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, co-stars Shawn Ashmore and Annie Parisse talked about how they each came to be a part of the show, simultaneously learning about their characters in both the past and present, working on instinct, how excited they are to read each script, the respect that their characters have for each other, and how they hope viewers will enjoy the roller coaster ride. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
ANNIE PARISSE: I probably have a little bit different story than most of the cast because my character joins in the second episode. They sent me the pilot and the scripts, asking if I would be interested in joining it. So, the opportunity to watch the pilot before I made a decision about whether or not I wanted to be a part of the show was just so awesome. That never happens in television. You’re always going, “Well, I’m just going to try to imagine what this might be.” But, I couldn’t put the script down, when I was reading it, and then, I immediately put the pilot on to watch. From that moment forward, I have not read one script that I wasn’t surprised by and that wasn’t a total page-turner. Every time I get a script, I’m as excited to read it as I was. Half-way through that pilot, I was like, “Oh, my god!” It’s been fantastic to get involved with the show.
SHAWN ASHMORE: I was going out for pilot season, so I was reading a bunch of scripts. This came along, and I loved it and pursued it as hard as I possibly could. There were a few scripts that I really liked, but this one was, by far, the best. It was the kind of show where I was like, “I would watch this. This is something that I would watch.” Sometimes, as an actor, when you’re trying to get that job, you don’t have that luxury. It can be an interesting part or something that you want to pursue, but it doesn’t necessarily all come together to be something that you would be a fan of. So, I read the script and the twists and turns made me go, “Holy shit, this is awesome! I didn’t see that coming! This is something that I would tune in for!” As soon as that happened, I was like, “I need to be on this show. I need to get this part.” So, I just went for it and attacked it. I actually had worked with Marcos Siega, who directed the pilot, before. We did a Miramax movie, years ago, called Underclassman. It was an action comedy, and that was fun. I didn’t actually talk to him prior to getting the role, but at least I knew that we had worked together and we got along, and we had hung out, over the years, after that. At least there was that understanding, so he would know if I was right for the part or not. I’m glad that it worked out ‘cause now I get to be on the show.
When you do a show like this, that’s so layered, and you’re simultaneously learning about your character’s past and present, do you have to just give yourself over to the scripts and not worry about backstory?
PARISSE: We really do get the scripts as we go, and we don’t know what’s coming next. Sometimes that’s totally scary because you’re like, “Well, I hope I’m playing this right.”
ASHMORE: You worry about missing out on opportunities to really play a beat that you haven’t been able to think about.
PARISSE: But most of the time, to be totally honest, I look back on stuff and think that it’s actually great that I didn’t know about some of the things that were coming up because there are some things that, once you know them, you can’t un-know them. So, being able to have a blissful ignorance of some of the stuff allows you to have a really pure take on this moment, right now. You really commit to just bringing everything from your past to this circumstance, right now. There’s something very immediate and instinctive about that, and that’s what people do. We don’t know what’s coming, so it’s a great way to work.
ASHMORE: I agree. This show lends itself to working like that because of its immediacy. This show moves so quickly that you’re not really dwelling on certain aspects. Sometimes you get information and you’re like, “Oh, that would have been nice to play in that scene, two episodes ago.” But, the immediacy of this show, the movement of this show and the drive of the thrill ride that we’re on allows you to go with the flow and just react, as you’re getting it. Once you’re a few episodes in, and you understand your character and know where you want to go with him, you don’t have to necessarily know where the story goes. Kevin Williamson will spin the story for you and give you those pieces, but if you know how you’ll react, no matter what is given to you, then you just go along for the ride. I think it’s really satisfying to get a scene, sometimes the day before, and just be like, “Okay, I know how to do this. All I have to worry about is getting the lines down, but I know how I want to play the scene. There’s not even a question in my mind.” That’s cool.
PARISSE: Marcos and Kevin have been really great, at least with me, in terms of, if there is a scene that’s leading somewhere, they’ll let me know if I’m playing something that won’t make sense, three episodes from now. In those moments, where we’re like, “What’s this all about?,” Marcos and Kevin have both been like, “You know, try this.” That helps. They have a bigger idea of the whole picture.
ASHMORE: The way that I look at it is that Parker is Weston’s superior, so Weston respects Parker and he knows that she’s great at her job. I also think that Weston’s willing to take Ryan’s side and break the rules sometimes. That’s just his mind-set. Because he’s been there before, whatever Ryan wants to do, even if it’s a little crazy, Weston is willing to go along with. I don’t think that there’s any animosity or that he doesn’t want to not listen to Parker, but in certain circumstances, Weston’s instincts take over and he goes with Ryan, even though he knows it’s wrong and that he might get in trouble. He’s willing to take that leap with Ryan Hardy. I guess, in that sense, it is a little complicated, but we’re a team. We have the same goals.
PARISSE: I think Parker really admires Weston. He’s very young, and to have gotten this far and this stage of the game is very impressive. That also makes Parker feel very protective of Weston. She’s like, “Don’t throw your career away because you’re following this guy who’s going to drag you down. There are only so many lines you can cross before it’s going to be a problem for you.” With Weston it’s like, “I understand and I want to let you go as far as you can go,” but at the same time, I feel protective of him. Parker can see a little further and doesn’t want Weston to ruin his career. I think there is a little bit of protectiveness there, as Parker sees the relationship developing between Weston and Ryan.
How do you feel about the criticism of the violence on this show, when it really is so much more than that?
ASHMORE: To be honest, I suppose it’s violent, but it’s a thriller. The show, to me and all of us, is much more than the violence. That’s the capsule that it’s delivered in, but you need the drama and the thrills to enhance your experience. People love to be scared because you get that physical sensation. I love going to a movie theater and having my heart pound and my palms sweat. That’s fun because you’re in safety, but you’re pushing your boundaries with the possibility of what could happen. I enjoy that, and that’s what I love about this show. I hope that’s what everyone else will love, as well.
The Following airs on Monday nights on Fox.