Actor Seth Gabel discusses his role in the military thriller Allegiance, opening in New York December 28 and in Los Angeles January 4
After roles on the big screen in The Da Vinci Code and arcs on TV shows such as Nip/Tuck and Dirty Sexy Money, Seth Gabel made a name for himself as Fringe agent Lincoln Lee on the hit Fox series Fringe. Although his memorable arc wrapped up at the end of Season 4, the actor can currently be seen in the new military thriller Allegiance, currently available on VOD formats before opening in New York December 28 and in Los Angeles January 4. The actor portrays Lieutenant Danny Sefton, a soldier in the National Guard who must choose between one of his soldiers in need, and his family. I recently had the chance to speak with this talented actor over the phone. Take a look at what he had to say.
This story comes from a writer-director (Michael Connors) who has experienced this life. Was that a real selling point for you to come on board?
Seth Gabel: Yeah. What really drew me to the film was how authentic the experience was, on the whole. I read the script, then sat down with Michael Connors, the director, and the producer. I had heard that they were both National Guardsmen, and heard about their experience with what it was like, getting called up to go to Iraq. I was immediately hooked, and what was special about this film was that it was coming from a very real, authentic place, with no Hollywood glitz put on it.
Was your character Danny Sefton based on a real person he knew?
Seth Gabel: Well, Michael Connors, the director, also wrote the script. I think this film and the character Danny Sefton was a form of cathartic therapy for him, to process the experience of turning down going to Iraq, so that he could go to film school, and ultimately make this film.
Did he put you in contact with other soldiers, to help you get into character while you were shooting this?
Seth Gabel: Oh, yeah. There were a lot of people that were really amazing. I met Green Berets and Navy SEALS. At first, I was really intimidated by them, of what they're physically capable of. Then you sit down and talk to them, and realize that their hearts were bigger than anyone you'd ever met. There was this one guy, Ed Tortelini, who was an MP. He donated his time. He was on vacation and donated his time to be on set every day, so that we could consult with him and run things by them. Is this authentic? Would I salute that guy? How would I treat this other soldier? He was so helpful in understanding all of that, and in going to boot camp to get us ready for the process.
Was there anything in particular that surprised you about what they have to go through on a daily basis?
Seth Gabel: You have a general sense of things when you watch other war films, the discipline, the structure, and the code of conduct. What was really amazing to experience first-hand, is being in a system where everyone understands the discipline and the conduct, and also how you work around that. You bond with people, and you choose to break rules, from time to time. Or perhaps, like my character does, he'll bend the rules and just do whatever he can to get certain supplies for his unit, not fully thinking through the consequences. It's interesting, the politics that happen, even in the lower ranks of the unit.
I imagine that the whole cast went through the training process together. Can you talk about how long you trained for, and how exhaustive that was? Did you develop a greater respect for these soldiers after going through that experience?
Seth Gabel: Yeah, we had a boot camp, then we had a long rehearsal process, which was really great. It's a dream of mine, as an actor, to get to have that time where you're in a boot camp, where you get to experience what these people experience before they go off to war. I realize that I, in many ways, am a coward compared to the people who represent our country and fight for us. The boot camp process is pretty rigorous. Add to that, the fact that you know you're doing this and then you'll go off and actually fight in a war and kill and die for your country. The pressure is immense. For us, we went to boot camp knowing we were making a film, but it gives you some insight into the reality of what those soldiers do.
There is quite a wonderful cast around you with Aidan Quinn, Bow Wow, Pablo Schreiber, and Reshma Shetty. Did that training help form the bond between you guys as well? Can you maybe take us through an average day on the set?
Seth Gabel: What was great about the boot camp was we were all able to bond and really get close. My character gets alienated from the group, so I really got close to them, become friendly, and then when we all took on our roles, I was able to be alienated by them, and alienate myself from the group, and feel myself removed from that bonding experience, which left my character wanting to get back into that.
I've heard before with stories like this, if there is an outsider, in the rehearsal process, they won't even have them interact with other cast members. It's cool that they formed the bond, and then took that away, so you have that to look forward to.
Seth Gabel: Yeah, exactly. You have a real experience that mirrors the process of the film.
Can you talk about where you shot this? Did you have a fairly rushed production schedule?
Seth Gabel: We had a rushed, indie schedule, which I think added to the appeal of the film. It was a passion project for everyone involved, so instead of doing a cushy five-day work week, we were doing a six-day work week where you're working as many hours as you can to get it done. We could only afford to shoot for a certain number of days. What was amazing about shooting in New York, is we shot in a real military bases that exist in New York. When you think of New York, you never really think about the military, but it's actually there. We were on these old forts that the British used to be on. We were on old forts that the Americans had taken over during the fight against the British, and the wars in the 1800s, the French and Indian war. There is all kinds of history right there, that you never knew existed. You can see musket bullet holes embedded in the wall. It's pretty incredible to touch history like that, and get a real sense of the soldiers who have existed throughout that time.
I was going through Michael Connors' filmography and he has all these shorts that he has directed, shot, edited. It seems like he's done it all. Can you see all of those different hats he has worn in the past on the set, as this all-inclusive sort of filmmaker?
Seth Gabel: Yeah, definitely. What's great about Mike is you're getting his real, authentic voice. His experience is a very unique one, and I think a very common perspective that doesn't usually make it to a Hollywood screen. You're seeing what's really going on in his mind, and it isn't conventional. It's a very unique perspective, and it's kind of messy. There is wanting to be loyal, and fighting for your country, but there is also wanting to take care of your needs, and build for the future.
I know a lot of people are looking forward to Vertigo on Arrow next year. Are you only going to appear in one episode?
Seth Gabel: I only signed on for one, initially, and now we're having conversations about continuing. It's inconclusive so far, but it's definitely open for me to come back. I'd absolutely love to, because it's the most fun I've had playing a part.
Is there any particular arc from the comic books that this version of Vertigo is based on?
Seth Gabel: It's very much adapted. They take on the superpowers that Count Vertigo had in the comic book, and they adapt it to the real world. Instead of having super powers in this world of Starling City, they changed those super powers and manifest it in a drug that he sells to the citizens of Starling City, called Vertigo. That has a lot of the powers that the comic book character had as super powers. I'm kind of this street thug, drug kingpin, pushing this drug on everyone and acquiring more wealth and power, really looking to take over the streets.
I don't believe you are coming back for any of the last Fringe episodes. Have you been following the last few episodes? Have you been told anything about the series finale?
Seth Gabel: I was just in Vancouver for the 100th episode party. People around me started talking about the final episode, and I started to plug my ears, because I didn't want to be spoiled. I have seen some of the final season, but I like to watch things back-to-back. I'm going to get all the DVD's and wait until the finale, then have a little marathon leading up to the finale.
Yeah, I caught onto the show late. I got caught up just before Season 4.
Seth Gabel: It's the best, to watch it that way. You don't have to wait a week, you can just watch the whole thing. I think that's part of the problem the show had. People don't just watch every week. They will wait and do a binge-watching session. We are fortunate that we got to stay on the air, and get a final season to wrap things up in a satisfying way.
Is there anything else you're working on that you can talk about?
Seth Gabel: I just wrapped another film called Forever. It's about these people who live in a commune, where something sketchy is going on. That's going to do the festival circuit. In the meantime, I'm just reading pilots and waiting for the next great TV project to be a part of.
What would you like to say to anyone curious about Allegiance about why they should check it out in theaters?
Seth Gabel: If you'd like a fresh perspective on what it's like in the days leading up to going to war, and really having a real sense of the people involved, and not just some contrived Hollywood experience, then this is the film for you.
Great. Thanks so much, Seth. It was a pleasure talking to you.
Seth Gabel: All right. Thank you so much.
You can watch Seth Gabel in Allegiance starting in New York theaters December 28 and Los Angeles theaters January 4.