From Kevin Williamson (The Vampire Diaries, Scream), The Following follows FBI Agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), who comes out of retirement to track down notorious serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), mastermind behind a growing cult of killers, as murders start to ravage New York.
The two men may at first seem like polar opposites, but they have one common thread: Claire Matthews. Who is she? To put it simply, Joe's ex-wife/mother to his 10-year-old son and Ryan's former flame, which creates even more tension as the men drudge up past conflicts and drama that have been festering for a decade. Unlike others on The Following, Claire isn't hiding anything. "What you see is what you get," Natalie Zea told The Hollywood Reporter.
As Zea tells it, Claire -- who suffers a great loss right off the bat when her young child is unexpectedly kidnapped -- represents the audience in a lot of ways. "Kevin Williamson wants the audience to be as frustrated as Claire is with the situation," Zea said. Rest assured, she won't play the role of worried mother for long. "Claire takes a turn," she said. "Once she finally takes action, it's earned."
Zea talks to THR about jumping into Williamson's psychological thriller, the connection between Ryan and Claire and just how far she'd go to get her family back.
The Hollywood Reporter: The build-up to the launch of The Following has been months in the making. Nervously anticipating the debut?
Natalie Zea: I don't get nervous about that stuff anymore. Kevin was starting to get butterflies and he was like, "How do you feel? Are you nervous? Do you have any predictions?" And I was like, "Dude, we're going to be fine." And he was like, "That's so good coming from you because you're naturally pessimistic." [Laughs] It's his first TV gig. It's funny, he'll ask me certain things that I would assume he would know that are specifically geared toward working in television and it's surreal that I'm mentoring him. It's pretty great.
THR: How would you describe Claire? Obviously she has history with both Ryan and Joe, which complicates matters.
Zea: She is a person who is carrying around a tremendous amount of guilt. She's questioning everything. There's a monologue that ended up getting cut for time where she talks about how everyday she would question, "Did I know? Did I know? Did I see something that could've clued me in? Was I in denial? Was I helping Joe on some level?" At the end of the monologue, it's a definitive "no." I don't know that she necessarily believes that. I think there's a shadow of a doubt. She's very highly educated and it just doesn't make sense. It doesn't make sense that as smart as she is she wouldn't be clued in to the relationship and [all of this] is happening right under her nose. There's some part of her that feels she was responsible in some way for a lot of this and that doesn't go away. Ten years later, she's still dealing and all of a sudden, her child is gone. As an actress, all you have to do is play the immediacy of that. Subtext need not be there. What's important is that everything is so dire and devastating.
THR: How far will she go to getting her child back?
Zea: As far as she possibly can. She sacrifices herself in a sense, because that's all she can do. No one is finding this kid, no one is helping her and these are people who are trained to do just that. So she takes it upon herself to get the job done.
THR: Does Claire realize how dangerous the situation is? People are dying left and right.
Zea: I don't think she cares. At this point, it doesn't matter to her. She will willingly make the ultimate sacrifice if she needs to.
THR: What is Claire's connection to Ryan?
Zea: They're both broken but beyond that the majority of their connection comes from the fact that they have been through this experience that's so singular. It's like they were in the bunker together. They've been through this war before and no one else can understand, and that to me makes for an incredibly intense bond. It also complicates things quite a bit when you have to go out in the real world and function as a normal couple. I don't think it works for them and that's why they didn't work ultimately, because their relationship was so heightened they don't know where to go from there.
THR : Why does she keep Ryan around?
Zea: She's looking for anyone to connect to at this point and because there is no one else on the planet who can understand what she's going through, except maybe him, she's desperate for some kind of emotional connection, somebody to say "I understand, I'm here for you and we're going to get through this." He's broken in his own way and he can only give her so much. It's him or no one else. She's so desperate for it that any chance she gets she's going to try.
THR: Is there a situation where Claire and Ryan could work?
Zea: If they end up getting together and living happily ever after, then there's no story there. I don't know what the plans are but neither one of them is equipped to be in a relationship right now at all. Again, Claire would settle for a few hours of being held, really. [Laughs] She's really easy at this point. It wouldn't take much.
THR: A lot happens in the first four episodes of The Following. What took you by surprise?
Zea: Honestly, I've been more surprised by other people's [storylines]. There's at least one big shocker per episode and so far none have pertained to my character or to Ryan and Claire. Later on, we'll hopefully learn some things that are a little less obvious [about them]. A lot of the stuff with the Emma (Valerie Curry), Jacob (Nico Tortorella) and Paul (Adan Canto) trio; that's intriguing. Every episode, it becomes more and more sick and dark. [Laughs]
The Following premieres 9 p.m. Monday on Fox.
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