As Claire Matthews on Fox's "The Following" (Episode 2 airs Monday, January 28 at 9 p.m. EST), Natalie Zea is caught between two equally compelling -- and equally dangerous -- men: her ex-husband Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), the psychotic serial killer responsible for murdering 14 female students, and Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), the troubled FBI agent who finally brought Carroll to justice in 2003.
Now, Carroll's followers have kidnapped Claire's son Joey (Kyle Catlett) and Claire is slowly unravelling as Carroll's master plan unfolds. And Claire's storied history with Ryan only complicates matters further. HuffPost TV sat down with Zea earlier this month to discuss the role on "The Following," Claire's relationship with Ryan, and whether she will be a typical damsel in distress as the series progresses.
What initially attracted you to the role of Claire?
Funny enough, it wasn’t necessarily the role -- rather, it was the script as a whole. It was one of the first pilots I read during that season and I was really taken aback by how little it felt like a pilot. I have read a thousand and generally, it’s all about setting up the characters in the world and making sure everything is established, and Kevin [Williamson, the creator of "The Following"] did such a stealthy job of making sure that all that was taken care of, but it never felt like you were being spoon-fed all the information. It felt very filmic and it just felt like you were being dropped into the middle of something that you already knew about. Really tricky territory to cover and he did such a great job. So it was the story and the script as a whole that I found to be so intriguing.
Kevin Williamson has described the show as an unorthodox love story, especially between Ryan and Claire. How did you approach their relationship?
Well, that was his angle for me and I always thought that he was just trying to tell me what I wanted to hear. [Laughs.] But it turns out he’s telling everybody that, which is good because it means that he’s been very transparent and upfront about it. I, too, thought that it was a strange approach that ended up somehow feeling right. I tend to play the love interest, so it wasn’t unusual for me. A lot of people will ask what kind of effort goes into playing the suspense or the thrill of whatever scene you are doing, but as actors, we don’t play the genre and so it just seems like a way more natural fit to play the love and to play the relationships.
Did you do any research to prepare for the role, like watching any slasher movies or digging into female horror movie archetypes?
I often shy away from research because I've found that it doesn’t really help me one way or the other, but Kevin [Bacon] and James [Purefoy] were doing a lot of work prior to doing the pilot, so I thought I should probably jump on board. And what I found was, in this particular instance, the information was even less helpful then it would have been normally, because this is an archetype that doesn’t exist in real life. Not that serial killers don’t have love interests, but they often, if not always, fall into a really specific category that this character just doesn’t inhabit. Lower socioeconomic level, not educated at all, and they generally have some sort of pathology themselves, whether they’re contributing to their significant other’s pathology or not. They’ve got their own shit. She certainly doesn’t have the first two, and she doesn’t appear to have that. We’ll see. So it wasn’t really all that helpful for me except to know that I could sort of make it my own and come from a place of pure originality.
There are also a lot of flashbacks for many of the characters as the story progresses. Did that help or hinder you in terms of preparing for the character? Did Kevin Williamson lay Claire's backstory out for you from the start, or did you try and figure out your own history?
No -- in fact, with their research, James and Kevin also did backstories and I thought, "OK, well, I really have to do that too. I can’t be the only one who doesn’t do that." I haven’t done that since my theater days. And in doing so, I came up with what I thought to be some very interesting tidbits about this woman’s history -- not taking into account the fact that when you do a show that incorporates flashbacks, you can’t do that because you are going to be wrong. [Laughs.]
So that also served to be somewhat futile, specifically with little things. In my backstory, there was this whole thing about how her mom has been absent her whole life since she was a little girl and she was raised by her father, and then there was a line I had in Episode 2 or 3 where I’m like, "If my mom calls, tell her I’m napping.” Well, that’s out the window! [Laughs.]
Did you share some of your ideas with Kevin Williamson?
You know, I had talked to Kevin Bacon about one of the things I had come up with involving Joey, involving my kid, and Ryan Hardy’s role in a very tiny little detail about what happens the night I find out that Joe is, in fact, a serial killer ... and I had just sort of mentioned it to him and he said, "You know, you should probably tell Williamson about this because that’s a really interesting idea" ... it’s just a little gem of a thing. So I won’t say what it was because we still may do it, but I haven’t even thought to talk to him about it yet. But Kevin always suggests, especially if it’s a good idea, to go to Williamson because he is so open to ideas.
Claire's obviously a very resilient character, but in the first few episodes she still has a fairly passive role. Is that going to change as we go on?
She is a passive character for a while, which I am not a huge fan of, but I do understand the reason behind it and that is so that at some point, she also is going to become frustrated and turn the tables. So I’m fine with passivity as long as we earn the reason behind it. And it does end up happening. But yeah, I think Kevin Williamson’s goal in that is for the audience to be as frustrated as Claire, so that when the payoff of her taking control comes, it’s really earned.
How is she feeling about Ryan, 10 years down the line? He's obviously the only one she feels that she can trust, and it seems that she's just desperate for a connection, especially after Joey's kidnapping.
Right, she is desperate for a connection. She is desperate for somebody who understands to come in and say, “I hear you. I’m with you. Let’s do this together.” And if it’s [Ryan] ... he’s the obvious choice, that would be even better. But I don’t know. I’ve always seen [their relationship] that it’s almost like a reality show in that, when you hook up on a reality show -- it's such a trite metaphor -- the circumstances under which that happens are not real. They are not real life and you may be experiencing these emotions, but once everybody goes away, you’re left to deal with the phone bill that needs to be paid, and "I need to eat lunch, what kind of sandwich do you like?" and these are certainly not the kinds of things that these two people are equipped to do with each other. They are equipped to do them, but maybe with significant others that are somewhat more stable.
"The Following" airs Mondays at 9 p.m. EST on Fox.
Is there one person you'd follow? No, no. I'd never do that. I'm not even a believer in any kind of deity. I believe in myself, I believe in my family and friends. But no, an outsider? They're always ripping you off, whoever they are.
Is there one person you'd follow? I don't know. Isn't that sort of what Twitter is? It's kind of this weird thing. Right now, one of my favorite people that I follow is Albert Brooks. He just always cracks me up, he's one of the funniest people on Twitter. I don't have a lot of people that I follow, but I love that one.
Is there somebody you'd follow? Well, there's probably more than one, but right now I would say Kevin Bacon. And James Purefoy.
Is there one person with whom you'd follow? Probably Natalie Zea. I mean, look at her, she's pretty hot.
Is there somebody you'd follow in real life? James Purefoy. The James Purefoy, not Joe Carroll.
Is there somebody you'd follow? In real life? I would just do a collage of people. I'd get a little bit from people I admire. I'd just set that as a standard and try to meet it.
Is there somebody you'd follow in real life? Lena Dunham. Yeah, I would join that cult.
Is there somebody you'd follow in real life? Wendy Williams. I'm obsessed with Wendy Williams. She's dope, she's amazing. She's so sassy without being an asshole. She's going to tell it how it is, she's so honest and she's not a dick about it. That is some finesse that not everybody has and she has it with spades. I want to be her best friend.
Is there somebody with whom you would follow? No, I don't have that bone. I'm very skeptic.
Is there somebody you'd follow? [Laughs.] No, there's no one I'm that dedicated to -- I'm married, so I guess I would follow my wife. That's the only person I can say I'd follow.