'The Following' Postmortem: Shawn Ashmore on the Aftermath of a Big Team Change
Monday's episode is a turning point, namely for FBI Agent Mike Weston: "There's a huge personal sacrifice Mike has to make for a case" down the road, Ashmore tells THR, and it's the "biggest Mike moment in the entire show."
[Warning: Major spoilers from Monday's episode, "The Poet's Fire."]
The Following kicked it up a notch with a fiery open and a bloody end.
In "The Poet's Fire," Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), FBI Specialist Debra Parker (Annie Parisse) and the rest of the team endure one of the grisliest deaths by the hand of one of Joe Carroll's (James Purefoy) followers. The victim isn't just anyone: It's one of their own.
FBI Agent Troy Reilly's (Billy Brown) bloody death put everyone on high alert, none more so than young FBI Agent Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore). "I don't necessarily think that there's blame to be put at the end of episode 103, but there is that sense that we were there and we couldn't do anything to stop it," Ashmore told The Hollywood Reporter.
Not much is known about how Mike fits into the larger picture, but executive producer Marcos Siega promised, "A lot of what you'll be seeing about him and the way he is is setup for a bigger picture."
As Ashmore told The Hollywood Reporter, Monday's episode -- which also shines a light on the origin of Ryan and Joe's relationship -- is a tide-changer for Mike, who will see his working relationship with Ryan shift. Ashmore talked to THR about the aftermath of Monday's episode, the mystery surrounding Mike (Is he a follower?) and when he'll factor into the larger mythology of the show.
The Hollywood Reporter: Agent Reilly's death was a crucial loss for all involved. Can you talk about what that moment means from Mike's perspective?
Shawn Ashmore: Honestly, I think this is the moment where the case really becomes real for Mike. Mike and Ryan start to bond a little bit after the shininess that Weston projects in the first couple of episodes starts to wear off. It starts to wear off because all of a sudden, he's not reading or writing this case, he's experiencing this case, and Agent Reilly gets killed. That was Weston's partner, and he was there for the moment he died. He feels responsible to a certain extent, feels helpless. There's a turn in Weston in that moment. He's not completely off the rails, but the case becomes much more real to him. There's a slight shift in his attitude, in how he deals with the case and how he thinks about this investigation. Huge moment for Mike, huge moment for the whole team.
THR: So far, Mike is seen as the young, eager guy with the punchy one-liners. Does this mean he has a more cynical outlook on the world?
Ashmore: No, I think he's more realistic. Mike Weston is that guy ... everything he says, whether it's making a funny comment with the dog, it's the way he thinks. He's earnest and says what he's thinking. That will never go away with Mike. I never wanted Mike to be a goofball; I never want him to take situations lightly. Those lines are funny because he's speaking the truth, he's saying what everybody else is thinking. There will always be a certain lightness to him and an optimism despite the crazy things that are going on. That's not to say these things don't wear him down. They certainly do. As the show goes on and the team has close calls with followers and it gets more intense, it affects Mike more and more. Mike tends to use humor as a bit of a deflection, that's why it never goes away. I think that's how he deals with the world.
THR: You need that small ounce of levity, especially on a show that's incredibly grim.
Ashmore: Absolutely. It's not a punchline, it's supposed to be organic. If I do my job correctly with Mike, it won't feel iffy, it won't feel like a joke. It'll just feel like Mike being Mike. Kevin has given Mike that everyman perspective on what's going on, whereas Ryan is beaten down and holds everything in. Mike opens his mouth when it's all happening. [Laughs]
THR: At this point, we don't know much about how Mike factors into the bigger picture of The Following. When does he start to play a bigger role with the mythology?
Ashmore: It doesn't start to happen until later in the season, but you do start to find out where Mike came from, a little bit about his family. There is a key episode coming along where you find out a whole bunch about Mike. You find out that [stuff] because of a very specific situation that Mike is put in. He's given a huge decision to make, and based on that decision, you find out a lot about his history. Mike isn't just going to be the guy that's there running through a door with Ryan and coming up with information. You really start to care about him.
THR: When I spoke to executive producer Marcos Siega, he said everyone you meet on The Following ultimately matters "in a big way." Is that relevant to Mike? Is there more under the surface that we're not privy to and does he have another motive at play?
Ashmore: I wouldn't say that there's another motive or agenda. It's not like, "Oh! He's a follower! Guess what!" It's not like that. That's always a question for people, because Kevin Williamson has set up a world where you can't trust anybody. Even something as simple as Debra Parker handing Joe a book of poetry at the end of episode two, when I saw the episode, I was like, "Wait a minute!" All she did was give him the book that he asked for with Ryan. Why am I thinking that that's what she's doing [working with Joe]? I'm like, "Kevin got me, Kevin Williamson is in my head, too." He planted that seed that you can't trust anybody, so I don't think the motivations of people are always going to be as extreme as they're a follower. There will be subtler elements to people.
THR: Does Ryan start to accept Mike or is it always going to be a work in progress?
Ashmore: Ryan does start to accept Mike -- at least until this point, that's just not who Ryan Hardy is. He's so damaged and introverted. As you start to learn about Ryan, you learn this is not just the case that's done this to him, this is who he is. He's had a rough road; life has been a rough experience. He's never going to be the guy that's happy-go-lucky who sits down to have a nice chat. Ultimately, Ryan begins to trust Weston, and it's because of certain things he sees and situations that happen. The walls break down, but it's never that fully open. The show doesn't lend to that happening. You don't see these guys going home and watching the game together. This show is about the immediacy about the case, so we're on the road chasing somebody or we're in the lab desperately trying to track these people. You never really get a moment to breathe.
THR: The scene in the car with Mike trying to open up to Ryan was a nice change of pace. Do you have a favorite moment from the episode?
Ashmore: I loved that scene. It gives you that interaction. Mike's trying, and Ryan's shutting him down. There's a moment in that scene where Mike stands up for himself as much as he can. It shows Mike's strengths and also his willingness to keep reaching out.
THR: What's next for Mike?
Ashmore: There's a huge personal sacrifice Mike has to make for a case, probably three episodes down the road. To me, it's the biggest Mike moment in the entire show. It informs the audience about him and makes Ryan respect him about a thousand times more.
The Following airs 9 p.m. Mondays on Fox.