Seth Gilliam, who plays Father Gabriel on AMC’s The Walking Dead, talks about finding a new purpose for his character and what excites him most about discovering new communities.
Q: Your character is much tougher than when we first met him. What’s it like hear him tell Jadis things like “fight with us” and “we’ll show you what we can do”?
A: The evolution is pretty exciting, from someone who was really ill-equipped to survive in the world that we’re living in to someone who seemed to have found some kind of purpose. I enjoy the deeply conflicted and terribly cowardly Father Gabriel as well, but it’s pretty exciting to play somebody who’s able to find their footing and take a stand for himself.
Q: How have you adapted that change in your character on-screen?
A: I just try to stay open to whatever the material is that they give me to play with and try to be as truthful as possible. I think the writers do a great job of knowing who the characters are, so it’s not like I’m getting stuff that is really out of left field to try to justify and make believable. I think the groundwork that they’ve laid out is pretty clear. Once you get an idea of where a character is going, you can make the transitions a little more fluidly than if you’re left in the dark.
Q: Not long ago, Gabriel betrayed the group and told Deanna that they weren’t good people. Has he redeemed himself since then?
A: I’d like to think so. I also think that Father Gabriel was speaking about himself as much as he was about Rick and the group. He was speaking out of fear… You’ve got to remember that they were the first people he’d come into contact with after months of isolation and solitary confinement, and they basically turned people into Hamburger Helper inside the church! I’m not sure that he was seeing them through the same eyes as the audience is, who have seen what they came through, the dangers they were under and why they behaved the way they did.
Q: Do Gabriel and Rick have a new understanding and partnership?
A: Rick sees in Gabriel that he’s committed to doing whatever he can to further ensure the safety and prosperity of the community of Alexandria. Gabriel has taken some big steps that I don’t think Rick believed he would have been capable of just a short while ago. I think he’s proven he’s with everybody, and he’s ready to follow him and trusts him. I think that’s something Rick realizes he can rely upon. Gabriel may not be the most capable warrior in the group, but he’s definitely willing.
Q: What’s it been like working with Andrew Lincoln to create that?
A: I love working with Andrew. He’s 1,000% percent into it and committed to making everything real and as human as possible. It’s really exciting, and it’s an energy that I rely upon to play off of. I remember early on – I think it was my first episode actually – and we were in between scenes and he said, “I really hope our characters become friends.” He may have known more about what was coming up than I did at that point, but I remember thinking, “It’d be great if they were friends!” because I love playing with the guy. [Laughs]
Q: What are your thoughts on this new dynamic between Rosita and Gabriel when she returns to Gabriel to talk?
A: It seems to me that Rosita has a deeper spiritual belief or faith than her hard exterior is giving way to. Rosita is a tough character and she’s a woman who makes hard, quick decisions, but I’m pretty sure that there comes some doubt in the quiet moments of that. More importantly, Gabriel is not a threat to her. It’s not like he’s going to put her in a situation where she can’t defend herself. So I think the church is a safe place for her, and I think Gabriel is a conduit for that. I’m excited for the interplays they’ve had because it shows Gabriel does have some place in the community and also that Rosita isn’t just a hard solider. She’s a character with immense feeling and has just as much conflict as anybody else.
Q: The survivors have all had so much taken away. What do you think Gabriel’s biggest loss is?
A: He’s lost some of Rick’s attention, which might be troubling for him. [Laughs] Gabriel hasn’t had much direct contact with Negan at this point and hasn’t suffered directly from his contact with him. In terms of loss, I think it’s most likely a sense of loss for the group as a whole and the members of it, and the loss of hope.
Q: Rick has found guns for Jadis and we’re getting closer than ever to all of these communities coming together against Negan. What’s the most exciting thing about that?
A: For me, the most exciting thing is seeing the different ways all of these communities work, how they manage to stay alive and whether or not they’re capable of working outside of their communities. It’s kind of like a microcosm of the world. How do people communicate? Once the societal structure has fallen apart, how do you go about unifying against common foe? The scariest thing is thinking about what can come of that. Can you trust people? Will they be at your side? How far out do you have to go to make contact with another group? What kind of danger do you put yourself in? That’s all pretty scary stuff as opposed to just hunkering down in Alexandria and waiting for the ultimate attack.
Q: In your third season on the show, does anything still surprise you?
A: When we’re on the set, I’m still surprised at the incredibly elaborate details that go into constructing the walkers, turning a walker from a 22-year old kid into some undead thing and how you can be standing two inches from these incredibly made-up actors and be completely horrified because you can’t see where the latex ends. [Laughs] I’m constantly on my toes!
Read an interview with Austin Amelio, who plays Dwight.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
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