‘Salem’ EXCLUSIVE: Seth Gabel, Ashley Madekwe on Sex, Horror & Playing Historical Figures
From The Count on ‘Arrow’ and Ashley Davenport on ‘Revenge,’ Seth Gabel and Ashley Madekwe are now playing villainous and layered characters on WGN America’s ‘Salem.’
In true Gabel fashion, fans will see him portray the religious Puritan leader Cotton Mather, who is, of course, evil, contradictory and even, at times, relatable. As for Madekwe, she plays Mary Sibley’s (Janet Montgomery) ageless right-hand lady and “servant,” Tituba.
Both play historical figures, but Madekwe didn’t find it challenging she told TVRage.com while on the ‘Salem’ set, “I think we’re lucky in that its set in 17th century. So, there’s no tape or film on these people. Or, for even my person, there’s not even a real accurate portrait. There is no portrait. You [Gabel] do have that.” She added, “That was lucky. So, I’m kind of less concerned with that. I think I’m more concerned with playing the character for real in this story.”
Unlike Tituba, Cotton Mather is a prominent and infamous figure of the 17th century with records left and right. “I definitely felt an obligation to kind of honor who the real person was,” Gabel said. “It became immediately apparent to me when I saw the portrait of the character that OK, he looks very different than I do. Clearly, we’re doing an adaptation, but at the same time that doesn’t mean it’s gonna be untrue. We can still find the truth in adapting it. What I connected to was Cotton Mather’s writing, because it was written in his voice. It was autobiographical, where you read the letter he wrote to someone else. You can get inside of his mind, and I find that really useful.”
Even though Cotton and Tituba come off as evil and villains, ‘Salem’ presents its characters in a twisted, yet layered and relatable way. The audience is always guessing and questioning constantly, which is why Gabel enjoys the show and his character.
“There’s that -- what’s the cliche about a villain? Like ‘every villain is a hero in their own mind,’ something like that … The hero of their own story. I feel like that’s true in this, but also it’s true because as you gain context for each of these characters they may seem like a villain, but you learn more about them, or learn their backstory, or understand their circumstances, you don’t vilify them anymore.
“You start to empathize where they’re coming from, and understand their behavior and the reasons for their actions. What I love about this show is everything has a depth. There’s nothing flat or obvious, and the second you think you know something it’s gonna change.”
Madekwe chimed in, “I think that there is no one side to any of the characters. Seth was just talking about that. That kind of plays really well into the story. You’re always guessing. I think that the audience is rooting for the villains, which are the witches, I guess. They’re supposed to be evil and bad, but you’re rooting for them.”
In addition to being villains, viewers will immediately notice the sexiness of ‘Salem,’ especially when it comes to Cotton and Tituba -- but you’ll just have to tune in and see why that is. So, why do horror and sex go so well together?
Per Madekwe, “We were saying earlier that horror really makes you feel alive. When you’re being scared, you feel really alive. Likewise, I think sex is a time when you feel really alive. I think maybe that’s why they go hand in hand. They both really stimulate something in the viewer.”
“Yeah. I think fear is [an] emotion that you can’t repress,” Gabel continued added. “If you’re feeling afraid, it’s hard to cover that up. It has to come out. I think when you let any one emotion come out, then you’re free to feel the whole range of emotions that much more. So, a big drive that we all have is a sexual instinct. I think what the show tries to do is challenge is that sexual instinct good or evil? Is it wrong to have these feelings? Where’s the limit in terms of what you do with the feelings you have?”
If all that sex, horror and villain talk didn’t get you in the mood -- for ‘Salem,’ that is -- then you’ll just have to be the judge for yourself by tuning in to the premiere. Also, be sure to check out the following video where Gabel and Madekwe speculate about their characters battling it out on the small screen.
‘Salem’ debuts Sunday, April 20 at 10/9c on WGN America.