‘The Strain’: Richard Sammel relishes evil role as Thomas Eichhorst

Sept. 12, 2014 | 5:00 a.m.
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David Bradley as Abraham Setrakian and Richard Sammel as Thomas Eichhorst in "The Strain." (Michael Gibson/FX)

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Richard Sammel as Thomas Eichhorst and Jim Watson as Abraham Setrakian in a flashback scene from "The Strain." (Michael Gibson/FX)

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Corey Stoll as Ephraim Goodweather, David Bradley as Abraham Setrakian. (Michael Gibson/FX)

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Mia Maestro as Nora Martinez, left, and Corey Stoll as Ephraim Goodweather in a scene from "The Strain." (AP Photo/FX, Michael Gibson)

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Actor Richard Sammel speaks onstage at "The Strain" panel during the FX Networks portion of the 2014 Summer Television Critics Assn. in July 2014. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

It takes a certain mind-set to want to bring about the end of the world. For Richard Sammel, the German actor who plays emissary of evil Thomas Eichhorst in FX’s apocalyptic series “The Strain,” a relentlessly positive attitude and a misplaced sense of self-assurance are key.

“Guillermo gave me a magic word,” Sammel said recently, referring to “Strain” co-creator Guillermo del Toro. “He said, ‘Richard, for every strong character, there is a cue word, and for Eichhorst, it’s, ‘Yes!’ I couldn’t do anything with it for quite a bit, but… at a certain point it just opened. Yes! He’s hubristic, egocentric, narcissistic. It’s the vampire version of Obama’s ‘Yes, we can!’ Yes, I can. Yes, I do the right thing.”

Sammel’s wicked charisma and gleeful zeal have helped transform a character that easily could have tipped into sinister parody — quick, think of something more dastardly than an SS officer turned power-obsessed vampire — into one of the most surprising figures among the show’s assortment of unusual heroes and villains.

For the 53-year-old European with the piercing blue eyes, the role is one he approached with relish.

“You always want to play a western, a sci-fi and a vampire movie,” Sammel said. “He’s a little bit the Darth Vader of the story.”

Created by Del Toro and Carlton Cuse and adapted from a trilogy of horror novels Del Toro wrote with Chuck Hogan, “The Strain” sees Eichhorst conspire with terminally ill billionaire Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) to transport an old-world vampire known as the Master (Robin Atkin Downes) to Manhattan.

Before long, New Yorkers are turning into violent, insectoid monsters with red eyes, rodent teeth and giant stingers, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist Eph Goodweather (Corey Stoll) reluctantly joins forces with experienced vampire hunter Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) to slay the Master’s victims and to eliminate the Master himself.

It’s Eichhorst’s responsibility to ensure they fail.

PHOTOS: Hollywood Backlot on the set of ‘The Strain’

Thanks in part to its B-movie elan and accessible popcorn-entertainment approach, “The Strain” has become a welcome hit for FX, ranking as the top new scripted series on cable this year, with each episode attracting an average of 4.4 million total viewers, 2.5 million in the coveted 18-49 demographic. It was renewed for a second season last month.

Any show benefits from having an antagonist whom viewers enjoy rooting against, and Cuse credits Sammel with bringing the right balance of flair and gravitas to Eichhorst.

“He finds the perfect delicious line between understanding what kind of show it is but also committing to it with a reality and verisimilitude, that makes the character really gripping and engaging,” Cuse said. “He’s completely responsible for making the character gripping instead of eye-rolling.”

A veteran performer who has worked extensively onstage and on-screen in Europe since making his professional theatrical debut in Germany in 1981, Sammel is perhaps best known to American audiences for turns in Hollywood films including “Casino Royale,” “Inglourious Basterds” and the Kevin Costner spy thriller, “Three Days to Kill,” in which he played an arms trafficker.

Corey Stoll as Ephraim Goodweather. (Michael Gibson/FX)

Corey Stoll as Ephraim Goodweather. (Michael Gibson/FX)

The actor, who divides his time between Paris and Berlin, currently has a starring role in “Un Village Francais,” an acclaimed French drama set during the Occupation. “You will see me with blond hair, a charming, intriguing guy,” Sammel said, “a little bit more human than in ‘The Strain.’”

Where the two television roles converge is the bloody landscape of World War II. In “The Strain,” Eichhorst first encounters Setrakian as a prisoner in the camps, and he develops a perverse fondness for the young woodcarver, whom he enlists to create an elaborate cabinet as a gift for the Master.

Sammel said the flashback sequences helped him more deeply explore not only the origins of Eichhorst’s decades-long rivalry with Setrakian but also the villain’s compromised soul.

“If you play a bad guy with the conscience of being bad, it’s not so interesting,” Sammel said. “You have to find out what drives this guy, what is his motor. It’s a story of friendship for him, unconscious of the fact that he treats [Setrakian] like a pet, of course. It really gave me a very strong basis to connect with a vampire.”

Another important moment for Sammel? A scene early on in which Eichhorst, seated in front of a mirror in his well-appointed apartment, applies makeup and false features to cover up his vampiric attributes.

“That’s where I found my hubris,” he said. “This guy prefers to dress as a human. It’s a vampire with no nose and green skin but he believes he’s like the Lord of Canterbury, very noble, very aristocratic. It made me think of a kind of beast, a kind of dinosaur. My God, I was afraid of myself, you know?”

Cuse said the writers already have begun shaping the show’s second season, and Sammel will again enjoy a fair amount of screen time — though he was sparing with details, Cuse said Eichhorst is apt to encounter some “disappointment” in his future.

(Fans hoping to glean specifics by referring back to the novels might experience disappointment of their own — the television incarnation of the character is actually a combination of two players from the books, and he has a far bigger part than in the original text.)

Sammel, for his part, is delighted that viewers have responded to the series and is ready to return for another round of scheming and world domination.

“It’s not my first series I’ve done,” he said. “We’re all basically like seeds they put in the ground and they want to see how the plant is growing. If it blossoms well, they take care of it.”

— Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex

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Comments


2 Responses to ‘The Strain’: Richard Sammel relishes evil role as Thomas Eichhorst

  1. Pedro A. Carabajal says:

    I watch them all! from the (Strain) whoever know where it takes place to the (Bridge) which takes place in El Paso, Tx. my stomping grounds to the (Hell On Wheels) open plains of the California route of the western pacific rail road over the great divide of the Rocky's thru Mormon country, on the way to that great state of California, have to say that I spent 4 year of my life there where you have to jump a jack rabbit to leave Edwards AFB if you have or want to go anywhere. Can leave out (Breaking Bad) in good old Albuquerque New Mexico my home state, born and raised ("O" Fair New Mexico We Love You So!) only in the movies or shows can you see a pile of Money 10' x 10' x 4'. and people coming across borders without a passport or green card. Hank and Walter getting shot and Jesse the pinkman get away free of charge. Now (Turn) our country's fight for indepenance from good old England with father of our country General George Washington leading the way. Ok! (The Dome) can't say much about, where is this place, has to be in the East Coast or close to there? maybe Penn. Well all in all I try to follow every show as best I can, I missed a few I think to many! CRS I think?

  2. sammy says:

    It is rare to find an actor as good as Richard sammel. His performance in “The strain “is
    Just amazing, so enjoyable to watch

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