“The Following” has so much more going for it than six degrees of star power (Kevin Bacon is the lead). The creepy-as-hell crime thriller about a serial killer/cult leader with legions of murderous devotees scares up all kinds of drama. We spoke with Shawn Ashmore, who plays Bacon’s fellow cop Mike Weston, about serial killers, sweaty palms and the appeal of horror TV.
What drew you to this project? Are you really into horror movies? I’m definitely a fan of horror films and genre films. The best horror films, at least in my opinion, are the ones that create great characters for the first hour and then deliver on the scares. I love slow-burn storytelling when it comes to horror films. All of these things kind of came together and made me realize that this was a show that I would probably watch and something that I would want to be a part of.
I feel like there is a trend right now in dark TV, horror shows and the like. What do you attribute that to? There’s an audience for horror films, so certainly there will be an audience, especially when well done, for horror television. And horror films tend to do really well at the box office, because I think people want to be scared; there is something fun about sitting in a movie theater or sitting at home with the lights out and your pulse racing and your palms sweating. I can’t think of any other type of entertainment that physically involves you and stimulates you as much as horror stuff, as genre stuff. Like when you can’t stand to watch the TV, when you have a tingle running up your spine and when your palms are sweaty. And when you turn the episode off and you go and double-check that your front door is locked because there might be a follower outside, you know what I mean? That’s the effect of entertainment.
Do you ever find yourself bringing your work home with you? Hearing bumps in the night, or getting scared when you’re home alone, because your mind is on the show? No. The stuff that scares me is all supernatural stuff, ghosts, possessions. Obviously the idea of someone breaking into my house and murdering me is terrifying, but I feel like I could protect myself to a certain extent from something like that. So, really, it’s the unknown that scares me the most. It’s the supernatural. The second I finished the pilot, after doing a ton of research on serial killers and stuff like that, I did install an upgraded security system in my house, so I can’t say that it had no effect on me, but yeah, it’s not something I really get freaked out about.
Do you have a favorite serial killer now? I won’t say favorite, but I did watch a ton of documentaries on YouTube. I spent days watching. The one serial killer that got under my skin the most was Jeffrey Dahmer. He was just so evil. They all are. I mean if you commit those kinds of crimes ... they may be mentally ill, but they are going unchecked. These people were committing acts that — in my mind — I can only explain as evil. But Dahmer was one that really freaked me out.
I watched an interview with him once, when he was in jail, and what was scariest about him, to me, was that he seemed very charming and personable. Some people have discussions about Joe Carroll [from “The Following”]: You know, he’s too handsome and blah blah blah. Serial killers are most effective when they’re charming and handsome, because they’re chameleons. That’s why they’re successful, because you don’t see them coming. I mean if you see a guy that looks like a madman running around, the second you see him, your guard is up, and those are the guys that get caught right away. The ones that are most successful are the best manipulators, the most handsome, the best liars, the most charming, all those things. I think that’s why we have this fascination with serial killers: because we want to be able to stop them and see them coming. But if they’re good at what they do, if they don’t fit that profile, that’s what’s scary.
So, I watch a lot of horror movies and have this secret idea that if I ever found myself in a real-life horror situation, I would be the one survivor... [Laughs] Why? What’s your plan?
I don’t have one, specifically. I just think I’d know what to do. So, do you feel that way, from being on the show? No. I wish I did. This is my real nightmare: There being a zombie apocalypse and me living in a house with all sorts of windows and having nowhere to go. So, in my dreams, I have, like, prepared a bunker and am a nut job that has a bunch of weapons and firearms just in case a zombie apocalypse happens. I don’t have any of those things, but I have dreams of how I would set up a house to protect myself from that. It hasn’t happened and I hope it never does.
What would be the first thing you'd do in case of a zombiepocalypse? Well, first of all, don’t have any windows on the ground floor. You have to be elevated and you have to have weapons and food. I don’t think you'll ever outlast them, you just have to last as long as you can.
In the beginning of the first season, I remember thinking that your character was going to end up being one of the bad guys, because you were such a creep. [Laughs] Did you just say creep?
Yeah. I got a really creepy vibe from your character, initially. It boggles my mind, because that was never a discussion, never a planned thing. We did the [Television Critics Association press tour] last year, which is the first time we did press and the first question anyone ever directed at me — this lady was like, “Weston is kind of this creepy character...” And I was like, “What?” I was kind of taken aback. Because we’re not trying to play him creepy; never has the discussion been about that. What I realized is how effective the pilot was. [Show creator Kevin] Williamson created this storyline and planted the seed that anyone could be a follower. And that’s also when I knew this show was going to be really popular, because that means that people are turning off their TVs and creating the story afterwards.
Season 2 of "The Following" premieres on Fox on Sunday, Jan. 19 at 10:30 p.m., and then returns to its regular Monday, 9 p.m. time slot.