Exclusive Interview With James Purefoy About The Following Finale

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As you guys probably saw on Friday, we ran an interview with The Following stars, James Purefoy and Shawn Ashmore. Sadly, we were not at that event, as our flight was canceled due to horrible Boston weather. James Purefoy was kind enough to give us a call and talk to us about the Following finale (airing tonight), how dangerous charisma can be, and the shifting dynamic between his Joe Carroll character and Kevin Bacon’s Ryan Hardy this season. The actor is incredibly well spoken and intelligent, and there were a few times during the conversation where it almost seemed as if I was talking to Joe Carroll himself. Trust me, just based on the teaser information he gave us for season three, this is a must-read for fans of The Following.

Must be pretty exciting, with the finale coming up (tonight).

James Purefoy: It is even moreso when you don’t know the ending. I don’t actually know the ending myself. That is what is really exciting about it for me. We shot a bunch of different endings, and the studio and director and writers don’t tell me which one they are going with.

Wait, so even YOU don’t know what is going to happen to Joe Carroll tonight?!

James Purefoy: I am kept clear of any other actors or anyone at the studio. Honestly, I don’t want to know yet. I am waiting with vicious anticipation.

Wow, that is cool. It must be pretty harrowing, not knowing how it will play out. So before we talk endings, let’s talk beginnings.  I was wondering, what initially drew you to the Joe Carroll character?

J.P: It is always a draw playing anyone complex. It has been a real joy playing with the audiences expectations of what a serial killer is. Sometimes they are aware when he is in that mode, manipulating someone. And then sometimes, I think they’re really surprised in some scenes when they don’t think Joe Carroll is manipulating someone, then the ending of the scene shows he clearly was. There are so many facets to him as a character, and that is one of the great things about playing him. Like all great psychopaths, he was a superficial charm and a lack of empathy, Honestly, we heard a study in the U.K about how some serial killers have the ability to turn empathy on and off like a switch at will. So we have been playing a little bit with that this season. Developing Joe a little further.

Yes, I can see that. There are moments when it is clear that Joe Carroll does not see what he does as evil. He seems to see it as necessary. Do you find it hard to play off that dichotomy and represent that to the viewers? Is that difficult?

J.P: No I don’t think it is. I actually find it quite interesting. With Emma, for example, he was able to play super romantic sometimes with her. He was only doing that, knowing that is what she wanted to hear. She wanted and needed to feel special, and he knew that. He gave that to her, but also knew how to play that anytime he was around her. But he did that so she would do his bidding. Of course, he finds out next episode she was killed, but at that point, he just tosses that romantic side away. She is no longer of use to him. I found that extremely enjoyable to play off of. Being able to switch his emotions on and off when it can best benefit him.

Has there been any scene that was particularly hard to shoot, maybe because of how brutal it was?

J.P: Not so much to shoot, but I found it very interesting that people flipped out and lost love for Joe Carroll (he is talking about viewers reacting) after he had killed the cat. It was like: Are you kidding me? I had manipulated and murdered so many people up to that point, and everyone was okay with it, but as soon as you kill a cat, everyone loses their mind and sees me as a monster. It needed to be done, though. All serial killers are said to start with animals and move their way up. They start with a fly, move their way up to a rat. After a rat, is a cat that different? And if you can kill a cat, could you kill a child? Where is the line drawn?

Regarding the public reacting to things, I wanted to mention. I posted last night on my Facebook  I would be talking to “Joe Carroll” and told people to leave me questions they wanted me to ask. What I got was a resounding amount of “can you give him my phone number” lines from females. How do you think a character like Joe Carroll, who does despicable things, can still somehow appeal to a female audience? They can be an easy audience to unintentionally alienate.

James Purefoy: *Laughs*It’s the superficial charmer, Remy. It really is. People need to be SO weary of charming people. They make you feel good, they disarm you, and that is dangerous. That is exactly what Joe does, and apparently, does it well. Just be wary of charming people.

I am super charming, so I can relate to that. So, we know you are coming back for a third season, and though I know you don’t want to give anything away because you don’t even know if you survive the finale or not, any chance you want to give us a teaser or some hints about the direction that season three could go for The Following?

J.P: Yeah, I don’t know if I survive or not. I know some of us survive, some of us don’t survive. It is actually quite tricky to know who will still be around by the time season three rolls around. But one thing I can tell you is, your enemy’s enemy becomes your friend. Ryan and Joe may actually find themselves becoming a sort of strange, buddy act where they are teaming up to go after the twins who have got Claire. Truth is, I had a great deal of fun being able to do that. Me and Kevin (Bacon) have never had the chance to play off a dynamic like that, and it has been a great deal of fun so far. Though I would LOVE to see that continue on into season three and that dynamic being explored even more, I am still not even sure how it all plays out. I am finding out tonight when you find out.

So are you telling me Joe Carroll and Ryan Hardy need to work together? Holy crap…

J.P: That was a very fun area for me and Kevin to play off. It became obvious this season that Ryan and Joe had a somewhat mad but mutual respect for each other. It is somewhat perverse, but changes the feel of their relationship.

I can see that, though. I get a sort of Batman/Joker vibe with you two. As if one cannot survive of thrive without the other. Like, without one, the other ceases to be. Would you call that accurate?

James Purefoy: Or Harry Potter and Voldemort. Yes. The odd part was, from a few episodes ago when he was caught at the compound, you actually got glimpses and the feeling that these two actually kind of enjoyed each other’s company. Which we had never played off on the show. The truth is, I sort of hope both me and Kevin survive the end of this season. It would be very interesting to see what happens if they have to work together. Always looking over their shoulder, thinking the other one is going to do them in. The beauty of a show like The Following is, nothing is impossible.

I kind of want to expand on that. We are at a point when Ryan seems just as deadly as Joe. He has gone vigilante, and seems to have less and less regard for human life. Same can be said for the Mike character. Has it been fun to play along side their descent? To sort of be on a level playing field for once?

James Purefoy: Absolutely. That has been Joe’s biggest success this season. His penchant for violence has finally gotten under the skin of those around him. Specifically, Ryan Hardy. It has almost infected the other characters around Joe Carroll. He takes them one step further, closer to becoming him. The lines blur more and more as the season goes on. Who is good, who is bad? Are they becoming the same person?

I honestly believe that is what keeps people coming back. It is not a dynamic that is set in stone. It seems to be ever evolving, and we as viewers get really curious to see just how far that will go. It is a cat and mouse chase where the audience doesn’t want either to ever actually catch the other.

James Purefoy: That is the irony. These two don’t really want the other to die. We have clearly seen that they have both had chances, yet they don’t. There is a reason for that, even if they don’t know it yet.

Yes, we clearly see Ryan and Carroll are pretty much willing to kill anyone ELSE now, but there is a sort of co-dependency between them now that they are thriving off of. It is crazy to see, because Ryan’s whole goal was to take you out for the entirety of the first season. So for us, it is jarring to see that is clearly no longer his goal. SO we wonder, what is?

James Purefoy: That is very interesting, you are onto something with this. The worst thing you can do to Joe Carroll is ignore him. If Ryan Hardy at the start of the first season had just walked away from it, NOTHING would have happened. He paid Joe Carrol attention, and that just perpetuated itself more and more. Truthfully, if Ryan Hardy had committed suicide, that would have finished Joe off. That would have also killed Joe, and everyone else who died would have survived. Man, these are deeply philosophical questions man, very interesting.

(Editor’s note: Though no one could see, I high-fived myself at that point.)

I grew up reading a lot of true crime books and reports about serial killers. It is intriguing to think that minds like that can actually exist. I know you studied up on some real serial killers before you started the show. Was there any one killer who really stood out to you and who carried with you into your portrayal of Joe Carroll?

J.P: Yes, there was one. The lawyer, very charming, his name is escaping me right now. What was his name?

Ted Bundy?

James Purefoy: Ah, yes! My mind went blank there for a second. Ted Bundy, because he was so charming. He was working in a lawyer’s office when he got caught, and they ended up raising a bunch of money for his defense, completely convinced of his innocence, based solely on how charming and well put together he was. So part of it is Ted Bundy, and part of it is Jim Jones. The cult leader who is famous for the Kool Aid fueled mass suicide. I thought about him a lot this season. Just to watch his life, and to see the way people get sucked into cults. The way it corners them more and more. They give up family, then their money, then it seems, their lives for him. Never drew much from Charles Manson. Some people assume because he is such a well known cult leader, but he was kind of, well messy. I could never figure out why people followed him. Had had no finesse to him.

Yeah, Ted Bundy was on the other end of the spectrum from Manson. People solely assumed Bundy was innocent just because he was handsome. If you think about that, it is terrifying….

(At this point, the Fox repped popped into the call and was like: Okay homies, wrap it up).

James Purefoy: Obviously I could sit in a bar with you Remy, and talk to you about this stuff for hours. It’s been fun.

Yeah, I can totally understand why you have your Following now. This was a blast. Thanks so much for taking the time to field my questions. Here’s hoping you survive tonight!

James Purefoy: *laughs* Thanks very much.

An incredibly nice guy for a serial killer, I must confess. In all seriousness, make sure to watch The Following finale tonight at 9 p.m on Fox. James Purefoy will be watching it right along with you. 

[Photo via Sarah Shatz/FOX]

My name is Remy, and I also work toiling in the basement of our wonderful sister sites as well as my own site RemyCarreiro.com, where I have worked diligently at building a small but faithful cult of followers who will help me take over the world. I call this: One. Step. Closer.....
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