, “Okay, what is the sort of person who would want this job and want to be shooting people?”
GABEL: Yes, absolutely. But that’s why a bit of the background history to do with the guy who helped me out. We’ve got a nice little involvement with my character’s father. Every time you get a little bit of a branch like that, I suppose it makes it easier for you to accommodate for whatever they’re doing and whatever their decisions are.
AX: Has anything on either BODY OF PROOF or CASUALTY ever grossed you out?
GABEL: Yes. I was talking to somebody else about it in an interview before – [on BODY OF PROOF], we had, not incredibly grossing-out, but we had this guy who had his hands cut off, so you could see the stump on the end. He was literally eviscerated – you could see the claw that came out from him, you could see the place that virtually all of his nose was taken away. And the way that the prosthetics work over there in these shows is that they go for it. You start to get used to I suppose everything that the prosthetics experts chuck at you, but there have been a couple of times, especially in CASUALTY, where they go for the most gross-out thing, and then when they realize it’s an embargo, they can’t really show most of the stuff that comes out in it.
AX: How was working on CASUALTY as an actor? Your character went through an awful lot …
GABEL: That was such a strange beast of just mashing every single thing that you could do into one, from taking drugs, narcotics, to helping my father euthanize himself, to also losing your virginity at twenty-seven years old – I mean, it was a strange rite of passage for all that time.
AX: You were also in the first two seasons of GAME OF THRONES – did you have any idea when you were doing it that it was going to turn into a phenomenon?
GABEL: Yeah. I think so. I think if anybody tells you that they didn’t know what it was going to become, they’re probably lying or they didn’t have a decent amount of information, or they weren’t involved enough. I came into the project quite late, actually. I think they were filling out their peripheral characters, because GAME OF THRONES is like a two-hundred-strong-character piece. So right at the start, you know it’s going to be massive, because it’s already got a huge readership. It already had a massive audience, and they way that they did it – they went to HBO, [executive producers] Dan Weiss and David Benioff, they knew the kind of thing that they wanted to create, and they kept it really true to what the books were about. It was large in scope, visually. It’s brilliant. It’s one of those projects that you think that they spend their money well and their time very well.
AX: Did you ever imagine before going up for that that you were going to play a bare-chested barbarian on horseback?
GABEL: [laughs] He ain’t bare-chested, he’s got leather on top of him. Yes, I did. I suppose that’s what you know when you go in for the casting. It was nice to run around, whip people, a bit of horse-riding as well. You fill the whole gamut, I suppose, when you’re an actor. I did another job where I was horse-riding in between as well. So it was my period piece era as an actor, I suppose.
AX: Did you know how to do the horse-riding and the whip work before you got the job?
GABEL: No, they taught me straight up there. There’s a big guy called Buster [Reeves] who handles a lot of the stunts. He did the BATMAN film and he told me some funny stories – he just got the whip out one day, we were in Belfast on a cold, cold morning, and he said, “Listen, mate, you’re going to be handling this, do you want to have a little go?” We cracked the whip and sometimes they do your eye in, because you’ve got to crack the whip and it flies back at you. So he’s done his eye in the first couple of times he did it – I did my eye in, nearly, at the time. You’re throwing it in front of you, you crack it and it comes back at you almost like a boomerang, at a straight angle. All that stuff’s really fun.
AX: Did you have to have a head cast made?
GABEL: Do you mean for my demise? [Rakharo’s severed head is sent back to the Khaleesi.] No, mate [laughs]. They only showed a little bit of my hair – it could have been anybody. I was fortunate – I was shooting something else at the time and they wanted to bring us back and I got the chance to come back and do a little bit, not as much as I think the original intention was. So I went back, shot for a day, and then they filmed that scene without me, the decapitated bit.
AX: Do you have any other projects we should know about?
GABEL: Yes. Before I started this [BODY OF PROOF], I shot a film called WELCOME TO THE PUNCH [released theatrically earlier this year]. It’s a lovely little film about a heist, a thief who gets cornered and he makes it away at the start, and I play his son who gets embroiled – actually, he has to come back from Iceland to save his son. It’s with James MacAvoy, and Mark Strong plays my father. And I finished reshoots for WORLD WAR Z. I can’t wait to see how it comes out.
AX: Anything else we should know?
GABEL: I love this job. I’m very happy to be here and may acting long continue.
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Article: Exclusive Interview: Elyes Gabel on BODY OF PROOF and GAME OF THRONES