Shane West Previews Scary Salem's 'Sense of Urgency and Dread,' Talks Taming His Wig

Salem Season 1 SpoilersShane West is leaving the world of spies behind to contend with an even more dangerous foe: the powerful, terrifying witches of Salem.

But the most difficult part of the Nikita alum’s new gig on the WGN America series, which premieres this Sunday at 10/9c, may be getting his wig to behave.

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The “wild” locks are appropriate for the historical drama’s 17th century setting, which West — who plays returning war veteran John Alden — calls “frightening and creepy.” And those scares made the actor all too happy to jump back into the TV game so soon after Nikita‘s end, he tells TVLine.

TVLINE | You just came off a TV series, which is a big commitment. What about Salem appealed to you that you decided to come back so soon?
I saw a lot of really good pilots as I was finishing up the final season of Nikita, and Salem really stood out to me as being something special, with a pilot that was going straight to series. It was WGN doing their first original scripted series, which is awesome to be apart of, and the script is written just so well. Me being a fan of the genre of thriller and horror was just an added bonus. Besides the fact that I was absolutely in love with my character of John Alden, it was kind of a no-brainer. And I did want to take a break. I’m not going to lie. [Laughs] The casting process was a little grueling, but it was well worth it.

TVLINE | How has it been for you adjusting to the historical aspects? It’s a long way from the suits, guns and technology on Nikita.
It’s far less comfortable. Not to take away from Nikita, because that was a wonderful experience, but Salem is just a world unto itself. We’ve built this entire town of Salem in Shreveport, La., next to a body of water in the middle of a forest, and it’s incredibly amazing to look at here in the day and frightening and creepy at night, as it should be. And putting on these wigs and putting on these costumes that are expertly made and tailored, there really is no acting included. It’s like walking into a storybook. I’ve never been a part of anything like that.

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TVLINE | How is the wig treating you? Is it playing nice?
The wig’s been trouble. [Laughs] It’s been a source of conversation for the entire run of this first season. It’s wild, man. Me and the hair department got together a few episodes in and we tamed it up a bit. He’s kind of uncouth and disheveled when he shows back up in town. It’s still the same length, [but] we changed the design a little bit.

For my personal life, I’ve been growing my hair out just to help them with the wig issues. You may have heard it first: I may be doing extensions for the first time ever in my life this coming weekend… so that I can also save myself the 30 to 45 minutes it takes to put it on. But again, if I put on the extensions, then I’ve got to live with that in my own personal life, too. So that would be interesting to be suddenly walking around with a ponytail.

TVLINE | The premiere was a lot scarier and darker than I was expecting it to be. Did that come across for you when you were reading it?
It was even darker when we read it. It was something that we were all attracted to. I was immediately along for the ride because of it. I’m enjoying the fact that it shocked people a little more than they expected… One of the cool parts of the story is that we’re trying to get the right feel and sense of urgency and dread that the town of Salem brings. And hopefully, once you connect with that first episode, you’ll be along for the ride.

TVLINE | Was there any particular scene that disturbed even you?
There hasn’t been many that I’ve shot, in particular, that disturbed me, but there has been plenty I’ve seen that have. I’ve seen a few hangings. I’ve seen a drowning. The abortion scene in the first episode is pretty intense. It was much more intense, actually, than I thought when I first watched it back. I saw some of it being filmed because I was there on the day, but there’s something to be said about an awesome score. They’re trying to put a great score together for the show, and that really helps build the tension.

TVLINE | These characters are based on real people. So how close is your John Alden to the real thing?
It’s pretty close. He was the son of John Alden, who was one of the first settlers in the new world. He traveled a lot. He left town a lot and came and went and he did [fight in the] French and Indian Wars. There’s some stuff that we’re, hopefully, going to write into the end of Season 1 and, eventually, into Season 2 that also happened to John Alden in reality. But I don’t want to discuss yet because of the plot issues. He’s also one of like, apparently, nine kids. I thought it would be interesting to see where his other brothers and sisters are. We certainly are talking about that, but you can only tell so much in one show with many different characters.

Salem Season 1 SpoilersTVLINE | John’s relationship with Mary Sibley (played by Janet Montgomery) goes through transformations because of the time jump. Can you talk about where their dynamic starts and where it ends up?
They are each other’s first love. They’ve known each other since they were kids and have truly fallen in love with each other, and therein lies the love story of Salem. But during unfortunate circumstances, John has to go to war. He thinks it’s going to be a short war, as I’m sure all of them did back then, and he, in turn, ends up being missing for seven years, thought to have been dead. Because of the Puritan paranoia that takes over the town, [Mary] ends up having to get rid of her baby, marrying George Sibley, who is John Alden’s least favorite person in town, and becomes a witch to empower herself and to take care of the people and the town that she cares for. When John comes back, he doesn’t know. He’s very upset with her, obviously, but he’s also ashamed at himself. He’s not happy with himself for just expecting her to wait.

Salem Season 1 SpoilersTVLINE | There’s also tension and complicated history with Seth Gabel’s character. Are they antagonists?
They are, but you’ll find that they have to work together. You’ll see that Cotton and John grew up together, but they were never friends. They’re completely different and they were on different sides. One went to university, one explored the woods. One studies the Bible, while the other went to war. One’s a chip off the old block, the other’s mentally abused by his father. So they’re not two peas in a pod, that’s for sure, but you’ll find that what’s great about those type of storylines and characters is that [idea of]: How are they going to work together? Because they are after the same thing — trying to protect the town that they were born and raised in from witches and from the Devil itself.

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