'The Following's' James Purefoy: This Isn't 'Wham-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’am TV'

The actor says his new FOX series doesn't see itself in simple terms.

'Following's' Kevin Bacon
The Following: Kevin Bacon
The actor says he thought his first TV series would be on cable. Read More »

When James Purefoy looks in the mirror, he doesn’t see a monster staring back at him. So why did FOX executives find him perfect to play charismatic serial killer Joe Carroll in their chilling new series, The Following?

“Why get cast as Marc Antony, the most venal Roman general in history?” wondered the Royal Shakespeare Company veteran. “What did you see in me for that? Same with this. I think maybe they just trusted the fact that I would do the work.”

Like every good actor, Purefoy looks for well-rounded characters with backstory, strong motivation and compelling psychological underpinnings. Sure, The Followinghas lots of blood and mayhem, but for Purefoy it is unlike any other show on television.

Dreamed up by Scream writer and The Vampire Diaries co-creator, Kevin Williamson, Purefoy’s character is an escaped murderer who matches wits with Kevin Bacon’s retired FBI agent, Ryan Hardy, who tracked him down 10 years earlier following the murder of 14 female university students.

Murder spree aside, don’t go calling Carroll a villain. Purefoy insists on moving beyond labels like "good" or "evil" when tackling a character.

“You’ve got to be three dimensional,” he insisted. “Looking back on all the key moments from the time he was born to the time he first killed, I’m putting together this vast and multi-faceted jigsaw of a person, and people are complicated.”

For Purefoy, the show’s greatest draw isn’t the blood or mayhem, a natural byproduct of a story about a cult of killers, but depth of character.

Carroll is a failed novelist who, as a university lit teacher, turned to murder. Following his escape from death row, he dreams of writing a novel focusing on detective Hardy, the man who put him behind bars.

“In terms of our show so far, Joe Carroll became a serial killer because he got bad reviews,” Purefoy explained. “My God, if I killed a woman every time I had a bad review, there wouldn’t be any left.”

As the season unfolds, Bacon’s character discovers a deadly cult aiding the escaped murderer as he pursues a victim he was targeting before his arrest. Williamson puts his audience on edge by focussing on character, and less on gimmicks, to generate chills.

“It’s a thriller with a touch of horror,” said Purefoy, sizing up the show. “It’s not wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am TV. It’s not overly lit, pumping music, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. This is television that gets right under your skin and does not let go.”

The Following airs Mondays at 9PM on FOX.

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