Gabriel Wright has a knack for playing villains. Over the last few years he’s portrayed a demon, a sociopath, a ghost, and a ladykiller. But when you meet the cheerful, outgoing actor, you’d never guess he’d be so good at being bad.
“I’m drawn to darker characters because I love playing characters that are sort of the opposite of what I’m really like,” Wright says. “I like playing villains. I love villains that really just scare the crap out of you.”
A native Charlestonian, Wright is one of five young actors chosen for Charleston Stage’s Resident Acting Company this season. Besides performing in various company productions throughout the year, Wright and his cohorts will receive training in all aspects of theater operations, from scene building to the box office to education.
Wright hasn’t always gravitated toward darker roles — he debuted as the prince in an elementary school production of Cinderella. Despite the boyish gross-out factor of having to kiss a girl, Wright was hooked on acting from there on out. He continued performing throughout high school, but decided to pursue a career in law at the College of Charleston. It wasn’t until his junior year that he reconsidered that dream.
“I realized that I didn’t really have a passion for it,” Wright says. “I wasn’t doing what I felt destined to do, so I decided to give the theater route a ride. … When I finally actually got back into it, I realized how much I loved it. I felt at home on stage acting and performing and entertaining.” He switched to an arts management major with political science and theater minors.
During his time at CofC, Wright received Irene Ryan and CofC Diva award nominations for playing Duke Octavio in The Last Days of Don Juan. He won the CofC Centerstage Diva award for best character actor and best villain in 2009 and 2010, playing Titivilleous in Everyman/Mankind and Harry Roat Jr./Sr. in Wait Until Dark.
After graduating in 2010, Wright scored two parts in Charleston Acting Studio’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven musical, channeling Michael Jackson and James Brown. Since Jackson’s death was still somewhat fresh, Wright felt the full pressure of the role.
“I said to Sheri [Grace], if I’m not on point with vocals or dancing, please let me know, because I swear, I cannot have someone in the audience run up on stage and hit me in the face and be like, ‘That’s not how Michael would do it,'” he laughs. “Michael has some crazy fans. Some people are really obsessed with the guy.”
Luckily, Wright received positive reviews for his performance, and from there he got a bit part in Charleston Stage’s Hairspray. After that, he was surprised when Associate Artistic Director Marybeth Clark asked him to play Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol.
“I was thinking to myself, Marybeth hasn’t really seen me act … she doesn’t even know if I can do a British accent,” he says. “And I was like, ‘You want to cast an African-American Jacob Marley?’ That’s cool. I rolled with it. You gotta break barriers. I’m all for that.” After filling subsequent leading roles in Blue and Peter Pan, he accepted the residency.
“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” Wright says. “I knew the people. I love working with them. I knew that they could really teach me things about theater that you can only get by being hands-on in the theater. The program really is amazing because they teach you all aspects of the theater.”
We’re guessing he won’t need much guidance for his next role — he’s starring as the fanged one in an October production of Dracula.
“I auditioned with a couple of girls, because it was a scene that Dracula has with Margaret Sullivan,” he says. “They were like, ‘Dude, in that room you really creeped us out.’ I said, ‘Did I? My job is done.’ ”