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Each season, Fox’s murder-filled drama The Following reinvents itself. Between seasons one and two, the world expanded so that Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) and the followers he had taken under his wing weren’t the only ones Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) was hunting. But the change between seasons two and three is much greater.
Not only was there the usual revolving door of cast members but a major behind-the-scenes shake-up saw series creator Kevin Williamson exit day-to-day duties (to focus on CBS’ Stalker). Jennifer Johnson, the showrunner originally hired to replace him, followed only a few months later. That left writers Alexi Hawley and Brett Mahoney, as well as director Marcos Siega, to step up to take the reins of the thriller and shift its focus to incorporate a new slate of villains while also putting a complex puzzle together.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Siega to discuss how the show moves on with a reduced Joe Carroll and more.
When The Following started, it was centered on that cat and mouse game between Ryan and Joe. This season will not have that; what element replaces it?
There was always this plan that the show had to evolve once we closed a certain chapter, and that evolution was we had a lot of ideas for what that could be and what we wanted that to be. The way we’ve broken it up is [Joe] is still a very important part of this season, but we do close his chapter here, and we kind of broke the season up into sort of three chapters, which are all part of the big picture. I can’t go into too much detail, but there is a very specific design to transition us to that thing where you may say, “Well, the show was this before, and how are you going to get there again?” You can’t just jump in and say, “This is the new thing.” We wanted the transition to feel very much like our show [has been]: you’re going to get invested in characters; you’re going to get invested in story; and then we surprise you. And when that starts to happen, that’s where we launch into that next phase.
What do you consider that next phase?
I’m talking beyond Mark [Sam Underwood]. Mark is still part of the bridge. He’s still going to play a part, and he kind of has a foot in both worlds, but it goes beyond Mark.
Many viewers may not believe Joe is not connected to these new crimes and criminals because of how wide his influence spreads and how trained they’ve been to not accept someone is really gone until the body is cold. How will you respond to that?
You can’t trust at all. You don’t know. But I will say this: the things you’re asking would sort of imply that in order to really enjoy this you’d have to be well versed in the history of the show…The idea here is that we wanted season three, as we transitioned to this next phase, to be a season that you can jump into, and if you’ve never seen anything, you will catch up in a couple of episodes. It’s almost like a pilot. You can jump in and be on board. And the nature of that very thing– being able to do that– some of these stories aren’t going to be too deeply rooted in the past.
Along those lines, how on edge should audiences be about the new characters in Ryan and Max [Jessica Stroup]’s personal lives?
I think that’s an inherent part of the show. We went out of our way in season one to set that up [and it still stands]. In the pilot, Joe says to Ryan…”Do you have any friends, Ryan? Because I do.” And from that moment on you don’t know who to trust. We introduced the nanny and the neighbors and the guard, and I think we delivered on that in season one. Everyone thought Parker [Annie Parisse] had to be bad [because] she gave Joe a book! But she wasn’t. So we’ve earned that, let’s call it, distrust that we were looking for. Absolutely that carries into this season, and I think the bad version would be the obvious: everyone you think is going to be bad is bad, but we are very careful in how we pull those layers back.
With the show going through so many changes both behind-the-scenes and on-screen, what are you relying on most to show it is still the same show?
I think a big part of evolving a show and still retaining your fans and your audience is that you don’t want them to feel like they’re watching a different show, and that’s a challenge. But visually, it’s sort of easy because we’re approaching everything in the same way; we create the scares and the suspense the same way…Ultimately if you like this kind of show– and I’m not saying it’s for everyone– you like sitting on the edge of your seat; you like every once in awhile seeing it through your fingers while you cover your face. That part of the show is going to stay the same, and I do think the drama side of it [does as well]. Kevin Williamson is so good at creating these characters and interweaving these stories where you’re so invested in your heroes and in your villains, and sometimes you find yourself rooting for the villains, and I really want the show to maintain that aspect of it.
It’s already clear that this season is revisiting the past by staging new crime scenes like the murders of season two. How did you approach making them recognizable but still unique enough to be shocking?
We wanted to have these moments that just kind of hang over you and create a sense of suspense, a sense of dread. The one thing I really wanted to change this year was that we didn’t always need to have the on-camera violence as the thing that shocked you or the thing that made you sit on the edge of your seat or made you turn away. The good thing about having done all of that violence is that in some way, the audience that knows the show expects it and is always thinking, “It’s going to happen; it’s going to happen.” (Laughs) And that’s part of experiencing a show of this genre. And for the audience that’s never seen the show, I still think we create enough suspense where they’re thinking something bad is going to happen.
What has been the biggest difference or adjustment for you behind-the-scenes without Williamson at the helm?
The single biggest change is that we are just looking at how effective that [violence] is or isn’t, and I don’t like the idea of turning an audience off. You know, there’s a very small group of our audience that can actually tolerate that amount of violence. (Laughs) Look, we got criticism for it last year, and [this isn’t] just us responding to critics saying it’s too violent; it genuinely came from people who I think would genuinely enjoy our show hearing too much negativity about the violence and not giving us a chance. And I love the show, and Kevin Bacon has invested so much in this, and Kevin Williamson has invested so much in this, we’re just kind of going, “Let’s give them the same show, but let’s be aware.” And I don’t see that as a compromise because the show hasn’t changed. It’s just we know what really didn’t work last year for our fans.
The Following‘s third season premieres March 2 at 9 p.m. on Fox. Stay tuned to THR’s The Live Feed after the episode for more from Siega.
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