By ANGELA DAWSON and JUDY SLOANE
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Corey Stoll stars as Dr. Ephraim Goodweather on FX’s vampire series “The Strain.” Like other characters he’s played, “Eph” isn’t entirely a good guy or a bad guy. As the second season of the series has unfolded, his character seems to be headed down a slippery moral slope when it comes to dealing with a mysterious vampire epidemic. Airing Sundays at he series from horror meister Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, is currently in its second season and was recently renewed for a third, which is slated to premiere in 2016. The series airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
The 39-year-old has taken a cue on being a celebrity from someone who he admired as a child, Christopher Reeve, who lived nearby when he was growing up in New York. He recently spoke at the Television Critics Association Summer Tour and a subsequent conference call about being a celebrity, losing the controversial wig on the show and co-starring with Johnny Depp in an upcoming feature film.
Q: In the opener of Season 2, Eph told Fet (a fellow vampire hunter played by Kevin Durand) that he is not a very good vampire killer so he’s going to go back to what he knows. And now that he’s onto something, what’s driving him at this point? Is it really vengeance against the master and all of the vampires or is it really just to try and redeem himself in the eyes of the Centers for Disease Control and the people who put him out to pasture because they didn’t believe him?
Stoll: It’s really both. Obviously, it’s personal now that Kelly (his estranged wife played by Natalie Brown) has turned and is actively trying to turn Zach (their son, played by Max Charles this season), but his personality is such that he’s won at everything pretty much in his life. But he’s now in a situation where he’s lost more in the last week than he has in his entire life. He’s always been a very Alpha guy and very Type A. Now, he’s been knocked down numerous pegs and is admitting it, but he still can’t let go on either front, so it’s personal but it’s also professional.
Q: There was a lot made of “Wig Gate,” in which you wore a toupee for your character on the series. Are you kind of relieved that’s behind you and were you surprised at all the attention it got?
Stoll: Yes, I’m relieved just in the sense that it was a distraction for the audience. It’s unfortunate, and there’s an unfortunate bargain that every actor has to make. They don’t have to make it but often you have to make compromises the more you work and the more recognizable you are. That can be helpful in getting you more work but it’s detrimental to your job as an actor because you’re less able to disappear into the role.
I can see why someone like Johnny Depp has gotten so enamored of really intense hair and makeup for his roles because when you get that famous, it can be the only way to really do your job—just to become somebody else. That’s an unfortunate thing when it becomes impossible for people to see past the image. It was limited here. It’s a relief to have that not be an issue in this particular project.
Q: Speaking of Johnny Depp, you recently filmed the crime drama “Black Mass” with him. Have you seen a cut of the film and is there something you’re particularly excited about when it comes out?
Stoll: Yeah, I’ve seen it and it’s great! It’s an incredibly complex story to tell with a lot of characters and a complicated idea of what the power structures are within the Mob and within the FBI and Justice Department. It’s very elegantly told and the performances across the board are really fine. I’m really proud to have my small part in it.
Q: The majority of your roles are more reality-based than the scenario on “The Strain.” How has it been as an actor to operate in this world, especially one created by Guillermo del Toro, where anything can happen?
Stoll: It’s an interesting challenge and it’s one where Carlton (Cuse, the executive producer and showrunner) and I at the beginning of Season 2 felt the need to adjust a little bit because so much of what the show is about is the tone, the look, the style and the feel, which is unique. There are other vampire shows and other vampire movies out there but Guillermo brings something unique to “The Strain,” so we’re trying to find the right balance.
Q: In a recent episode this season where you throw your boss off the train…
Stoll: By accident.
Q: Did you have a choice?
Stoll: No. It was a move to not get hit and before he knew what was happening, he had killed him. Of course, it was probably in his best interest to kill him, but it’s a very big deal fro him. It’s his first human kill. But, no, he did not intend to kill him.
Q: Will this open a door to a darker Eph? Will he be willing to cross the line a little more?
Stoll: Yeah, you can say that. The first time he killed anybody intentionally was in the first season when he was being attacked, so that was purely defensive. Since then, he’s become more inured to killing to the point where he doesn’t flinch when killing people who have turned into vampires.
Then he crossed the line again at the beginning of this season, experimenting on freshly turned people, and then this (killing) is another one that ratchets it up. Definitely, from this point on, he is in a different place morally.
Q: Audiences seemed to have loved “Ant-Man,” in which you played Darren Cross and (alter-ego) Yellowjacket. Do you think you enjoyed doing it as much as the audiences loved watching it?
Stoll: Probably more!
Q: If Ephraim from “The Strain” got into a fight with Darren Cross from “Ant-Man,” who would win?
Stoll: Darren Cross. He has a daily workout session. He’s in top shape and he’s very aggressive.
Q: Do you get recognized more on the streets more now because of that movie?
Stoll: I haven’t noticed a big difference. I was pretty recognizable before, and was stopped pretty often. The one thing I was bracing myself for was that children would be stopping me and that would be another level of intensity, but I don’t think children expect to see people from the movies walk around.
I remember growing up, my elementary school was on the same block as (“Superman” star) Christopher Reeve’s apartment. I remember vividly seeing him walking down the street and everybody just going crazy that it was Superman. Occasionally, he would wear a disguise. He’d put on glasses and a fake beard or something because having Superman living on the same block as an elementary school could be a real problem. So I was expecting the worst, but that doesn’t seem to be my problem.
Q: Since you don’t have to deal with the wig anymore, does that mean you spend less time in makeup? Are you relieved by that?
Stoll: It’s about the same amount of time. Is it a relief? I don’t know. There are pluses and minuses. There’s something nice about having a mask, something that differentiates me from the character and gives me an excuse to be a character more than just my usual appearance. But it was pretty clear that me having hair was a distraction for the audience, and that was a shame. So that it makes it easier for me.
Q: Do you like working with all the effects on the show? Has anything ever grossed you out?
Stoll: There were a few things in the beginning of the first season like a couple of bashed-in heads an autopsy. There seems to be a little bit of a break from that this season. Just in terms of my exposure to the makeup, it’s an amazing thing to see on a daily basis. You come in at 6 a.m. The makeup people have been there for hours already churning out this army of vampires who all have their own unique level of transformation and different degrees of turning into vampires. It’s really an incredible level of artistry and industry. It’s really a bit of a conveyor belt, but every vampire is unique.
Q: Have you been able to be pretty much anonymous when you walk around because you don’t look like the character that much?
Stoll: I look like other characters that I play. I’m 6-foot-2 and bald, so people see me.
Q: A lot of shows these days have to determine whether there is going to be a definite end, like “Breaking Bad,” or just keep going, like “The Walking Dead.” Is there a definite ending for “The Strain” projected?
Stoll: According to Carlton (Cuse), it’s very specific five to six episode arc, where at the end of it, it will go for three more seasons. The idea is not to feel the need to tread water and stretch it out.