The Following is back for its third season on Fox, picking up one year later with Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) awaiting execution on death row. Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) has moved on, returning full-time to the FBI, alongside Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) and his niece, Max (Jessica Stroup), and finding a relationship with Gwen (Zuleikha Robinson). But when a new threat arises, it forces Ryan and his team to unravel a twisted web of violence before it destroys them all.
During an interview with the press to discuss the new direction for The Following Season 3, executive producer Brett Mahoney talked about taking on an expanded role with the show, how they approach creative decisions, shifting the focus to make this season more Ryan Hardy-centric, new villains and threats, Ryan’s new romantic relationship, Mike Weston’s journey, how involved Kevin Bacon is with the direction of the show and his character, not doing ripped-from-the-headlines storylines, and why this show resonates with viewers. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Question: You wrote for the show last season and now you’re an executive producer. What have the changes in that role been like for you, this season?
BRETT MAHONEY: The changes for me, in my role, have expanded and increased greatly. I should have had an idea of what the job was, prior to it. I saw Kevin Williamson do it. I was a co-executive producer on the show last year. But now, with my co-showrunners, Alexi Hawley and Marcos Siega, I am aware of how much and how big of a job it is, where every decision and every choice that’s made comes down to us. It’s a thousand decisions a day, but it’s also the privilege of it being our creative vision that we’re putting forward and getting out there on the screen, so that’s also very exciting.
What happens when the three of you don’t agree?
MAHONEY: It can be two against one, so there’s a voting majority. We have disagreed on some things, but with all the major creative decisions, we’ve all been able to find common ground, and not in a way that it was a compromise. We’ve been able to win each other over to a creative point of view that we can all feel happy and proud about.
What can you tease about Season 3, and what are you most excited about, that’s coming up?
MAHONEY: What I’m pretty excited about is we are coming to the close of the Joe Carroll chapter. That’s so challenging, in the sense that Joe Carroll was such a pivotal part of the show, but it gave us an opportunity to shift focus and go back to a great asset that we had in the show, in terms of Kevin Bacon and really making the show more Ryan Hardy-centric and more focused on our hero. I think we’ve done that pretty successfully, and have really found some great character stuff for him. We’ve really framed the show more around him, and that’s been great.
What can you say about the threats that we’re going to see this season?
MAHONEY: Theo is a character that comes from the mythology of the show. He has a place in it. Based upon events that happen and stuff that was set up in the previous season, he comes to light and out of the shadows, and he becomes a significant threat to Ryan Hardy. It’s a villain that we really haven’t seen on the show, thus far, and I hope people will be intrigued by him and scared by him. And it’s a Michael Ealy that we really have not seen, thus far. I was working with him on the first day that he shot, and I was pretty amazed and a little bit scared, myself. He’s charismatic, and he’s also a chameleon who has many different identities. That’s a little tidbit about who he is.
How is Ryan and Gwen’s relationship going to affect the way Ryan does things, moving forward?
MAHONEY: Ryan’s challenge for this season is whether he can have a life. What is Ryan like, once Joe Carroll is put in prison? Once that is put to bed, can he actually go on and have a normal life? What are the challenges of that? And then, Gwen represents that life outside of the FBI. He is truly in love, and it’s a healthy relationship. It’s the first time we’ve seen him in this type of relationship. The question is, does he feel that he’s worthy of this and can it work?
What can you say about Mike Weston’s journey, from Season 1 until now?
MAHONEY: He’s in a very similar situation to Ryan, in terms of how much he is willing to give up for revenge. What does that obsession with revenge mean, in terms of the rest of his life? And so, when we pick up with him this season, we will flashback to the choice he made, in terms of not staying with Max and having a relationship with her, to go search and try to find Mark (Sam Underwood). He gave up the chance to have a normal relationship because of his obsession with revenge, and that has taken him to some darker places than we’ve seen him previously. It colored who he is, and that’s his struggle for this season.
How is the dynamic between Ryan and Mike different?
MAHONEY: I think Ryan is taking responsibility, this season. Last season, when he chose not to shoot Joe Carroll, he saw that he was leading Mike and even Max, to some extent, down a dark path, and he’s trying to avoid that. Now that he sees Mike going down that same path, he’s trying to pull him away from it, based upon his own experiences. Mike sees him as a hypocrite because he would have done the same thing. He’s saying, “You were basically doing everything I did, so who are you to judge me?” We actually take them to a place, in this season, where they have conflict and anger and arguments that we really have not seen previously.
Where did Kevin Bacon see the character going, when you were planning Season 3?
MAHONEY: Oh, that’s an interesting question. In terms of when we pitched him and we talked about stuff for the character, Kevin really was interested in doing meaty, interesting, character-driven stuff. So, when we pitched him that we were going to be focused more on his character and on what it means for him, in terms of what his obsession costs him and the challenges of being able to have a normal relationship, and whether he would be able to create a family environment, he was excited about it. Now, that said, it won’t be easy for Ryan. Of course, he’s going to be tempted to go down a dark path, himself.
What did Shawn Ashmore think about the path that Mike is taking this season?
MAHONEY: I think Shawn was very excited about it. He saw it as a natural progression.
What can we expect from Max? Is she fated to follow in her uncle’s footsteps?
MAHONEY: We wanted to give a nod to the idea that she could go down that route, just because she is Ryan Hardy’s niece, but it’s not something that we truly follow up on. For Max, what I love about that character is that she’s a good FBI agent and she wants to follow the rules and she wants to do things the right way, which is important, particularly in our world where we have some of our heroes so willing to bend and break the rules. That’s something we’re dealing with this season. In terms of Max’s journey, we’re going to take her some places this season where we’re really going to test her, and test whether she’s willing to break and bend those rules. We also have her relationship issues, both with Mike and then with Tom.
What can you say about Mark (Sam Underwood) being a bigger pawn in this whole thing?
MAHONEY: From the first episodes, you get the idea that, where Mark thinks he’s driving things, there is some ultimate larger conspiracy that he’s a part of, and he’s being used as a tool. Mark and Luke are not stupid, so I don’t know how long Mark would actually allow himself to be used.
How much influence, if any, do the actors get in the storylines? Can they and do they come to you or the writers and pitch ideas?
MAHONEY: They can, but they don’t really, with the exception that Kevin Bacon is actually a producer on the show, this year. Kevin sometimes will pitch broader things. For the most part, the other actors will basically want clarity, and they will have questions on stuff that’s in the script, and they’ll want to know where they’re going or where they’re headed, and then they might have tweaks here and there, but not big story points.
Because there is such a plethora of crazy, psychologically disturbed individuals, how do you guys research the minds of the disturbed for this series?
MAHONEY: We have a library of books that are in the writers’ room, which are various books dealing with psychopathy, sociopaths and psychopaths. And then, each writer, in the course of the discussion in the writers’ room, will bring up different books and names of books, and we’ll discuss them. And then, we also pull articles from online and from magazines.
How much do you use what’s going on in the world to influence the storylines?
MAHONEY: We don’t do too much of the ripped-from-the-headlines stuff. A lot of it will inform us, in the background of things. Oftentimes, we’ll sometimes come up with something totally crazy and we’ll be like, “There’s no way! That’s not possible! That wouldn’t happen!” And then, someone will find something and it’s like, “Nope, that actually did happen.”
What do you think it is about this show that resonates so well with viewers?
MAHONEY: That is such a good question. I hope everything resonates with the viewers. As we’re writing and creating, we are hoping that we are creating even greater fans. I think people are drawn to the spook and the scare and the creepiness of it all. I think they’re interested in not just the three-dimensional hero characters, but also the dimensionality that we give to our villains. I hope that they also enjoy that classic Kevin Williamson combination of both the scary and the humorous. I don’t think there’s a whole lot out there that’s like it. Those are some of the things that resonate.
The Following airs on Monday nights on Fox.