Seth Gabel and Brannon Braga Interview: ‘Salem’ Season 3

Salem star Seth Gabel
Seth Gabel as Cotton Mather in ‘Salem’ (Photo © WGN America)

WGN America’s Salem will premiere its third season during Halloween week, kicking off a season in which the witches will be battling their biggest foe to date – the Devil himself. During the 2016 San Diego Comic Con, Seth Gabel (‘Cotton Mather’) joined Salem co-creator Brannon Braga to discuss the upcoming season and what viewers of the addictive series can expect when it returns this fall. While taking part in roundtable interviews, Braga and Gabel provided a few details on season three without giving away any spoilers. But what they did have to say about this new season should make fans of the series anxious for Halloween week to arrive.

Seth Gabel and Brannon Braga Interview:

What’s in store for season three?

Brannon Braga: “It’s a new chapter in Salem. The Devil has broken all of his promises to the witches. It will not be a world of freedom and freedom from hypocrisy and oppression. It will be a world where he will take revenge upon God by destroying humanity. So he lied and they’ve made a terrible mistake. The only person who can stop the Devil is the person who gave birth to him and that’s Mary Sibley, and she’s dead. That’s how the season begins.”

Are there going to be any unusual alliances between your character and another character that we aren’t expecting?

Seth Gabel: “Well right now I’m under the control of my wife, Anne Hale, who’s a witch and taking advantage of me. So you’ll see Cotton, in order to figure out how to get out that situation of being under someone else’s control, he has to do and become a lot of things that he wouldn’t ordinarily do. He tries to do honest things ever since he decided not to be such a jerk, like he was in the pilot. But, he starts to realize that sometimes to do good you have to do a little bad. I think a lot of the characters on the show realize that. But then where does the line end? As you say (indicating Brannon Braga), the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I know you coined that phrase. I think a lot of the characters experience that this year.”

Is it a more physically demanding season for you?

Seth Gabel: (Laughing) “It’s always physically demanding. Having a rat stuffed inside of you, yeah, it’s intense. Physically intense.”

Brannon Braga: “And vomiting out the rat.”

Seth Gabel: “Well, if that happens…”

Emotionally more intense too, at the same time?

Seth Gabel: “Yeah, because Cotton and Anne, despite their conflict they do love each other. There is some kind of semblance of innocence that exists between them, and they’re trying to rescue that and salvage that but the world is so distorted around them, it’s difficult for them to get on the same page.”

Cotton seems to cry a lot. Can you cry on cue?

Seth Gabel: (Laughing) “I can’t give up my secrets. I use a lot of menthol.”

Brannon Braga: “The weird part is he cries when he’s not on camera too.”

Seth Gabel: “Yeah, I’m just crying all the time. They’re just like, ‘Get the camera on him!'”

Did you know from season one that season three would be set in hell? Was that the arc you had in mind the whole time?

Brannon Braga: “We always knew we wanted to go to hell, literally. We wanted to go to hell and we wanted to see what it’s like down there. We get there this year, so yeah from very early in the show we had a sense of where it was going to build up to this point.”

Are there any characters we can expect to be entering into the mix that we should be looking out for as major players?

Brannon Braga: “Well, there’s a new character that’s called The Sentinel and The Sentinel is one of the Devil’s brothers, his right-hand man. He’s summoned to help him in his plans. That character is a new kind of villainous scary character. I can just hint that the Countess Marburg (played by Lucy Lawless) will play an unexpected role – a central part this season – but in a most unusual way. And, there are others. Marilyn Manson plays a character. He plays the barber surgeon in town. Back in those days the guy who cut your hair and gave you a shave took out your spleen. And so he’s a comic relief character but there’s also a little Sweeney Todd in there. He plays a pretty big role.”

Seth Gabel: “He does a really great job.”

But no singing.

Seth Gabel: “Just the theme song.”

This next season sounds like it’ll be darker than the previous two. How do you determine when you’ve taken it too far and might have pushed the limit with the audience?

Brannon Braga: “I’m not sure it’s going to be darker. I’m not sure how much darker this show can get. In fact with Cotton’s central storyline it’s actually in some ways lighter. There’s actually more humor this year. We actually put a little more humor into the show this year. But, you know, we just try to be honest with the story. We try not to do anything gratuitous just to do it. As long as it’s authentic to the stories and characters. But there are times when we don’t know if we’re going to cross the line. ‘Can we show this?’ That’s when the show works best. Like in the pilot episode there was a nipple showing but it’s on her thigh. ‘Is that allowed?’ ‘Not sure.’ ‘Let’s do it!’ That was the one moment in the pilot that freaked people out.”

Do you ever get the creeps while shooting? Does it ever scare you just being on the set?

Seth Gabel: “Actually, it doesn’t. It’s interesting. When you’re on set and you know that the blood is corn syrup and food coloring, I really try to between takes just remind myself of that. ‘This is all pretend.’ When you’re working it’s kind of funny because you’re stabbing and then it’s like, ‘Cut!’ and it’s, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ It’s kind of easy to get over it.”

Brannon Braga: “There have been times filming when I got freaked out. One of those times was when Elise Eberle was in that cage dog walking thing and screaming. Everyone was freaked out because nobody knew that’s what she was going to do. And there was a goat who was really freaked out.”

Seth Gabel: “That was a scene that did affect me. The goat was a little startled after that because I would have to protect Elise from the goat because it thought she was some kind of monster. It was fight or flight for the goat and it chose fight. And unfortunately her mark was within the realm of where the goat could reach. So she’s screaming and pointing her finger, and the goat is wanting to butt her. So I’m having to hold her down and try to lightly press the goat with my foot away from her.”

Watch the full Seth Gabel and Brannon Braga interview: