As Thomas Eichhorst, Sammel plays a terrifying monster — both vampire and Nazi — whose handsome, chiseled face and steely-eyed blue gaze masks a long history of terror. In an email interview, however, Sammel could not be less scary. We asked him five questions about The Strain, del Toro, and how to prepare for such a monster role.
1. What’s your favorite Guillermo del Toro project?
All those I can look forward to and Pan’s Labyrinth.
2. How does Guillermo del Toro help you bring your character to life?
He was the father-mother of my character. For him, Thomas lived already before I met him. We had a really great first phone call and then he implanted Eichhorst in me; he had fabulous insight, gave me lots of background information, fed me with details, welcomed my questions, triggered my creativity, gave me confidence. There was constant Skype and email exchange. It was fabulous. He was always available.
On set, he gave me small words or actions here and there, like mantras or appetizers, which opened up my mind. And he was always in a good mood. With a happy workaholic, you easily become addicted yourself!
3. What was it like the first time you watched yourself as Thomas Eichhorst?
I was happy that it worked, but also surprised about the immediate impact he had on the audience, because Eichhorst’s “look” isn’t so far away from my normal appearance. Exception made for the two full vampire appearances, there were no “special effects.”
I worked a lot on the inner energy, the “aura.” And that was risky. A very reduced body language close to zero, so that you can’t sense his next step or his emotions. For me it was like “I know this guy, but he’s so weird,” or “there’s something weird about him but you don’t know what it is.” He hides his assets but you sense them — but in order to do so, you need to have the assets.
It’s basically like a strange book with a wonderful binding: when you open it, the pages are empty, yet you feel there’s something written. You need a Setrakian [David Bradley’s character] to read it, but when you listen to Setrakian you don’t believe him.
4. What kinds of reactions to your character are you getting from viewers of The Strain?
Actually, they’re all quite overwhelming, especially after episode seven. I’ve seen tweets that say, “You are creepy, brilliant, captivating, and sexy,” and “We want more Eichhorst.” So I really can’t complain.
5. Which non-American TV shows or films you would recommend to fans of The Strain?
Mafiosa: A French crime-drama television series from 2006.
Im Angesicht des Verbrechens: A German television series about the Russian mafia in Berlin from 2010.
Black Mirror: A British television anthology series that shows the dark side of life and technology from 2011.
The Killing: A Danish police procedural three-season-long television drama series from 2007.
Season one of FX’s The Strain is currently Certified Fresh at 87 percent. A 13-episode renewal for season two was announced in August.