In Season 2 of the FX series The Strain, New York City is rapidly falling to an evil epidemic and, since no one seems to be coming to the rescue, it’s up to the citizens to fight for their city and their lives. Meanwhile, The Master has his own plans for revenge, which includes chief lieutenant Thomas Eichhorst (Richard Sammel) overseeing a new generation of special strigoi, including Ephraim’s (Corey Stoll) former wife, Kelly Goodweather (Natalie Brown).
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Richard Sammel talked about how Season 2 is evolving, understanding who Eichhorst is, how loyal he is to the Master, how Kelly Goodweather fits into the plan, and that both the humans and the vampires are making progress in the defeat of the other.
Collider: What can you say about how the story is evolving this season, especially for Eichhorst?
RICHARD SAMMEL: The first season was the exposition of the whole story and the story to come. The second season is the execution of that. You will really understand where New York stands, in terms of infection. It’s a very, very important season, in giving the whole thing the validity that it needs to go further on with the books. In the second season, we develop a lot of side stories, and those side stories are not tiny. They are really very, very important. The human resistance is organizing, and so are the vampires. It’s the prep for a big battle.
Do you feel like you’ve gotten a better understanding for who Eichhorst is, now that you’ve gotten to know him a little bit more, or do you feel like you’ve always understood who he is and where he’s coming from?
SAMMEL: I don’t know if he’s understood by others, but my main work is to understand him more and more and more and more. The real tick with this character is that he was human and he’s vampire. There’s the whole vampire thing and how that functions biologically, their mental capacity, their strength, what is different from humans, how they pee, how they shit, how they sleep, how they multiply, and whether they have feelings. The other thing is let’s not forget that he’s the only vampire, for now, who was turned willing into a vampire. He wanted it, he worked for it, he earned it, and he got it. He has accomplished what Eldritch Palmer is trying to accomplish. It’s basically the same parallel evolution, but ahead of Palmer. The slight difference is that Eichhorst was trained to submit, whereas Palmer is a self-made man who has never submitted to anyone. That makes the whole thing tricky.
I got a lot of screen time as a human, in the flashbacks of the first season, and I got some in the second season, too. That balances it more toward the human side of the character, which I think it’s important to dig into. You get more understanding from that side, and not so much from the vampire side because he’s the Master’s right hand, and he’s smart, he’s intelligent, he’s brutal, and he’s consistent with his idea to rule the world. But, what I want to know and understand is why he became this vampire. He could have chosen to stand for humanity, but he did not. That’s interesting. We got an explanation in his backstory as a Nazi, but that’s a simple explanation. So, we have to go back a little bit further, and that’s what we’re going to do. There was a lot of discussion, initially, about where this character could have come from and where this shift started. We try to give answers, or at least raise questions about that.
Eichhorst is a man who is used to taking orders from a leader, but how does he feel about the decisions the Master is making now. Is he willing to follow anything the Master wants, no questions asked, or does he think that he could maybe make better decisions?
SAMMEL: He can’t understand all of the decisions that the Master makes, but they have been together for 70 years. If after 70 years, he is still so loyal to the Master, it is because the Master has never deceived him, but it’s also because his character has the ability of submission. This submission to a higher power was very much trained by the Nazi culture, in submitting unconditionally to Hitler. His biggest deception came from Hitler because he promised a rise that he did not fulfill. That first initial deception might be somewhere in the backyard of Eichhorst’s brain, with the Master’s difficulty of fulfilling the plan. So, there is a kind of doubt, but the doubt is strained by the extraordinary qualities that the Master brings in with his superpowers.
There is this arrogant feeling of being stronger than human. Humans are weak. They submit to their emotions, and vampires do not. Humans are very egoistic, and vampires are not. There’s a very clear hierarchy. To tell you the truth, 70% or 80% is complete obedience because the Master gave him a lot of freedom, so he executes the Master’s orders. But there are doubt that he has to deal with, and he does so in his secret garden. The Master having to be transferred into another body is his moment of biggest doubt. Let’s see how that turns out. I think the doubt of the Master grows with lost battles, and it diminishes as they continue to fulfill their plan. It’s as easy as that.
Because the Master is grooming Kelly Goodweather, as a result of her connection to Ephraim and their son, Eichhorst has to spend more time with her. What does he think of her and this plan? Is he okay with her being a means to a very specific end?
SAMMEL: Kelly and Eichhorst are a Bonnie and Clyde story, but the vampire version. They are the Master’s Bonnie and Clyde. It’s a tutor/big brother and little sister story. Eichhorst tutoring a female vampire compensates for the fact that he can’t fuck anymore. Vampires lose their sexuality so they compensate in another way. So, taking care of this particular female, he does it with particular care. I think he likes when she confides in him. It gives Eichhorst value. And he takes care of Kelly because she’s the chosen one of the Master. It’s a smart move. It’s not because the Master finds Kelly particularly attractive. She’s useful because she’s the mother of Zach, and he wants to get Zach. It’s very calculated, and it makes sense to Eichhorst to choose her. It’s a very smart, strategic idea.
Is the grooming of the children something that’s always been in the plan for the vampires, or did that have to get sped up because the Master is weakened?
SAMMEL: There are elements [of the plan] that got sped up, and there are elements that should have been realized already. It’s a subtle battle of different elements. I love my situation as a spectator. The actors are only a little bit ahead of the audience. The audience discovers the episode when it’s screened, but we actors only discover the episode when we get the script, two weeks ahead of shooting. Until then, we know nothing of the evolution of our characters. I’m exaggerating, but that’s basically the situation. I love it. It motivates you, very much, to read the script. If it went only by the book, it wouldn’t be so sexy. For the fans who read the books, that wouldn’t be very interesting. You wouldn’t discover much. But there is huge value, if you go away from the books, and then come back to the books, and then go the other way. That’s much more interesting.
By the end of Season 2, should we feel any better about where the humans stand in the war with the vampires, or will we be even more worried about how the human race could ultimately fare?
SAMMEL: It’s both. It’s more complex. There are reasons for humans to be more hopeful because they’ve found solutions that might help with this plague. But also, the vampires continue making progress on their plans to overtake humanity. It’s becoming more and more complex. It gets closer and closer, until there will be some sort of explosion in Season 3 or 4. We’ll see. You take the complexity of a human being and split it in two. All of the potential evil a human being is able to commit, you give it to the vampires. And all of the potential good that a human being is able to produce, you give it to the humans. And then, you let them fight. You can develop a lot of stuff with that. We are motivated by so many different things, like greed, love, the will to live forever, and the belief in God. There are endless counterparts to the yin and the yang.
The Strain airs on Sunday nights on FX.