The Following’s Shawn Ashmore: “You Can’t Trust Anybody”
Exclusive: Showrenity had the chance to talk to actor Shawn Ashmore, The Following’s Agent Mike Westen, about his character’s (suspicious) worship of Kevin Bacon’s Ryan Hardy, whether Hardy should trust Mike, and the nature of being on a show where no one is safe.
In the intense “can and mouse” hunt for Joe Carroll’s lunatic legion of killers, ex-FBI Agent Ryan Hardy is taking grief from both sides. On one hand, Carroll has targeted Hardy as the “star” of his own meta-horror story and on the other, not everyone in the FBI has welcomed Hardy back into the fold with open arms. But young Agent Westen is able to see things in Hardy that no one else can. But is he as obsessed with Hardy as the show’s psychos are with Carroll?
“It’s a delicate thing,” Ashmore smiled, “because there’s obviously a bit of hero worship going on. Because Ryan knows the case better than anyone. The way I think about it is that Ryan Hardy is like a rock star in the FBI world. He caught Joe Carroll. That’s all there is to it. He was the only one who could do it. So when he comes back and some members of the FBI are giving him a hard time about his drinking and some other things, I think Mike just doesn’t judge him. He see through all that other stuff and thinks ‘Joe Carroll is up to something and this is the only guy who can help us out. But Mike also wants to be respected by Ryan. Mike is very capable and very smart. He’s on the case for a reason, so I think in the first episode he gushes a little bit. But from there on out, he pulls back a bit more and within the first five episodes I think he earns his place next to Ryan and earns Ryan’s trust.”
Ashmore’s character isn’t a profiler, but the actor did want to make sure that he was well-versed in the violent world of serial killers, doing a ton of research into chaos, the aftermath and how tragedy affects families. “I just wanted the violence to seem real,” he said. “Sometimes when when you make a television series or a film, you back away from the reality a little bit. And I think Marco Siega, the director of our pilot and also an executive producer, along with [creator,EP] Kevin Williamson, wanted to create an over-the-top thrill ride, but also something that’s grounded. If that makes sense. Because I think that’s what makes it so scary. The fact that it feels real. I mean, a cult of serial killers has never existed like this, but you still want to make it feel true. And as an actor you want to understand the violence and find out what it might be like to be in a room with them. So I watched a ton of stuff in order to soak it all in.”
Shawn Ashmore and Kevin Bacon in The Following.
While Agent Mike isn’t on Joe Carroll’s radar (yet!), can we expect any scenes between Ashmore and actor James Purefoy? “Yes, but limited,” Ashmore revealed. “And only because of the circumstances. Not because we’re hanging out in the cell together and talking, but but there are a few face to face moments with Mike and Joe.”
Many are calling The Following the scariest show currently on TV, and Ashmore would have to agree. “I feel the same way,” he said. “And I’m totally into horror films and all that stuff, but when I watch it I understand why people think it’s scary. It plants that seed, very early, that you can’t trust anybody. And that to me is what’s scary. You never know where people are coming from. You’re completely disorientated about people’s motivations and who’s good and who’s bad. You think you’ve got it, but then it flips. And it’s scary to never have your footing. It is formulaic for the most part. You know where it’s ultimately going. Where it’s headed. But I think this show establishes that no one is safe. It breaks the mold.”
If no one on the show is safe, does that include Ashmore’s own Agent Mike? “It’s not ideal, because you might have to be sacrificed for the good of the show,” the actor said. “But it was made very clear to us in the beginning that this was the kind of show it was. So I don’t think anybody is going to take it personally if they have to go. It’ll be disappointing if it happens to me because I love the show and I want to be on the show, but it is what it is. You have to come to terms with it.”
The Following uses a lot of flashbacks in order to dip into the lives of the characters. So can we expect any trips into Mike’s past? “Not through big flashback sequences,” Ashmore said, “but we will find out more about Mike later in the season. The first breakthrough in learning about Mike comes when Ryan starts to trust him. I think Mike is trying to connect with Ryan, so he throws life details out at him hoping that he takes the bait. And he doesn’t for a while. But then, eventually, Ryan realizes that he trusts Mike and that he’s valuable to him on this case.”
Matt Fowler is a member of the Television Critics Association. Follow him on Twitter at @TheMattFowler