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'Secret Circle' star Gale Harold talks Charles Meade

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Gale Harold
Sergei Bachlakov/The CW

With a full season pickup, the stars of The Secret Circle, The CW’s increasingly spooky multigenerational witch drama from Kevin Williamson and Andrew Miller, will have to get used to having a vague, but interesting, conversation about the show’s central mystery: What evil came to the town of Chance Harbor 16 years ago and caused a body count? If it was drawn by the power of a secret circle of young witches, does that mean two parents (Gale Harold and Natasha Henstridge), who’ve schemed to get their children to form a new circle, know what danger they’re putting them in? Why is it worth it to them? Do they simply want to get back the power they themselves were stripped of, or is it something different? Luckily, Harold, who plays the deliciously devilish Charles Meade, has already mastered that art. 

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: All roles require actors to have faith in producers, but, I imagine, when you’re signing on for a character like Charles, even more so.

GALE HAROLD: In terms of faith, it was not knowing which way [Charles] was gonna go. Was my character gonna lose his mind? Was he going to become overcome by some really intense force of power that he couldn’t control? He’s got this ongoing thing with Dawn [Henstridge], and there seems to be a level of, I don’t want to call it exploitation, but there is some sort of power struggle that seems to be slightly based on a fear that he has of her somehow. Either he’s afraid of what she can do to him, or he needs her more than he thinks he needs himself. That’s what I’ve been playing with.

Charles told his daughter Diana that he was dating Dawn to explain why they were spending so much time together. Charles seemed more okay with that lie than Dawn did when he told her about it. Should we read into that? Will it be addressed again?

I don’t know. The way that scene played to me, it’s sort of like Charles is just trying to cover his tracks, and the thing that made the most sense was to use that as the reason — there’s something going on between the two of them. He was kinda caught. Diana called him out. I think in his mind, there’s wishful thinking. That’s one of the things I really like, him having to react on the spot and just make it up as he goes along. It’s one of those moments where your excuse makes it worse. [Laughs] Now Diana has all these expectations.

Charles has said he hasn’t been in a relationship since Dawn’s mother died 16 years ago. Is that the truth? We’ve seen the kids getting some action on the show. Will Charles?

Well, you get that idea based on the one conversation you see Charles and Diana have about this. But who knows? His daughter has to go to sleep and then get up and go to school during the day. Just like you don’t know what your kids are doing, you don’t know what your parents are doing. Who knows what’s going on? I think he is lonely, and I think it’s difficult for him because as Diana gets older, she really reminds him of the fact that his wife is gone. That’s a really painful echo.

What do you think Charles does during the day? He’s a lawyer, so there’s presumably some real work to do.

If I were to think about what I’d be doing if I was in his situation, I would be constantly turning over these ideas in my head, looking around every corner, always looking over my shoulder. And at the same time, I think that he’s probably studying on some level, trying to make sure that he understands what it is that he’s got to do because part of the world of witchcraft is very ritualistic. You have to know your lines, you know. You have to know the method by which you get what you’re trying to get. It seems to me it doesn’t come easy, especially for these characters because they’ve been so removed from it. They’re trying to find their way back in, so I think there’s probably some resistance.

With a show like this, where this is a mythology you’re not privy to, are you able to suggest things for the character or do you have to just react to what’s on the page?

It’s a combination. Along with the character, you have to start to develop an ongoing persona and some belief system so that whatever you’re reacting to is not just, I burned my hand. It’s like, why is this cup so f—ing hot? There must be a reason. It must be someone else’s to hold, or it’s something that I did wrong and now I’m paying a price for it. I try to bring what I feel is his paranoia. I feel like there’s an opportunity to really explore paranoia and fear and suspicion because he’s in a very dangerous place. I’m not sure if that’s where it’s going, that’s what I’m holding in my head to keep me connected to it. The first thing you saw this guy to is walk up to someone’s else and burn it down. He’s not necessarily gonna get away with that.

That was a great introduction to the character. Is there any chance we’re overestimating, from that, how evil Charles will be? Or does he continue to produce great moments like that one as the season continues?

I think there are definitely things that are dark. They are not simply the action of murder or revenge. There are other things going on, which for me keeps it interesting. If I were playing a full-blown psychopath or a serial killer, it’s not interesting for me to just do the deed without some sort of threat of it falling apart.

It’s interesting to hear you talk about Charles’ vulnerability. I hadn’t really thought of him that way.

Stay tuned. It’s coming. I’ll put it this way, and I say this with great respect for parents because I haven’t had that responsibility: If you have children, and you destroy someone’s parent and leave their child vulnerable and alone, there’s no way that that doesn’t have a very intense and painful effect on you. Charles can’t look at his own daughter without being quite aware that there’s another daughter just across town who has lost her mother and it’s because I set her house on fire and burned it down. [Laughs] Vulnerability is built-in. There’s one way to play the character where it just doesn’t bother him, but that doesn’t interest me at all. Then he’s just a robot.

Everyone loves how “creepy” you can be. Are you ever asked to tone it down on this show?

There’s always that part of it. What you see and what was done is hopefully very different things. It’s not always the case, but it’s a good thing to go big early so that you can pull it back, and then you get something that’s full of the intention, the power, and the energy of what you’re trying to do without being too big. You can always be pulled back, but if you don’t go big in the first place, there’s really nothing to work with. And when I say big, it could just be increments of very subtle things. It hasn’t happened a lot because for Charles, he has to be really, really contained. because, like I said before, everything he does is a potential giveaway. He doesn’t know who knows what he’s up to … For instance, my character on Queer As Folk, he kind of invaded every room, whereas Charles is much more on the peripheral. He’s more of a looker. He’s like a spy as opposed to [Laughs] the barnstormer that Brian Kinney was.

Looking at the show in general, I felt like last week’s episode with the demon showed how freaky, disturbing, and dangerous things could be for the new circle, and I loved it. Will that direction continue?

I would assume that’s where we’re going. It’s interesting to me because there’s witchcraft, but then there’s the supernatural side of it were you’re now interacting with other forces and the dynamics those forces occupy, whether it’s possession or if it’s some sort of anthropomorphic thing, some power taking over an animal or reinventing itself to appear to be animal. Now that those doors are open, certainly it’s gonna go down that line. I’m kinda not totally aware of where that story line is going to go. I think it’s going to be a slow introduction to the bigger world around the show in general, like hidden doors.

What I took away from last week’s episode is that whenever witches bind the circle, the power draws some kind of evil to them. If demons come, and are those demons the evil or the minions of a bigger bad? Is there anything you can tease about that?

I think it’s a good question. It’s what I was trying to get at before. Once you open the door, what is behind it? And how does what is behind it either come out or suck you through? There’s the traditional idea of good witches and bad witches. But on the other hand, if you stir up the pot, you don’t know what you’re gonna release. The question you asked is interesting: Are those just minions or are those competing powers? Is it some sort of ongoing power struggle: Now that one side is awake, the other side has to wake up and keep them under control?

Do you know any of these answers?

I’ve had some clues.

That you want to share now.

There’s a man who turns into a squirrel… and then sings a song.

Really?!

Nooo.

It didn’t sound like the show, and yet, it sounded kinda awesome.

It’s kinda like a Woody Woodpecker moment. That would scare the s— out of me if a woodpecker started talking to me as I was walking through the woods.

Okay, give me something real.

For instance, with Cassie’s character, what’s disturbing is this woman has been forced into a twisted situation where she has to figure out a way to survive. Not just how to go back to her grandmother’s house and start to learn how to live in a new town without her mother who she’s lost and meeting new people and trying to make friends. That’s hard to do for anyone, but then on top of that, there’s all these strange things that are going on around her all the time. The more she learns and tries to deal with it, the worse it becomes. On the other hand, what Charles and Dawn have going on becomes progressively unpleasant because the stakes just keep getting ratcheted up. It’s something that Charles has to struggle with: the more that his daughter tries to understand what’s going on, it not only puts him in a dangerous situation but he’s also got to be very fearful about what happens to her. Is she gonna get hurt? Is she gonna get killed? Within those questions, I know that some very bad things are gonna happen.

It is interesting: Both Charles and Diana have reasons to want to keep their knowledge of what’s going on a secret from one another, but at some point, if you know your daughter is in danger, you should want to step in if you don’t actually want her to die.

That’s one of the aspects that’s very interesting to me. There is a definite trap there. It’s kind of difficult for him to make a move in any direction because 99 percent of the results are bad, dangerous, and/or equal or just disgusting.

What’s the deal with that crystal that Dawn and Charles have? It sounds like it only has so much power and they have to ration it.

Well, it seems to me just a part of the dynamic of the circle. It’s like an amulet. They’re animated by nearness to others like them. That’s one of the interesting things about the story: You have all this inherent power, potential power, but it doesn’t work unless people are in the same place, at the same time, and communicate with each other.

That was a nice twist, that strength only comes in numbers when you bind the circle. Do you think we’ll meet anyone else from Dawn and Charles’ circle?

I don’t know. There’s the history, some of which has been explained, some of it hasn’t. Certainly they lost someone or some people. Whether they’re gone forever or not, I don’t know. In an odd way, they need to reactivate the circle of their children to bring back the power they never got their hands on. Once the kids have got it together and can actually use it, how are they gonna be kept under control? I don’t see how that’s going to be possible. [Laughs]

Last question: I just wanted to talk about your career in general. You remind me of someone like Timothy Olyphant, who fans love, but it seems some in Hollywood haven’t quite figured out. How do you navigate your career? It’s a big question, I know.

It’s a huge question, because you have your creative desires and what you want to do, and you have your heroes, and you have the dreams that you want to live while you have a chance on this planet before it’s all over. It’s really sometimes overwhelming to try to balance that with just day-to-day getting along and paying your bills. Sometimes that becomes as powerful as your dream of being [Laughs] Lawrence of Arabia, you know. But on the other hand, I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had a very interesting and fulfilling life doing this so far. I really feel like I’ve only just gotten my feet wet and would love to go much, much further. That’s another tricky thing: Not getting so over-anxious before your ship comes in, or the one that you think you’re dreaming comes in. [Laughs] All actors, on the one hand, you’re lucky to be working. On the other hand, sometimes you get antsy. You want to dance in a different house, but you kinda have to bide your time.

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