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Starring Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy
by Fred Topel

The most talked about new show of the new year is sure to be The Following, either because viewers are hooked on the intense serial killer storyline, or because critics are debating the level of violence in portraying that intensity.

Kevin BaconKevin Bacon stars as former agent Ryan Hardy, who’s brought back when the killer he caught, Joe Carroll (played by James Purefoy), enacts a master plan. Carroll has cultivated a following of serial killer proteges from the comfort of his prison cell, and it’s Hardy’s job to work with Carroll to catch them.

A legendary film actor, Kevin Bacon was the subject of a fan game called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” which proved nobody is more than six connections away from working with Bacon. The star of films like Footloose, Murder in the First, Mystic River and The Woodsman, Bacon is used to intense material.

“As you know, I’ve gone to a lot of dark places in my professional work and I’m not afraid of that,” Bacon told Dish during the TCA Winter Press Tour in Pasadena recently. “I’ve never been afraid of that as an actor in terms of the kinds of movies I’ve been in, the kinds of parts that I’ve taken on. I feel like my responsibility as an actor is to make characters as compelling and believable as possible. But in terms of my work, I’ll go anyplace.”
Parker and Hardy
He added, “Still, in my personal life, I feel my responsibility as a human being is to do the right thing by my fellow man, to take care of my children and raise honest and gentle and compassionate human beings, and to help them create their own ideas about what we feel is the difference between right and wrong. My kids don’t watch my movies. What I want to do is go home and hug my kids, talk to them and engage with them.”

In movies like The River Wild, Sleepers and The Woodsman, Bacon plays killers or child abusers, so he could surely have nailed the Joe Carroll role, too. However, for his first foray into series television, Bacon wanted to be the hero, albeit a conflicted one.
Hardy at cult house
“I’ll tell you why, because I felt really strongly that when I was trying to find something to do on TV, I knew that I wanted to be the hero,” Bacon said. “Whatever kind of hero that he was, I wanted him to be complex, to be damaged, to be just a complicated character.. And I knew that when I looked at television, the things that I was drawn to as a viewer were really stories about life and death. I would read great, funny half-hour scripts, or I’d read things that were a little bit more sort of soapy and I liked them, and there was some great writing, but I started to realize that I really needed to find something that was about life and death and that I could be the hero.”

Flawed heroes like Bacon’s character Ryan Hardy have done really well on television. Keifer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer saved the world on 24,  but lost his family and possibly his soul, in the process. Bacon had further examples from today’s hit shows.

Hardy looking“I think you have to have a hero and he’s got to mess up,” Bacon said. “He’s not perfect. He makes mistakes and when you look at him....... a perfect example would be Claire Danes’ character on Homeland. She’s a great heroine but she makes mistakes. As an audience member, you look at that and you go, ‘Oh, please don’t do the wrong thing; because you really are pulling for her. You’re pulling for her.’ That, to me, I think Hardy’s pretty good at keeping that feeling alive.”

The complexities of Ryan Hardy include many mysteries. ‘Why was he really dismissed from the FBI? Why is he drinking now?’ Bacon asked himself many, many questions to get inside the character.

“The thing that appeals to me always is ‘who the person is on the inside?” Bacon said. “What was my relationship with my parents like? How did I grow up? Why am I drinking so much? How did I end up in bed with his wife? Why am I so enamored with him? Why did I go to the FBI? Why did the FBI kick me out? What have I been doing for the 10 years in between when I put him in jail and now? I am not the writer. I’m the guy that thinks about Ryan Hardy, and who he is and who he could be. I’m like anybody else, I like things that are exciting and scary and I think some of the ideas plot-wise that come out of his mind are really fascinating, but it’s not my day to day focus.”

Natalie and ValoriesThe Following flashes back to Ryan just after catching Carroll, when he was happy and dating Carroll’s ex-wife Claire (Natalie Zea). If it were a movie, the flashbacks could be even more drastically different, but Bacon does the best he can on television.

“If it was a movie, you could really change the hair and change the makeup and really go for a different sort of look, but because we’ll do a flashback scene and then go to a present-day scene, and then go to another flashback scene in the course of a single day, it’s almost impossible for us really to do anything like that,” Bacon said. “So I thought to myself, I have to make him lighter and more alive in the past, in some sort of a way. It’s really kind of an internal thing, but when I see it, I see a different kind of guy. One of the sad things about this character is that he was the most alive, when he was on the trail of Joe. And he’s just been like the walking dead for the last few years. So I’m trying to, with the flashbacks, just give him the lightness. Stand up more and just feel stronger and healthier in a way, than the guy that you see in the rest of the show.”
The Following Cast
Bacon is married to Kyra Sedgwick, star of TNT’s long running hit The Closer. Bacon learned a lot of the ropes of television from his wife. “I had a pretty good sense of it because of my wife’s experience on The Closer for seven years. I even directed four of those episodes. It’s daunting, so we’ll see. Who knows, because when you sign on, you’ve got to know that that’s going to be the deal. If you’re so lucky that you get something like The Closer, you’re in it for the long haul.”

The other half of The Following is Bacon’s co-star, Purefoy’s Joe Carroll. Sitting next to each other on stage, Bacon and Purefoy actually kissed each other in front of the entire Television Critics Association to show their chemistry. But when you see them perform together, it won’t be romantic or humorous.
The Kiss
“I’m drawn to the side of life that perhaps we don’t talk about enough,” Purefoy said. “I think it’s important to talk about these things and go, ‘No, hey, this is really going on.’ One of the things I did when I was researching this, is I poked my nose into the very dark weird corners of the internet. It appalls me that there are pro anorexia websites, pro suicide websites and yet we don’t really talk about it. It’s too ugly to talk about, too scary to talk about it, but dammit, if we don’t talk about it, we’re never going to deal with it. We have to deal with it.”

James PurefoyA serial killer who uses the internet to amass a following isn’t that far-fetched. There are real websites devoted to serial killers, and even before the internet, serial killers like Charlie Manson had fans. “In this show we’re taking a blinding light and showing that group of people, because if we don’t ever think about them, we’re never going to be able to understand,” Purefoy continued. “I think in a society that is quite obsessed with violence, it’s quite a good thing to shine a torch into the dark corners and make it part of our national conversation. If we could talk about it and talk about bad sh*t that’s going on in our brains, then you can get some kind of understanding about it. When it’s all secretive and hidden away, that’s when you’re in trouble.”

All week, television writers from around the world asked network executives and television producers what role they felt televised and filmed violence played in recent tragedies like the Aurora Movie Theater shooting and Newtown Preschool shooting. Such conversations annoy Purefoy.
The Following posters
“The idea that violence on television and in films has something to do with the chronic problem is fatuous, babyish and intellectually impoverished,” Purefoy said. “That’s what I absolutely believe. We have to look much deeper than the stuff we see watching TV, as to why the things in this country are happening. I’m really not convinced it’s to do with the stuff we watch between 9 and 10. It’s much deeper and much more complex than that. In a way, what it ‘s a really beautiful way of blaming the media, of blaming culture, for something that perhaps we’re not prepared to pay for.”
Cast of The Following
Violence in entertainment predates film and television, Purefoy reminds us. “As a culture, as a civilization, we’ve been watching violence and scary stuff,” Purefoy said. “I was dipping into Sophocles last week and looking at Oedipus in Oedipus Rex where he pulls out his own eyes. This was written in 495 B.C. We’ve been doing this for a very long time. Shakespeare, there were no slaughters in children’s schools in Shakespeare’s time despite the fact in Shakespeare, you would have seen violence on Shakespeare’s stage that you would never see on television today. I’ve directed a production of King Lear where not only did we pull out Gloucester’s eyes, we crushed them onto the heel of a boot. You wouldn’t see that on network television.”
Natalie Zea as Claire Joe's wife
In researching the role of Joe Carroll, Purefoy hit upon a frightening reality of real-life killers. “One of the things I’ve realized is that with serial killers, often there seems to be just a cigarette paper between you and them.” That’s why we’re so fascinated. Ted Bundy, for example. If I were standing here as Ted Bundy, you would never know that I was going off to the woods tonight to have sex with dead people. And yet, he was perfectly charming, perfectly sociable, could have a conversation about anything you pretty much wanted to have a conversation with him about, and yet, and yet, and yet. What makes us love, or be fascinated by those characters, is the fact that on the one hand, they’re insane, and on the other hand, they are so terribly present and sane that there’s not much that divides us.”

Joe in PrisonPerhaps The Following, as intense as the show and his role is, is a release for actors like Purefoy. He certainly maintains a healthy personal life when his work is done. “I’m doing a show that lasts 7-8 months of a year of my life and I have a young family,” Purefoy said. “A young family has requests and needs. They need to talk about homework and brushing their teeth and the sh*t that kids talk about at bedtime, and I can’t go home as Joe Carroll and do that. I have to be me when I go home. It’s my responsibility as a professional actor to deliver the goods between action and cut, and my job as a professional father to deliver the goods to my children when they need it.”

His teenage son thinks the show is a hoot. “My boy, who’s 16, has watched them all,” Purefoy said. “He likes the show. He’s 16 years old. We all know what 16-year-old boys are like. This is nothing in comparison to the stuff that they watch when I’m not in the room. My boy’s been around sets all his life. He knows he’s protected. He knows it’s make believe and that’s what it is. It’s make believe.”
Hardy and Joe
The frightening charm of Joe Carroll is how calmly he influences his followers and unsettles Hardy. Purefoy keeps his cool throughout the portrayal of Joe Carroll. “His pulse rate very rarely goes above 35,” Purefoy said. “Because he knows what he wants. He’s had 10 long years in prison to know what he wants and how to get it. And he’s worked an incredibly complex plan for that to happen.”

The Following airs Mondays at 9et/pt on Fox / Issue 143 - September 9239
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