Things are heating up in Salem (WGN America, Sundays, 10/9C) as second the season comes to a close – and especially so for Seth Gabel’s Cotton Mather and Tamzin Merchant’s Ann Hale.
Gabel and Merchant spoke to a group of journalists/bloggers about the season finale – teasing the emotionally fraught situation between Ann and Cotton, setting the stage for a third season and singing the praises of the actor who plays a certain creepiest-kid-in-the-world.
Hi guys, thanks so much for talking to us today.
Seth Gabel: Yes, thanks for talking to us.
So can you both talk about kind of what’s the most rewarding part of working on the show for you?
Gabel: Tamzin Merchant is…
Tamzin Merchant: Was that an introduction for me to talk or was that your answer?
Gabel: The most rewarding part is that Tamzin Merchant answers questions before I do.
Merchant: I think the most rewarding part for me is kind of not knowing where the story’s going next, and then finding out and being blown away by it. That, to me is extremely rewarding as an actor because you just you go on the ride with the character and that’s pretty exciting because you really don’t know what the writers are coming-up with next and it’s always mind-blowing, always surprising so that to me is very exciting. Seth?
Gabel: I have two most rewarding things if that’s allowed. One is on set just what I love about the show is that everyone takes it so seriously and everyone is doing absolutely everything they can to make the stakes however outrageous they become absolutely real and grounded in reality and they’re just devoted to the scene and all of the incredible situations that we’re placed in.
And then the other thing that I value most is like honestly the connection to the audience and the fans are fiercely loyal to the show and pay attention to every detail and it makes it that much easier to show-up to work and, you know, really want to put the extra effort in because you know people will catch every minute detail and so it makes it all the more worth it to put those…
Merchant: Yes, that’s really true.
Great, and then as a follow-up I know you had mentioned Tamzin about, you know, finding-out things and being surprised but is it hard if you don’t know the things going in and you have to wait to find out or…
Merchant: Yes, yes, it can be because, as an actor you want to do the best job and you want to be able to sort of plan ahead and sort of drop seeds, you know, along the path of where you’re going as a character.
You want for the story to be a surprise but for the character’s actions not necessarily to be a surprise and it can be challenging not knowing, you know, what’s happening because but, I mean, the writers do, they really have our backs, and then will tell us little bits of information if we need to know and if we are so there is also that…
Merchant: What was your biggest surprise Seth like what’s the biggest secret that you or what probably you can’t say some stuff because…
Gabel: I mean, I guess that I didn’t visit as many brothels as I thought I would and being put under a love spell, that was definitely a surprise. I don’t think I knew that happened until it like did happen.
Gabel: And so the concern was how that would affect me and how limited the character would become after that happened but everyone was pretty cool with me playing it pretty much straight as a person who was in love and because of the circumstances it just seemed a little out of the ordinary.
Merchant: Yes I think that putting a love spell on your character was quite an intense kind of thing for Anne to go through.
She really crosses a barrier and I think that was certainly a good challenge for me but in completely different way for you, because they say the idea of acting a spell is quite an interesting one and it could go so go many ways but I think that you guys found it amazing.
Merchant: An amazing way of telling the story.
Have you both been able to kind of step back and kind of look at you had done the first two years and just kind of like wipe the sweat off your brow like whew, what a ride so far.
Gabel: Yes, I mean, every day is like that. I mean, you leave work and go home and, I mean, there are a lot of times I’ll kind of look down at my hands and see that they’re shaking a little bit so you’re constantly like decompressing from the high stakes of what happens on set and in the show.
Merchant: Or you look down at your hands and you see that they’re covered in like blood or goo or something…
Gabel: Yes, but that’s just you on the weekends.
Merchant: And my rat, my poor rat.
Gabel: And I don’t know what it’s like for you Tamzin but getting to see the episodes on TV really helps me decompress because I see like because I have my memory of what happened on the day that we shot it and then so much happens to it in editing-wise and structurally the story’s being changed.
Merchant: I can’t watch myself. I’d love to just see you guys and I would watch that but I don’t get that like other side of the story as it were, I just have the being on set and living that thing.
Gabel: Feel like I used to have a hard time with that but it doesn’t bother me so much. Enough time passes between when we shoot it and when it airs for me to…
Merchant: Yes, yes, I think when we finish making it I might watch it. Then I can watch it but it just messes with my sense of the world, the realness of that world I suppose.
Gabel: I like it, I like getting the feedback of seeing how it’s coming across because the way it looks and feels to us it ends-up looking and feeling a lot different when you watch it and it I just for me it’s really informative to see how it comes across and fortunately I’ve been so pleased with the way it comes across just in terms of seeing a dark, horrifying world with these characters.
Merchant: Yes, I mean, the thing is is it is very impressive to sort of see how the kind of the fourth wall essentially is not there, you know, it’s not broken when you’re on TV and the world is so complete. The Salem world is just so complete on the TV and I have seen bits and pieces of it for ADR. I do appreciate that point of view.
Seth, I just I’d rather get the feedback of someone else saying I’m great and just blindly believing them and then carrying on…
Gabel: With all your terrible stuff, believe me. It’s the horror, we love that.
As a follow-up question this is really for both of you and certainly Seth, I mean, you played Vertigo so well on Arrow and as far as with characters lie that that, you know, that have the potential of kind of going over the line and going too over the top, is it something you rely on the director for that or do you kind of have your own internal, you know, kind of boundary to say I don’t want to go any further than this, that kind of…
Gabel: Yes, I just as I worked more and more the director in my head I think has gotten more skilled so I’ve gotten pretty good at that and in being able to watch myself more objectively than in the past where it was a very subjective experience like I could really adapt things as they go along and see what’s landing or what’s feeling like it’s pushed too hard.
Arrow I still think about whether I pushed too hard on that role, I mean, at the time it was presented to me as a Joker-type character and the show had not aired yet when I shot it so I didn’t really know the tone of the world that they were creating and as I’ve seen more and more of that, I’ve kind of wondered if maybe I took it a little bit too far and went into a Batman Forever space.
But at the time that was something I kind of needed as an actor who kind of held back a little more and I had just come off of Fringe where I feel like my characters on that were a bit more restrained and held back so I really relish the opportunity to jump into the world of Arrow and kind of be an over-the-top comic book super villain.
And then I feel that was a perfect segue for me personally to then take on the character of Cotton Mather who’s just an explosive mess of feelings and also has the restraint and repression but also there’s so much inside of him that just wants to come out so having just let all of that out on Arrow, it was a great experience to then try to pick-up the pieces and reassemble myself and I feel like that’s what the journey of Cotton Mather is.
Well, it wasn’t Batman Forever so don’t worry.
Gabel: Okay, cool, thanks.
Tamzin, do you have like your own safeguard as to how far you go when you’re doing an over the part, you know, kind of a character that can go over the top?
Merchant: No, maybe I should though. I don’t really but maybe I should
Gabel: Fortunately we have a writer on set who every episode we’ve asked even though we’re shooting on location in Shreveport and the writers work out of L.A., we’ve requested that there’s always a writer there and present who has an understanding of the full arc of the season and so everything is able to stay within the context of the reality that’s being created for the season.
And we have our brilliant producing director and everyone’s always available to provide feedback so I think all of us are encouraged to take risks and I don’t think anyone takes it too far. You could also trust it if you do take it too far people will help you reel it in.
Merchant: Yes, that’s very true, that’s very true. It’s I think it’s one of those shows that you can really have that freedom to explore something a bit wilder beyond your usual kind of spectrum as an actor so I think that there is that freedom but there is also that safeguard in the form of other people.
Gabel: That’s true.
Seth, Cotton has had a pretty rough go of it. His father is a jerk. He’s discovered book learning isn’t always sufficient to the task at hand. He’s faced some really terrible problems. He’s been betrayed by people he’s considered friends and quite possibly the woman he loves.
How does he, a not particularly brave man, manage to keep going and how is that going to carry-on into the finale?
Gabel: That’s a good question, I mean, how do any of us manage to keep going, I mean, like I as an actor and a human am always in the midst of an existential crisis.
And I think I can really get we see that side of Cotton when he has his kind of soliloquys to God where he’s questioning because one of the interesting things about the show is we see a lot of evidence of the devil but we haven’t really seen clear evidence of there being God or a higher power. We haven’t really seen that…
Merchant: That’s a bit messed-up, isn’t it?
Gabel: …we haven’t really seen that hand interfere with much of anything and so Cotton is always recognizing that lack of evidence and longing for some kind of sign and pretty much always when he looks-up and is talking to God, there’s nothing definitive but that’s usually when he hears a little voice inside of him that tells him what to do.
And I think all of us experience that and don’t really have a name for it, perhaps the unconscious, I don’t know but that seems to be enough, just that little hint of a voice and whether that’s just our own free will or if there’s something larger and supernatural going on like in a…
Merchant: It’s Brannon Braga, that’s who it is.
Gabel: …I don’t know but I think that little voice is enough for him to carry-on through all the betrayals and through all the mistakes and hearing from his father who he accidentally killed and committed patricide on and then was told that he’s already in hell and that he must save himself.
I think what keeps him going is the belief that there is something out there. He doesn’t know what it is but that’s enough to fight for.
Merchant: That’s beautiful.
We’ve seen transitions for Anne and Cotton. Anne went from the sweet innocent character to being able to kill animals without thinking about it and Cotton went from a brothel-going drunkard to a happily married man. Can you tell me what it was like going through the transitions and how it affected you guys going in the finale and possibly afterwards?
Merchant: Well, I think the killing the animal thing was something that upset quite a lot of people so from that point of view there were several earnest tweets about whether or not a kitten had been harmed in the making but I think the key is that it happens throughout the entire season and that for Anne it’s a slow slip into a person she never thought she could be.
And that’s very kind of it’s disturbing because it’s so hard to see who she was at the beginning of the season especially beginning of the show, you know, to has she’s become.
The most disturbing thing I think with people that do very morally devious things more and more often is to see that they completely have they themselves feel that they had no choice in the matter and that was something that’s very interesting playing Anne. Yes, I mean, luckily I haven’t taken animal killing into my own life. I think that would be a bad thing for my dog. Yes, yes.
Gabel: For Cotton I think what’s changed him so much from the drinking brother-goer of last season I think the biggest think that’s liberated him is the death of his father. I think that was a constant weight he was bearing on his back of his father’s expectations of him and scrutiny and disappointment and with him dead, it still haunting him literally and metaphorically in his own mind.
But he is beginning to taste a bit of freedom and then his relationship with Anne, Anne in Season 1 got caught into kind of put the drink down and convinced him to believe in himself and I think that’s carried through to Season 2 and then only got amped-up by the love spell that Anne put on him because that really gave him a purpose and something to live for that is good.
Gives him the strength to become even braver and take-on the witches and try to stop the second act of the grand right from being completed.
I wanted to ask about kind of the evolution of the relationship between Cotton and Anne and I have to say I’m rooting for it even though Anne has put this love spell on him. Can you talk about just working together in this new way this season and is there any hope for them, you know, after Cotton finds-out which I’m wondering if that’ll happen or not in the finale?
Merchant: Well, we can’t tell you. You’ll have to watch on Sunday.
Gabel: Yes, Sunday, I don’t think anyone will be able to predict what happens on Sunday. It’s definitely a major event. I think it’s satisfying for the course of this season’s run and sets-up what a season 3 could be about.
I personally have loved getting to work with Tamzin in this capacity just because she’s such a brilliant actor or actress and also a reactor. You can kind of throw anything at her and she’ll dish it right back so there isn’t too much improving in the language of, you know, 1692 period but we do. We try to mix it up and Tamzin’s always right there…
Merchant: I’m blushing but I feel the same way. Working with Seth has been such a pleasure. The little we got to do last season together was awesome and then this season’s just been super fun and it’s been like an education and it’s been a really, really grueling experience…
Gabel: Yes, you’ve learned what not to do from me.
Merchant: Ha ha, no, what I love about Anne and Cotton as well is that there’s a bit of lightness there and there is hope and Anne always kind of stood for hope in my mind in the town of Salem and in the show and Cotton, you know, she sees in Cotton what he can’t see in himself and that is a really beautiful thing.
And I think that despite the betrayal that Anne kind of wreaks really on Cotton by putting a love spell on him, I think that despite that that the hope and the center of their relationship is one of love at least in Season 2, but yes, what they are is really something quite special I think and creating that with Seth has been a really wonderful thing. It’s been a gift.
Gabel: But there’s a lot to overcome, I mean, finding-out that she did a love spell to Cotton, that she is a witch is like fundamental enemy and that she gave-up the boy to become the devil himself. I mean, those are some pretty big transgressions so we’ll see, we’ll see if Cotton can forgive in the end where and that Anne even really wants to be with him.
One of the things I really enjoyed about this season in particular is how many great set pieces each of your characters got. Tamzin, your scene in the wild was one of the scariest of the season and Seth your scene during the exorcism was incredible. What was it like for each to you some of those particular scenes in your characters considering how much they’ve developed from where they were last season?
Merchant: Good question.
Merchant: Yes, the well was a feat of many different kinds. It was stamina for everyone, the camera guys and everyone and the engineering that went into that thing was quite impressive but the actually kind of the well essentially is at the heart of Anne’s change. She kills her first animal in the well and that is very symbolic and important.
And filming that it took two lots of goes at it and we ended-up filming for 17 hours I think was the total time that we spent on that piece – in the water down the well – and it was like it was a real education for me in like just keeping stamina and really keeping that momentum of telling the story going and like changing every piece of that narrative had to change and grow more scary.
And I’ve never really done like, cholera kind of fright. Best acting if you know what I mean, like real jump starts and stuff so doing that was really cool as well like working with Mallory who plays the hag, stunt double and everything, she’s just so brilliant and stamina for sure was needed but also like an understanding of how jump scares and all that stuff works because that was a really cool thing for me to do that. Seth?
Gabel: So the exorcism, I had gotten a bit lucky because when you’re in the midst of a TV show, you get a script and it’s very much like oh by the way, you’re shooting it tomorrow but I was fortunate enough to get sick and so I couldn’t work for a few days so I got to go home and really like sit with the script and be miserable while I was sick.
But there was the added bonus of having felt completely exhausted and drained of energy which was actually really helpful to go into the exorcism with the process of shooting. It was grueling because we were like Tamzin in a very confined space in the hut and there’s no air conditioning and you’re just in the thick of it and trying to perform this exorcism.
And so I was really careful not to expose myself. I kind of wanted to watch The Exorcist but I also didn’t because I didn’t want to be copying anything that had been done in that and so I just kind of went into the scene feeling tired and exhausted and just knowing that I needed to perform this exorcism and fortunately Oliver Bell who plays John Jr. is an incredible actor…
Merchant: Yes, he is.
Gabel: …really did his homework and would shift from being a boy to becoming a demon and you could really just react to everything he was doing. I asked the props department to put a lot of my prayers and Bible references in the book. So I could actually read it if I wanted to which kind of took the pressure off knowing the lines but also and helped me engaged more with the book because that Bible is kind of the one thing that Cotton can hold onto as a weapon against this demon.
And so I just kind of went along for that ride and we really didn’t know how it was going to turn out but when I watched the episode, I was really happy with it and we had shot it first and then I think once they started the process of post-production they decided to go back and add things like Mary Sibley being there in this really haunting way.
There are a lot of elements that they added afterwards to kind of intersplice with everything and I thought they did a brilliant job with keeping the tension up through that whole sequence.
My question is for Tamzin. I’m wondering – I cannot get over the amazing converse you actually have with someone other than Cotton and so I’m wondering how he compares working with Seth because he’s just amazing.
Merchant: He is amazing. There are like seven of him now.
Merchant: Yes, yes, he’s not like Tom Hardy, he hasn’t just been it’s not the same guy just putting on weight like dedicating, get dedicated, you know, like lifting weights a lot for the role. It’s like I think different species of rats that this amazing animal wrangler has got I’ve just really enjoyed working with a rat.
A partly like because when you work with an animal, I mean, people say never work with children and animals and actually like working with Oliver Bell has been really interesting and exciting experiences for me as an actor.
And working with a rat is like really, really it’s kind of it opens all the possibilities to you because you don’t know how it’s going to be. It’s just is a rat and so you can just react to this rat being a rat if that makes sense and it just lends a kind of spontaneity and a spark to the scene.
And I think maybe my most truthful moment sometimes are with a rat because he’s just like really being a rat and he has definitely used me as his toilet a couple of times which just adds another layer of authenticity to this so because it would have smelled quite bad in that time and occasionally smell pretty ratty with the rat…
Gabel: And Tamzin handles that very bravely. I’ve been there for many scenes where a rat or a mouse is peeing or pooping on her and she takes it like a champ.
Merchant: Well, I’m just like thanks, rat, you’re really helping, you know, it’s like really a method as far as a rat goes so it’s like it’s been so much fun and our animal wrangler is so dedicated and raised the challenge so magnificent with this idea of this throwing this monster of a rat that I just loved that whole portion of Anne’s story.
And it’s bizarre because it’s kind of sweet especially at the beginning and it then turns into something quite bizarre and she’s sort of almost of got this like blindness towards how ugly and disgusting this rat is and that also lends an insight into Anne’s character because it starts out pretty and gradually becomes a bit freaky and gross.
And that is definitely a mirror into her soul I think at this point which is also pretty cool, it’s a very cool metaphor.
I want to ask Seth Gabel on the show you have the former Xena Warrior Princess as a mother-in-law. In real life your father-in-law is Opie Cunningham. They are both TV icons. The pressure, is that the real reason Cotton Mather drinks?
Gabel: Exactly, yes, he’s just trying to escape the burden of all of this TV royalty. Lucy’s been an amazing addition to the show. I really lamented that I didn’t get more scenes with her because I’ve been a huge fan of hers not only from Xena but also Battlestar and Spartacus. I thought she was brilliant in those.
So when she joined our show, I called Adam and Brannon our creators and said wow, you guys really are brilliant because she’s kind of known for elevating genre material which is exactly what we’re striving for in this show and telling something that’s engaging and fun from a genre perspective but also, you know, having the material be elevated to where you can take it seriously and really delve into the drama and the characters.
So when she joined, I thought that was kind of the perfect message to send to the audience and for us going into Season 2 because I feel like we really began to understand what the show is and it just really feels like at this point in the show’s, you know, evolution that it’s really found it’s place and partially because of the addition of Lucy and everyone else.
Merchant: Yes, she’s so great. It’s been so much fun working with her this year.
Would Anne Hale get behind the countess’ vision of a future for witches?
Merchant: I think Anne has her very own vision of the future that I think she’s extremely determined to see it come to pass and I think that she may not see eye-to-eye with her mother in that respect but you never know.
I mean, I think that people with a vision can often get stuck on that vision in such a way that actually they end-up making something that’s kind of a diabolical version of the original vision rather than what they had in mind so we’ll have to see I think about that.
Anne and Cotton’s relationship I think is there a struggle especially it might be a little bit more for Seth to answer but I also think I’m interested to get your point of view from Anne, their relationship it’s Cotton seems to have a battle between faith and fact in this mystical world of witches and how does that overshadow their relationship and Cotton’s I think sometimes struggled to just grasp reality?
Gabel: Yes, I think the relationship between Anne and Cotton before he discovers that she’s a witch, that was the one thing that kept him tied and tethered to reality and not off in some kind of existential nightmare because he’s someone who’s raised on faith but as you said when he looks at the facts it doesn’t quite add-up to the same thing.
But at the same time he’s seeing the supernatural occurring with these witches and he’s experienced a lot of what the witches are capable of firsthand so he knows that that’s real and at the same time he’s desperate for any indication that the good guys that God and his angels are around helping out and there isn’t much evidence of that except for Anne Hale to Cotton and is an angel and proof of divinity and goodness.
And I think that that only makes the betrayal that much worse that this whole time she’s been a witch, for all he knows witches are completely evil and then, you know, if he finds-out about the love spell, that’s going to be the nail in the coffin for him and I’m not sure how he’ll quite return from that.
Merchant: Oh no.
I was wondering and I don’t know if there’s one you can but if you could talk about maybe tease something that’s coming-up in the finale that you’re excited for people to see without spoiling too much.
Merchant: I don’t want to spoil anything.
Gabel: Yes, I mean, there’s a great confrontation between Anne and Cotton… yes, and there’s definitely something that happens that is going to shock everyone…
Merchant: Yes, yes.
Gabel: …and we are very excited for people to see that. It’s disturbing and awesome…
Gabel: There’s the whole Oliver Bell having turned into possibly the devil himself and then kind of the closing act of the Season 2’s witch war and Mary fighting against Countess Marburg. There’s a lot of questions to be answered this Sunday that yes, we can’t say too much because so much happens.
Merchant: Yes, exactly, exactly, you just have to turn on the TV and just strap-in basically. Things are going to get crazy.
Gabel: …it should be very fast hour of TV, so much is going to happen.
Merchant: Yes, it’s a really fast hour. It’s going to get pretty hot by the end of things I think you could say. We’ll just leave it at that maybe.
Anne has had to evolve from being the really naive young woman to being very aware in a very short time and in more than merely problematic circumstances. How have you been able to make her evolution seem so natural?
Merchant: Well, I think that it’s happened over the course of two seasons. I think that some kind of the evolution is always very interesting because where Anne finishes Season 2 and where she starts are two very different places and I think that one of the people I’ve really enjoyed working with this season has been Jeremy Crutchley who plays Hawthorne who’s just like an excellent man to be, you know, an antagonist if you know what I mean.
He’s a wonderful guy, but Hawthorne is just this terrible person to sort of to be up against Anne and he really kind of makes hard the decisions that she has to make and the predicament she’s in very concrete and very kind of absolute.
I mean, you do not want to end-up married to Hawthorne in Salem because he is a deeply unpleasant person and I think that those kinds of sort of villains that Anne’s come-up against have helped to make that evolution very meaningful and also very kind of it’s a one-way evolution because she’s not you can’t do some of the things that Anne’s done.
You can’t kind of go back to being the naive innocent girl afterwards. She’s lost her innocence for sure…
Gabel: I feel like all the creatures you’ve killed too have kind of represented a certain death of her old self and being forced to grow up and let go of the innocence of childhood.
Merchant: Yes, exactly, she’s sort of in quite a cavalier fashion now kind of killing animals and I think that’s definitely indicative of something and a loss of innocence. I think, you know, it’s something that everyone goes through and everyone in growing up goes from being naive to hopefully slightly less naive.
And certainly more worldly wise and that we’ve definitely seen in Anne this year and it is quite heartbreaking as well as her kind of soul becomes more tarnished, your rat becomes more of a monster, you know, it’s quite heartbreaking thing and I think that the writers have done it brilliantly, really brilliantly.
What I wanted to know because bands have shipped both your characters together meaning that they coupled your characters together as team Cottanne and I was wondering how you guys reacted to the responses of all the people shipping your characters together, team Cottanne.
Gabel: It’s certainly better than people not shipping, I mean, to me that’s an indication that people are just responding to the chemistry that’s happening between the characters and it’s just kind of evidence that what we’re doing and what the writers are doing is compelling because, I mean, this is about, you know, feeling and caring for people.
And so yes, I mean, it’s for me it’s thrilling because it’s just evidence that it’s working, that we’re on the right track anytime people get shipped, that’s just great.
Merchant: Yes, people want to see Cotton and Anne, and I think even with sort of shipping us before definitely before we came together in the story so I think, we were sort of able to give the people what they want as well which can be lovely, because who knows what will happen in the future between Cotton and Anne.
But I think that’s it lovely for Cotton and Anne to have at least that idyllic wedding before going off to do battle in the woods that it was nice to have that moment of like of joy in there…
Gabel: Which they never got to consummate which is such a bummer.
Merchant: Yes, Anne was really mad about that. Yes, I think that it’s really lovely to be able to kind of to let fans kind of see what they want come to fruition if only very briefly.
Gabel: And I think the writers respond to that feedback too. It’s interesting time we live in with TV production where if you’re still while the show’s airing, I mean, the way people react to things it does get read and…
Merchant: Yes, it does.
Gabel: …and listen to and I think it does alter the course that the series takes.
Merchant: Yes, that’s so true in the age of the Internet forum which is pretty cool. I mean, I’ve just been shipping Cotton and Anne really under the guise of about 200 different people and I think it’s…
Tamzin I have to say I really been enjoying Anne’s relationships with both Mary Sibley and the Countess of Marburg. It seems like Anne’s learned a lot from them about being a witch but also she learned about what kind of witch she doesn’t want to be. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Merchant: Yes, yes, I think Anne’s very perceptive so she definitely learns what not to be as much as what to be from these two women and I think they both set her examples in a way of how not to behave and Anne has always been she’s always been very thoughtful and very kind of strong-willed and had a very independent mind.
And I think that that seeing how these women do business is quite interesting because like for example you may be Mercy Lewis, Mercy Lewis is a character, learns cruelty from being treated cruelly and some people learn kindness from being treated cruelly so I think it’s an interesting like, you know, Anne and Mercy are two very girls that with similarities.
They’re not in similar situations but with similarities who have gone very different ways which that’s been interesting. I do love, you know, how much of a sort of female-centric show it can be at times.
I think it’s really super as well to play a character who is an intelligent, independent woman, you know, growing into certainly a woman, a young woman who’s got a mind of her own and a wit and a, you know, a ready brain which is pretty it’s getting more there are more roles like that for women now but we’ve had a couple of awesome women writers on the show this season which has been so great.
And I think with more women in Hollywood, it’s becoming more usual to have really great roles for younger women especially so it’s been so much fun playing Anne this year.
One of the questions I had is in terms of the series and where characters might be headed. So far in the second season they’ve introduced Brown Jenkins and they have that sort of picture of Anne in her father’s book and with Cotton he’s certainly getting closer and closer to redemption.
Do you guys possibly see where your characters might be headed in terms of the clues that the writers have left you and so are you guys up to the task of fulfilling what they’ve got planned for you?
Merchant: Well that’s a good question. I think Seth is up to the task.
Gabel: I think it’ll be pretty clear based on what you see this Sunday night. I hope it does continue to keep the relationship between Cotton and Anne an active one, an active part of the story and will actually elevate the stakes of their situation with everyone else.
Merchant: Definitely, but we can only speculate as to what’s going to happen. I think that there are certain hints that historically Salem has always surprised me whenever I’ve got the script in my hand, but yes, I think we would all we be up to the task
Gabel: What I love about this show and about and genre shows that are able to do it, we’re able to get deeper and deeper into the story, the scope has been able to get larger and larger and the writers really aren’t afraid to hold back.
A lot of the times on a show like this it’ll be two steps forward, one back. You don’t want to be getting too extreme too quickly but there’s really not a fear of that here as long as it’s still grounded in reality and makes sense.
You might think like wow, it can’t get any bigger, I mean, right now we’re dealing with hell possibly being on Earth but if that actually happens, what would that look like.
My question is for both of you this time actually and I’m actually really interested in how you both got involved with Salem and what it was that Brannon and Adam did to you guys that made you sign your souls over for this amazing TV show.
Gabel: They paid up. All it takes is cash and we’ll sell our souls…
Merchant: Yes, we have pieces of their soul now actually in a safe deposit box in Switzerland.
Gabel: It’s kind of an appropriate analogy because you try to as an actor to put your soul into the project and so you’re hoping that by giving that piece of yourself you don’t lose it from yourself but I guess that’s possible. I think we both came to the show just the traditional way of auditioning… I read the script and totally fell in love with it. At first I was supposed to go in and read for the John Alden part but then as I read the script I was like what about this Cotton part? I really like that one and then as a point of synchronicity the casting directors called my reps and said oh, you know what? I think you’d be better for the Cotton part so that worked-out nicely.
And I went in and read and was really excited because it was one of the best auditions I felt like I had given in a long time.
And then they said they want to test you and the testing process for an actor is always rigorous and intense and you’re waiting in a room all day for all these executives to get together and say that they’re ready to see you and then so you’re kind of ready at any moment to have to perform the scene so the pressure is on at all times.
And then you go in and do your best and they told me that instead of having me go into test they were just going to use my tape of that first audition so…
Merchant: Oh, that’s lucky. That’s super lucky. I actually was filming something in Romania and Adam I think they were like auditioning people for Anne and they hadn’t found someone and I put myself on tape after Adam was watching.
It wasn’t like waiting in a room there; it actually there was like waiting in a room at the American Embassy to see if I would get a visa. I’m lucky I did but it was a bit touch and go. I think I got it like two days before I had to fly out. Yes, you nearly had a whole different Anne. Maybe, I don’t know but yes, so that was my story.
Seth you worked with Sidney Lumet.
Gabel: Yes. That was incredible. Dog Day Afternoon is one of my favorite films. Yes, Sidney Lumet was that was one of my first jobs just as a lowly student at NYU I’d started auditioning for different things and got to read for him. He was doing a TV show called 100 Center Street which is kind of a like a Law and Order type show.
And one of the memories I’ll cherish most is auditioning for him and when I was done with the audition, he said he had a very like classic Hollywood director voice and he goes kid, that was first-rate, first-rate all the way. You are a first-rate actor and that was just it was such a triumph and such a moment.
That felt wonderful and then I went and did the job and I was so nervous working for him and also shooting one of my first TV shows. I think I did a terrible job in the episode but for that moment I was first rate and I’ll hold onto that forever.
Merchant: You’re always first-rate Seth. I’ll try and work on my Sidney Lumet voice.
Do you think that Salem would reintroduce the actual trials? Now we’re talking about Center Street.
Gabel: Yes, I know Brannon and Adam have talked about the possibility of getting back to the trials being an element of everything. I can’t recall how much time has actually progressed during Season 2 but I don’t think it’s been very much time.
I think all the events have occurred maybe over the course of like two weeks or something so we’re still very much in the historical time period for the trials to continue.
Gabel: Thank you everyone for calling-in and asking such thoughtful questions. It’s great to know that you guys are paying attention and appreciate what’s going on.
Merchant: Yes, definitely, it’s really it’s lovely to know that.
Photos courtesy of WGN America