Good actors craft villains that make your skin crawl, your morals recoil and your heart race out of fear for our heroes' mortality. Great actors tick all those baddie boxes but also infuse their scoundrel with an ineffable charisma that leaves you wanting more and hoping their reign of terror never truly ends. Arrow landed this kind of rarely seen, but always desired, evildoer thanks to Seth Gabel's exhilarating performance as The Count!
The Count makes his third appearance on TV's best action series this Wednesday and Gabel rang up ETonline to talk about returning to do battle with The Hood once more. In addition to revealing how the Vertigo-peddler infects Starling City this time, Gabel reveals his unnerving performance preparation routine and teased his anticipated new series, Salem!
ETonline: On a scale of 1-10, how much fun is playing The Count?
Seth Gabel: It's a 14. Honestly, this is really the most fun I've ever had playing a part. I was nervous at first creating this character, who could be conceived as being over-the-top, but Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim kept asking for more. So coming into this episode, because he had OD'd so much the last time we saw him, The Count is allowed to be as crazy as I want him to be. So that got me very excited, but in the interest of keeping it realistic, I found areas to tone it down and apply it to the world Arrow lives in. I'm pretty happy with the result.
ETonline: Was this always the plan with The Count or has it evolved since you were cast?
Gabel: I had no expectation of coming back. I thought it would be a one-off and I would have a good time. The same is true with Fringe -- that was just a guest-starring role but it became recurring and then I was a regular on that, which is such an honor. To have just done one, of Fringe or Arrow, would have been thrill enough for me, but to continue the way I have been has been really exciting.
ETonline: What excites you about The Count's return in State v. Queen?
Gabel: The Count is unhinged. He poisons the good people of Starling City with Vertigo, I set traps for The Hood, I kidnap Donner [played by Dylan Bruce] and that's just the beginning. The episode explodes into chaos, which is The Count's element.
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ETonline: The energy it must take to play this frenetic character must be exhausting. Could you play him on a weekly basis?
Gabel: Yeah, it's pretty fun [laughs]. I'm a dad with 2 kids so I have to lead a very responsible life outside of work, which I thoroughly enjoy, so it's nice to be in a profession where I can go to work and really play. For this, I would listen to aggressive dubstep music in my trailer every morning which kind of freaked out the crew because my trailer would be rocking back and forth while I was inside just dancing around and getting all crazy. It was really, really fun.
ETonline: What you're saying is Warner Bros. dropped the ball in secretly filming that and releasing it as a viral video to promote your Arrow return?
Gabel: [laughs] I think that'll be on the DVD.
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ETonline: We've seen The Count go from businessman to catatonic prisoner thanks to Oliver. Has he returned to take The Hood down?
Gabel: I love that you call The Count a businessman because I think, first and foremost, he is a businessman and his business is the street. Now, in business can there be a place for vengeance? You'll have to tune in to see, but there definitely is a vendetta against The Hood because he double crossed me in the first episode and stuck me in an insane asylum for who knows how long. It was just awful. It might be good business that he take The Hood out and stop at nothing to do that.
ETonline: You mentioned Fringe earlier; you were also amazing on Nip/Tuck and Dirty Sexy Money. Has there been a character you wished for more time with?
Gabel: It's always really hard to say goodbye. Fringe is kind of the only role where I got to properly say goodbye without a tragic end. One version of Lincoln died, but the version that felt more like me evolved and grew and in the final season we got to see him as a full integrated happy person. With Nip/Tuck, I got to complete Adrian's arc, it just ended with my own suicide. Which was intense. With guest spots, you're always saying goodbye to the characters [at the end of filming that episode] because you never know what's going to happen. The process of creativity and life is one of death and rebirth, that's constantly happening over and over again. Whether it's an actual death or just a shift in perspective, that cycle is forever continuing. As an actor and person, that's just something you have to accept.
ETonline: You're now a series regular on WGN's Salem. Do you approach a character differently when you know you'll be playing them over 13 episodes?
Gabel: Yeah. With The Count, because I thought it was a one-off I felt I had permission to go for it and be crazy. The worst case scenario was they fire me and I don't do that show anymore. There's less at stake in being a guest star and that helps me take bigger chances and risks. Now, with Salem, it's a pretty incredible role -- probably the most complex role I've ever played. I'm a demon-witch hunter with strange addictions and contradictions and idiosyncrasies. Having the experience of being rewarded for taking big risks on Arrow has encouraged me to take even bigger risks with Salem and I'm beginning to enjoy the process of really putting myself out there without worrying about the result. It's a thrilling feeling and, oddly, one that I avoided for most of my life. But by taking a leap of faith into this character, I'm finding some wonderful things. I've never felt deeper into a role than I do right now.
ETonline: How do you describe the show and your character, Cotton Mather?
Gabel: The concept of the show is that it dares to unearth what really fueled the infamous witch trials of the 1690s and it discovers, or uncovers, the dark supernatural truth about witches. My character is a local aristocrat, a scientist, a reverend and a ruthless witch hunter who not only battles the witches of Salem, but also the demons that lie deep within myself.
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ETonline: Ok, I don't know if you're reading a press release, but that was perfectly stated to make me incredibly excited.
Gabel: [laughs] I took the press release soundbite and adapted it into my own words -- like I did with several high school essays!
ETonline: If The Count survives tonight's Arrow, would you be able to film additional episodes with these Salem obligations?
Gabel: Salem is a 13-episode cable series so there's plenty of time for other things. Plus, I make it a point to be available for any show I've committed to before because I have so much fun doing it.
Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.