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 what drew her to the pilot script, how lucky she feels to play such strong characters, what it’s like to work with both Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy, what she thinks drew her character to the psychopath Joe Carroll, when viewers might start to get some resolution to the kidnapping storyline, and getting to continue to recur on Justified. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did you come to this show? Was this a character that you pursued because you felt a connection to her?
NATALIE ZEA: I actually didn’t pursue the character, per se. In the beginning, I was like, “I don’t know if the character is right for me,” but I loved the script so much that I knew (show creator) Kevin Williamson would tailor it and make it so that it made sense. But, the script itself was just so compelling and so original, and unlike any pilot script I had read. It avoided so many traps that pilots tend to fall into with establishing character and world, and all of that. So, I pursued the project more than anything.
Was part of the attraction to this character the fact that, even with everything she’s been through, she still has strength and isn’t just a total mess?
ZEA: Yeah, I think that’s great. I don’t know that I could play a complete and total mess. After awhile, I think I would be like, “No, none of that!” So, it works out well for me.
Even when you’ve played the wife or girlfriend in the past, they’ve been very layered. Has that been something you’ve intentionally looked for, in the roles you’ve played?
ZEA: Not necessarily. I’ve gotten very lucky. And there is something about my aura or essence, or whatever, that draws the ex-wife characters to me. I don’t seek them out, but people tend to think of me for that particular archetype, or whatever you want to call it, and I don’t mind it. I think there is a strength to it. I think there is a strength in a woman who can have a relationship with a man – and this is not for The Following, except for Kevin Bacon’s character – after there is no longer a romantic entanglement. I think there’s a lot of strength behind that. So, she is doing that with Kevin’s character a bit, but not so much James Purefoy’s character.
Were there any major changes or tweaks made to the character, once you were cast?
ZEA: I think the character was originally older, which happens a lot with me. I think every major character I’ve played was originally for an older woman. I have no idea what that says. I guess I’m mature for my age. So, they did have to do a little bit of adjusting, in terms of the backstory for Joe Carroll. I don’t know if it’s something that made it to the page or the screen, but it is something that was dealt with and that you may see or hear about, later on. Aside from that, I don’t think there was anything else. The essence of the character shifted a little bit, to accommodate for me and my strengths, but the idea behind her has stayed the same.
Your work on Californication, Justified and The Following has overlapped. Are you just a workaholic, or were all those opportunities too good to pass up?
ZEA: Yes, I’m at my best when I’m working. I just recently learned how to find balance and deal with downtime and take advantage of it. It’s not going to last forever. It will be fine. I will be working again, eventually. But, breaks are not great for me. I get frustrated sometimes, if I have a long break and somebody says, “Oh, that must be nice!” I don’t dig ditches for a living, so I don’t really hate going to work. I chose this for a reason. I would much prefer to be over-worked than under-worked, hands down, no question.
Is it nice to get to be able to still recur on Justified?
ZEA: It’s really nice, yeah. First of all, everybody in town wants to be a guest star on Justified, so I win. And I feel like there were places for the character to go that I came to the realization were just never going to happen. I needed to let her go, and they were accommodating by allowing me to do that because they understood the reality of the situation. And yet, I get to pop in every once in awhile and make an appearance. Everybody wins. It’s the best of both worlds. Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) is always going to be connected to Winona because of this child, and because of their connection, in general, so it doesn’t make sense to never see her again. But, she doesn’t need to be front and center. There’s no need to force that storyline. So, I think it worked out really well for everybody.
What’s it been like to work with both Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy on The Following?
ZEA: It’s intense. That confrontation I had with James was actually the first scene that I shot for the series. It was like, “Move to New York, find a place to live, and let’s beat the shit out of each other!” It was intense to have that be my first scene. I had never met the crew and, all of a sudden, we’re beating the shit out of each other. I love those scenes. I love working with James. I do it very rarely, but I know that when I do, it’s going to be heightened, so I really look forward to it. Even though it almost never happens, when it does, I know it’s going to be good. And what can you say that hasn’t been said about Kevin? It’s ridiculous how perfect he is. I don’t want to be too hyperbolic, but he’s perfect. There’s nothing wrong with the guy. He continues to ask questions, as an actor and a person. He continues to be humble. He continues to be realistic. He continues to grow and play. I just think he’s the bee’s knees, man. He can do no wrong.
ZEA: In the history that I wrote, it was a family thing. It was an abandonment thing, and he provided for her something that she didn’t have at home. A lot of the original tidbits that I made up for her past have been squelched because of certain references in the flashbacks, but I’m still going on that. It’s something way more deep than just that he’s got a lot of charisma. I give her more credit than that. Who knows exactly what it is?
Storylines like the one with Claire’s son getting kidnapped tend to get dragged out for awhile. When will that start to see some resolution?
ZEA: Look, I’m not going to lie to you, it does get dragged out and it’s intentional. With this show, it’s all about the fine line between earning something and surprising the audience. And Kevin Williamson knows how to do that very well. He knows how to turn something on its head, way before you think it’s going to happen. But also, the major consequences don’t happen unearned. This is something that needs to be earned. As a viewer, you need to be as frustrated as Claire is that this kid is not being found. Otherwise, who cares? It has to get to that point before a resolution can take place.
The Following airs on Monday nights on Fox.