The Following is a psychological thriller from creator and executive producer Kevin Williamson. The series follows a notorious serial killer called Joe Carroll (played by James Purefoy) and a former FBI agent called Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), who was responsible for Carroll’s capture in 2003 after the murderer claimed the lives of 14 female students on a Virginia college campus where he taught literature.
When Carroll escapes from death row and embarks on a new killing spree, it becomes clear he’s been covertly communicating with a network of killers in the outside world. However, Carroll has more planned than just a prison escape – and there’s no telling how many additional killers are out there.
As a walking textbook of all things Carroll, Hardy is called back to the FBI to work alongside a team of agents, which includes young, razor-sharp Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) and FBI specialist Debra Parker (Annie Parisse), who is brought in to lead the investigation of Carroll and his followers.
The intense, spellbinding drama follows Hardy and the FBI as they are challenged with the ever-growing web of murder around them, masterminded by the devious Carroll. The re-invigorated Hardy will get a second chance to capture Carroll, as he’s faced with not one, but a cult of serial killers.
We catch up with acclaimed actor Kevin Bacon to find out more…
What attracted you to The Following?
About three or four years ago I realised that there was a trend towards great writing for television. All of the things that I think about and talk about, and talk to my friends about, were ‘water cooler’ shows like Game Of Thrones, The Killing, Homeland, Breaking Bad and The Closer. All of these shows have become really important in my world, so I said, “Maybe it’s time for me to throw my hat in the ring and do television?” Within two weeks, I had read three of the best scripts I’d ever read – and they were all television pilots. They were all well written with super cool characters. I thought to myself, ‘If there was another 45 minutes tagged on to this script, I would do this movie in a heartbeat.”
When did you discover the script for The Following?
After I came to this realization about television, I decided that I wanted to do a premium cable show, so we explored that option and I kept reading scripts. However, I came to the conclusion that I was afraid of doing 24 episodes or 22 episodes in a season because I felt like that was going to take too long. Then I read the script for The Following and I thought it was amazing. I was told they were only going to do 15 episodes in the season – and I jumped on board immediately. It was a no-brainer.
What made the script stand out for you?
I felt like this script was a real page-turner. I picked it up and I read it all in half an hour. It scared the hell out of me, but I thought it was great. I also loved the character. I wanted to play a complex and damaged hero – and here he was right in front of me.
How would you describe your character in the show?
I play a former FBI agent named Ryan Hardy. When you meet him, he’s no longer working for the FBI. He left about eight years ago. Now, he doesn’t have any focus in his life. It feels like he’s dead inside. He was most alive when he was tracking a serial killer called Joe Carroll, who he put in jail – and he wrote a book about it, but it was completely unsatisfying for him.
What else can you tell us about Ryan Hardy?
He’s very unfocused in his life. He’s got heart problems. He drinks too much. He’s a mess. But he gets pulled back, albeit reluctantly, into this world of crime fighting and that gives him some kind of focus again. It doesn’t clean up his personal life overnight, but it does give him a place to be.
How does he return to crime fighting?
The serial killer he put behind bars escapes jail, so the FBI call Ryan and they ask him to lend a hand. He’s better than anybody in terms of getting the killer back behind bars, so he reluctantly returns to the fold of the FBI – but he’s afraid to be back in that world.
When you signed up for The Following, what did you know about your character’s arc in the first season?
I had a few discussions about this, but I didn’t find out too much. Ryan is damaged and he has a long way to go in his personal life to get back on track. I don’t think that’s going to happen overnight. I think it’s going to be a long process, which we will see as the show progresses.
Is Ryan a good guy, or is there an underlying sense of darkness to him?
I see Ryan as complicated and flawed, and I feel like the lines between being a good guy and not being a good guy will get a little bit blurred. You get a sense of that in the pilot episode, but down the line we’ll see more in his back-story and maybe in the way he handles things that will be a little bit grey. To be honest, I really wanted to play a hero. I get offered a lot of bad guys in the movie world and I like playing villains, but I didn’t want to play a serial killer in a show like this. James Purefoy [who plays Joe Carroll] does that role amazingly, but I felt like I wanted to find something heroic. I get to be heroic in a complex, flawed and damaged way, which is exactly what I like.
Why do you think your character is able to read Joe Carroll’s moves so well?
I think it’s pure instinct. I don’t think my character is ever going to have the kind of intellect that Joe has; he’s also never going to have that kind of charm. He’s not going to be able to work people or be able to communicate like that. Joe has great communication skills, but Ryan’s got instinct and he’s street-smart. I think that’s the thing that separates the two characters.
The show is shot in New York… How much fun is that?
You know what? It blew my mind when they agreed to shoot there. This is not to brag, but I have no idea how many movies I’ve made and yet I can tell you that I could count on one hand the amount of times I’ve actually worked in New York. I love it. The Following is a very gritty show, certainly for a network show. We’re definitely pushing the envelope. It’s great. I couldn’t have asked for a better project.