Just when you thought it the world might finally be safe from Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), THE FOLLOWING returns with Season 3. That’s right, even in prison, Joe Carroll is not dead yet. Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) may be moving on with his life and free of Joe’s ghost, but what about everyone else? Mike West (Shawn Ashmore) is still tormented and torn over the death of his father. So much so that Mike and Max’s (Jessica Stroup) relationship is practically over before it had a chance to really begin. And speaking of the evil twins, just what is Mark (Sam Underwood) up to these days? Will he pick up the mantle where Joe Carroll left off? Or is there someone else just as terrifying and twisted out there lurking in the dark waiting to spring his or her trap on the unsuspecting FBI?
In an exclusive interview, executive producer Alexi Hawley talked about what is next for Ryan, Joe, Mike, Max and Mark and the danger hovering around them all.
Generally, what do you see as the story arc for Season 3?
ALEXI: That’s a lot to describe. But we are starting a year after last season ended and it ended with Ryan Hardy ultimately deciding not to kill Joe Carroll, but to arrest him and put him behind bars. So it is a year later and he has moved on with his life. He hasn’t seen Joe. He is back at the FBI for the love of doing the job versus the obsession that he before. He’s got a relationship. Obviously, this being THE FOLLOWING, things are not going to stay happy and calm for long. So this season is ultimately about honoring and playing out the end of Joe Carroll’s storyline and at the same time we are moving past him — and it is: what is beyond Joe Carroll and what is the next chapter of THE FOLLOWING?
If Joe is not the big bad this season, who might be the big bad?
ALEXI: Joe is a big bad. Joe is still a big presence this season. He has a very dynamic story that will play out; but at the same time, we have characters continuing from last season, such as Mark Gray (played by Sam Underwood), Gregg Henry is a big part of our show, and Michael Ealy is coming on as well to round it out, as well as other characters that come up during the course of the season. So we are very conscious of how great a character Joe Carroll has been and wanted to not just go and do another Joe Carroll-like villain. We wanted to come up with some other characters that were unique in their own right to carry us forward.
What is interesting is there is like a public campaign to smear Ryan Hardy as a liar. What is the significance of that?
ALEXI: I don’t want to give it away, but it ultimately does play a big part of the first 5 episodes of the season. To a certain extent, in the show Ryan Hardy and Mike (Shawn Ashmore’s character) have crossed the line at times in their hunt for some pretty horrible human beings. So coming into this season, in the year that has gone by since last season, there have been congressional hearings about the capture of Joe Carroll and all the mayhem that happened during Season 2 in New York with the Korban Compound and Lily Gray, Luke and Mark. So there has been some fall-out from that. But ultimately this about bringing some attention to the lies that are being told in a very dynamic kind of way.
One of the things I couldn’t quite get a finger on was this a personal attack or was this someone’s bigger strategy, like a manipulation?
ALEXI: It is part of an unfolding storyline, so there is some mystery at first as to who is behind it and what its purpose is. But on the surface, it is definitely meant to confront Ryan, Mike and Max with some of the things that they have done, to expose them, to force them to make choices based upon that going forward.
Then Mark, he is a very wild-card element to this season. Is he out for revenge or does he have something else going on?
ALEXI: I think revenge is squarely in his sight. Coming into this season, he’s lost everything. He lost his mother, who was a horrible serial killer in her own right, but she was still his mom; then his twin brother, Luke. He defined himself through his brother, so they were two peas in a pod. It is a question of: who is this guy without the people who make him understand who he is? So there is definitely a revenge aspect, but part of the fascination and part of what we work so hard to do on the show is to give his character a lot more nuance and a lot more depth. On the surface, it is about revenge, but it is also about seeing a character struggling with his own identity given the fact that he doesn’t have the people around him who helped him figure out who he was.
Previously, Mike Weston was the squeaky clean, honest cop. But now he seems to have switched places with Ryan Hardy and he seems to be the one more personally invested and bent on revenge himself within the Bureau. Are we seeing that shift in their relationship and the way they conduct themselves in the FBI?
ALEXI: A little bit. They come into the season in very different places. Ryan, because he turned his back on the cut-throat violence that he was ultimately forced into by the interactions with Joe Carroll by not killing him and choosing happiness and choosing to have a life, comes into the season in a much better place than we have ever seen him. While what we learn in the premiere episode is that Mike has chosen revenge over love. At the end of last season, he and Max (Jessica Stroup’s character) got together, and what we learn at the beginning of this season is that Mike — because he got a lead on Mark who was responsible for killing his father — he chose to leave and go overseas hunting for Mark and any sign of him. He chose revenge over that relationship with Max. So coming back in, he is sort of suffering the consequences of that, and he comes back a more hardened, less Boy Scout. He wants to get Mark as badly, in theory, as Mark wants to get him.
That sounds like a volatile situation and everyone else is going to be caught in the crossfire.
What about Ryan? He was never quite that stable emotionally, but he seems very stable as we get to meet him this season. Is that a facade or does he actually have it together?
ALEXI: I think he does. Going into last season, on the surface he seemed like he had it together, but we revealed fairly early that he didn’t and it was all just an act. But here, he actually did make a choice. He made a choice to not to go down that dark path anymore, probably because of the effect it was having on Mike. So he is coming into the season in a healthier place than we have ever seen him. But I do think that there are some deep-seated emotional issues that he has and always had going back to when he killed the man who killed his father when he was 17 years old. So he definitely has issues about whether he is a good guy or not and so that stuff doesn’t necessarily go away. Then Joe Carroll sort of brought out the worst in him. But it was parts that were actually in him. So coming into this season, how much of that is going to bubble back up once Joe comes back into his life?
A new character that has been teased is Allison Mack’s character who is local law enforcement. Are we going to learn see her right away or when does she pop into the storyline?
ALEXI: She pops in Episode 6. At the moment — she’s great — but she’s only in one episode this year. So that’s all I can say about that.
Can you talk about how she got cast for that role?
ALEXI: The character called a young looking cop in the storyline where Ryan and Mike go on the hunt of the serial killer who is outside of New York. She is ultimately the connection on the ground there. She helps them identify who that character is. So we were looking for somebody really dynamic, really likable and, obviously, really talented — and she completely fit the bill.
How would you describe Michael Ealy’s character?
ALEXI: In thinking about villains beyond Joe Carroll and wanting to come up with somebody who is not the antithesis of Joe, but somebody who wasn’t necessarily as larger-than-life, somebody who was equally scary, we kicked around the idea of a chameleon-like character. From the beginning of the show, Joe has been a public figure. He has been out. In flashbacks, during Season 1, we sort of showed him as a university professor before Ryan caught him and all that, but for the most part on our show, he has always been on the run and always larger-than-life. So with Michael’s character, when we first meet him, he is a guy who lives many lives — identities that he has created in order to be able to kill in every way possible. He is not a killer who has a signature in the way that Joe Carroll used to take eyes and that kind of stuff. For Michael’s character, we really loved the idea that the guy was like, “Why do I have to be restricted by one way? I want to be every serial killer.” So to set up that character who is sort of hiding in the shadows and ultimately what happens to him if and when he becomes exposed — when he runs across Ryan Hardy — and what is that character like. He is a guy that is incredibly smart and a guy who plans everything — what happens when the lights get turned on for him?
Did the show approach Michael or did he come to you because this seems like an unexpected role choice for him?
ALEXI: We approached him. When we created the character we were looking for somebody who absolutely hold the screen in the same way that James Purefoy holds the screen. Michael is an incredible actor and he’s so dynamic — he’s been so dynamic in everything he has been in. The card that we were holding was: “Hey, this is a character you’ve never played before and isn’t normally offered to you.” And I think he saw that as a huge bonus, like “I get to play a character I’ve never done before and use different acting muscles and really do something iconic,” and so he said “Yes.” We couldn’t have been more thrilled.
What kinds of teasers can you offer as to what fans and viewers can anticipate this season?
ALEXI: They can anticipate a lot of suspense. We do not shy away from violence, but at the same time, we thought going into this season that we wanted to lean into the thriller more, the suspense more. It doesn’t mean that we don’t go there with some violence, but sometimes what you don’t see is scarier than what you do see, but you can imagine things that can be disturbing as well. The show has always been about the inner lives of our heroes and our villains, so we try to create these three dimensional villains and make you relate to them. We definitely feel like we have accomplished that going into this season. We wanted to lean a bit more into that sort of soap opera aspect on our heroes side as well. Part of Mike going away to chase Mark in between seasons is that he chose not to be with Max at the very beginning of their relationship, and when he comes back, she is in a relationship with somebody else. We love the idea of play that love triangle. It felt unfair to the fans to put them together and then it’s a year later and they’ve been together for a year and you don’t get to see all the fun stuff. So part of what we wanted to do is to make it more dramatic by putting an obstacle in Mike’s way when he came back and also to see what it looks like as he is trying to win her back. We thought that would be a lot of fun to play out on screen.
It is great that you started this season with a wedding. That was a beautiful note to start with.
ALEXI: We were like: what can we do that has never been done before on THE FOLLOWING? And that seemed like it both showed how far they have come and also a wedding can be a very vulnerable place — like: what’s going to happen at this wedding and how does that place out into the first and second episode?
To see whether the teased wedding goes off without a hitch and what kinds of killer trouble special guest-star Michael Ealy is in store for everyone, be sure to tune in for the Season 3 premiere of THE FOLLOWING on Monday, March 2nd at 9:00 p.m. on Fox.