'The Following's' Sam Underwood: The "Dominoes Just Keep Falling" for Mark

The actor tells THR that his once-methodical serial killer character is the biggest threat to himself now.
Christopher Fragapane/FOX

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from "Exposed," the third episode of The Following's third season.]

It was alluded to, in the first two episodes of The Following's third season, that Mark (Sam Underwood) was not the big man on murder campus that he was presumed to be. And it didn't take long for those suspicions to be confirmed in the third episode.

Daisy (Ruth Kearney) and Kyle (Hunter Parrish) were cohorting with another — someone with plans for Ryan (Kevin Bacon) and Max (Jessica Stroup) that were separate and sped up from Mark's own agenda. While Mark was lost in his own head and anger for a while, especially when Ryan called him out during a televised press conference, he was tipped off to his partners in crime's disillusionment and disrespect by the reporter he had taken hostage. It isn't just the good guys on The Following who don't know whom to trust this season. 

"For the entirety of season three Mark is in the dark about what is going on. He thinks he's in control of people, and obviously that's just not the case in the slightest! Mark is so out of his depth; it's interesting because he's not a big baddie — he's not really capable of honestly being the Joe Carroll or whoever it is — so he finds himself having to constantly improvise or adjust what his plans were," Underwood says.

The Hollywood Reporter talked with Underwood about the third season of The Following now that the heat is on Mark in more ways than one.

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Mark has been tipped off to just how little control he may actually have over others in his "plan." Is he actually capable and aware enough to realize it?

They don't want the bad guys to always be smarter than the good guys in this show, so honestly, I think it would have been a huge leap for Mark to suddenly be an intense, smart bad guy. He had always relied on needing his brother, needing his mother, and for this season, that's the character drive for Mark: He doesn't fare too well on his own. He's a bit bumbling. (Laughs.) But Mark's not a stupid person; he's not unaware; he's very observant. Everything happens so quickly in this season that as soon as the first smell comes of "something's not right," he kind of latches onto that, and the Luke-esque quality of his persona really is the devil on his shoulder telling him to stay on these guys and not to trust them. Mark wants to be able to trust people and be a good, kind and generous person, but he's only able to be the way that he is. And episode three [was] definitely a turning point in knowing there's something suspicious going on.

Mentioning Luke, he really is just a voice in Mark's own head right now. Mark is giving that voice Luke's face and projecting a part of himself onto an image of his brother, but it is just a part of himself; he has greater capabilities within him. Why do you feel he still needs his brother to push him, rather than to just push himself?

It's part of the grieving process but also a survival technique. Mark has never known how to cope doing anything without having his brother there, so for Mark, the best way to survive — the best way to move forward — his coping mechanism, rather than [always] talking to himself in a mirror, talking himself into something, he needs that struggle. He needs to act weak in order to have Luke give him a kick up the ass, to get aggressive. He's really not a self-assured person. He's not confident in trusting himself. He needs to conjure up what Luke would say to him to make him move forward. Nothing has ever been said that's specifically diagnosed for this character, but [I see it] almost like someone with OCD. They can't leave the house without turning the lock five times and doing all of these things. At the end of the day, they know they're going to get out of the door, but "I need to do this before I can move forward."

What's the process like for you filming this season since you're no longer playing two physically different characters?

It's a lot more relaxed! I'm not switching the look into a completely different person all of the time. But I still found this season, honestly, a huge challenge. Because the fear of doing something like [Mark having a conversation with himself as Mark and Luke] is that if they just used one big shot and didn't use cuts or voiceover sometimes, you might not know what Mark is actually doing and what he's just hearing in his head. It's very unnerving being on set and flipping in and out of playing two people, when I'm not actually playing two people. Because I'm not: I'm playing Mark imagining what Luke would say. So, [co-showrunner and director] Marcos [Siega] and I really sat down at the beginning and said, "These have really got to be the guidelines for how Mark does this." So sometimes Mark already knows what Luke would say back, so it has to flow like a conversation, rather than be stop-start, stop-start. It's interesting because most of those moments that end up in the episode [are] with a slight overlap of voiceover. I think that's the most impactful moment because you're getting the best of both worlds. It's that Smeagol/Gollum thing! It's fun, but it's a big challenge, and I haven't taken it lightly.

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At this point, Mark is still resigned to going after everyone who killed his family and lied about it in order to teach them a lesson, so he's still not ready to outright kill them. How do you feel about that strategy?

At the end of the day, the idea of "Oh, let's toy with them! Let's string them out; let's make them all suffer," you're asking for trouble! You're asking for things to go wrong! Obviously I think that's a bad [idea], and there have been times I've talked with the writers and directors about how smart do we actually want to make Mark [versus] how much of a patsy we want to make Mark. It's honestly been more interesting for me to submit to the fact that Mark really does not have all his shit together! I think that's way more believable. You're seeing someone who you never thought would have the balls or confidence [to do this on his own]. He's letting emotion and rash decision push him forward. In season two, Mark was very methodical, so balancing those two things out this season has been interesting.

What is the biggest threat to Mark at this point in the season?

The people that are in direct contact with Mark are Daisy and Kyle, and even with Mark not being the most confident one, he now knows that he can't trust them as much as he could throw them, so I don't think he's as threatened by them. The biggest thing which is going to be a threat to Mark from this point on is his not really having a solid plan. As soon as something starts to fall apart, the dominoes just keep falling, and he continues to make decisions that he thinks Luke would make, and that just keeps getting him into trouble. So I would probably say himself!

Is there anyone in Mark's life, that we've met or that we're about to, who he can actually lean on or who is a true ally to him at this point?

No, I would say Mark is completely on his own.

It sounds so sad when you say it like that, even though he is a killer, and shouldn't have help!

It is sad! But it's what keeps Mark going this season: He has no one, so he has to keep pushing forward.

What will we learn about Mark through flashbacks this season?

We really haven't done any flashbacks. It's very much just about pushing forward. Mark's role in this season is all about the forward momentum. There really isn't any nostalgia. His emotion of missing people is built into the show, but not in flashback form.

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From your roles on Dexter to Homeland and now The Following, you have consistently played very complex, dark young men. Are you still drawn to such darkness today, or are you now at a point in your career where you're concerned about typecasting?

I don't want to get typecast, definitely! But usually the more complex and interesting things to play are the ones that are the furthest from me as a person — getting to explore things that I don't get to explore things as a human being myself. I will always be fascinated and will enjoy tackling complex and dark characters. They seem to get written a lot more thoroughly than some surface romantic roles sometimes, and I find them more interesting. But I definitely think leaving psychopaths and serial killers aside is a thing I plan on doing. It's definitely why, strategically, I'm looking at getting back into musical theater and looking toward doing some roles and independent films that show more of the romantic side to my personality. It's showing the other aspect of what I do.

The Following airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Fox. Do you think Mark can be successful without Luke? Let your voices be heard about season three so far in the comments below.

Twitter: @danielletbd