Sometimes when you’re watching your favorite TV shows, you get the urge to yell at the screen because a character did something that you didn’t agree with. As someone who watches a lot of television (you know, for work), I find myself in this position often. And one moment in particular that comes to mind from the most recent television season was Father Gabriel’s conversation on ‘The Walking Dead’ with Alexandria leader Deanna that put Rick Grimes and his group’s position in the community in jeopardy. But recently I had the opportunity to speak with the man himself about that polarizing decision.
At the inaugural Great Philadelphia Comic Con over this past Easter weekend, Seth Gilliam of ‘The Walking Dead’, ‘The Wire’, and ‘Oz’ appeared alongside the likes of sci-fi icon George Takei, legendary comic book artist Jim Steranko, a number of cast members from ‘Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’, and more to greet fans from the Philly area. But in between signing autographs and taking pictures, the actor behind Father Gabriel Stokes took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about his character on the acclaimed AMC zombie series. Also, knowing about his passion for theater, we talked about the different measures that Gilliam takes to prepare for the variety of roles he takes on the stage and on the screen.
ScienceFiction.com: Like a number of your fellow cast members from ‘The Wire’, you’ve found your way into the world of ‘The Walking Dead’. How are you finding the fans of AMC’s popular comic book adaptation compared to the devoted fans of HBO’s long-running crime drama?
Seth Gilliam: I think that ‘Walking Dead’ fans are just as loyal to the show. They might be twice as rabid as ‘The Wire’ fans though.
SF: Were you a fan of ‘The Walking Dead’ prior to joining the cast?
SG: No, I didn’t watch the show before I got cast on it. I watched the first three seasons in the week before I went down to work and then I watched season four the weekend before I got on set. But I fell in love with the show about twenty minutes into the pilot once I started watching it. It was like I was watching a movie, not a TV show.
SF: In the most recent season of ‘The Walking Dead’, Father Gabriel surprised everyone when he went to Deanna to basically throw Rick and his group under the bus. Was that something that he was planning since they got to Alexandria or was there a specific event that triggered it?
SG: I’m not sure that it was something that he was planning on doing. I think that by seeing that this community had a need for him and how he had let down his last community triggered something in him to say something [to Deanna in an effort] to protect [Alexandria]. You have to remember that Father Gabriel was alone for eighteen months and then the first people he lets into his church slaughters people that have surrendered. They gave up their weapons and said that they’d go away. This is what he was hearing from the other side of the door. And what they get is slaughter in what’s supposed to be a place of worship and a holy place. Some people forget that to a man of the cloth like Gabriel, [Rick and the group] seem like dangerous people.
SF: After the confrontation with Sasha and Maggie in the season five finale, would you say that Father Gabriel is ready to finally confront his own sins?
SG: I think so. I think that Maggie is helping Gabriel a lot with her willingness to acknowledge that yeah you’ve done horrible things, but there’s forgiveness there. I think that’s going to help him forgive himself.
SF: On an episode of ‘Talking Dead’, you mentioned that lived away from the cast in Atlanta at first to get in the mindset of your new character. What else did you do to prepare for the role of Father Gabriel? Did you look to the comics at all?
SG: I only read the comic where Father Gabriel was introduced. I think it was issue sixty-one. I read that and ‘Fear the Hunters’, but that’s pretty much it. I’ve glanced at other things here and there, but I mostly try to take what’s on the page and fill in the blanks there.
SF: How does preparing for a role in film or television differ from the preparations you would take for theatrical productions like ‘Othello’?
SG: Yes, absolutely. There’s far more repetition in rehearsing for a stage play than there is in doing film and television when you’re trying to lock it into your body and your muscle memory. There’s also a lot more time to prepare. A lot of the time in film and television, if you’re not a big star, you’re getting cast a week before you’re on set. If you’ve got two weeks, then you’re lucky. Whereas when you’re doing a play, you have months to really lock it in. Plus there are three to six weeks of rehearsal before anyone sees it, so it’s a lot more of a finished product.
SF: In your current down time from ‘The Walking Dead’, is there any chance that your fans would be able to see you take the stage again some time soon?
SG: Unfortunately, we start shooting ‘The Walking Dead’ in three weeks and we’ve already started shooting our fifth season of ‘Teen Wolf’ right now, so I don’t have time to do a play unless four weeks from now I get down to Atlanta and find out that things aren’t going well for Gabriel.
SF: On that note, is there anything that you can tease us with about the next season of ‘The Walking Dead’ yet?
SG: Everybody dies. [Laugh] Yeah I don’t know. I really have no idea. I’ll see it all when I get the script.
What did you think of Father Gabriel’s actions in the latest season of ‘The Walking Dead’? Do you have any predictions for Seth Gilliam’s character in the next season of the popular AMC series? Let us know in the comment section.