'Salem' Star on Brutal Twist: "His Thirst for Knowledge Would Make Him Do Anything"

Stuart Townsend talks with THR about Wainwright's fateful trek.
WGN America

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Salem's "Wages of Sin."]

On Salem, Mary's (Janet Montgomery) and Wainwright's (Stuart Townsend) closeness didn't last long.

After Mary confessed to Wainwright that she was a witch and offered to help him tap into his powers, her goodwill didn't last long as she ultimately let Sebastian (Joe Doyle) sacrifice her newfound friend.

For his part, Wainwright did put up a bit of a fight: When he questioned whether he should go with Sebastian — who expressed his desire for Mary — she reassured him that the situation was safe. Wainwright then, in his quest to learn more about the witches and the situation in Salem, allowed himself to be taken to a pit where he was promptly pushed into tar where he would be taken, technically alive, to Hell.

The stunning development brings Townsend's time on Salem to a close. Here, the actor talks with The Hollywood Reporter about his run on the WGN America series, why he had a "fun death," if he might return and more.


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At what point did they tell you Wainwright wouldn't be long for this world?

I was always contracted for a certain amount of episodes, so I always knew I'd have an expiring date. But I didn't know I'd be going to Hell. (Laughs.) I didn't know how I'd be going to end.

Since you knew your time was limited, as the season was going along, did you have theories about how he might die?

I was more interested in what was in front of me; whatever script at the time was in front of me. I never really gave it that much thought, which is odd. When I read the death script, I felt they had set him up as this very intelligent guy — a scientific and rational man. Then in the last two episodes, he lost his wit…[and] it was interesting to me as an actor: "How do I play this guy who has become completely beguiled and half-witted?" I had to bring an innocence to him — that this thirst for knowledge made him do these silly things, believing Sebastian. These scenes, you could watch them and go, "Wainwright is not going to believe this guy! He's going to know something is up." I just had to play him so besotted and satisfied by Mary and the idea of knowledge and the key to the universe.

In your mind, when Wainwright left for his death trek, did he fully trust Mary telling him it was safe?

It's a tricky one, because in that scene, he asks her, "Is this your will, ma'am?" or something like that. And she says yes, after a long pause. (Laughs.) I just have to go with that as an actor. It felt like Wainwright had lost his wits a little bit. There was a setup beforehand where you had seen this relationship between the two of them grow. But it was never a full-on romantic relationship. She always had a manipulative angle, and he was probably more interested in knowledge than women — or, at least, Mary. I don't think it was ever a fully consummated relationship, even though they had some fun times. It was always something going on in the background for both of them. I do think a few previous scenes before, when she said, "I never thought a man like you could get into my heart" — of course, she's trying to get him to burn all this stuff, but maybe he does believe her in those moments. So he does ask her if that's her will [for him to go], and when she says yes, he wanders to the path to his demise.

Before he died, he was also fairly cruel to Cotton (Seth Gabel) — he made it seem as if Cotton was a crazy drunk when Cotton tried to bring the truth about the witches' work to light. Do you think Wainwright had any regrets about what he did to someone he was friendly with?

I think it was a means to an end. What I started to realize about Salem is all of the characters seem to be bad. They all had what we would consider bad qualities — as well as good qualities. It's one of the things people like about the show, and one of the things I admire about it, was these characters do bad things. As an actor, you want to like your character and we don't want them to do anything bad, unless you've been hired as the villain, and then you relish it. But when I was doing those things to Cotton, and making him seem foolish and crazy, I tried to put a sense of feeling bad for him [into it]. But at the same time, the driving aspect of this character always seemed to be his thirst for knowledge, and he'll do anything for that. That scene exemplified that. It showed that even though he struck up a relationship with this guy, his thirst for knowledge would make him do anything — even make him believe Mary asking him to go to his own demise. It's that strong of a hold.

Salem has had quite a few graphic deaths. Were you relieved he had a fairly simple "death," shooting-wise, or in hindsight, do you wish he had one of those crazy deaths that would have required prosthetics, makeup, etc.?

CGI saved me a little bit! I had a fun death, because they had a camera on a crane about 25 feet up. And I was on a harness, and there was a green screen underneath me, and they let me go a few times from a height. And for about six feet or so, you're in a free fall. Not much, but it was more fun than anything else. It wasn't the gore; I didn't have to spend six hours in a makeup chair, which was nice. It was actually a fun death, and I've enjoyed doing it.

Since Wainwright is technically alive in Hell, have there been any discussions about him coming back?

There's always the possibility. Obviously when you go to Hell alive…it's just a pit stop. There is a possibility. We've spoken about it. But there's no plans, as of yet.

Salem airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on WGN America. Were you surprised by Wainwright's death? Sound off in the comments below.