Three months after the first episode of the crime thriller “The Following” premiered at Comic-Con International in San Diego, the episode was screened at New York Comic-Con in New York City on Oct. 14, 2012. The series (which is televised in the U.S. on Fox) is a suspense ride about a former FBI agent named Ryan Hardy (played by Kevin Bacon) who is brought in as a consultant to investigate a serial killer Joe Carroll (played by James Purefoy) who has a cult of followers who carry out his commands. In the first episodes of the series, Joe executes a plan to kidnap his son Joey (played by Kyle Catlett), while using his ex-wife Claire Matthews (played by Natalie Zea) as a pawn in his goal to escape from prison.
Joe has a personal vendetta against Hardy because not only was Ryan one of the law-enforcement officers who helped to imprison Joe, but Ryan also had an affair with Claire after she divorced Joe and he was in prison. At New York Comic-Con after “The Following’s” first episode (or pilot) was screened for an audience, there was a panel discussion with Bacon, Purefoy, Zea, Shawn Ashmore (who plays FBI agent Mike Weston), Annie Parisse (who plays FBI specialist Debra Parker) and “The Following” executive producer/director Marcos Siega. Here is what they said in the Q&A session.
Marcos, what dark part of your mind did you access to get this idea for “The Following”?
Siega: The Kevin Williamson part. It was all Kevin. He created the script. I wish he could be here. The credit goes to him. He started with this amazing script, and that’s what you get.
At what point did you think, “We’re going to go for broke”?
Siega: We didn’t censor ourselves. We had this template to start from, and it was really just, “Get out there. Execute it.” The cast was amazing script and a tremendous cast. We were a little worried about it being on network TV, but were getting a good response from people. Hopefully, they’ll go for it.
How did you put together the cast for “The Following”?
Siega: It really started with Kevin Bacon. We went to Kevin, and he really wanted to make an entry into television, or back to television, and we started from there. I think everyone will tell you they responded really well to the material.
Kevin, what made “The Following” the show that made you want to go back to doing a TV series?
Bacon: Everything sort of fell into place, in that I really loved the writing. I was really shocked in places that it went. I kept saying to Marcos [Siega] and Kevin Williamson, “Has Fox actually read the script?”
And I really wanted to do something heroic. And yet, I wanted to do a character that was complicated and messed-up and challenged by a lot of stuff fin his life, because that’s what makes a hero sort of interesting. It felt like a winner.
Aside from the title character in “Dexter,” there is rarely a serial killer who is the main character in a TV series. Why do we get the feeling that what we know of Joe Carroll is just the tip of the iceberg?
Purefoy: Joe Carroll does not offer community service in the way that Dexter does. He’s just bad. He’s really just bad to the bone.
So what are we going to see? We’re going to see the layers of the onion consistently peeled. I don’t know if we really want to see the heart of this man because it’s pretty bleak. He’s the most manipulative, evil son of a b*tch that I have ever played in my life.
Kevin was saying he wanted to play a hero. I’ve been playing a lot of heroes over the last few years — Marc Antony, Solomon Kane; there are a number of others — and I really just wanted to play someone bad. The offer came at the right time for both Kevin and [me].
Kevin and James, how do you achieve the tension between Ryan Hardy and Joe Carroll?
Bacon: We’re still working on it. I feel like one of the cool things about the show is obviously, there’s a lot of tension between these guys, but at least as far as I’m concerned, I have this strange admiration for Joe Carroll. There are aspects of his personality that I don’t have in my personality that I sort of admire. He’s a real people person. Ryan Hardy is not. He’s incredibly well-read and educated, and that’s all these things [Ryan Hardy] is not as well.
And I think of one of the great opportunities, at least in the first few episodes, is we get into these situations where you walk into a room and it’s these two guys looking at each other, like the last scene in the pilot, talking to each other and listening to each other. James is such a fantastic actor. It’s one of the blessings, to me, to do a great show like this.
Purefoy: I think the pleasure that Joe Carroll has, there’s obviously a lot of animosity from [Joe] to [Ryan]. He slept with [Joe’s] wife and he’s put [Joe] in prison for 10 years. So I’m going to spend certainly all of this season taking a crochet hook, placing it in his stomach, and just toying with his entrails … It’s a curious love story.
Annie, you’re not in “The Following’s” pilot. Can you describe your character in the show?
Parisse: My character is Agent Debra Parker, and I’m brought in, in Episode 2, to lead the investigation to Joe Carroll and his followers. My character has a specialty in cults, so she’s brought in to be the expert in that area.
Shawn, is it true you met with real FBI agents as research?
Ashmore: Yeah, I spent really only a couple of hours, but it was at the federal building in Los Angeles, just kind of picking their brains. To be honest, I think I got more out of the questions they wouldn’t answer than the questions they would.
You know, you show up as an actor with your pad and say, “I’m going to be play an FBI agent. What was it like the first time that you kicked a door down and got shot at?” They don’t want to answer that stuff necessarily, but it was interesting to see the stuff they wanted to answer and the stuff they didn’t want to answer.
And also what was fascinating was that every floor was a different unit. So you have the white-collar criminal set, and they dress like bankers. The fugitive guys look like gang members.
I just went on YouTube and typed in “serial killers” and the amount of interviews … It sounds ridiculous, but it’s a great tool, between court cases and interviews and documentaries, you really get a sense of the violence and the aftermath. When you make a TV show, you can become distanced from that.
I think the way Marcos shot this pilot and the way Kevin Williamson wrote it, it feels very real. I feel like when I watch the pilot that you’re standing in the room. There’s something very voyeuristic about it. To stay connected to that violence and what the results actually are I think are important.
Natalie, as Joe Carroll’s ex-wife, Claire Matthews, how is that character going to factor into the investigation?
Zea: Well, she knows [Joe Carroll] better than anyone else, so I think that’s going to be a really big help. And also, I think the underlying thing for Claire, at least up until what we’re shooting [now], is that her son’s gone.
And that is not a storyline that is easily wrapped up, right?
Zea: It doesn’t appear so. I’ve got to be really careful at what I say.
Much of the story is also about Joe Carroll’s cult followers. What can you say about them?
Siega: That’s sort of the great part of the show: You don’t know where it starts and where it ends. There’s a lot of surprises, a lot of twists and turns. And I think in every episode, you discover something new that you didn’t see coming.
For the actors, has there been a moment when you read a script and you said, “Oh, hell no!”?
Zea: Every script.
Bacon: I’ll say two things. One is that you see the pilot, you like the pilot. The second episode will blow your mind. It keeps rolling from there. And the other thing is that every single time I’ve got the script, I open it up, and I just go, “I did not see that coming.” And I think that’s what’s going to be great about the show.
Purefoy: It’s just horrific. For me, when look at the script, I go, “Oh, no!”
Siega: But there’s always an unexpected love story, and it’s kind of fun. Kevin [Williamson] once said to me, “What we’re seeing is the sequel, and the flashbacks kind of give us the prequel, the set-up to all these characters.”
For more info: "The Following" website
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