AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire ranks incredibly high on my personal “favorite TV shows ever” list. Halt and Catch Fire is a highly enjoyable drama series that ran from 2014 to 2017. Starting off in the early 80s during the computer boom, this series really explores, not only technology; but the drive towards bringing people together through computers. The series starred Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Mackenzie Davis, and Kerry Bishe. Seriously, this show has a special place in my heart – I love it and you can love it too, because it’s available on Netflix.
While Halt and Catch Fire centers around the four actors above, it also had a plethora of memorable characters that made the series even more enjoyable. One of those characters was Arki, played by American actor Gabriel Manak. Arki was an adorable character with a Russian accent who worked as a coder for Cameron (Davis) and Donna’s (Bishe) company Mutiny, in seasons two and three. Luckily for me, Manak graciously agreed to answer some questions about this beloved show. Now, I’m sharing them with all of you. Keep reading for some great insight of this amazingly enjoyable drama series!
Tia: AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire has been off air for a few years. But it’s still heavily talked about to this day. It seems to be an underrated gem that we, as fans, can’t stop talking about. Why do you think this is?
Gabriel Manak: It’s so true. The show has gained a larger audience now thanks to Netflix and Amazon than it ever did while the show was on-air. I truly believe that we are all creators at our core and in our own ways. Halt is all about wanting to break from the status quo and making more of ourselves than our present jobs/relationships allow us to be. Why should the big companies/names be the only ones who get to create the next best thing, have the next amazing relationship or write the next greatest hit song? This show is about the underdogs. Most of us feel like the underdog in our present careers. Halt connects us all together.
You appeared as Arki from the beginning of season two to about the end of season three. How did you get the job?
This is one of my favorite stories. At the time, I had just stopped living in my car in Atlanta, GA (December 2014) hopping from one set to the next to make ends meet while still auditioning for several speaking roles. Since the industry shutdown for hiatus, I decided to go back home to NJ and stay with my grandmother to regroup, have a bed to sleep in and make some money as a brand ambassador.
About a month later, while I was out in Princeton, NJ at one of my favorite breweries with some friends, I got the audition request for ARKI. I was told it would be possibly recurring for 3-6 episodes. It was due the next day. My buddy Mike and I taped the audition that night at his place without any professional lights or camera. We used his smart phone without a tripod and it just didn’t look great but It was just two lines and since I already knew how to speak Russian, I decided to adlib a few lines in Russian.
3 days later, I got the call from my agent at 3pm saying that I was requested for a callback in Atlanta the next morning at 11am. I was in NJ, a 14 hour drive from Atlanta. I told her I’d be there. Two hours later, I was in my car and made my way to Atlanta. I drove the whole night except for taking a 45 minute nap in North Carolina. Red bull and epic party rock music by Andrew W.K. kept me awake the whole night. I arrived in Atlanta at 10:30 and decided to stop at a Quick Trip Gas station to get a rockstar energy drink and just calm my nerves and mind for this audition.
I got to the production office calm and focused on the work. There were only two other actors (from LA) auditioning for ARKI. They went before me. I overheard the casting assistant ask them before going into the room, “Can you speak any Eastern European language?” One said no and the other said he could possibly say a few words. When she called my name and asked the same question, I answered here completely in Russian. The audition went so well.
The rest is history:
All of the new coders you saw that season were in the room with me and we jived so well. The chemistry was on point and everybody in the room was laughing. After the excused us, I was walking to the door and the main Casting director Lisa-Mae asked me if I really spoke Russian. I turned and said yes. She asked me to speak into the camera and say whatever I wanted, which I did willingly. After that, I knew that even though those other actors auditioning for the same role may have been more talented, I was the right guy for the job. The rest is history.
In Halt and Catch Fire, Arki is Russian. When you were auditioning for the role, was the character always meant to be Russian or was this something that was developed after you got the part?
The role was meant to be Eastern European. They didn’t have a firm decision on what specific country he was from. On my first day of shooting, Melissa (Executive Producer) came to me and said how they loved that I could speak Russian fluently and asked that I use any opportunity to add anything Russian during the scene. So, when you see/hear me speaking Russian in the show, that’s me going off-script. Those lines weren’t written. That was a cool thing for me to do as an actor and as someone of Russian background.
During Halt and Catch Fire, the show shifts. Season one revolves around making a brand new computer, while seasons two and three focus on games, chat rooms, and software. We then see, in season four; the discovery of search engines, such as Yahoo! Where does this leave people, though; while others are walking towards change? This is something I asked Manak.
What do you think happened to Arki and other coders like him as the age of technology shifted?
That’s something I’ve struggled with for a while. It was strange for all of us not to return in season 4…even as cameos. The Chris’s did a great job with moving the show along with major change just like in life and technology…big bounds and leaps. I know many of the fans weren’t happy with seeing new coders who they couldn’t relate or connect to because they fell in love with characters they had the chance of getting to know for 3 seasons. They definitely gave a nice send off to most of the coders in the series finale (except for ARKI) but I felt more should’ve been seen. These coder monkeys brought so much light-hearted humor and fun to this dramatic cinematic universe.
Where did the code monkeys go?
Besides what was written in the finale, I truly believe that all us coders went on to do great things because we loved creating. It was fun. Sure, we loved to party and make pranks but we loved what we did. It’s possible ARKI got sent home to Russia but I think he’s in NYC or LA making shit happen because if we know anything about immigrants is that they don’t waste time on BS and do whatever is necessary to become successful in America to make their family proud and themselves proud. I based the character off my late grandfather, Alexander Okhotnikoff. Coming to America is a gift that cannot be returned or squandered.
I love this story that Manak has provided. It was certainly a strange decision to get rid of the “coder monkeys” that we all had known and love. Especially characters like Arki, Yo-Yo, and Lev. Season four certainly took many stories in different directions; not all that I agree with. AKA what happened to Gordon Clark. I won’t say anything else if you haven’t seen the series yet.
Now, there is no word of this ever happening, but we are in the age of reboots. If Halt and Catch Fire were brought back and you were asked to return, would you? Would you work with Christopher Cantwell again?
Oh My Gosh! Absolutely! Halt was my first ever speaking role as an actor. Nobody books a role like this as their first. It’s such a rarity and I am incredibly grateful for being gifted that opportunity so early in my career. Plus, Christopher Cantwell and Rogers are the best! They understood us. And to work with such amazing directors again including Jeff Freilich, Michael Morris, Andrew McCarthy, Reed Morano, Phil Abraham and more? Totally. Plus, I miss my coder monkey buddies. It was a great time and also a tough time for me while on the show. I’ve grown since then and would love the opportunity to continue to grow with all of them again.
Since your time on Halt and Catch Fire, what have you been up to? What projects are you currently working on that you would like to promote?
So much has happened that I am really proud of. I was able to work with a few Halt cast-mates on Jason Reitman’s, “The Front Runner” back in 2017 (Unfortunately, I didn’t make the cut). I also appeared in an episode of FOX’s “The Gifted” as a Lab Tech. This last year, I appeared in an episode of Queen Sugar (OWN’s Highly Critically Acclaimed Television Drama), and last month I played a small role as a journalist in the third season of National Geographics, “GENIUS – Aretha.”
I also shot my own sketch comedy pilot called, “Skitso ‘Merica” (Available on Youtube) with a bunch of my actor friends in NJ. I’m very proud of that because it’s something I wrote and created. I was able to work with my best friends which is something I see myself doing a lot more in my career as a writer, producer, director and actor. And, I am making daily comedy videos on TikTok (@mabe_ganak) which has been a lot of fun for me the last 6 months.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, entertainment and the world seem to both have come to a screeching halt. Do you have any words of positivity to offer to those reading this interview?
Thank you so much for this question. It’s been a month since the world has shutdown. I am one of the many who have been laid off from their job. It hurts. Certainty is one of the essential human needs we all have…and most of us are in a state of uncertainty. I truly believe that we have been given this time to reflect on ourselves, our choices, our habits, and our lives.
Why do we give so much of our time and energy to certain jobs, romantic partners, abusive substances, people we call friends but are probably more-so acquaintances/drinking buddies? Many are calling this “The Great Pause.” We’ve all been asking for more time to do the things we want to do and know we should be doing. What’s your excuse now? This has effected every human on this planet. The planet has to heal and life has to heal as well.
We don’t realistically know when things will go “back to normal.” I hope they don’t because then what was the point of all of this? Change and growth is the most natural thing we could ever do. Nature does it on a daily basis and we are a part of nature. If you get truly honest with yourself and ask yourself those important questions, I believe you’ll find those answers within you. Do you love what you’re doing? Are you passionate about it still? Do you love your spouse still. Have you realized you’ve stayed together for the kids and that’s it? It’s okay.
Life is all about the transfer of love (in all forms) to all of creation. We will make it through this as we always have because we are stronger together than when we are disconnected. Life is more than just about making money, hitting deadlines, making someone else’s dreams come true, punching a clock, getting wasted on the weekends. I think many of us are realizing what’s truly important right now. Unity. Realizing we are all connected. There’s hope in that. This is temporary. So, what are you going to do today to make lasting change in your life before this Great Pause has been lifted?
Not only do I really like what Manak said in his message of positivity, but Manak also said something really profound in his message to me. Manak was talking about having done an interview with Cooper Andrews, who played Yo-Yo in HACF and who you probably know as Jerry in The Walking Dead. In regards to the story Manak told about auditioning for HACF, he said, “sometimes in life, in order to be successful, you have to do the things that others will think is crazy.”
I truly believe that that is true. We are all trying to move forward in our careers and accomplish dreams that I’m sure many have told us was unrealistic. All that matters is that we continue to try, which really correlates a lot to Halt and Catch Fire – a show primarily about chasing one’s dreams.
Make sure you follow Gabriel Manak on Twitter. If you haven’t watched Halt and Catch Fire yet, you’re sorely missing out. Stay safe everyone!
A girl with too many fandoms to count.