Brian Turk Interview • February 17, 2005
Beth Blighton: How did you get the part of Gabriel?
Brian Turk: I had to audition, I guess like everybody else. I got the audition through my agent and went in. And it was kind of a weird because Gabriel doesn’t have a lot to say, and he was intended to be mute. So the audition was actually the opening monologue that Samson did.
Beth: That’s interesting…
Brian: And I had to go in there as a big, mentally challenged… I think the description was “Big, larger than life, with the face of an angel, and slightly mentally challenged.” But saying things like “celestial stars” and all of these things, and “Alamogordo,” so it was kind of difficult. So I left the audition thinking I bombed it.
Beth: Oh, no! Well, obviously, you didn’t!
Brian: So, I got a call from my agent… And they wanted to see me, because my character is mentally challenged, and they wanted to know how I would convey that using subtleties other than the words, because it’s a lot easier to convey it if you’re allowed to speak.
Beth: That makes sense.
Brian: So we had to come up with ideas how I could show that, and for the call back, it was with all the same people, the producers and Dan Knauf, and Rodrigo and Howard, and Dan Hassid. So I had to go through the script and show them the parts of the pilot… where I thought I could convey the retardation non-verbally. And then I found out a couple days after that.
Beth: And as you mentioned, originally they were thinking of having Gabriel be mute. What changed or how did they come to the decision to have him speak?
Brian: I think it was due to the fact we had a couple characters who also weren’t speaking… the elusive Management that you never heard from in the first season, and Apollonia, so they might not have wanted another character along those lines. So they didn’t leave Gabriel mute, but I think they did try to limit him speaking to only the points where it was necessary
Beth: It was almost a shock when we did hear you speak.
Brian: Yeah! It was a shock for me, too, kind of… And there were a lot of lines that didn’t make it, so they may have really liked the innocence of the child being nearly mute.
Beth: And because you’re such a big guy, yet you managed to get such a sweet little boy voice out. It was kind of surprising, and kind of “Aw…” Especially when he’s calling Ruthie “Mama” and “Yes, Mama…” doing what she’s told him to do. It was very sweet.
Brian: And especially for that period in time. You’d expect him to be more abrasive, with something a little more Burley-esque coming out. But I play him like he’s a five or six year old, very impressionable. And, of course, when Mama’s around, she’s the main focus.
Beth: But he is capable of getting fierce when it comes to protecting Mama.
Brian: Well, he gets fierce when it comes to protecting anybody in the “Carnivale” that’s under the wing, or under the tent, if you will. Like when he thought that Ben was trying to hurt Apollonia. He had to go and defend her. Anybody who steps in from the outside, anybody we don’t know… Kind of like a little dog. I know my family, and if anybody’s going to try to impede on that, then I’ll defend it.
Beth: Now, people are starting to put together this idea that, since Gabriel is the name of an archangel, that maybe you might end up in a final battle against Stroud or someone. What do you think of those theories?
Brian: (Enigmatic laugh) I guess I can’t really comment on that. But I love all theories!
Brian: People have told me about the name, and have they chosen the name Gabriel for a reason? I don’t really know. I’m almost in the dark as much as everyone else is.
Beth: Because, if I’m remembering it right, isn’t Gabriel the one who blows his horn and announces the Apocalypse? And it’s Michael who is the angel who did battle with Satan… I didn’t think Gabriel was the avenging kind of angel.
Brian: Right. I think so. I think that could maybe be an integral part.
Beth: Now, I never realized this before, but Adrienne is just the tiniest, most petite woman. So casting her opposite you as her strongman son is perfect! What’s it like playing that mother and son relationship opposite Adrienne?
Brian: I guess you can really see her size when she stands next to me. It becomes very apparent. But actually, my mom is only five foot one, so…that’s not too far from the truth!
Beth: Is your father tall?
Brian: He was six three.
Beth: That’s pretty big, but you’re what, about six foot five?
Brian: Six five. But my dad was about six one or six two, I guess, thinking back. He’s passed away. But with me, the old joke is that I grew up around a power plant.
Beth: Aha! Where are you from originally?
Brian: I was born in Iowa, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. But we moved down to California before I turned one, so I don’t really remember Iowa too much. Actually, Toby Huss, who plays Stumpy, is from Iowa, as well. And then I grew up in Orange County in Southern California.
Beth: So you’re really a California boy at heart, then.
Brian: Pretty much.
Beth: Now, how did they shoot the arm-healing scene, in the water with Ben and all the dead fish floating up? Was that computer generated, or did they actually have fish they let go?
Brian: The first thing we did, I had to go and get a prosthetic arm made. It wasn’t my arm, obviously.
Beth: No, that was a nasty break.
Brian: It was pretty cool, though. That was quite a little effect! They did a great job. And when I was on set, I slipped on a green glove over my real arm. So they could digitally take it out and make the arm broken.
And then, when we shot the healing scene in the river (chuckling), it was the last shot of the day, and so it was cold. And it was a real pond with real murky water, and they had to lay chain link fencing on the bottom of it because it was so muddy that when you stepped in it you couldn’t pull your foot back up without losing your shoes. So we had to walk real gingerly and slow to get out there, Nick and I. And as far as the fish… They’re all real fish, and they have these little apparatuses underneath that are sort of like the boxes that you catch lobsters in. And they just pulled this lever that would release them, and they’d just float up at the right time. And so, for each take, they had to round up the fish, and throw them around, and try to get them back in there, and load them back up.
Beth: And they were all real dead fish? Or were there a few live ones in there, too?
Brian: They were all dead fish.
Beth: Wow, that must have been… Well, I guess, be glad you only had to do that for one day. By the next day, those fish might have started getting a little rank.
Brian: Yeah, that’s true. We came out of that murky water cold and smelling like fish! But it was fun!
Beth: And it was a powerful moment.
Brian: Yeah, you can sort of feel it right there. And Allison, who was the director, we were sort of shooting it there at the end, and the sun was just going down over the hills, and it just had the feeling that it was kind of powerful. It was good.
Beth: Oh, yeah!
Brian: It really came through onscreen.
Beth: Now, it’s also been speculated – and again, you might not be able to talk about this – that when Ben healed Gabe’s arm, he might have also healed him mentally. What are your thoughts on that possibility?
Brian: (chuckling) Ah, I’m not sure that happened… At least that’s not the impression I was ever given or told. So, I just think he did the arm.
Beth: Okay, and how much would you be willing to wager in a betting pool that Scudder is Gabriel’s father? Which way do you think the fans should bet on that one?
Brian: (laughing) Well, as long as I’m betting for you guys and not for me! It might not surprise you guys again to know that I’m in the dark. I don’t know!
Beth: Well, we won’t go ahead and bet the farm then.
Brian: But that’s what everyone’s thinkin’, huh?
Beth: Well, that is one school of thought, but certainly not the only one on that score. Now, what was it like working in such proximity to one of those snakes this season?
Brian: (laughing) Oh, I think you know!
Beth: Maybe I do… All I knew was that I wanted to make sure there was a certain distance between me and that snake! (laughing)
Brian: Well, Beth wasn’t helping out with the scene so much, so somebody had to grab it!
Brian: As I recall, it was an eight foot python.
Beth: It looked about 20 foot long to me! (laughing)
Brian: And Jules was the guy who was the snake wrangler, an Australian guy, and he’s showing me the snake, and we had to work with it a couple of times. And (chuckling) every time Adrienne had to do the dancing thing with the snake… I think there were two times the first season, and then we did it the second season. And every time she worked with that snake, he or she would relieve itself.
Beth: Oh, no!
Brian: So, I had to go to the choreographer with her, as well, to kind of get used to the snake, and trying to rehearse the scene and pull it off. And on the day of shooting, Jules was coming up to me, when I was grabbing the snake from around Adrienne’s neck, he wanted me to grab the snake right behind its head, and pull it off that way. So he says, “Just give it a try.” But every time I tried it, the snake, who obviously doesn’t want to be grabbed by the back of the neck, would kind of move around. It would move its head around and hiss this “HSSSssssss!” And I’d pull away. I was like, “Uh… I don’t think he likes me doing that!”
Beth: And let’s not make him do that if he doesn’t want to…
Brian: So that can be a bit unnerving, yeah, the first time doing it. I was like, “How ‘bout we try grabbing him someplace else, please?”
Beth: Maybe a little farther away from the bitey part!
Brian: Yeah, so… But it was a great snake. And they actually had it very, very cold in the studio, because the idea is that the snake will want to get to warmth. And so he’ll use Adrienne as his source of warmth, and not want to move, and will stay around her.
Beth: Yeah, it really was cold in there. But it never occurred to me there might be a live snake on that set. Which is DUMB, cuz there was Adrienne in her little snake charmer’s outfit! (laughing)
Brian: I actually would have thought it would have been the other way until they explained it to me, and it made sense – hello! I’d think, since it’s a cold-blooded animal it would want to be warm to move around. But I guess the idea is that, once they get their warmth, they don’t move as much.
Beth: And there was just something about that rubber snake being smashed against that floor that was just… God, that sound! I actually thought the sound we heard in the studio as you were doing it was scarier than what we got onscreen.
Brian: Well, I think everyone was surprised, too, when the blood started spurting out. They just didn’t expect to be hit with such force, I think. The sound of it was… I think there was a metal link in there, and it helped to give it some centrifugal force. Yeah, it was a nice, loud sound.
Beth: It was a big, hollow “Thunk!”
Brian: Fifty or sixty times… (chuckling)
Beth: So then, when they showed people getting spattered with blood, that was just somebody else squirting that at them?
Brian: It was both. There were a couple of different snakes. There was the real snake, the “hero” prosthetic snake that looked exactly like it, and that was for the whacking. And then there was one that wasn’t used as much that actually had, I guess, a long tube going down it, almost like a straw into a pouch that was filled with blood. And I was shooting people with blood.
Beth: Oh, boy!
Brian: Yeah. And then the other was used for just close-ups, because it’s kind of hard to get the blood to go where you want.
Beth: Yeah, exactly. And I remember that was a long day that you guys were shooting that.
Brian: Yeah, and you see how long it takes to reveal it all, too!
Beth: Right! And wasn’t there a shot where they were shooting it through the record player that was playing?
Beth: I remember that record player. I just didn’t appreciate before, when I was watching the finished product at home, how every time they show somebody’s face just a little bit closer, or from a different angle, they have to stop and set that all up, and do it again.
Beth: Now I have a whole new appreciation for how much work goes into a show like “Carnivale”.
Brian: And not only for the actor’s part, but for the crew! They’ve got to match all the lighting. They’ve gotta match everything. And the extras, they’ve gotta make sure everyone follows the same path. And the script supervisor has to make sure the same line was said and the same hand was used to use the pencil or drink the coffee, or whatever.
Beth: And you had a lot of extras that day, too.
Brian: Oh yeah, in the crowd, being mesmerized by Adrienne’s dance…
Beth: And getting splashed with blood… Now, what I thought was really heartbreaking was the last episode of last year, when we see Gabriel sitting out there on the steps of their trailer, just standing guard over his mother as she’s in there dead.
Beth: That’s a big secret Ben is asking him to keep!
Beth: Poor guy. And I guess I’m wondering how long… Is Gabe just so dedicated, once Ben has told him he has to keep this secret, will Gabe keep it til his grave? Or does he have some point where he’ll feel like he has to tell his mom what happened?
Brian: Well, I think Gabe really looks up to his mom, and he looks up to Ben, and they’ve become really close friends. And he’s very, very loyal, so when you tell him to do something, he does it. And as you recall, Ben didn’t just tell him to keep it secret… I think, as I recall, he told him, “If you don’t do this, we can no longer be friends,” or something.
Brian: So that was pretty serious. And like I sort of see in my nephews, in real life. If you tell them something with a very authoritative voice, and very serious, and they really believe it, then it’s like, “Okay, I gotta do it.” And my job was to sit there (chuckling), at the trailer, and not let anybody in. So, I did it.
Beth: But I felt so bad, because he made Gabe cry! I was like, “Don’t make him cry!” I think even Ben felt bad about that.
Brian: Yeah, he realized…And then he came out, and it was, “Sorry, no news to report.” And I’m all looking up at him in anticipation.
Beth: Oh, I know, it was so sad…
Brian: Good! I’m glad it all come through.
Beth: It definitely does! And I sat there worrying, how many days is she going to be in there -- dead? I mean, it had to be getting pretty unpleasant in that trailer, by the end.
Brian: I don’t think it was… I think the timeframe was maybe the next day or something.
Beth: It seemed like two nights went by. But then again, I guess that could have just been twenty-four hours.
Brian: Yeah, I think he healed her at night.
Beth: Yeah, he found her at night, and then he went and tried to heal her, but he couldn’t. So he went into town to find a trade-off life, but he couldn’t. So, he came back that night and killed Lodz!
Beth: And poor Ruthie, she doesn’t seem to realize she’s been dead. So, that’s why I was thinking, as tortured as she’s becoming over this, maybe Gabe would be so tempted to tell the secret.
Brian: Yeah, but that’s a tough subject to bring up.
Brian: And I’m not really sure that Gabriel comprehends that she really was gone.
Beth: Yeah, he seemed to, maybe.
Brian: I think, when he brought her back and he couldn’t get her to wake up, I think he looks at it in a very simple type of way – like Mama’s asleep, she can’t be disturbed, and I need Mama to be well. And this is what it takes to make her come back. I don’t think he truly understands the idea of no longer coming back once you’re dead.
Beth: But that was a great funeral scene that he did, that everybody did, for Dora Mae. That was wonderful. Now he threw a book in?
Brian: Yeah, one of the scenes that didn’t make it, I was reading from the book that had the boy walking his dog. And I asked, “Mama, can I have a dog?” So it was very touching to me, I think. It went back that that was one of the books my mom read to me. And not being able to read, I’d thumb through the book looking at the pictures. So, it was very important to me, and that’s why I put it there. And the idea of me being in my show costume is that, I realize that maybe Dora Mae isn’t going to be coming back for a while, and there’s nothing to help her. So, I run to my cape for comfort, which is where I go to when things are bad.
Beth: Ah, okay.
Brian: Kind of a little boy, Superman type thing, I think.
Beth: Right. And it seemed like everybody put something into the grave that was very meaningful to them. Like Gecko, with his ivory elephant… And I’m still trying to figure out the watch that never needs winding that Management sent along.
And I liked the scene, too, where Ruthie is talking to the dead guy, and Gabe is just looking at her like, “Who is she talking to?”
Brian: Oh, Skeeter!
Beth: Because at first, I thought it was maybe Gabe being jealous, maybe looking like he doesn’t want his Mama talking to this guy. But then, you realize by the end, Skeeter wasn’t there!
Brian: When did you pick that up?
Beth: I think at the end, when we realize he’s “stood her up”. But at first I thought maybe Gabe didn’t like Mama having suitors or something.
Brian: (laughing) Maybe he just looks like that all the time!
Beth: But he definitely looked up and then at her like, “What?” But then, the second time you watch the episode, you really appreciate the look on your face and what it was conveying.
Brian: Well, this show, maybe you can’t just watch it the first time and get everything.
Beth: I think that may be right. You kind of get the big themes on the first viewing. But if you want to get the more nuanced stuff, you have to watch it again.
Brian: That’s true.
Beth: Is there anything you wanted to say to the fans before we wrap this up? Are there any hints you can give us to help us get through these last few episodes?
Brian: Well, for those who are reading this interview or watching this show, thank you very much! And believe it or not, we, the cast, are aware of you guys and we’re very appreciative. And the strong internet following is what helped to bring it back for a second season. And HBO was aware that we have so many fans who felt so strongly about it. So, thank you very much! And I’m sure they’ll keep watching that… And we really appreciate you guys!