Seth Gabel as Lincoln in FRINGE - Season 4 - "Everything In Its Right Place" | ©2012 Fox/Liane Hentscher

Seth Gabel as Lincoln in FRINGE - Season 4 - "Everything In Its Right Place" | ©2012 Fox/Liane Hentscher

In WGN America’s supernatural drama SALEM, now in its first season Sundays at 10 PM and renewed for a second, real witches in the famed seventeenth-century town are misdirecting blame for their doings on non-magical townsfolk.

Seth Gabel plays famed historical figure Cotton Mather, publicly a staunch Puritan who is privately caught up in all manner of illicit doings. Gabel (pronounced GABE-el) is known to genre fans for playing Special Agent Lincoln Lee on FRINGE. The Florida native has also recurred on ARROW as the villainous Count and was a regular on DIRTY SEXY MONEY. Film credits include THE DA VINCI CODE, JONAH HEX and ALLEGIANCE.

At an event hosted by WGN America for the Television Critics Association, Gabel talks about playing a flawed man in Colonial times.

ASSIGNMENT X: Were you familiar at all with this era of American history?

SETH GABEL: Yeah. I played John Proctor once in THE CRUCIBLE in high school [laughs]. That was the extent of my understanding of this.

AX: Were you aware of Cotton Mather specifically?

GABEL: This depiction of Cotton Mather is very different. It’s true to the [historical] character, in that we use a lot of the text that he had actually written in his journals and in letters to people, but beyond that, it’s definitely an interpretation of who he was.

AX: Would you say he’s more of a protagonist or an antagonist in SALEM?

GABEL: The thing about this show is, it questions good and evil, and is there really such a thing as a good person or a bad person, or are we all a little bit of both? In this show, even witches have good in them. On the surface level, Cotton Mather begins as a character who you think is good fighting against evil, but as [the series] 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 something to be critical of in his nature, or in society? I think the show does a good job of dancing the line of our perceptions of what is good and what is bad.

[There are good people] around and they’re involved in the show, and they’re fighting for good as well. But there’s definitely a disease to fight against in the show. So I think that the evil and the scariness that you see is very present.

AX: What do you mean by “disease” in this context?

GABEL: That evil spreads, that evil begets evil, that it can be contagious.

SALEM poster - Season 1 | ©2014 WGN America

SALEM poster - Season 1 | ©2014 WGN America

AX: How much research did you do on the actual Salem witch trials?

GABEL: I started to – I went on Amazon and I bought a bunch of books about the Salem witch trials and [SALEM co-creator/executive producer] Adam Simon said, “This is going to completely flip – it’s going to go in a completely different way than the actual Salem witch trials did, so maybe you don’t want to bog yourself down with that.” That said, I did anyway, just to get into the world of it. 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 facts, 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.

AX: SALEM shoots in Louisiana. Have you been to the real Salem, Massachusetts?

GABEL: No. I really want to. 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.

AX: In terms of dealing with muck and grotesque things and having to get sticky stuff applied to you, how does this compare to FRINGE?

GABEL: FRINGE had a lot of sticky stuff applied to me [laughs]. This so far has been easier for me – there’s been less sticky things – but I’ve already experienced a lot and the show will definitely have a lot of muck and blood and grime.

AX: Cotton Mather has some fairly intimate scenes at the brothel. How have those been in terms of working with your fellow performers?

GABEL: 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 [on-camera] mom [laughs]. 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 kind of gave permission for there not to be too much awkwardness. You have an understanding as actors that you’re just going to go for it, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you like each other, you’re just being professional and making out.

AX: Is there any element of SALEM 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, or something you get to see that you find particularly interesting?

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. So for me, it’s incredibly rich and one of the deepest things I’ve ever been able to get into.

Everything is fueled 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 of the storyline. And the stakes are there. There’s a love story underneath it, there’s simply caring about people and their relationships, and that fuels – when you see things escalate, it’s definitely warranted.

AX: So you feel that SALEM would work as a drama even without the supernatural elements?

GABEL: Yeah. Definitely. That’s what sets the show apart. Without costumes, without goats’ heads and blood and gore, the show stands up, because ultimately, it’s about the relationships between people and ultimately, it’s about a group of people that come to a new world and are oppressed. The women are oppressed and witchcraft is kind of a metaphor for the oppression of women in history, and how when they try to actually express their feelings, they were vilified. And that’s not right, and there were repercussions for that, and this show exposes and reveals that.

AX: Is there anything else you’d like us to know about SALEM right now?

GABEL: The truth is not what it seems.

Related:Exclusive Interview with SALEM star Shane West

Related:Exclusive Interview with SALEM star Ashley Madekwe


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Article:Exclusive Interview with SALEM star Seth Gabel on Season 1


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