‘Fringe’: Seth Gabel talks Lincoln Lee, Season 4
"Fringe" returns Friday night after a summer of hanging questions. Has Peter Bishop been erased from history? How will the two universes’ Fringe teams interact? Whatever happened to Amy Jessup, that new FBI agent they introduced awhile back? If any show is good at keeping its secrets, it’s "Fringe." Though one welcome spoiler did slip out over the summer months: Seth Gabel is moving from guest star to cast member in time for Season 4. That means we’ll be seeing more of Gabel’s character, Lincoln Lee.
When I chatted with Gabel about the promotion, I asked if it came with any hazing. Did John Noble make him do key stands? Clean his trainer? “It’s actually the opposite.” Gabel laughed. “John is a very protective person. He realized I was stepping into a new situation; he took a parental approach. Actually, I had to show him after a while that I was OK. When we went to Comic-Con he was introducing me to people saying, ‘This is Seth. He plays Lincoln Lee.’ I had to let him know I could handle it.”
Fans of "Fringe" know exactly who Lincoln Lee is. Besides having one of the coolest names in television, Lincoln is also a key member of the other universe’s Fringe team, which made him very prominent last season. It's been a big leap for a character who was originally planned for a one-episode gig. “My first introduction to the show was very unpredictable as far as how I’d be involved in the future of the story. I was just signed on for one guest episode. It was very open-ended on whether or not I’d even survive, but as we were shooting it, Akiva Goldsman, who was the writer and director of that episode, kept on putting in little hints that my character would be much more involved in the show. I started to get very excited, but I had to wait a whole summer if, in fact, I’d be back.”
"Fringe" ultimately made the decision to bring Lincoln Lee back, but not until after they had blown him up. “That was brutal," Gabel said. "I had to go through four or five hours of makeup each day that I went to work. It’s pretty intense. They’re putting glue in your hair and your scalp. Everything is sticking to each other and itself. But then you see the results, and it’s mind-blowingly fun to look at yourself and see what it is they created and what you have to work with. Unfortunately, the moments that will end up looking great on screen are usually our most uncomfortable moments. Where we’re in hazmat suits just sweating our butts off inside of a hot sound studio, but then you see dailies and know that it’s definitely worth it.”
Not only did Lincoln come back, he came with a vengeance. He led the alternate Fringe team as they fought people full of bugs and a guy who kills with a pen, becoming one of the show's action stars. “I was nervous when they started writing the character in that direction: a very heroic action hero,” Gabel said. “That’s not something I’d ever played before, and I wasn’t sure I could really pull it off. I’d never really seen myself with a gun. Never really thought I could look cool holding a gun. As the first few episodes started to come in, I felt more confident when I realized I didn’t look like a total doofus.”
You may remember a Lincoln Lee popping up in this universe last season. He’s also an FBI agent, but not an action hero like the other side’s Lincoln. “He’s a version of Lincoln that doesn’t quite understand his power yet. Or believe in himself,” Gabel said. “He has a certain confidence when it comes to figuring things out scientifically and strategically, but as far as physical confidence, he hasn’t quite found that yet.”
Gabel’s new status on the show means we’ll spend more time with each universe's Lincoln Lee. “We see a lot more of our Lincoln. The glasses-wearing Lincoln.” So does either Lincoln have a nickname? Like Walternate? “There’s Olivia and Bolivia. I don’t have one. I just have Glasses-Wearing Lincoln and Earring Lincoln.”
The world of "Fringe" must be an actor’s funland. Does getting to play two versions of the same person keep one from getting bored? “It’s not that you get bored playing a character, but it’s fun to switch it up and experience a different side of yourself through the alternate characters,” Gabel explained. “It’s that nature vs. nurture conversation. They share the same nature but have different timelines. Their nurture is very different. It’s fun to create that and imagine what might have happened differently. What did the Lincoln Lee from our side experience in high school that made him less confident than the Lincoln Lee in the alternate universe?”
The Lincoln Lee from our universe comes into Fringe Division with fresh eyes, untarnished by the crazy science running rampant in the world. “You need a layman’s perspective from time to time,” Gabel pointed out. “The show has gotten so deep into this crazy, surreal scientific world that you need someone to enter every now and then to remind you this is not the common experience. You need someone to show you how far down the rabbit hole you’ve gone, so you don’t become desensitized to it. I think Lincoln serves that for a while.”
“I was just talking to some of the actors on the set about how I need that now,” Gabel continued. “I’m starting to accept all these things as reality and starting to lose that ‘wow’ factor. We were talking about how it must be similar in ways to how soldiers go to war. Dealing with these huge stakes day after day. It’s not that you become desensitized to it, but there must be a part of you that accepts it being your reality. If you don’t, the mind can’t quite handle the stress of that situation every day. It’s interesting to see how these characters deal with the out-of-the-ordinary experiences but come to treat it as an ordinary part of their lives.”
"Fringe" always has done an excellent job of tying all its crazy science to the human consequences. “I’m so happy the show has a real humanity to it,” Gabel said. “On the one hand, it could be a show that’s just a procedural with new events every week, but instead we get a deep feel for these characters and a love for them. You get to see what they’re fighting for is, yes, to save the world from all these different threats, but they’re also fighting for each other. It really helps drive you as an actor to have the stakes be something that’s very personal.”
Now our long summer is over. Gabel and his fellow cast members will be back Friday.
-- Andrew Hanson
Photo: Seth Gabel as Lincoln Lee and Anna Torv as Olivia Dunham. Credit: FOX Television.