‘Arrow’: Seth Gabel’s take on Vertigo inspired by Ledger’s Joker

Jan. 30, 2013 | 12:07 p.m.
Seth Gabel plays The Count (based on Count Vertigo) in "Arrow" (Jack Rowand / CW)

Seth Gabel plays The Count (based on Count Vertigo) in “Arrow” (Jack Rowand / CW)

The roster of villains on the CW’s “Arrow” series continues to grow, and fans of the “Green Arrow” comic book will definitely recognize the bad guy introduced in this week’s episode, “Vertigo.”

Count Vertigo has been part of the Green Arrow mythology since 1978, but the TV version of the character, played by Seth Gabel, is a little more down to earth — less super-powered bad guy and more psychotic drug dealer.

Gabel should be well-known to genre fans, as he recently completed a multi-season run on Fox’s “Fringe.”

He recently talked to Hero Complex about his appearance on “Arrow” and the conclusion of “Fringe.” (Beware, some mild spoilers about “Fringe” lie ahead).

HC: John Barrowman [who plays the villainous Merlyn on the series] revealed he has a copy of the DC Universe Encyclopedia that he refers to constantly. Do you do the same kind of research?

SG: I didn’t have time. I found out about the role just a few days before we were going to shoot it. There wasn’t time to delve deep into the comic book character, so I went on Wikipedia. When I got the script, it immediately became apparent that they were making an adaptation of the original Count Vertigo character and from that it was free for me to interpret what was originally intended and kind of create something new that fit into the world of “Arrow” and fit into the world of what void there was for a supervillain to come and fill on that show.

HC: Based on the preview of the episode, “Vertigo,” it seems like you’re playing the Count as pretty crazy.

SG: Yeah, the character was initially conceived by Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg as being a Joker-type for the series. I didn’t want to copy anything that Heath Ledger had brilliantly done, but at the same time I was very much inspired by his intense relationship to the violence and that sense of sadism and that physical presence. This was my own version of that I could express on the show. I dove into that headfirst and took big risks I’ve never taken before as an actor.

HC: Any other performances or people you looked to?

SG: I absorb everything, so there was no one thing I looked to. I watch as many movies and TV shows as possible and I kind of absorb different things from everything that I see. What has come out in the Vertigo character is a version of my own inner trickster and someone who’s willing to be megalomaniacal and dangerous. As a parent of two kids and a responsible father and husband, it’s incredibly cathartic to be that character on set and do dangerous things without real consequences.

HC: When you play a character like that are you  exhausted or energized at the end of the day?

SG: I think you feel exhilarated because you get to do things that are taboo, things that in life you’re never allowed to do and do them in a safe environment that you know no one is getting hurt. You have no guilt at the end of the day. It was actually difficult for me to go to bed at night after filming on that show because what I had done on that show was so fun and outside the box from anything I had experienced before.

HC: Is this the first time you’ve played a character the audience was already familiar with?

SG: I think so. There’s definitely a sense of intimidation knowing there are people out there who know a lot more details than you do about the part you’re going to be playing. So that was a big factor in giving myself permission to loosely adapt what was already established for the character and fully immerse myself as much as possible in what I could find. Ultimately this was going to be an adaptation based on what the writers had created for this show now. What we did was definitely inspired by the original character but at the same time, this was free to explore territory that hadn’t been explored before.

HC: Are you a science fiction or comic book guy?

SG: Definitely. I’m a big sci-fi person. Comic books I wasn’t able to get into as a kid. My mom wasn’t very supportive of it. But the sci-fi world I love. Kurt Vonnegut is my favorite sci-fi writer. I know he writes a lot of satire, but I consider him one of the greatest sci-fi writers.

HC: How physical is the character?

SG: What’s great about going into the show is that the stunt team is the same stunt team I’d worked with on “Fringe,” so I felt very comfortable. Usually when you’re a guest on a show, you’re somewhat intimidated by the regulars on the show, who have a lot more experience working with the same people on set. I know Stephen [Amell] has a lot of combat experience. At first I was intimidated by his ability to fully do all the things they were doing on set. But they were all really supportive, so I was able to fully go for it, in terms of the fights. Ultimately, I think it turned out great.

From left, John Noble, Anna Torv and Seth Gabel in "Fringe." (Liane Hentscher / Fox)

From left, John Noble, Anna Torv and Seth Gabel in “Fringe.” (Liane Hentscher / Fox)

HC: How gratifying was it to have a conclusion for your character on “Fringe?”

SG: It was an honor to be asked back to “Fringe,” and to get validation, not just in getting to be part of the finale but to have the character honored as a lasting part of the legacy of the series. It was great as an actor to experience that character completing his emotional journey. And getting to experience the win of having Lincoln be married to Olivia in the parallel universe, and they have a kid together and they are the best versions of who they could possibly be. They became their higher selves, if you will. I’ve played a lot of characters where you don’t get to complete their emotional journeys because when you first create them, they have a want and a desire and a dream. And most scenes are the exploration and the challenges they have on that journey to become realized. And it’s rare that you get to have a character accomplish that dream, unless it’s a film. I’ve done a lot of shows where the show could be canceled or the character doesn’t get to wrap up their emotional journey. So it was a real treat to get to do that on “Fringe.”

HC: Are there any characters you still wonder about? Who didn’t get to complete their journey?

SG: I had an arc on “United States of Tara,” and for some reason I had it in my mind that this guy was absolutely crazy. He was a character that owned a chain of yogurt shops and was dating the daughter on the show and there was something charming about him, but at the same time there was something edgy and strange about him. Four episodes went by, and I was just riding it from script to script, not knowing what was going to happen, but knowing that it was going to lead to something dangerous. And ultimately it didn’t. I was kind of disappointed by that, but at the same time I was proud of the fact that there was this tension where you thought something might happen. But then it didn’t. It wasn’t so much a letdown as a realization that in life, things are like that sometimes. Where you think things are going to fall apart or become catastrophic in some way and ultimately they are mundane. Which is OK, because it’s truthful.

— Patrick Kevin Day

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex


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One Response to ‘Arrow’: Seth Gabel’s take on Vertigo inspired by Ledger’s Joker

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