From show creator/executive producer Kevin Williamson (The Vampire Diaries), the dark, fast-paced thriller The Following is an epic story of good versus evil, as told through the eyes of ex-FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), who is forced to return to the case that destroyed his career, when it becomes evident that notorious serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) is at the center of a cult of like-minded killers who have created an insidious web of blood and carnage. With Hardy’s help, a team of agents, including Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) and cult specialist Debra Parker (Annie Parisse), attempt to unravel the deadly plot of murder before the body count rises.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, show star Kevin Bacon talked about what attracted him to this show, wanting to play a complex and damaged hero, how much he enjoys getting to explore his character’s past through flashbacks, how he likes to do a detailed backstory for his characters, adjusting to a TV schedule, how much he enjoys working with co-star James Purefoy, why Claire Matthew (Natalie Zea) is the last person Ryan Hardy should fall in love with, and how, even though most episodes will continue to have surprising twists, the pace of the episodes will vary. He also talked about how much fun he had playing a villain in R.I.P.D., with Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
KEVIN BACON: I was looking for something, but I had been looking for four years. It was not like, “Oh, here it is, I’ll do this one!” I liked this one. This was the one that had the biggest combination of things. It had a great showrunner, and a complex heroic character. I wanted to do something heroic and play somebody that was damaged. And it had life-or-death stakes. That’s what I got for this.
Was it important to you that your do play a damaged hero?
BACON: Yes, especially if it’s going to last a really long time. I don’t know if it’s going to last a long time, but yeah. If a character is evil, bad or whatever you want to call him, that’s the time when I roll up my sleeves and try to find something human or charming or vulnerable about the character. I look for something that is a counterpoint to this idea of being a bad guy. On the flipside, if someone is heroic, you don’t want to make him a superhero. You want to find where the Achilles heel is. In the original pilot that I read, there was no heart thing. And then, Kevin [Williamson] suggested that and I was like, “Yeah, let’s put that in. That’s great! I love that!” That, to me, is what makes his journey interesting, along with the guilt that he lives with and the things that he has suffered through and the fact that he makes mistakes. He makes a lot of mistakes. When the hero is about to screw up, you sit there and go, “No, don’t do that!” When Ryan breaks Joe’s fingers, it’s like, “What are you thinking?!”
Do you enjoy getting to further explore your character through all of the flashbacks?
BACON: Flashbacks can be hackneyed, sometimes. I think that Kevin’s really good at using them to show, not just plot stuff, but other aspects of character. We have a storyline coming up with Annie Parisse’s character, Agent Parker, and she has this pretty dark past that’s taken her in this direction to who she is now. In the present, she’s kind of a wise-ass and business-y, and she seems real together, as an agent. But, it’s cool to have an opportunity, in the flashbacks, to see where she comes from. And for me, it’s like playing another character. Ryan is so much lighter, younger, and more energized in the past than he is in the present. I get to really explore another side to his personality.
Are you more aware of your character’s history than some of the other actors?
BACON: What happened with the backstory was that I wrote a document, based on things I just made up and ideas. The genesis of it was that he once said to me, in a conversation just in passing, “I think Ryan is a guy that’s had a lot of death surrounding him, even before he interacted with Joe Carroll.” That was what I needed to latch on to, and then I was off to the races. I sent the document to Kevin because I just wanted to say, “Am I in the right ballpark? I’m not a writer, but I want to make sure that I’m not thinking about this guy in a totally different way than you’re thinking about the guy.” His almost non-response was an acknowledgment that he liked where I was going with it. Backstory is an interesting thing, in that you put it there and you build it, but how much of it do you use, on a daily shooting basis? Well, you don’t really know. Maybe it plays into it, maybe it doesn’t. I do a lot of details. I go into what people like to eat, their religion and their grandparents, and I do music playlists. You don’t know if it’s actually going to have any kind of influence on the way that you play it, at all. But, if something comes up in the story, in a script, and it’s contradictory to what I thought, it’s not the worst thing. I can talk to Kevin about it and say, “I thought maybe he was like this,” and he’ll be like, “All right, fine.”
Do you enjoy getting to explore a character in the long-term with a TV show?
BACON: Yeah, that’s what you hope you enjoy in television. Now, it’s a bit of an adjustment for me because I’ve always been one of these people that’s like, “Well, I’ve done that guy, so now I’ve gotta do a different guy.” We do 15 episodes, and then we have a hiatus where I can do theater or movies. I’ve got a couple movies in the can with totally different characters than Ryan Hardy, so that’s good. I was just looping R.I.P.D. Even if it was on a looping stage, it was just so fun to step into some other shoes for awhile.
You’re playing a villain in R.I.P.D., right?
BACON: Yeah, he’s a villain, but it’s much lighter. It’s funny. He’s a goofball. He turns into a zombie. He’s not a serial killer.
What’s it like to have someone like James Purefoy to play your scenes with?
BACON: It’s awesome! He’s great. He’s amazing. He’s such a great listener, he’s so great with language, and he’s so well-prepared. He’s just awesome. I love working with James! Sometimes those scenes are pretty heavy dialogue scenes. They’re usually two to three-and-a-half pages, but we finish those scenes so quickly. We do a take, and then we do a couple more, do some overs, turn around and we are out of there. It’s awesome!
BACON: I think that he has a lot of resentment toward the FBI, and there’s a certain amount of resentment toward him, from the FBI. They asked him to leave. He made some mistakes. He left and did a thing that they don’t like at all, which is write a book. He feels a certain amount of shame about having done that. He found himself in a situation where he had become a talking head, with the selling of this book. It’s a volatile relationship with that bureau. In some ways, he’s like, “If you’re going to bust my balls then why did you call me up and have me back here? I don’t want to be here. This is not my choice.” And yet, he’s so drawn to it. And he’s so drawn, in certain ways, to Joe and Joe’s magnetism. It’s complicated. There’s an interesting evolution of the relationship with Ryan and Weston, and it’s fun working with Shawn [Ashmore]. We do it in little ways, where I’ll give him a look that says, “Oh, my god, you’re such a pain in the ass!” And then, that evolves and I start to gain a certain respect for him, and it’s because he’s a good agent. I think a similar thing happens with me and Annie’s character.
How will the relationship between Ryan Hardy and Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea) continue to evolve?
BACON: Well, I think that she’s his one true love. Unfortunately, because of the self-destructive nature of the guy, he pushes his one true love away. It was also probably the worst person to have a relationship with. She’s the wife of the guy who stabbed him in the heart, and then turned out to be a serial killer. Coming out of tension of his capture and his trial, he goes and starts sleeping with his wife. Professionally and personally, that’s a really, really bad idea. And then, he pushes that relationship back and pushes her away. He’s forced, in some ways, to confront that to come back together. I think they’re falling in love again, as the show progresses, and it’s the worst possible place to fall in love. Ryan wants so badly to make it right by her and by her boy, and to fix this thing, but he can’t fix it. She grows more and more disillusioned with his ability to save the say.
BACON: I would say that most episodes have a little bit of a surprise in them, or a big surprise. But, some have a different pace. Some are really ticking clock, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go. Some, like Episode 6, have a chance to sit down a little bit more. Some have more bodies than others. They change, tonally, a little bit. For me, it’s not about the body count. From my standpoint, it’s about the personal struggles of the relationships, and the cat-and-mouse between me and this guy, and the strange Ryan Hardy-Joe Carroll love story, and then there’s the love triangle and Carroll’s love for Claire. We’ll see him go through hell and high water to get her back. And then, there’s what’s going on in the cult house, and that whole thing. Those are the things that are going to sustain the show and make it interesting, especially since we’re so serialized. We don’t need a murder a week. That’s not really what we’re about.
The Following airs on Monday nights on Fox.