Elyes Gabel in SCORPION - Season 1 | ©2014 CBS/Sonja Flemming

Elyes Gabel in SCORPION – Season 1 | ©2014 CBS/Sonja Flemming

SCORPION, a Nielsen Top 20 show, wraps up its third season Monday night on CBS and has been renewed for a fourth season. The series, developed by Nick Santora, concerns a team of geniuses headed up by Elyes Gabel’s Walter O’Brien, who are brilliant at solving problems that would stump MacGyver. However, the members of Team Scorpion are so socially awkward that they need former waitress Paige Dineen, played by Katharine McPhee, to help them interact with the outside world. Cabe Gallo (Robert Patrick) is their liaison to Homeland Security. Sylvester “Sly” Dodd, played by Ari Stidham, is one of the world’s best with numbers and computers, but he’s also a germaphobe, acrophobe, and lots-of-other-things-phobe, though he’s getting better about it.

In Season 3, Walter and Paige have finally confessed their feelings for each other, and team members Toby Curtis (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and mechanical whiz Happy Quinn (Jadyn Wong) have just gotten married. Sly has run for and (after a technicality) won a seat as alderman in the (fictional) Los Angeles County district of West Altadenia. Alas, a plane craft currently has everybody stranded on an island, but Scorpion is no doubt up to the challenge of getting home by the end of the season finale.

Gabel, who hails from London, England and uses an American accent to play Walter, and Stidham, a native of Los Angeles, where SCORPION is filmed, sit down together to talk during a West Hollywood breakfast organized by CBS. The conversation ranges from their characters’ emotional statuses to whether bats in an on-set cave are made of nylon.

ASSIGNMENT X: Were you surprised or gratified to get picked up for a new season?

ARI STIDHAM: I largely think it’s both. We do work really hard, so it’s nice to know that we’re going to get to be able to do that. Also, it’s crazy that we’re on a show that does these insane things. We do a movie every episode. I’m surprised in a delighted way, not surprised in a bad way. Delighted.

AX: Walter has had some big emotional jolts over the seasons. Some of them have been positive and some of them have been major trauma. Do you think Walter gets more in touch with his emotions through the more pleasant ones, or the more traumatic ones?

ELYES GABEL: I think the great thing about playing somebody who doesn’t really conform to normal social behaviors is, if you work from the inside out, they look at the world in a different way. I think whether it’s positive or negative, you still have this exhilarating rush of adrenaline when somebody experiences something new.

AX: Which gives you a bigger charge in the playing of it, positive experience or negative experience?

GABEL: There’s a really interesting quote from a nameless actor, when they were being interviewed about what is it that makes an actor, and the actor turned around and said, “Every actor has something for free,” meaning that they give a certain part of their character, their personality. And that’s what they provide, or that’s what they show or imbue into whatever character they play. And they work on different things – that’s their natural aptitude. That’s the essence that you bring. With Walter, he’s so diametrically opposed to who I am in terms of the processing – he’s like a computer. I have to fight my instinctual urge to be emotional, because I think that’s a very, very strong color. So I think the way it’s written, it purely is great functionality for a guy who processes things like a computer. I naturally gravitate towards emotionally high or low or traumatic experiences, because I think they have the greatest color. And then I try to nuance in between. So in answer to your question, I think what I’ve experienced with this character is fighting against the grain of how I normally play things. Which is really actually constantly looking at, almost as if you’re processing an answer, rather than taking something really emotionally, you really do the analysis and really restrain yourself from becoming emotional. And I think that really has value more with the comedic stuff, because he attacks it from a different perspective, and that is hilarious, hopefully, to the audience, who don’t see it from his perspective until he’s explained it.

AX: Does doing an American accent help with the restraint?

GABEL: Yeah. There’s a specific American accent that I do for him, but the words help edify or educate how he speaks, and after awhile, I got a rhythm about how he speaks, which is different to how I’d play a different American. So yeah, the accent definitely helps. Adding that accent and the way that he’s almost got doors in front of him, and he closes up. It’s really, really sectioned, and the accent definitely helps him.

AX: In the episode where Walter’s sister Megan died, it was like he almost didn’t process it, rather than becoming emotional at the time.

GABEL: Yeah. I think that’s good writing as well. You see his reaction, not then and there. He has so many walls and so many areas of processing, his emotions come out later. And then about three episodes later, that’s when the emotion came out.

AX: Sylvester married Megan in this hospital while she was dying, so the marriage was brief, but Sylvester really loved her, and it made Sylvester and Walter brothers-in-law. As far as where the characters are at emotionally, do you think Sylvester will be able to date again, and do you think Walter will be okay with Sylvester dating someone other than Megan if it happens?

GABEL: [joking, barks at Stidham] No! Stay, stay a man.

Ari Stidham as Sylvester Dodd in SCORPION - Season 1 - "Going South" | ©2015 CBS Broadcasting, Inc/Sonja Flemming

Ari Stidham as Sylvester Dodd in SCORPION – Season 1 – “Going South” | ©2015 CBS Broadcasting, Inc/Sonja Flemming

STIDHAM: I think he could date somebody again, but I don’t know if it will happen for awhile. I think death is hard, and Walter’s progress is so …

GABEL: I think he’s finding his humanity, and then re-unlearning at the beginning of each season [laughs].

STIDHAM: And the progress is slow. [Walter] is always tripping over himself, so I don’t know.

GABEL: Don’t make this about me, man, it’s about you.

STIDHAM: But the show’s about Walter, and the team, so when Walter’s ready, I think.

GABEL: That’s a t-shirt. “When Walter is ready, Sylvester will date again” [laughs]. I would add, Ari plays Sylvester with a very charming likability. I think one of the great things about characters within long-running shows, and even within narrative films, is that you can get away with doing things that are unlikable and slightly immoral, but it shows your humanity, because we’re all real, right? You just have to have somebody that is watchable within a likable way, playing it for people to still want to see that person, and still champion for them after [they do something unlikable], to have that vulnerability that you see, that makes you go, “Oh, they’ve done something that I really don’t agree with, but actually, they’re really human and I feel sorry for them afterward.” That’s really I think the nugget of good work. And I think Ari has that. So to be able to play [Sylvester dating again] – I think if Walter judged him, then the audience would be judging Walter for it, as well is my point.

STIDHAM: Thank you for saying that. It was really nice of you.

AX: Walter was also married for green card reasons to co-worker Happy Quinn, played by Jadyn Wong, but although they are good friends, there was never any sex or romance in that relationship. Even though they’re both attractive people, it seems like it never crossed either of their minds. Why do you think that was?

GABEL: I would possibly veer away from suggesting that Walter sees other people – I don’t think it enters his wheelhouse, because I think there’s an element of myopia with Walter. When he says, “This is what’s optimal for the end result,” there are some things that end up affecting him in a weirder way that he hadn’t thought about before. It’s almost like, “Well, listen, man. If I stop my emotions, I can really achieve a much better goal.” Paige is the first person that’s come in and I suppose she’s thrust all her energy onto him and he’s starting to think about, or he’s been pressed to think about things in a different way. Because I think she’s the first person that’s made him go, “Whoa, okay, there’s sex around, or there’s that look around.” So in spite of Happy being a very good-looking lady, he knows through Toby’s relentless interest that she’s an interesting prospect as a woman, but I don’t think that’s really ever been factored there. The one person that’s kind of derailed him in a way is Paige.

AX: Do you have episodes that you consider turning points for your characters? It seems like Sylvester gets to progress in an ongoing direction maybe a little more than Walter does …

STIDHAM: I think that’s sort of where the show is at. Toby progresses, too, and Happy as well. They learn and adapt, because geniuses don’t want to play with fifty cards if there are fifty-two, so they’re going to play with those fifty-two, they’re going to memorize the deck and figure out what they have in their wheelhouse. So I think Sylvester growing is, he sees where he’s weak. You’re going to put a cast on your leg if it’s broken.

I think [there are] many turning points, specifically for Sylvester. Meeting Megan, when he almost leaves the team when the boy is trapped in the ocean, the Christmas episode Season 1, and I think all throughout her being hospitalized full-time, intubated, and the marriage being a big turning point. I think there’s a lot of stuff that’s been going on for Sylvester, but in Season 3, they’re sort of in the wake of that, still. [There is now] this political thing [Sylvester has run for office and become an alderman in the city of West Altadenia].

GABEL: Yeah, that’s a nice stripe to your story. I always think about the different storylines that other people have, because I think we as actors can become so consumed with our own storylines, but this is one of the themes with your [Sylvester] character, there are themes of overcoming fears, but also the theme of constantly having that ability to empower oneself. That’s kind of a touchstone of your character as well. It’s always difficult in serialized TV to have this huge progression, because people fall in love with the first time that they see your character, and to deviate away and have this massive progression when all these characters start going on and on, it really starts changing the reason why people love it. So you kind of have to defer to that staple, really.

AX: Do you think Walter needs to learn more about empathy for other people?

GABEL: I think as an actor, you never want to play somebody’s flaws. You want to just highlight what their agenda is. But the good thing about this show is that it’s taught me to understand the format, the way that the writing wants to be played. It’s like beats. As an actor, you just want to play the truth. But there’s a marriage, in terms of getting the most entertainment quality out. And I think in that way, there is an egocentric serving himself because he knows that he’s the smartest person in the room at all times. Not the best-suited to answer the question, because he’s smart enough to say, “Oh, well, Happy’s a fabricator. She’ll know more about equipment,” or “Toby knows more about psychology,” like that. However, I think he really does have empathy – it’s just he knows what’s best for the cell. That’s what comes with being a leader. And that’s what I was saying before, about being egotistical. There’s humor attached to an element of hypocrisy from someone who’s so intelligent. I think the contradiction should add value to the comedic aspect of the show.

This interview was conducted during CBS’s portion of the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.

Related: Exclusive Interview: Elyes Gabel and Ari Stidham on Season 3 of SCORPION – Part 2

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Article: Exclusive Interview: Elyes Gabel and Ari Stidham on Season 3 of SCORPION – Part 1

 

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