Corey Stoll on ‘The Strain’ and the Danger of Not Falling into “Melodrama”

Corey Stoll in The Strain

Corey Stoll is having a red-hot couple of years. From House of Cards and Ant-Man to the upcoming Black Mass, he’s everywhere. And that’s a good thing because he’s so damn terrific. Adding to the list is The Strain, now in its second season.

Stoll stars as Dr. Ephraim Goodweather on the FX hit and he said in a recent conference call that this season has been a bit different. “The material was so different from Season 1 to Season 2 in terms of the types of scenes that I had.”

In this interview, Stoll talks about the show and his role, working with special effects, last seasons ‘wig gate’ controversy and more!

The Strain airs on Sundays at 10pm on FX

The majority of your roles, and you have a long, long list to your credit, they’re very much more reality based than this scenario on The Strain. How has it been as an actor for you to operate in this world, especially one created by Guillermo del Toro where anything can really happen? It must be very interesting.

Corey Stoll: Yeah, it’s an interesting challenge and it’s one where I think we took—Carlton [Cuse] and I at the beginning of Season 2 felt the need to sort of adjust a little bit because so much of what the show is about is about the tone and the look and the style and the feel of it which is unique.   There are other vampire shows and other vampire movies out there but Guillermo brings something unique and so trying to find that right balance to sort of be in the same show.

I think it’s a pretty good challenge with this show where the stakes are incredibly high but it’s not the same world that we live in, and there’s also a real, sort of a wicked sense of humor that runs throughout the whole thing. I think in this season there’s a lot of conversations between Carlton and myself about how to have me participate in that sense of humor because I think the danger is often to sort of fall into melodrama. It’s sort of about being in that same world where these stakes are incredibly high, but you have to sort of keep one part of your tongue in your cheek a little bit.

Ant-Man was probably my favorite movie of the summer so far, so I hope you had as much fun making it as I had watching it.

Corey Stoll: Probably more.

At Comic-Con you said that this season, you would really see a lot more of the relationship develop between Eph and his son. I wondered for you as an actor, since they’ve recast Zach for this season, if it’s been more difficult to kind of formulate that relationship because you don’t have the first season to kind of draw on working with the other actor?

Corey Stoll: The material was so different from Season 1 to Season 2 in terms of the types of scenes that I had. It really is almost—it would almost be a whole new sort of relationship even with the same actor. I think maybe that had something to do with the recasting with a sense of that this character was going in a very different direction from where he had been in the first season.

So, just the very nature of the scenes are so different. In the first season, Zach was really an object really in the fight between Kelly and Eph. Here in this season he’s much more willful and self-governed.

There was a lot made of the “Wig Gate.” I just wanted to ask you, are you kind of relieved that that’s behind you now and were surprised at all the attention that that got while it did?

Corey Stoll: Yes, I’m relieved and I spoke about this at the TCAs that it was, just from the sense that it was a distraction for the audience. It’s unfortunate, and there’s an unfortunate bargain that every actor has to make; they don’t have to make, but often makes is that the more you work the more recognizable you are. That can be helpful in getting you more work but it’s detrimental to your job as an actor because you’re less able to disappear into the role.

I can see why someone like Johnny Depp has gotten so enamored of really intense hair and makeup for his roles because when you get that famous it can sort of be the only way to really do your job, just sort of become somebody else. So that’s an unfortunate thing that people’s ability to see past the image. It was limited here. So yeah, it’s a relief to have that not be an issue in this particular project.

Since Ant-Man was mentioned, has your life changed much since the big hit movie came out. Are you recognized more?

Corey Stoll: You know, I have not noticed a big difference. I was pretty recognizable before and was stopped pretty often. The one thing that I was sort of bracing myself for was that children would be stopping me and that would sort of be another level of, sort of, intensity, but I think children don’t quite, they’re not expecting to see people from movies walking around.

I remember growing up, my elementary school was on the same block as Christopher Reeve’s apartment.   I remember very vividly seeing him, you know we were a group and seeing him walking down the street and you know, everybody just is going crazy that there was Superman. Then occasionally he would have like a disguise he would put on.   He had glasses and I think he even put on a fake beard or something because you know, that you had Superman living on the same block as an elementary school could be a real problem.   So I was sort of expecting the worst, but that doesn’t seem to be my problem.

If Ephraim were to get into a fight with Darren Cross, ‘Yellowjacket,’ who do you think would win?

Corey Stoll: Darren Cross.

He fights dirty?

Corey Stoll: Yeah, and Darren Cross has a daily workout session; he’s in top shape and he’s very aggressive.

There’s a lot of really great and gross makeup and special effects and everything in the show. Can you talk about working with them and also was there any that’s ever really grossed you out?

Corey Stoll: This season there were a few things in the beginning in the first season, there was like a bashed in head and a couple bashed in heads and the autopsy. In this season there seems to be a little bit of, at least from my feelings, this is my exposure to it, a little bit of a break from that.

Just in terms of my exposure to the makeup, it’s sort of a daily—it’s an amazing thing to see on a daily basis. You come in at 6:00 a.m. in the morning on a Monday and the makeup people have been there for hours already churning out this army of vampires who all have their own unique, you know, level of transformation and different degrees of turning into vampires. It’s really an incredible level of artistry and industry. It’s really a bit of a conveyor belt but every vampire is sort of a bespoke job.

Is there anybody in particular you took inspiration from when you started the role, either a character, well besides the book, I mean obviously?

Corey Stoll: No, I mean, surely I wasn’t modeling the character after anybody. No, no, I really wasn’t. There’s all of the, sort of great, cool actors who have played irascible, brilliant, you know like [indiscernible] but I don’t want to name any of them because then that will be the headline.

A lot of shows these days, there’s that hard decision of whether or not there’s going to be a definite end, in like, Breaking Bad, they knew they wanted to end around Season 5, and in other shows they’re made to keep going, like The Walking Dead. Is there any plan for a definite ending of The Strain or are you guys going to keep going?

Corey Stoll: I mean, according to Carlton, it’s a very specific 5 to 6 episode arc, where at the end of—it will go for three more seasons.   The idea is not to feel the need to tread water and sort of stretch it out and the conception of it is as a [indiscernible].

Was there something that was a horror film, horror icon or a creepy story that really stuck with you in your youth that resurfaces when you’re on set with these things?

Corey Stoll: I don’t know if there’s something that resurfaces; it’s hard to explain but it’s just when you’re on the set, there’s a moment when you first get on set where you see the lighting and the makeup and everything and there is a moment of, wow, that’s really cool. And then by the fourth set up and the twentieth take, you know, it just becomes work.

You’re playing make-believe, so you’re getting yourself into a state of terror. The stuff isn’t really scary on its own pretty much after your first time doing it.

You mentioned Johnny Depp briefly earlier, have you had the chance to see a cut of Black Mass yet and is there anything really in particular you’re excited about when it comes out in September?

Corey Stoll: Yeah, I’ve seen it and it’s great. Yeah, it’s an incredibly complex story to tell with a lot of characters and in sort of a complicated idea of what the power structures are within the Mob and within the FBI and Justice Department. It’s very elegantly, I think, told and the performances across the board are really fine. The whole movie, I’m really, I’m proud to have my small part in it.

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