On Season 2 of the hit CW series Arrow, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) has rededicated himself to his mission of being more than just another vigilante, and is attempting to become a beacon of hope for the city’s most vulnerable, as The Arrow. In Episode 7, “State vs Queen,” Oliver becomes concerned when a mysterious illness sweeps the city, infecting hundreds of people, including Diggle (David Ramsey). When he discovers Vertigo in his blood, he realizes The Count (guest star Seth Gabel) has broken out of prison, is once again distributing his drug, and is out to stir up chaos on his quest for revenge.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Seth Gabel talked about how this is the most fun he’s ever had playing a role, what The Count has set his sights on this time, how thrilled he was to come back on delve even deeper into this crazy character, how he got into the mind-set to play The Count, what to expect from the ultimate confrontation between The Count and Arrow, and how much playing The Count really helped him evolve, as an actor. He also talked about what drew him to his role on Salem, the first scripted series from WGN, premiering in the Spring. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
SETH GABEL: It is honestly the most fun I’ve ever had, playing a part.
The Count was left in a state that made him seem not so coherent, when we last saw him. What can you say to tease how he bounces back from that?
GABEL: Well, it’s possible that The Count was faking how out of it he was, the last time you saw him. But, it’s also possible that just, over time, the Vertigo worked its way through his system and he has gotten his wits strong enough to reach the point of essentially planning an escape and plotting a course of revenge that will ultimately lead to the destruction of Oliver Queen and The Arrow.
What can you say to tease this week’s episode, and why The Count is so focused on revenge now?
GABEL: The Count wants two things. He wants to control Starling City for the use of his Vertigo wonder drug, and he wants to eliminate any opponents to that goal. Right now, The Arrow is the biggest adversary to The Count, and so one of the first steps to controlling the city is to eliminate Oliver Queen. So, The Count breaks out of prison, he poisons the people of Starling City with Vertigo, and then he sets a trap for The Hood to walk into.
So, The Count has been doing a lot of planning, since we last saw him.
GABEL: He’s had plenty of time to plan. He’s been in the prison of his own mind. He’s been in the prison of Starling City. When he breaks out, it causes an explosion of chaos, and violence follows afterwards.
You had a very memorable first appearance last season, and then an all-too-brief return. Did you know then that you would be returning for Season 2?
GABEL: I was hoping. Initially, I thought it was gonna be a one-off, in the first season. And then, I was honored to be brought back in, but when I was brought in, there were a lot of scheduling conflicts with pilot season and going on auditions for things and shooting other projects. They were only able to have me there for one day, and I was so disappointed because I so badly wanted to sink my teeth into it and do so much more. They adapted what they were originally planning, but I didn’t get to do as much as I wanted to do. So, when they asked me to come back this season, I was absolutely thrilled. With this episode, I think you really get to see The Count in his elements and spend more time with him and really see him enjoying the fruits of his labor. It’s dark and twisted, and strangely a real joy to play. The Count finds joy in wreaking havoc and causing chaos, and it becomes infectious.
GABEL: You have to find a realm where it’s real. Even if it’s crazy and over-the-top, you can create a realm of logic where that is realistic. You simply shift your mind from what is normal to what the character perceives as normal, and how he’s justified in doing so. Power and the need for control can fuel people to do some pretty crazy things. If you just amp up the character’s willingness to do whatever it takes to gain power and control, and then also amp down his sensitivity to the pain of others to causing chaos and to causing suffering, and turn off any kind of empathy there, and instead of him emphasizing and feeling bad for a person, if you cross the wires and say that he’s actually feeling joy when someone is suffering, then you can create a logic where it makes sense for you to be crazy, unhinged, violent, aggressive and existing on a different plane than other people do. That’s how I justified it for myself.
How cool has it been to get to play a villain on a show that keeps bringing their villains back and giving them more screen time and a deeper backstory, instead of just focusing on the heroes of the story?
GABEL: What the writers do so well is balance action and story with character. They place importance on the relationships between the characters and the details of the backstory that shape those characters’ lives. I’m honored to be back to give more windows into The Count’s likeness and personality, and his backstory and motivations for doing things. The more you spend time with a character, the more you see different nuances of that character. I think it’s great that they bring people back and give villains an opportunity to not be flat characters, but to be as dynamic as possible.
When you just pop in and out of a show that becomes more of a well-oiled machine, while you’re gone, do you have to find your footing and your place among everyone each time, or does it really feel like you haven’t missed a beat, since the last time you were there?
GABEL: I’ve been fortunate to be a part of shows where the actors are extremely friendly and welcoming, and Arrow is definitely that. The crew is incredibly hard-working and incredibly passionate about what they do, and the cast is all awesome. Most of the people in the cast are my age, so I felt like we all got along, and it was a pleasure seeing them again.
In this episode, The Count sets a trap that Felicity walks into. What can you say about their interaction?
After messing with both Diggle and Felicity, should viewers be worried about The Count’s fate, this time around?
GABEL: The Arrow has a no killing clause, so I think The Count takes good advantage of that.
What can you say to tease the ultimate confrontation between The Count and The Arrow?
GABEL: There is definitely an ultimate conflict. There is a chance that Felicity is used as a human shield. I won’t say any more than that.
Has it made a noticeable difference for you, as an actor, to have writers that are so passionate about the story that they’re telling?
GABEL: Yeah. Passion is so contagious. When you’re working on a project where people care, on every level, from the key grips to the main writer to the star of the show, you can’t help but want to jump on board and create something. I just think, as a species, what we enjoy most is creation and creativity, and telling stories is an extension of expressing all the thoughts and ideas that we have inside of ourselves. Whatever kind of story you’re telling, whether it’s a genre piece for a comic book or whatever it is, it has importance because it’s all a metaphor for the existence of our being.
Do you get much time to train for these kinds of fight scenes and the physical work that you do, when you’re just coming in and out for one episode, here and there?
GABEL: Never. Not at all. One of the first days on Fringe, I had to hold a gun and actually fire it and kill someone, they just handed me a gun and said, “Pull the trigger, and then go from there.” I had to turn to Anna Torv and say, “Anna, I have not had any training with a firearm. What can you tell me, so that I don’t look like an idiot?” And she taught me how the FBI would hold the gun, and how you keep your finger off of the trigger until you really decide that you’re going to shoot someone, which I thought was pretty cool. She also showed me how to hold a flashlight and a gun, at the same time, and not look like a dork. On Arrow, there’s an amazing stunt team, so I actually felt a lot more prepared to handle conflicts and fights and fight choreography because it was actually people I had worked with on Fringe. They’re actually such a well-oiled machine there that, as long as you stay in shape and do your best to keep up, you can get it done.
When you play a character that’s this deliciously fun, is it hard to find the next character and find a way to follow that up?
GABEL: Well, I feel like I found it now. I’m on the set, right now, of Salem, which will premiere on WGN in the Spring. The character is unhinged. He’s much different than The Count. He’s based on a real person during the Salem witch trials. But, feel like I found that. I think I might have been disappointed going back to a character that would be the equivalent of a cop going from the street to a desk job. But with this, I feel like I have found a supernatural genre piece that is as elevated and mature in its writing and development of character, which is pretty exciting.
Did The Count help you see the fun in playing such dark characters?
GABEL: Yeah. The Count really helped me evolve, as an actor. It really taught me to take big risks and dare to fail. Not everyone is going to like the way it’s portrayed. They might feel it’s out of the context of the show, or that it’s over-the-top, but I really wanted to take a risk with the character and dare to fail, and dare to have people not like me. The biggest fear you face, as an actor, is whether people are going to like you. When you learn to let go of that fear, you can go so much deeper into the role and really take much bigger risks ‘cause you’re not worried about trivial things like that.
As an actor, does it feel a bit scary to be in the first scripted series for a network with Salem, or is it exciting that all of these networks and mediums are open to actors now, in a way they never were before?
GABEL: It’s liberating. I imagine it’s like what it must have been, going into the Wild West. The way that people are watching TV is changing. The landscape of television is changing. Movies are becoming much more insular. They’re like a walled garden, where you know what you’re going to see and you expect it. But in the world of TV, because it’s episodic, you can explore any area because you have time to do that. You can take risks on the kinds of storytelling that you’re doing. So, I’m really excited to be a part of a new network, taking new approaches to the storytelling model and not being afraid to take risks. I feel like they’re doing a great job, so far, in spending their money in the right ways to really create something bold and interesting.
If The Count survives this episode, will your schedule allow you to return again, at some point?
GABEL: Salem is only a 13-episode season. It’s cable, so there’s always room to come back.
Arrow airs on Wednesday nights on The CW.