Gavin Stenhouse – Allegiance
By: Jamie Steinberg
Q) What are the recent projects that you are working on?
A) Other than “Allegiance,” I have had no life! The whole of the past year has been devoted to “Allegiance,” so I haven’t had time to think about anything else. In the lead up to September when we started production, I was literally ensconced in research and trying to develop the character of Alex. I was trying to develop the most authentic and accurate portrayal of someone on the autistic spectrum.
Q) How was your role as Alex O’Connor originally described to you?
A) I think he came through in the casting breakdown that he was a brilliant mind, but socially awkward. It was very vague and general until I read the script. I got a really specific and a clear idea of who Alex was from the script. George Nolfi has a way of writing characters that right from the first episode there felt there was a backstory there that I could draw on.
Q) What made you want to be a part of the show?
A) Initially it was the script because the script was awesome. With pilot season, you can go to two or three meetings a day so these scripts come across your desk at such a speed. This one really stood out to me as something special. When I read it through in my head, I always like to picture things as a movie. Even when I am reading books, I try to picture it as a movie. The way that the characters are written and the dialogue is written, it was so unique to the character that it just sucked me along for the ride. That doesn’t happen very often so I straight away felt there was something special about the script. Also, Alex is such a nuanced character that it would just be a privilege to play him if I got the chance. So, I went in for the audition and gave it my all.
Q) What kind of research did you do to prepare for the role?
A) George hooked me up with some CIA officers, some analysts who worked at Langley. They could tell me generally, very broad things about the CIA, but nothing specific. If I ever asked anything specific they would say, “Yeah, I can’t answer that.” For the most part, my highest priority with Alex was doing justice to the autistic community. So, it was important for me to start reading books on autism and watched lectures from Temple Grandin and the Aspergers Association. On YouTube I stumbled across these video bloggers on Aspergers that would post video diaries of themselves and talk about their lives, the ups and downs of what they went through and what they found in common with each other. It helped me key into specific details that I thought I might be able to use with Alex and try to get into the mindset of how Alex’s mind works. It’s a very unique brain. Obviously, the first thing I wanted to do was meet with autistic people because that seemed like the most important thing to do. That was really interesting to meet the people. From there, I started thinking more about the physical side of Alex and what senses he really used in his life and what senses were really sharp to him and which could get overloaded easily. After that, I got into this thing called stimming, which is in the autistic world is a repetitive physical behavior like flicking your fingers in front of your eyes stimulates your vision or in Alex’s case rolling a squash ball around in his hands is a kind of a tactile piece of comfort to him. It’s something he can focus on and settles his mind. I had to think of types of stimming he would use and it was really the squash ball and the smell of my own wrist. I’m not sure how I came up with that. I don’t know if I’ll occasionally smell my fingers or my wrist. It’s just a nice smell and I thought that would be useful for concentrating, reading and working on his computer. I put in those physicalities and that began to draw me, as the actor, in and it gave me a key into understanding how Alex perceived the world.
Q) You are a part of social media. Have you been enjoying the instant fan feedback you have been receiving?
A) I have and the most heartwarming thing anyone can say to me right now is the positive feedback from people who work in autistic community or are effected by autism. That is the single most thing that is the most comforting and propelling thing that can be said to me right now is that I am doing a good job or thanking me for portraying autism in an accurate way instead of in a generalized way or not saying “Yeah, maybe he has Apberger’s tendencies, but might not be autistic.” Alex is autistic and there is no sidestepping around it. There is something to be said about raising awareness and something to be said about portraying autism in a positive light. It’s not just for awareness, it’s for acceptance. That is the most moving thing I can hear.
Q) What have been some of your most memorable moments from filming the show?
A) It was the first day working after filming the pilot, which was filmed quite a while prior. It was a running scene with Vaso (Pasha D. Lychnikoff) and the first scene we did on the first day was the two of us getting out of the car and running like a steam train take after take. For whatever reason, I didn’t warm up so my legs were like lead weights after that for like two weeks. It just goes to show you that you can’t skip leg day at the gym! The most thing that I will take away from this as we go into hiatus is just working with the caliber of actors I have had the privilege of working with whether it is Hope [Davis], Scott [Cohen] or Kenneth [Choi]. Even our guest stars, it’s like I get to learn my craft as a young actor from such talented, nuanced and experienced actors. It’s a master class! That is overall the most amazing experience for me combined with the fact that the crew is like a family. Every morning when I have to get up at 4am or 5am I never feel begrudged because I am going to work with an amazing family and I’m going to work to learn and hone my craft as an actor. It’s like the ideal job. It’s amazing.
Q) Did the chemistry between you and the cast come instantly? How were you able to develop that familiar bond?
A) On the pilot, we kind of jumped in. We didn’t really have the time to bond. It was weird. I went for coffee with Hope before we had the table read when we all sat down and had the first read through for the network. Hope is such a caring, motherly spirit that there was a chemistry that pre-existed before we got together. I think the casting on “Allegiance” was special because the chemistry between Scott and Hope is incredible. As soon as I met them and was in a room with them, they were such wonderful people. There is no walls. They just are these wonderful people. It didn’t take any time to be able to connect with them and feel comfortable to discuss scenes and my character with them. That conversation still exists today, twelve episodes later. There has never been any immovability. It’s always been really flexible. It’s the most awesome group of people to be with. Diane Farr, who plays Elizabeth, asked me the other day who the worst guest star we ever had was and I said, “We haven’t had any. There has been no bitching. There has been no animosity with anyone.” It’s just a lovely bubble of people.
Q) What do you think it is about “Allegiance” that has made it a quick fan favorite show?
A) I think the pacing is a real key factor in that. I think the pace of the action is so engaging that it is reminiscent of a film or a caper. Right from the get-go it kind of brings you in for the ride like a rollercoaster and I think that propulsion really excites people. It excited me when I sat down and first watched the pilot. That car chase over the bridge and it culminated in the cars crashing…I was there for that filming and usually – my perspective of the shot of the show is maybe a bit jaded because I’m working on it, but I sat and watched it as if I never saw the script and as if I didn’t know what was happening! I jumped out of my chair when that car crash happened. I was like, “Yeah! That’s so cool! It’s like a Bourne movie!” I think the pacing encourages the viewer to engage. I think that is indicative.
Q) Is there anything else you want to be sure that fans know about what is to come on this season of “Allegiance?”
A) Without giving any spoilers away, I’m really excited to explore what happened prior to the sit down with Alex and the parents – what is said and what happens when the family starts to come together and work together in order to stop a greater evil. I’m not sure if you’ve seen it in the previews, but we have Giancarlo Esposito coming on and that is what I’m exciting about. I’m excited about the family working together. And speaking from Alex’s point of view, I’m excited to show how someone who has such a clear vision of right and wrong, someone who’s impetus has preconceived notions of what is good and bad and someone who may never have told a lie in his life how that slippery slope starts may be coming corrupted and the lengths you go to in order to convince yourself that something can be done for the greater good when you come from an absolutely naive or innocent standpoint. How does Alex tell the first lie? I think that will be really interesting for the viewers to go with him on that. I feel like they will emphasize with his struggle and everyone has been in that position where you feel like you have to do this in order to move forward and how you live with that choice. It’s going to be an interesting slippery slope.