‘THE STRAIN’ Q&A: Ruta Gedmintas and Richard Sammel Talk Season 2, Character Development

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THE STRAIN -- Pictured: Ruta Gedmintas as Dutch Velders. CR. Robert Sebree/FX

Preston Barta // Editor

We’re rapidly approaching the end of THE STRAIN‘s second season. As we’ve been saying all season, things have really kicked into a high gear and it shows no signs of slowing down.

We had the opportunity to speak with Ruta Gedmintas (“Dutch Velders”) and Richard Sammel (“Thomas Eichorst”) about their disturbing episode a few weeks back, how their relationship has developed on and off screen, and what they’ve personally contributed to their characters this season.

I need to begin with what happened in the episode two weeks ago. What were your thoughts when you first received the script for it?

Ruta Gedmintas: “I called up Regina [Corrado, the writer of the episode], because she sent me an email saying, ‘just give me a call when you’ve read the episode.’ I laughed when I read the episode and I called her like, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’ But I was excited because they’re great scenes to play. They pushed us both in a variety of ways.

I was apprehensive because you see these huge scenes and you could do them a number of ways. There’s a first layer where it’s just torture, and then there’s the second layer where there’s an emotional gravity to it where there’s history, past and future, and how these two characters are manipulating each other. I saw it with terror to begin with and then delight that we were going to delve into these scenes.”

Richard Sammel: “When I first read the script, my reaction was to double-check who wrote it. In order to allow myself the question, what writer tries to exorcise some traumatizing childhood stuff in writing this kind of thing? Just kidding! These kinds of episodes, these kinds of scenes is what each actor is longing for. Difficult scenes on the edge of what you think you can do, a little beyond your own limits, and a big question mark of how am I going to do that in a believable way? It’s a wall that goes up 800 yards and you have no cords and no skills to climb; it’s like that. But you want that as an actor; you like challenges.”

Gedmintas: “Yes, because it pushes you.”

Richard Sammel as Thomas Eichhorst. Photo courtesy of Robert Sebree/FX.

Richard Sammel as Thomas Eichhorst. Photo courtesy of Robert Sebree/FX.

The scenes played out with such psychological and physical torment, so how was it filming together and how emotional did things get in those very dark and personal moments?

Gedmintas: “It was torturous but it really fun. It was really nice to work with Richard. He’s a brilliant actor, and it was a really crazy experience for us both to have to film these quite intense, dark scenes and still remain good friends, too. I think it brought us closer together.”

Sammel: “These kinds of scenes, where professionally you’re longing for difficult stuff, once it’s written and in front of you in the pages you’re apprehending ‘how am I going to do this?’ It was a torture scene, an action scene, very emotional scenes, but this was very creepy stuff. I was really apprehending how are we going to work this out? Then you stick to your professionalism and you talk yourself into it.

The good thing for me, actually, was something really special happened between Ruta and I. I’m not talking about the creepy side; I’m talking about the friendship. I’m very convinced now doing those scenes you’re able to bond. You have a bond and a friendship to go to those dark places together.”

Because those scenes involve so much trust between actors, how emotional did things get in those really tense moments and what did you do to come back down after it was over?

Gedmintas: “It was really dark and there are a couple of moments where we would be filming these very intense scenes and I would be in tears and Richard would be very creepy and dark and we just burst out laughing, which was really a good safe environment for us. It meant we could push our emotions further because we knew we were safe in each other’s hands and afterwards we’d be able to have a hug and go for a dance.”

Sammel: “It was mixed with a lot of fun to get rid of the dark side. I remember after work we had sessions drinking beer or cocktails or ice cream to get rid of it. Sometimes I need an hour of a hot shower to bring me back to a more human place.”

How about physically performing those scenes? Things got pretty rough for Dutch.

Gedmintas: “Being 16 hours chained up to a wall was quite difficult, but we did it. And they gave me lots of care and cuddles after so it was fine.”

[Laughs]

Gedmintas: “Stunt mold made of my back so Richard could drag me. Plaster on my back, so it won’t hurt. I was laughing when I was getting dragged. It was quite strenuous and difficult, but we did it.”

Richard Sammel as Thomas Eichhorst, Ruta Gedmintas as Dutch Velders. Photo courtesy of Michael Gibson/FX.

Richard Sammel as Thomas Eichhorst, Ruta Gedmintas as Dutch Velders. Photo courtesy of Michael Gibson/FX.

What do you think that torture scene represented for Eichorst? What was his end game in all of that?

Sammel: “I would just say it’s a very strong metaphor for what he has lost. He has lost Helga and he has lost his genitals. He’s consuming, he’s drinking, he’s nourishing himself in a very perverted and special way. I tend to think he would have turned her like I’m very tempted to say he wouldn’t just kill Setrakian, he would turn him, too.”

I asked this question to Kevin Durand a few weeks back and would love to get your side. I read an interview with Carlton Cuse, where he said that while Season 2 follows the second book in this series, it’s about 80% inventive. Is there anything that you personally contributed to your character this season?

Sammel: “Something feels definitely not right, you talk about it. When I read a script, it gives me ideas. I told what I was thinking and it turned out to be a good thing. The violence and it’s hot. It goes beyond. It’s a constant collaboration because we are confident with our characters. You work it out and if anything bothers you, you bring it in. Whatever it is, you bring it in. You distill it and the essence of it comes out.”

Gedmintas: “You are still learning more and more about your characters, but there are some cemented blocks that you gain from season one. You know something is not right, something is strange, so you discuss it. They want to create more full rounded characters. So we discuss it. Most fun thing to do– the discussion.”

The Season 2 finale of THE STRAIN airs this Sunday, Oct. 4 at 10 p.m. e/p on FX.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.