Actual Musket Balls: Seth Gabel on Allegiance, Arrow and Fringe
Allegiance is a new movie currently available on VOD and opening in select cities December 28 and January 4. Seth Gabel plays National Guard lieutenant Danny Sefton, a connected kid who wheels and deals himself the best assignments but the rest of the unit resents him for that. When medic Chris Reyes (Bow Wow) gets re-deployed despite having a sick child to go home to, Sefton decides to make some questionable calls to do what he thinks is the right thing. The story is set in 2004, just after the National Guard started getting deployed to Iraq. Gabel is about to appear on The CW’s “Arrow” as the comic book character Count Vertigo as well. He is also a veteran of “Fringe.” We got to chat with him about his starring role in Allegiance, guest spot on “Arrow” and thoughts on the final few “Fringe” episodes remaining.
CraveOnline: Is this juicy ethical dilemma that’s in Allegiance the sort of thing you got into acting for in the first place?
Seth Gabel: Yeah, I just wanted to constantly experience ethical dilemmas. No, I think what drew me into acting was being able to really step into someone else’s shoes and I guess you’re right. I guess it is experiencing ethical dilemmas, getting to experience different challenges that people face and essentially building your empathy for what people go through in general.
Isn’t it great drama when you have these choices where nothing is right and everything could be wrong?
Yeah, it’s so hard to understand what right is. We live in a time that’s very morally and ethically ambiguous. It seems like we’re all kind of creating our own spiritualism and our own moral compass.
Where was the set of the Army base?
We were in New York. We were in the city and we would shoot on location at a few different Army bases. I know one was called Fort Cotton. There was another one. Shooting in and around New York City on these properties that used to be used by the Army and also by the British at a certain point in history, it was pretty incredible. It goes all the way back to the American Revolution and you could feel a sense of the history there and you could actually see embedded in some of the locations we were shooting were actual musket balls and you could see bullet holes in the walls from just wars that took place long ago.
Was there any time for a boot camp for all the actors on an indie film?
Yeah, we had a good solid week, which is an eternity on an indie film, to rehearse and have a boot camp. It was really great because it really bonded the cast together and made it that much easier for my character to then be alienated from the group. Because we had that bond, once these circumstances of the movie kicked in and the group no longer accepted me as part of the unit, it was profoundly impactful for me and made it so much easier to play.
You must have actor friends who have done military movies before. Do you get what they’re talking about now when they talk about boot camps?
Yeah, I had always secretly longed to do a boot camp of some kind. I don’t think I have the courage to actually enlist in the army but getting to simulate that experience was incredibly profound, and hearing about it from friends of mine who have done it before, it’s always sounded pretty incredible. This was nothing short of that. We got to train with ex Green Berets and ex Navy SEALs and talk to people that are currently in the army and in the National Guard. It was incredibly enlightening.
What was your take on Lt. Sefton, this guy who seemed to have all the answers but as you said alienated himself for that?
The big thing that I wanted Sefton to convey is that he’s incredibly resourceful and quick thinking. I wanted to demonstrate those abilities for him to both be able to manipulate the circumstances around him to get out of going to Iraq, but also to show that he had incredible abilities that could be put to use in battle and would actually save lives. So that the dilemma is increased by that juxtaposition that you have these skills that keep him from going but at the same time would be so helpful over there.
Did you have a chance to meet or talk with any soldiers who were in a similar situation, where they were forced to go back when they had reason to stay behind, like a stop-loss situation?
I didn’t speak to anyone who experienced a stop-loss, but the director Mike Connors, the producer Sean Mullin and many others involved were faced with the dilemma of having signed up for the National Guard and then in 2003 they modified the law so that the National Guard could go over to Iraq, which no one was really expecting, especially without a draft. So to talk to everyone about their experience with that and suddenly being surprised that they were going to spend the next few years of their lives overseas and putting their lives at stake for their country, it was incredible to hear how honest people were in their response to that, how some people did want to go and some people really didn’t. Part of being in the National Guard is that you get to go to college, so they had started investing in other aspects of their lives and they were so afraid that they would no longer have those opportunities when they came back or that those opportunities might change in some way. I know Mike, this film is kind of an emotional catharsis for him because he chose not to go. It’s very interesting that he writes this story in such a way where the character makes certain choices that may or may not be in alignment with what he did. So I see the piece as a form of, I don’t know, therapy for the director and kind of revealing a lot about what goes through the common soldier’s mind.
How did you like those 2004 era flip phones?
[Laughs] Yeah, I don’t miss those very much.
We’re excited to see you on “Arrow.” When are we going to meet Vertigo?
I think it’s around January 23. I don’t know the exact date for sure but I’m pretty sure it’s the end of January.
It’s been so exciting to see how “Arrow” interprets all the characters like Huntress and Deathstroke. How is their Vertigo similar or different than what we’ve read in the comics?
It’s a definite adaptation. Count Vertigo in the comic book I believe is Eastern European. In this I play definitely American of some kind, but the adaptation of him being a count, it’s more of a nickname for this street thug drug kingpin who’s selling a drug known as Vertigo on the streets of Starling City. So instead of having a super power, my super power is actually manifested in the drug that I’ve gotten people hooked on.
What does the drug give you the power to do?
It gives people the feeling like they’re walking on air, but that’s if you take it orally. If you inject it into your body, it has very different kinds of effects. That is extremely dangerous and a huge threat to Starling City and needs to be stopped.
Do you have some cool action?
Yeah, there’s a lot of cool action. The fight choreographers I had worked with before on “Fringe” so I was very comfortable with them. They do incredible work and it was a pleasure to be a part of it.
That cast seems like in less than a season, they’ve really got it down. How did they welcome you in as an episodic cast member?
It’s interesting as an episodic cast member because when I started out, most times when you join the cast just for one episode to start especially, no one really gets close to you because they don’t want to get close to someone who’s going to all of a sudden be gone. So usually people aren’t very warm to you and you’re kind of there to do your job and then you leave. But this cast was very welcoming. It helped a lot that I had been working in Vancouver on “Fringe” and there were a lot of familiar faces there, so I think people could vouch that I wasn’t crazy or desperate in some way. I think everyone was just very comfortable to chat and I felt like I got along with everyone.
Are we going to see more of Count Vertigo?
I hope so. It’s definitely possible. It’s the most fun I had playing a part in a really long time so I’m longing for it to continue.
Did “Fringe” make a really big impact on your career?
Oh, definitely. Before “Fringe” I was in “Dirty Sexy Money” playing Jeremy Darling who was this bratty New York socialite. “Fringe” was the first time I realized that I could ever man up in a character and make this transition from being a boy or a young man into actually being a man. I was incredibly intimidated playing Lincoln Lee in the alternate universe, which was the first role I played on “Fringe” because I was actually the head of a Fringe division and the head of a unit that was going out and I had to lead entire SWAT teams of people. I really questioned in myself can I carry that responsibility? Can I look authentic while being badass? And I wasn’t sure how it was but they fortunately gave me enough time there that I felt like I grew into it and was able to understand how to play that thing, and then ultimately to get the chance to play the other version of myself and then both of them on screen, I could really explore the energies of being in my confident self and being in my non confident self and have the two interact with each other. So it was incredibly enlightening for me because I was able to really process through the different aspects of my psyche and ultimately grow from the experience.
Did that also help you play a National Guard lieutenant in Allegiance?
Definitely, yeah. I felt like I had had a few years of experience with carrying myself in a way that would suggest a military discipline and I feel like I was definitely able to bring that to Allegiance.
Speaking of Michael’s stories, did you hear anything that was even more harrowing than the story portrayed in the film?
You heard all kinds of stories. I heard a lot about 9/11 which I was very curious about because I was in lower Manhattan at the time when that happened. The biggest thing that I remember was seeing all these National Guardsmen below 14th Street where I had lived. So I was always going through checkpoints and talking to them and meeting different people. It turned out that Sean Mullin was the Street Force Commander of the unit that I would always walk through the barricades to get back to my home. I had no idea that I would eventually be working with him and eventually portraying his story on film.
Was this the first movie where you were number one on the call sheet?
Yeah, yeah, it was.
How was that experience?
It’s interesting because I have no ego about those things, but at the same time, it means that you are in a leadership position and that it’s your job to be a voice for the other actors on set and represent the performers in the film and have the debates with the producers and the director about what the actors think is right in the scene. So it’s interesting. It’s kind of like being a house majority leader in some way, where people will come to you with their thoughts and then you need to go and present that to the directors and the producers because you’re the guy that’s not going to get fired.
Did it make you look back on Da Vinci Code, Jonah Hex and Take Me Home Tonight differently?
Sort of. I mean, with those other films, it’s a supporting role where you show up and do your job and then you leave, but when you’re number one on a film, you know that you’re going to be publicizing the film, you know that your attachment to the film is going to go way beyond action and cut and that you’re going to be fighting for the film in the press and in the media and it needs to be something that you believe in.
Did you get to have any involvement in the end of “Fringe?”
They told me that I can’t say anything either way.
What are your feelings on the impending finale?
I’m really relieved that Fox gave the show 13 more episodes to wrap things up in a way that would satisfy its audience because the audience is so loyal and has kept the show alive for so many years that they really deserve that special ending.
Back to “Arrow,” do you have any cool weapon to fight the archer?
I wanted something really simple. I wanted my weapon to be the confidence that my character had in his abilities and I really wanted him to be an intimidating ruler of the streets, so I wanted his whole persona to represent this kind of street confidence and violence that could be incredibly powerful and intimidating without actually needing any kind of a super power.
Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.