While Richard Sammel (Thomas Eichorst in The Strain) may play evil, scary dudes, he couldn’t have been more warm on the phone, talking with Rotten Tomatoes about the show, his career, and what to expect in season two. He’s been seen in Inglourious Basterds, Casino Royale, Life is Beautiful, and so many more contemporary classics. But with season two of The Strain having just begun, we wanted to chat about that. Here are eight things we thought you should know.
Sammel is a strong believer in only accepting work that pleases the actor, once said actor is in a place to do so. “The older you get, the more you go for quality and excellency,” he said, citing Inglourious Basterds as a good film in which he happens to play a Nazi. But at some point, the copious amount of Nazi roles got to be a little much. He made an official announcement proclaiming that, with The Strain, he had “kind of peaked [with] what I can do with these characters — I’m talking about the Nazi characters, not about the mean characters. I don’t want to do any Nazi characters anymore,” he said. “The reaction to it is that now they want it even more. Now they know I don’t want to do it anymore, now everybody offers me.” He chuckled, ” I didn’t say that in order to get more offers, you know. ”
Sammel is a pro all the way. And as a pro, he knows better than to “play bad” or “mean.” “I tell the man’s story,” he said, “Period. Every mean character — let’s say 90 percent of the mean characters — are pretty convinced that what they do is not mean. If they know it’s mean they have pretty good reasons to make you understand why they do what they’re doing.” He plays his characters from their point of view rather than the writer’s or spectator’s. “If the character plays it from the spectator’s point of view — ‘I’m the mean guy, I’m gonna do mean things to you’ — it’s completely done, you won’t be interested. If you find motivations, as hidden as they might be… then the character becomes sexy. Not that the character becomes sexy, but that the character becomes truthful. To me, a truthful character becomes sexy because he has motivations you want to find out about. You just need to have them, you don’t need to show them.”
He explained that Eichorst required more preparation than other roles because he had to delve into not only why this person is a Nazi (he was born into it), but also why he chooses to become a vampire. He did so by determining why Eichorst does what he does. “[A character’s] motivation is perhaps to survive, or to heal a wound of a lost love or greed. Every mean manifestation you might have has its roots elsewhere, and the root is never mean.”
There are newly introduced characters in the show who have the potential to become leads in the near future — characters who aren’t in the source material. Sammel told us these characters are fully integrated into the world of the show, and that he was surprised how thoroughly their stories were inserted. “They’re really completely integrated in the whole Strain story,” he said. “If those characters were to be discovered in the books now, it wouldn’t surprise me. It might actually be — for the first time — that the TV series influenced the books and they rewrite the books because of the series [laughing].”
The changes and additions to the source material were necessary to the storytelling, according to Sammel. The writers and producers had decided to make five seasons out of the trilogy of books (one season out of the first book, and two seasons each out of the remaining two). So the storylines are elongated. “Then the problem is,” stated Sammel, “if you put too much water in your wine, it’s not wine anymore. Either you stretch the existing stories or you add more stuff to it. One of the things I am most proud of — and quite amazed by the quality by the way — is they do not stretch and dilute the existing story in the books.”
Perhaps Sammel gets cast so often as a villain because his face just naturally looks “tough.” “That’s the old story with my kids — my two kids, grown-up daughters now,” he reminisced. “When I turn completely relaxed, and I just let it go completely, and I drink my beer… and then my kids would say, ‘Dad, are you angry with us? Have we done something wrong?'” Knowing that his natural expression suggests such an energy, he makes a concerted effort to smile more “so that people know, ‘Oh, if the guy smiles, he’s in a good mood.'”
Though he plays an immortal vampire immune to aging, Sammel isn’t immune himself to the effects of gore on his system. “It freaks me out,” he said. “I get a high blood temperature when I see gore. I can’t say I enjoy it anymore. My heart is too weak now.” But he does enjoy watching the show from a “professional point of view,” to gauge his fellow cast-members and his work. “I want to see how we do. How was my work? How was the work of my comrades? What can we improve? How was the dramaturgy? How’s the storytelling? How’s the writing? How’s the lighting? Everything.” And everything he observes is used for later shoots.
Most of the time, Eichorst is disguised as a human, with just some powder added to Sammel’s complexion. But for scenes when the character is to show his true vampiric traits, applying his makeup can take up to three and a half hours. He does get to avoid wearing cumbersome prosthetics, though the nose might appear otherwise. “My face,” he said, “even though it’s my face, should look like prosthetics. It’s a waxy skin. Stuff like that. The skin, the nose, it’s done in a way that it seems like not real skin.” Normally, he wears a wig as Eichorst, but in flashback sequences, his real hair is used to represent what he might have looked like in a different time period.
When discussing where season two is heading for Eichorst, Sammel told us that the tension will continue to grow “on all levels,” he said. “Tension between Palmer and Eichorst, tension between the execution of our plan and the resistance of the humans on a bigger scale, tension between humans and vampires on a fighting scale. It’s all edging, edging, edging. It’s coming close to an edge where it’s not far away from exploding.”
Sammel began dancing when he realized how important body movement could be if integrated into his character work, but he had no intention of becoming a dancer. “I always was very much into body work,” he told us. “I think it’s necessary for my idea of an actor. He’s supposed to know and do more than a normal person. So I’ve trained, very much, my body, and I was a mime and I was an acrobat.”
He once founded a theatre-dance company, and he trained daily with the dancers, leading to dancing job offers. He insisted he wasn’t a dancer, but those offering the jobs thought otherwise. So he became a dancer “more randomly than intentionally,” he said. “[Dancing] helps [you] to feel good in your body and know what to do when you don’t.” Music also has helped him in the past, as he was a musician prior to becoming an actor. “I’m just a curious guy so I go into what I’ve never done before. Next thing might be skydiving, I just don’t know [laughing].”
New episodes of The Strain run on Sundays at 10 p.m., on FX.
You Might Also Like: