7:00pm PT by Danielle Turchiano
'The Following's' Michael Ealy on Being the "Best" Serial Killer: Theo "Doesn't Make Mistakes"
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the sixth episode of The Following's third season, "Reunion."]
Michael Ealy's The Following role has been billed "a new face of evil" and audiences finally learned why during Monday's hour.
Not only is Ealy's Theo a skilled hacker who can (and did) plant false emails on the FBI server and mess with elevators in order to trap a victim, but he is also a hands-on criminal. After he uses his hacking skills to set a trap, he follows through personally with the murder. And between fire, firing squad and garotting, his methods may be even more brutal than followers of The Following have seen before.
Ealy entered the third season as Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) was on his way out — literally. Joe, already on death row, was desperate enough for attention as well as Ryan Hardy's (Kevin Bacon) company that he made a deal to help Ryan get to Arthur Strauss (Gregg Henry) if Ryan would agree to keep coming back to visit him in prison until his final day.
But do Strauss' two strongest students actually know about each other? And how do Theo's methods compare to Joe's? The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Ealy to find out that and more.
In today's world, cyber crime may be even scarier than the thought of a bad guy in the shadows with a knife. But Theo certainly showcases the worst of both so far. What do you think sets him apart the most and makes him the most dangerous?
Theo doesn't maintain one particular signature with which he kills; he actually embraces it all, and what differentiates him from Joe Carroll is that he does not seek the attention. The advice that Strauss gives him — to stay underneath the water — Theo actually hangs onto that. He is a narcissist like Joe, but he does not want attention or followers. He wants to do his art. (Laughs.) The majority of serial killers do seek out the attention, and to a degree they want to get caught — but because that's not what Theo wants, it makes it harder for them to catch him because he doesn't make mistakes.
Is it a bigger draw or a bigger challenge to try to get into that mind-set?
I struggled to relate to a serial killer. But what I could relate to was he's someone who has a passion and a craft and he takes it very seriously. If Theo never met Ryan Hardy or any FBI agents he would be killing the rest of his life in perfect peace, like some great painter. That's how he looks at it, and that's how I looked at it.
Ryan is starting to catch onto him, if not catch up with him. So in saying that he doesn't want that attention, does he have a plan for what would happen if he gets closer to exposure, or will we start to see him lose control as episodes go on?
He always has a plan. And yes, the nature of the show is that the FBI is going to be in pursuit of Theo, so that's no big secret, so despite him wanting to remain under water or remain in the shadows, by nature of being connected to Strauss, you have to ask yourself, "How much longer can he be?" That's his big issue. He doesn't want to be connected to anyone because that's how you get caught. So he's a lone wolf; he doesn't need anyone else; he doesn't want anyone else around. And if you come between him and what he has to do, you will die. By the third episode of Theo's [arc] you'll see what exactly happens when Theo gets wind that they're onto him. And you'll see his backup plan.
He should be a lone wolf because the more others know what you're doing, the more at risk you are of getting in trouble for it, but he did trust Strauss all those years ago.
Theo looked at Strauss as a father figure, which he never had. That becomes even clearer later on this season. Theo even says it in his first episode, "I've never met anyone like me before." And that carries weight because this is the first time that someone sees Theo for who he really is and doesn't shun him or think he's weird. He actually gets him, and for the first time in that hospital room, it's kind of the birth of who Theo becomes. He's able to be himself around Strauss, and so of course he's going to owe him; he's going to be a student or a son.
And now there's Daisy [Ruth Kearney], who knows too much, as well.
What I can say is as the FBI gets closer and closer to figuring out who Theo is, he becomes much more unhinged about tying up all loose ends.
Obviously Theo is very complex already, but then they threw the curve ball that he was a family man, too. How much of that duality was part of what made this role exciting to you — to be able to show these different sides of what at first glance seems like just a very bad man?
That was always there, and I was happy [it was]. In doing research on serial killers and sociopaths, what I've learned in essence, the fundamental thing is it's genetic code. Despite what people may think, "Oh he's a monster" and all these other things, he was born this way. And that was kind of my in to the character. I was really intrigued with the idea that if I was born like Theo, I would not be Michael Ealy; I would be Theo. It doesn't matter how you look; the reality is, it's inside you. And that is fascinating to me because I could have easily been the real-life Theo if my genetic code had presented itself as such. And that's disturbing! Yes, as you see at the end he's got a family, but nothing is what you think it is, and quite honestly we all have to know that [these people] are out there. They tend to blend in, and that is one of the scariest elements of the show to me! And we're kind of showing people that they might think these people only exist in movies or on television, but [no], they're out there, and they could have been in your lives since childhood. That's terrifying!
Along those lines, the show has already said a couple of times that Theo was the "best" of that bunch. What does that exactly mean?
A lot of that was centered on Joe: although Joe may have been [Strauss'] most notorious student, Theo was his best because, technically, Theo stuck to the rule of thumb. That advice that Strauss gives Theo [about staying underwater], he gave to Joe. And what's interesting about Joe is there's a part of Theo, I think, that actually likes that Joe has done what he's done because Joe draws attention and that enables Theo to [be]. Everybody's focused on Joe; they don't know Theo is a threat. He kind of needs him.
Yet if Joe heard for years that Theo was better than him, it should have made Theo his first target. Is there really no rivalry there?
Well, do you think Strauss ever told Joe that he had another student? He's a master manipulator! There's no way he told Joe that someone else is the best student; it's just not going to happen!
The Following airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Fox. What do you think of Ealy's Theo so far? Sound off in the comments below.