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James Purefoy: “FOLLOWING” in Bloody Footsteps

by: Abbie Bernstein on: 2013-02-13 21:58:23

In person, actor James Purefoy seems like a charming, erudite
fellow. So does his character Joe Carroll on THE FOLLOWING—at first. Carroll is
a serial killer who escapes from prison in the first episode of the hit Fox
thriller, only to be recaptured by Kevin Bacon’s character, ex-FBI agent Ryan
Harding. Alas, Ryan discovers as the series goes on that Carroll has quite a
few friends on the outside who are willing to die—and kill—for him in extremely
gruesome fashion.

While THE FOLLOWING (which airs Monday nights at 9/8 Central) was created by SCREAM originator Kevin
Williamson, the show is notably far more serious than the film franchise—which
seems to be fine with TV audiences, who have tuned in en masse for the episodes
aired so far. Part of the fun, and the fear, is that anybody can be one of
Carroll’s disciples, from an angelic-looking young nanny to a seemingly
friendly security guard, and they can have been living in constructed
identities for years.

The Somerset, England-born Purefoy is no stranger to horror,
having starred alongside Milla Jovovich in the original RESIDENT EVIL as her
treacherous boyfriend, played the title role in SOLOMON KANE and appeared as
Henry Clerval in the 2007 televersion of FRANKENSTEIN, but he’s never had a
role quite like Carroll. He has played a very tricky and occasionally homicidal
lawyer in the English miniseries INJUSTICE, but isn’t sure if that character
would have followed Joe Carroll or not. “I suppose he might have. I don’t know.
I think that character was very much his own man.”

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The actor helpfully explains the proper pronunciation of his
last name—“Pure—like orange juice—foy”—and then gets down to the business of
discussing how came to play a charismatic, persuasive college
professor-turned-murderer. Wanting to work in the U.S. was “very much” part of
the equation, Purefoy explains. “I was beginning to feel a bit lonely in
London. A lot of my friends came over here and have been part of the great
American golden age of television. I had been asked to do a number of pilots,
and this one was sitting there, and I was offered it and Kevin and I had to go
and sniff each other’s behinds like a couple of dogs in the park.”

Working for a major U.S. network has gone pretty much as
Purefoy expected—and of course, this isn’t his first American TV gig, as he
reminds: “I’d had experience with it, because I did THE PHILANTHROPIST for NBC.
So I’m very aware of the micromanagement you get with American executives. But
I enjoy it, very much so. I take it very seriously. A lot of money is involved.”

Obviously, he’s not going to let readers who have been
following THE FOLLOWING in on the answers to the show’s mysteries at this early
stage, but Purefoy says he’s aware of why Carroll is doing what he does. “I
know what he wants. [He’ll do] anything he can to achieve his objectives—which
are very simple in comparison [to his methods].” Purefoy does, however, a tip
for people who want to figure out whether a character on the series is going to
suffer an early demise. “There’s potentially seven years of [THE FOLLOWING]. So
if you hear too much backstory on somebody, they’re going to die quite soon.
Generally speaking, the people that you hear the least about are the ones who
are going to stick around.”

There are some similarities between his own profession and
what Carroll does in terms of powers of persuasion, Purefoy notes. For example,
“Talking to journalists. I’m trying to get you to write really lovely things
about me and the show. Of course I’m trying to get you to do something.
Manipulation is all part of our business, isn’t it?”

The blood and viscera quotient on THE FOLLOWING is high,
which attracted quite a bit of attention and controversy before and during its
premiere. Purefoy won’t say whether he’s actually been grossed out by anything
on the show, but allows, “There have been moments of panic, moments of scenes
in which I’ve thought, ‘OK, Kevin wants us to do this, it’s all part of the
story.’ Despite that, before ‘Action’ is said, I think, ‘I’ve got to do this
now. But between “Action” and “Cut,” who knows what’s going to happen?’ If
you’re really flying as an actor, you don’t know what’s going to happen in that
space. It should just happen in the moment. There have been two or three scenes
that I’ve had to steel myself for.”

Despite the splatter factor, much of the dread in Purefoy’s
scenes is psychological. After all, Carroll isn’t as hands-on as some of his
followers are. “No,” Purefoy agrees, “like a lot of arch manipulators, he gets
other people to do his dirty work for him. And I learned that from Marc Antony
[from William Shakespeare’s JULIUS CAESAR and ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA]. He was
very good at getting other people to do his dirty work. I get a lot of
journalists asking me about hand-to-hand fighting. I went,” Purefoy acts
surprised at the suggestion, “ ‘Really?’ ”

What Purefoy says he’d most like people to know about THE
FOLLOWING is this: “I have a fear of what I call ‘ambient TV’—TV that washes
through you. You could be doing anything [while it’s on], it doesn’t really
matter. I like television that grabs you by the throat, pushes you up against
the f**king wall and won’t let you go. That excites me. That’s the kind of TV I
really enjoy watching. I’m sure you must watch loads of ambient TV. But you
must also watch stuff where you say, ‘I need to see what happens next.’
Dickens, Shakespeare, whatever—all of those great writers make you want to know
what’s coming up. And that’s storytelling. Good storytelling is paramount. We
as a culture love hearing new stories, and this is a good new story. I defy
anybody to watch an episode in its entirety and not want to know what happens
next.”

About the author
Fangoria Staff
FANGORIA: The First in Fright Since 1979.
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