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, actress Natalie Zea – who plays Carroll’s ex-wife and Hardy’s love interest, caught in the middle of Carroll’s devious plot – talked about how things will be ramping up as the season finale gets closer, how Claire Matthews is on extra high alert, what Claire’s mental state is now, that her role will be getting much more physical in the remaining episodes, that the storylines will be pretty wrapped up by the end of the season, and how the fans have been coming up with their own theories, including one that Claire could have been Roderick, before his real identity was revealed. Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
NATALIE ZEA: If she wasn’t already on high alert, it’s now at an 11. She’s just constantly having to be aware of her surroundings and strategizing. It’s non-stop. I don’t think she eats for five episodes.
What was your reaction, when you found out that Joe Carroll would be sending people out to kill other women named Claire Matthews?
ZEA: Before I read the script, I saw the schedule, and imagine how confusing that was. I was like, “Wait, Claire 1 and Claire 2? What’s happening?!” So, I was kind of clued in by the schedule. Once I saw the script, I was like, “All right, this makes sense now.” I thought it was intriguing. I’m an actress. Even if it’s, by proxy, all about me, I’m all for it. It was all about me, but I didn’t have to show up, so it was great.
How do you see Claire’s mental state, at this point? Do you see her as still being a strong woman, or is she just completely on the verge of a mental breakdown?
ZEA: No, quite the opposite. As strong as she is perceived to be, and I don’t want to use the word weakness, but there’s been some passivity to her, and it’s certainly not her fault. Now, this is where she turns a corner and stops being reactive and becomes proactive. So, I think quite the opposite is going to happen. She needs adrenal support, bad.
Knowing how obsessive Joe Carroll can be when he focuses on something, is there anything that Claire can do to avoid the inevitable face-to-face with him?
ZEA: Well, for her, it’s so much less about her, and all about getting the kid. If she has to encounter him, in order to make that happen, so be it. So what? She was married to him for 10 years, so whatever.
ZEA: Well, I obviously knew that there was going to come a point where Joe was not going to be in jail anymore because there was no way that James Purefoy would sign on to just sit in handcuffs in an orange jumpsuit for 15 episodes. So, that certainly wasn’t a surprise. In the back of my head, I always knew that that was a probability. It didn’t even really occur to me to think about that.
Now that things are clearly ramping up, how much more physical will your role get, before the end of the season?
ZEA: On a scale of 1 to 10, about 14. I’m bruised up. It’s funny because when I say those things, I realize that I’m going to see what I’ve done on the television and be like, “Oh, people are going to think I’m a pussy because that’s not really that bad.” But, what people don’t get is that, when you do the same thing, over and over and over again, your body is like, “Stop it! I get it!” So, I really am not a weakling. We like to do a lot of takes, so it ends up being pretty physically grueling. Somebody, and I’m not going to name names, tends to not know his own strength. And I’m way more guilty of that than anyone I work with, so I am not one to talk.
This show gives the unique experience of learning about the past and present in parallel. Is it fun to learn about your character that way, or is it frustrating to not have all of the backstory ahead of time?
ZEA: To be honest with you, we haven’t done a lot of that. Even some of the stuff we have done has ended up being cut out. I don’t really have as much access to the past as it might seem because for me, with the exception of one relatively major scene, way, way later on, there really aren’t many more flashbacks for me.
In the first half of the season, Claire mainly only had interactions with Ryan Hardy and some of the other FBI agents. Was it fun to start getting all of the guest stars coming in, once some of the followers started coming after her?
ZEA: Yeah, they’re really fun. Not that L.A. doesn’t have amazing actors. Obviously, it’s the hub. But, what’s great about New York is that there are a lot of theater actors and actresses, who are trained actors, that they bring onto the show. They’re so talented, in such a weird, quirky and ominous way. And it’s great to be able to work with new faces, too. We’re really lucky that we have a really great pool to choose from.
How much of the storyline is wrapped up by the end of this season?
ZEA: Oh, it’s pretty wrapped up! That is really all I can say. You don’t want to ask me about the finale because I get real tight-lipped.
ZEA: Actually, that’s a really good question. I don’t know that it will, which I think is great.
What was the last day of shooting like? Was this a totally exhausting shoot, or was it just really satisfying?
ZEA: Well, the last day of shooting was on Wednesday (March 20th). I got back to my apartment at 4 am and slept for about five or six hours, woke up and got on an airplane to L.A. We’re still in the process of recovery, right this second. I woke up a few hours ago, and here I am. The last week that I shot was probably the most grueling, physically, mentally and emotionally, that I have done. I can’t really tell you what it is, but the very last shot that we did was explosive. You can take that to mean whatever you want. It was amazing! There are no words. It was really, really cool. It was great to go out like that and wrap when everybody had such adrenaline. It was so intense! It was fitting and beautiful that that was the very, very last shot that we did because it was so intense and so explosive.
When you’re on a show like this, where keeping the twists and turns a secret is crucial, do you find it difficult not to accidentally reveal things to friends and family?
ZEA: No. There are four people in my life, not counting my reps who know everything, two of whom are my parents, that know everything, so that when I feel like I need to let it out, I can talk to any of those four people. Aside from that, that’s it. I have some really, really good friends, to whom I’m very close, that I’m not revealing anything to, and that’s really hard.
Is this a show that fans are vocal about with you?
ZEA: Oh, yeah! People are obsessed, which is great. People have their own theories, and sometimes they’re so smart and so unexpected. There was a theory going around that Claire was Roderick, before Roderick was revealed, which would have been so amazing. I was like, “You should come work on the show!”
Have there been specific storylines or even an episode that you were most surprised or shocked by, when you read it?
ZEA: Episode 8, where Charlie gets killed. I’m not sure that’s the right word. That’s such a violent word for what happened. I wasn’t in it, so I read it purely for pleasure and I remember just guffawing. I was just out of my chair. And then, there are some episodes later on that I can’ tell you about because they haven’t aired yet, like Episode 15.
With everything that Claire has been through, were you ever secretly rooting for her to give Joe Carroll what he really deserves?
ZEA: Yeah! She almost has immunity, in some sense, with him. He plays his cards a little bit by making it clear that he wants her alive. I think that she can probably get away with a lot more. She can smart-mouth him, certainly, if she wants, knowing that she might get smacked, but her life is not in danger, in terms of where he’s concerned.
The Following airs on Monday nights on Fox.