‘The Following’s’ Shawn Ashmore Talks Murder, Mayhem and Revenge
Warning: This story contains spoilers for recent episodes of Fox’s The Following.
FBI Agent Mike Weston finally has been pushed too far.
Over the course of Fox’s intense thriller The Following, he and former agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) have witnessed disturbing violence and gruesome deaths at the hands of psychopathic killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) and his minions. However, with the recent episode “Sacrifice,” those actions truly hit home.
Spurned Carroll supporter Lily (Connie Nielsen) visited Mike’s father and gleefully ordered her sadistic son Mark (Sam Underwood) to slit his throat. The horrifying act was captured on video and sent to Mike to watch. Now the devastated agent, played by Shawn Ashmore, has just one thing on his mind: revenge.
Best known for portraying Iceman in the X-Men movie franchise, Ashmore spoke with Spinoff Online by phone from The Following’s New York City set about murder, Mike’s downward spiral and back half of Season 2.
Spinoff Online: Mike hasn’t been doing so well in Season 2. What have you enjoyed about taking him down this dark path?
Shawn Ashmore: What I think is most amazing about Mike this season, and really for this character in general on the show, is how huge his character arc has been. Where we started in the pilot with Mike, to where we are now, is a full 180. Obviously as an actor, it’s very satisfying to get to play the range of a character. That’s what is fun about it, to be honest. It’s not the easiest work in the world to continuously bring Mike to this dark place and push the limits to how far he can fall, but it’s really satisfying crafting a character that has such a huge arc.
[Series creator] Kevin Williamson has given me a real gift in that Mike really mirrors the journey Ryan Hardy took. We find Ryan Hardy in the pilot episode already beaten down, already an alcoholic and already jaded by this case and what this kind of profession can do to a man. The opposite is true for Mike. We actually see his descent and journey.
The murder of Mike’s father was intense. Can you talk about your reaction to that development and tapping into the raw emotion needed for the scene?
I knew one way or the other Mike was going to lose someone very close to him this season. At the beginning of the season, there were talks of Mike having a fiancé and that was the character he was going to lose. That storyline sort of disappeared and then it developed into Mike’s father. Again, it’s Kevin Williamson wanting to push Mike to the boundaries. When I heard about that, I wondered where Mike could have gone after losing someone like this. Not just lost a family member, but right in front of his eyes, basically. That’s the kind of show we’re working on. The more intense the events, the more intense we can make these characters. Ultimately, I hope the audience will continue to support these characters. When you’ve spent 30 hours with the character, you really get to like them and love them sometimes. The reaction has been great from people that are really supporting Mike when he lost his dad.
As far as emotion, I try to create the worst scenario I could possibly imagine in my mind, which we all do in some way or another. We all have those stories where we think someone we know is sick, or has been in an accident and you jump to the worst conclusion. We can all fathom the idea of losing someone close, if we haven’t already, like if somebody you loved passed away. As an actor, I try to recreate that feeling of dread that we all experience as we go through life with the people we love, the scares that we have or the actual loss we’ve had to go through. That was basically it. I just imagine the worst thing that could possibly happen to somebody and then funnel that into the scene and bring the emotion to the surface.
What is Mike willing to do in the name of revenge?
Honestly, at this point, I think Mike is willing to do whatever it takes. Last year, Mike and Ryan were officially part of the FBI task force and were playing by the rules, especially Mike. There are a lot of constraints when working with a government agency like the FBI, but Ryan was willing to do whatever it takes. He would stick his finger in that gun hole of one of the followers to torture them if that would get him information. Mike was straddling the line. He knew that Ryan was the only guy who could catch Joe Carroll the first time around. If his methods were a little unorthodox or a little violent, Mike was willing to turn his head and ignore it, but not necessarily participate. Whereas now, Mike is willing to do whatever it takes. We saw two episodes ago he almost beat one of the sinister twins to death because he could. He’s definitely suffering from a form of PTSD. He’s had his life threatened. People that he’s loved have been killed. He’s been tortured. A lot has happened to him and there is a form of PTSD that I think Mike is living with and that was unleashed. Now, especially that his father is dead, Mike is willing to do whatever it takes. Revenge is first and foremost on his mind.
Will Mike’s hunt for Lily conflict with Ryan’s obsession with Joe?
What you’ll see as the season progresses is that Mike’s one-track mind to get Lily and the twins is sort of broken up by the clues in the Joe Carroll case. Right when you think Mike’s only focus is going to be on Lily, all of a sudden a clue pops in the Joe Carroll world, so we have to follow those clues. And vice versa for Ryan. When Ryan is totally focused on Joe, all of a sudden something pops up in the Lily side of things. We’re torn. Our attention is torn between these two people because we really are hunting both of them. Obviously, we’re supporting each other and working as a team. Wherever the leads take us, we will follow. But in the back of Mike’s mind, he’s constantly on the lookout for Lily.
I’m not going to give any spoilers away, but I will say in the next few episodes there’s a huge twist, a huge plot point that happens that really puts everyone on edge. It’s going to be a real shock to the audience, but it does disrupt the case, in a way. It disrupts everybody’s focus and Mike is right in the middle of the crazy twist. That’s going to be interesting because it breaks up the pure obsession each of these men have for the person they are hunting.
As you mentioned, Mike is becoming more and more like Ryan. How does that sit with both of them?
Ryan is genuinely worried about Mike. He knows exactly what could happen. He knows how far his life fell and what he needed to do to get back on track, and he’s not back on track yet. But, he pulled himself out of the gutter a little bit. For Ryan, he’s concerned about Mike. He feels guilty about the scenario that Mike is in, as Ryan tends to. He feels responsible for the people around him. He feels the people around him, that he cares about, get hurt because they tend to.
Mike is in the middle of it. With Mike’s moral compass, he always knows where true north is, but he gets distracted. His pain takes over sometimes. Mike is self-aware of what’s happened, but he’s so in the middle of it that it overcomes him and he does the wrong thing.
With Joe, Lily, the twins and this cult, there’s so much currently going on. What is the next block of episodes building toward?
With a series, there are ebbs and flows. There are peaks and valleys as far as the storytelling. Joe escaping Lily’s clutches is a very interesting thing to me. Last season, Joe Carroll was in control every minute. This year, I’m not sure if he’s not on his game, but it’s a different side of Joe Carroll. It’s a more vulnerable side because his plan has failed. I love the scenes where he says, “I was an awful writer. It was a mess. I’m going to go back to what I’m really good at, which is killing people.” That’s a powerful and amazing statement. To me, the first seven episodes for Joe Carroll were building to that moment. I think the first seven episodes for Mike were building to the murder of his father and getting him to the point where he’s basically eye-to-eye with Ryan Hardy and the pain he’s gone through.
Moving forward, there’s a whole new arc that starts almost. There’s the revenge thing going on for Mike and Ryan. Joe finds his way into the new compound, this new cult. And like I said, in the middle of this five-episode arc, there’s a huge twist. I think that’s what it is building to, but I can’t give that away. It’s leading to something that will throw all the characters off their game. It rocks everybody and makes us reassess what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.
The Following airs tonight at 9 ET/PT on Fox.