Barnabas’ Column #10: Gabriel Freilich talks Burton, Depp
“My beloved Collinwood, what have they done to you?”
Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins in Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS
In the 1920s, legendary Hollywood screenwriter Anita Loos coined the term “it”, which today remains a film industry catchphrase to describe those who have star quality. When an actor has “it”, they’re larger than life, impossible to turn away from.
“I know it when I see it,” Ms. Loos is reported to have said. Gabriel Freilich is a young actor who may have “it”.
Freilich’s role in Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows was small—he was one of a band of hippies who were seen in two sequences of the 2012 film—but the actor was a definite stand-out. Even when sharing the screen with mega-star Johnny Depp, (Freilich sat next to Depp’s Barnabas Collins during the campfire scene in which the hippies were murdered) it was hard not to notice Gabriel Freilich. Perhaps it was his expressive face, or maybe it was that incredible mane of long, thick hair. There is definitely something about this young man that sets him apart from the pack.
Freilich was happy to talk to Fangoria about working with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, and his life as an up and coming young actor.
FANGORIA: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what drew you to the acting profession?
GABRIEL FREILICH I grew up in North London. My mother is British and my father is from the USA, Philadelphia to be exact. My Mom is an actor, her career has been mainly on stage. I think undeniably following my Mom around the country hanging around dressing rooms and green rooms opened my eyes to acting being an achievable goal and something real people actually do. But I did not think about it seriously until I was 16 years old–I did a school play and loved it, and it grew from there.
Looking back, I think the earliest sign I may end up doing something like this was acting the class clown. I love to mess around, make jokes and get laughter from my class mates, even sometimes at my own expense. With acting, for the first time certain parts of my personality were in fact useful and encouraged, they were yielding positive results whereas previously they had only got me into trouble.
I’ve always been very into literature and storytelling, and I love to experience, explore, feel things, take risks, provoke reactions. For me acting was perfect, it’s like living literature and emotion, you get to live the story. Rather than analyzing a book or idea objectively, you get inside a story, inside the skin of a character, find and live the emotion in the moment, experiment and interact with the world.
And I love people, they are endlessly fascinating. I find a scene the perfect laboratory for the human experience, the human condition. It’s such a thrill and so fulfilling to stand opposite somebody, look into their eyes and play a scene. What emotions you find, the power struggle, ultimately the truth behind ideas or words. I think of acting as imitating life, studying life and bringing it to your craft. You also learn things while acting that you can take back to life and your real relationships. You explore how people feel and how they act.
FREILICH No, I had not. Once I got the role I familiarized myself with it to an extent, but I also left myself quite free as I suspected Tim’s vision would be a unique and individual one. I never saw a full script, only my parts of the movie. So my work was on my character and that world of the hippies, not the world of DARK SHADOWS. The hippies have no idea about the Collins’, they are just passing through.
FANG: Can you describe your experience working with Johnny Depp?
FREILICH It felt truly, truly amazing. Both an honor and humbling. I’m still not sure it happened, to be honest. I remember waking up the day after shooting the forest scene and it feeling like a dream. You grow up watching someone like Johnny, and just have such immense respect for him as a human being and in awe of his on screen portrayals—and suddenly, bam! There he is and you are rehearsing with him. It is intimidating for a second, but just for that, a second. He was such a nice, genuine, down to earth person–you very quickly just get down to work and have a good time. It shatters modern media’s celebrity creation. You are bombarded by all this stuff now to make stars seem not human and different, and immediately you realize he is just a really nice, genuine guy with a huge talent. In between takes he spent the entire time making sure we were OK, despite the fact that he had the lion share of the work to do and we had lines here and there.
I have one funny anecdote about my experience with Johnny. During the forest scene, we were in a flight path and so it took several hours to get the shot in the can, as we often had to start takes again due to plane noise ruining takes. I had been reading a lot on Buddhism and meditation at the time, and wanted to stay focused in between takes. So I closed my eyes and just concentrated on my breathing, and Johnny leaned over to me and said ‘have we lost you, Buddy?’ I was immediately so embarrassed at the fact that he thought I may have fallen asleep! He then proceeded to tell me a story about how an actor had fallen asleep in a scene with him, saying ‘it does wonders for your ego!’
FANG: And what was Tim Burton like?
FREILICH Tim Burton was hilarious, and a joy to be directed by. No pressure at all. He knew exactly what he wanted, and his vision is so unique, and he is so certain of it, it’s amazing to witness and experience. He would just give us helpful pointers and adjustments to get what he wanted, but the blocks were already there, so the pressure was off.
FANG: You also appeared on screen with Bella Heathcoate (Victoria Winters).
FREILICH Bella was really lovely. She was very welcoming, nice and down to earth. We just chatted about normal stuff, where we’re from, where we live, etc.
FANG: As a young actor working in 2012, how did you prepare for scenes set in 1972? Were you familiar with the hippie culture of that period?
FREILICH I started by getting interested in what the mentality of the movement was, what the ideals were, where they were trying to go, and what they were reacting against. And then from there, how they talked, the accent, the style of the movement, the speed. I watched any interview I could get my hands on from the period, musicians or just general public.
Tim in fact told us to use EASY RIDER as a reference point on our first day on set. I also read THE ELECTRIC KOOL AID ACID TEST, as it was about the burgeoning and eventual burn out of Kesey’s troupe. Because in the movie we represent the last bastion of hippiedom, I became particularly interested in that. I think I was pretty aware as most people from my generation are, our parents were often hippies, or at least from that era. That period of history had such a profound influence on society. So this definitely got me to go into it on a deeper level and look at the actual human experience within it.
FANG: I see on your IMDB page that you’re working on FANGS OF WAR, another vampire film.
FREILICH Yes, FANGORIA readers! You will enjoy it! The movie is a second world war vampire/horror/action thriller. It’s set in 1944, and the Nazis have stormed Castle Dracula in Transylvania and have kidnapped Dracula to perform tests on him and try to discover the secret to immortality, so they can become super immortal Nazis. An elite team of Allied covert specialists are sent to try and rescue Dracula and bring him back to the Allies. I play Mundt, a Nazi that has been turned into a vampire. I have yet to hear of a firm release date, but I believe they are aiming for 2013.
FANG: You also work as a model. Which do you prefer?
FREILICH I do not consider myself a model at all. Hands down, acting. It’s not even something I think about. Acting is my passion, my aspiration. Modeling: I was scouted when I was younger and thought, why not, mainly as another potential avenue open towards acting.
I split my time between LA and London right now. My goal is to keep working and building momentum. I want to do good work, build a career I can be proud of and be able to choose exciting, diverse, challenging roles and projects.