'The Strain's' Rupert Penry-Jones: "This Quinlan Is Very Different Than the Books"

The actor talks about the pressure of taking on the fan-favorite character.
Courtesy of FX

When Guillermo del Toro and Carlton Cuse introduced Stephen McHattie in the first season of The Strain, it was with the intention that fans who had read the books would automatically assume he was Quinlan, a fan-favorite character with special ties to The Master. 

Instead, McHattie turned out to be a made-for-TV character named Vaun who suddenly perished two weeks ago. That exit opened the door open for the real Quinlan's top-secret return, although what he'll actually get up to remains shrouded in mystery.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Quinlan portrayer Rupert Penry-Jones to get the low-down on how this version of the character will be different from the books, replacing McHattie and learning to embrace prosthetics.

Did Guillermo del Toro seek you out for this?

I was filming something in the deepest, darkest, southern England, something called Life in Squares and I downloaded about four or five episodes of The Strain as a fan basically. And then my agent called and said that I’d been asked to come in and read for the role. I got the books, read them as quickly as I could, and when I got to Quinlan in the second book, realized that he had no nose, no ears, and that he didn’t speak; he just spoke to everyone through telepathy. I thought, 'Oh dear, that doesn’t sound like something I would like to sign up for.' As much as I wanted to be a part of the project, I didn’t want to have no nose, no ears and not be able to speak. But then Guillermo called me to speak about the part and said they would be adapting it to work on television.

What is it like to work under that del Toro machine?

It’s like nothing I’d ever experienced before. He’s a force of nature; an amazing man. He’s got an aura about him. When you’re around him you feel like you’re around someone very special. He makes you feel welcome and gives you big hugs… just one of those special people that makes everyone feel great about being with him. He’s like a big kid in a candy store. I don’t think he’s ever grown up from the days he was a kid and used to draw comics and film movies on his video camera. It’s infectious and makes everybody have a great time too.

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Quinlan is one of his favorite characters. Did you feel that pressure?

The pressure really comes from the guy who ends up being Vaun, because he was my favorite character on the show and when they told me they were replacing him... they needed someone who was a little more physically able to do the role as well. I have to do lots of sword fighting and jumping around, things like that.

So I was basically taking over from someone I thought was fantastic. To step into his shoes is what the pressure is. As a fan, I’m sort of upset that he’s no longer in the show. I’m nervous about people thinking that he should have stayed as Quinlan. But Guillermo made me feel nothing but confident and comfortable about it. He watched the first few days I was on set filming and was very involved in my look and the makeup. I do feel nervous that people are going to not like him. This Quinlan is very different than the books. I’m a bit more human than the Quinlan in the books. The book people might take a bit of time to get used to it.

How quickly will we learn about his background?

In this series, it is a slow burn. He’s there once he joins, but in “The Born,” you get a bit back more into him. There are so many people they need to service in the show so coming in as a new character, it’s a bit slow.

Will he meet up with the team at any point?

He keeps turning up (for certain characters) when they need him to. He uses them to use the force against the Master. This season is about Quinlan and the team starting to work together.

Were you happy with his overall look?

I’d never had to wear prosthetics before. Working with a new face worried me, but ended up being my favorite thing. I’d go to the monitor and check what it looked like with certain expressions and things. I love the way he looks. It’s very exciting. I said I wanted to do something different, and I really am doing something different. 

Are you excited to dig into Quinlan's background? Sound off below. 

The Strain airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on FX.

Twitter: @amber_dowling

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