'Secret Circle's' Gale Harold on murder, magic, and good vs. evil

gale-harold-press-tour-gi.jpgAs longtime fans of his work, we weren't surprised that Gale Harold's performance as the villainous Charles Meade in the opening scene of "The Secret Circle" pilot blew us away. When, later on in the episode, he once again had our jaws on the floor, we knew that Harold had finally found the perfect TV role to showcase his considerable talent after a few years of lackluster gigs on shows like "Desperate Housewives" and "Hellcats."

We sat down with Harold on Thursday afternoon in Beverly Hills, shortly before he caught a flight back to Vancouver, where he was needed on set at the obscene hour of 2 a.m. that night.

Zap2it: Did you read the books after you got the role?

Harold: No. I'm staying with what Kevin Williamson is thinking. I'll let him interpret and adapt as he pleases. I didn't want to build any assumptions or make any choices based on some already established trajectory, you know? I want to be surprised like everybody else, or at least, like the people who haven't read the books. I hope that the people that do know a lot about it will be surprised as well.

What was it about Charles that appealed to you when you read the script?

That he gets to do seemingly dangerous and bad things while covering all of that by being a charming member of society and father. He's probably wracked with guilt and some sort of underlying revenge agenda, so it's basically having the double-sided story that appeals to me. It was interesting to me because it would force that character to have different relationships by virtue of trying to hide or take advantage. There are always opportunities for something more.

In the first scene of the first episode, your character kills the mother of Britt Robertson's character, Cassie. How do you come back from that? Do you think your character will ever be liked by fans?

Well, there always has to be a bad person and a bad character. There has to be the counterpoint, but what's interesting is that there is no justification. You can never justify, in human society, murdering someone, unless it's self defense or you're at war, and even then you can't justify it truly. It's back to what's interesting about the character -- how can he do that, and is it because he's beyond those limits and he's already justified that to himself some way, or because what he's doing is actually bigger, and he disregards morality and he disregards the legal system? There's certainly no concern about good and evil. There's no concern about Christianity, or whatever. This is pre-Christian, I think. He's justified in that he's up to something that's more important to him than the Good Samaritan parable you might think of.

Obviously, Charles has a history with Cassie's mom, Amelia. Was there a romance in their past? Is he angry at her for something?

That's what's interesting about the adaptation of an established story with regards to the books, because I really have no sense that there was or wasn't a romantic connection between Charles and Amelia. I think that's part of what he's up to, is hiding it. When you're doing something like that, I can't even get a parking ticket. That would lead to very bad places. That's why he's inserted himself into city council and he's got the ability that a lawyer can use to manipulate the system. I have no idea, and I think it could be everything. It could be a number of very bad things driving his motivation. At the same time, he is a father, and he does have a daughter that he loves and wants to protect from even the simplest things. He'll say to her, "Don't look at that; it's going to make you upset." Meanwhile, he's burning someone's house down.

There's obviously a really dark streak to him, but his daughter Diana seems like she's been raised really well. Is being a good father his priority? She seems to have turned out fine.

I think that he's good at appearing good, but I think that's just survival. Potentially what's interesting is that his daughter, Diana ( Shelley Henning), seems to have traits of other people that aren't necessarily him. I don't know if it's his wife, who's gone now. And then Natasha [Henstridge's] character, Dawn, her daughter Faye ( Phoebe Tonkin) seems to share some kind of natural behavior problems with Charles. Charles is the one who seems to be more willing and ready for possibly dangerous things, and Faye seems that way. Faye's ready to go, too. She's ready to cause some problems, but Diana is very sweet. She just wants everyone to be part of the team.

Is there going to be a romantic connection between Dawn and Charles now?

I'm not sure. I think there's probably going to be a power struggle, and regret for certain things, and anger. But on the other hand, they have to work together because our arrangements, by virtue of the fact that our circle's gone, we don't have as much power, so we have to use the younger circle now. In order to do that, we have to keep them under control or at least try to, so we need each other, even if we can't stand each other.

You've played such a wide variety of characters throughout your career. Where does Charles fall in terms of how challenging the role is for you?

The challenging part is when you're working very quickly, and you're doing complicated things and there are a lot of characters to relate to. There's not an immense amount of time for preparation, and things change from day to day, so the difficult aspect is as it always is, trying to be prepared, but not over-prepared. That's what I have a tendency to do -- over-think, over-prepare, and then I'm kind of hampered. I've kind of put a limit on it. You want it to just flow, and not be so calculated.

In terms of the role itself, it's got its own built in challenges, one of them being playing the double sides, and even playing more than two sides on occasion. I mean, it's difficult enough to be believed as a lawyer when you're not a lawyer. A lot of that is textbook stuff, just saying the lines, but you still have to come across with some sort of veracity. But then, can you be believed as a witch or a warlock? I'm always thinking of myself as a warlock; I like the word. Warlock. But can you be believable? In one scene, I almost make a man drown, just by looking at him, just by making him think about it. Do you buy that?

It's one of my favorite scenes in the pilot. Adam Harrington's character, Ethan, has such a deep weakness to him, and your character has so much power over him.

That brings a lot of fun into the story, because when you have that much regret and that much revenge and anger, it drives you in a really visceral way. It's not all about your head, it's about your heart. It's in your blood. He's very angry, and he's very heartbroken, and that's a human emotion. What'll be interesting is to exploit all of that and to let him know that I'm exploiting it, while I'm exploiting it. Whether witches are good or evil is not really interesting to me. But is it possible to just be evil as a human being, and where does that come from? That's what's interesting to me.

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Tune in to the premiere of "The Secret Circle" on Thursday, Sept. 15 at 9 p.m. EST.

Photo/Video credit: Getty Images/The CW