Let the witch hunt begin! As the premiere of Salem draws near, I'm on the set of the new horror TV series with actor Shane West to chat about his heroic new role. Watch the video to see him detail some of the gruesome aspects of the show's creepy set.
WGN America's first original drama series, Salem, explores the 17th century historical accounts of the infamous Salem witch trials that gripped the Massachusetts town, only in this story the witches are real and manipulating the trials.
In Salem, 35-year-old Shane West (Nikita, ER, A Walk to Remember) plays John Alden, a tough, Salem-born war veteran who's passionate about his hometown and would give his life defending it. For Shane, taking on this type of heroic role in a period piece is a first.
"Well, I've certainly never looked like this before, so that could be surprising," he tells me while in his full costume, including a long wig, ready for an upcoming scene. "It's a different look; it's exciting and it's a tougher character than I've played in the past."
Shane's character falls in love with fellow Salem resident, Mary (Janet Montgomery), but their romance is short-lived when he abruptly leaves for war to defend the town against the French and the Indians and gets taken prisoner. During the years John is away, the entire community of Salem slips into witch hunt hysteria, lead by the Puritans. Since Mary believes John was killed in battle, she moves on and marries one of the town's most powerful Puritan leaders, George Sibley. As his wife, she presides over the town while her servant, Tituba (Ashley Madekwe), reveals that she has supernatural and dark powers and is essentially a witch. Tituba soon teaches Mary witchcraft, making her the most powerful witch in Salem. When John unexpectedly returns from war to find Salem in the middle of a deadly witch panic, he's skeptical and has to make sense of the madness; little does he know that his long-ago love, Mary, is a witch herself.
The show's massive set, located outside Shreveport, Louisiana and not far from Shane's hometown of Baton Rouge, couldn't be more immersive for the cast.
"You walk onto a set like this, which is rare, you don't get that these days anyway," Shane explains, "They created this world of Salem right off the bat in the first episode. Our first couple scenes that we shot were at night too, to make it even scarier. It just has this very creepy quality that makes it very exciting to go to work every day."
Also included in the cast are Seth Gabel (Arrow) as Cotton Mather, leader of the witch hunts; Xander Berkeley (The Mentalist, 24) as Magistrate Hale, Salem's chief politician; and actress Tamzin Merchant (The Tudors) who plays his daughter, Anne Hale.
Salem debuts on Sunday, April 20 at 10/9 c. on WGN America.