Interview with Michael Ealy of THE FOLLOWING
Michael Ealy of THE FOLLOWING
Michael Ealy as Theo
With their latest target on the run, Ryan and Mike follow a tip to a small town to investigate and confirm he isn’t seeking protection. While in town, they both discover an even larger threat who has managed to avoid suspicion up until now. Meanwhile, Max struggles to make a confession in the all-new “Reunion” episode of THE FOLLOWING airing Monday, March 30 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (TV-14 D, L, V)
From his breakout role in “Barbershop” and “Barbershop 2,” Michael Ealyhas quickly risening through the ranks as one of Hollywood’s leading male actors.
For the last few years, Ealy has jumped from TV to film and back to TV, seamlessly. He most recently wrapped filming “The Perfect Guy,” in which he starred and is executive producer. Prior to that, he starred in the remake of “About Last Night” and “Think Like A Man Too,” the sequel to the smash hit feature film, “Think Like A Man,” opposite Kevin Hart.
Ealy starred in FOX’s sci-fi drama “Almost Human” and on cable’s “Common Law.” He earned a Golden Globe Award nomination for his starring role in the cable miniseries “Sleeper Cell.” He was featured in multi-episode arcs on “The Good Wife” and cable’s “Californication,” and guest-starred on “Law & Order,” “Soul Food” and “ER.”
In film, Ealy starred in the feature adaptation of “For Colored Girls Only, Who Consider Committing Suicide When The Rainbow Is Not Enough”; “Seven Pounds,” opposite Will Smith; and in Spike Lee’s World War II movie, “The Miracle at St. Anna.” He also starred opposite Halle Berry in “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Other roles include the critically acclaimed “Kissing Jessica Stein,” “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “Bad Company.” A student of history and supporter of education, Ealywas a featured participant in the docu-mini-series, “The People Speak.”
Ealy also has performed in several stage productions, including the off-Broadway hits “Joe Fearless” and “Whoa Jack,” for which he earned an Adelco Award nomination for his performance.
Cast: Kevin Bacon as Ryan Hardy; James Purefoy as Joe Carroll; Shawn Ashmore as Agent Mike Weston; Jessica Stroup as Max Hardy; Sam Underwood as Mark; Zuleikha Robinson as Gwen; Gregg Henry as Dr. Strauss; Michael Ealy as Theo
Guest Cast: Gbenga Akinnagbe as Tom; Tobias Segal as Pat; Michael Gaston as Sheriff Windsor; Ruth Kearney as Daisy; Tim Guinee as Duncan; Eric Nelsen as Justin Windsort; Elia Monte-Brown as Michelle Leeks; Allison Mack as Hillary; Susan Kelechi Watson as Cindy; Monique Gabriela Curnen as Erin Sloan
You’ve always played the good guy roles. Do you enjoy playing the villain now?
Michael Ealy: I think for me it’s about showing range and versatility, and when the opportunity to join The Following came up, it was the first or second time I was given the opportunity to actually play a villain. You’re right, I have played a lot of good guys, but it’s a nice change. It’s a really nice change of pace. I don’t know if I prefer it so much as I just enjoy being able to go back and forth.
Are there any familiar faces in this series?
Michael Ealy: Well, yes. I think I work with almost everyone in the show at some point or another….
Have you steered away from what was scripted?
Michael Ealy: Theo. Is there anything that I added? I think for me it was kind of daunting to walk onto the show knowing that you’re going play a villain and the infamous Joe Carroll, played by James Purefoy, was already a well-established villain. And I think one of the things that I tried to do that wasn’t always scripted was try and steer away from Joe’s rhythm of speech and the clever banter back and forth. I think Theo, I wanted to make Theo a bit more terrifying and not be so, not go down the same path as Joe. I didn’t want him to be familiar to Joe and so I think I tried to make him more scary.
Were there any hesitation in joining this cast?
Michael Ealy: You know, there’s always going to be some hesitation in joining a pretty well-established cast because you’re definitely going to feel like the new guy. I’d say on this particular show, this crew is so much fun to work with, and so amazing that literally by day two I felt like I belonged and I felt welcomed. And I felt like, okay, this is going to be a fun ride, and it has been. It’s lived up to that hype.
Brett Mahony describes Theo as a chameleon. Would you elaborate on that?
Michael Ealy: Okay. Yes. Theo has the ability to morph into various identities, both physically and logistically. So if he takes on a different persona, or a different identity rather, he’ll change himself physically. Not like a shape-shifter, okay, not like a shape-shifter or anything like that, but with disguises and all that stuff. Even at one point I think he wears contact lenses. We go through the motions, he goes into full detail whenever he takes on an identity to kill. I think it’s his passion. And when he does pursue his passion, he tends to morph into another identity as opposed to killing just as Theo. And I think that, I hope, makes it clear. And in terms of logistics, he is a hacking genius. So all of his paperwork, everything about him adds up and so it makes him much more difficult to track because physically he’s transformed, and logistically he’s transformed. I think that’s what Brett is talking about when he says he’s a chameleon.
Is there anyone that you took inspiration— for this character from, or maybe research that you did on this kind of character?
Michael Ealy: Yes. Obviously you look into certain serial killers and you read up on these guys and the narcissism behind them, and if anything, I kind of wanted to become somewhat of an anti-serial killer. In that, unlike Joe, Theo does not seek the glory, the fame, the followers. And that’s what I think, this is where I kind of separated myself from most serial killers. Theo does not seek out the glory and the fame, he would rather be left alone and be able to fulfill that blood-lust, under the radar. At the same time he does possess some of the narcissist qualities that other serial killers do have. But one of things you’ll see in the first episode that comes up on Monday, is he doesn’t necessarily embrace just one particular style, or one signature. He has embraced them all and he doesn’t believe in limiting himself to just one methodology or one signature, it’s pretty disturbing in that way. And at the same time kind of fascinating because he ends up becoming more of a collective type of serial killer. You know what I mean?
Did you find a particular challenge in this role compared to others that you’ve done?
Michael Ealy: Absolutely. I think the challenge was to try and understand the character. Previous characters that I’ve played, I’ve always been able to kind of identify with some element, if not most of the elements of the character, not only because they’re good guys, but because of whatever it is that they’re searching for in life. And what I found difficult about Theo was, I don’t have a blood lust, I don’t have a desire to kill, and more importantly, based on what I’ve read and doing research about these guys and sociopaths in general, being born this way is not something that can really be figured out or explained. The idea that the difference between me and Theo is just a genetic code is frightening. It’s kind of frightening because technically I could be Theo if I just had a different genetic code. I wouldn’t be an actor, I’d just be Theo, and that was frightening to me. But at the same time it was very alluring and it also made me realize that I’ve got to find something about the character that I identify with. And what I found was, what I was mentioning earlier, this theory of wanting to stay underneath the radar. Oftentimes in my own career, I’ve chosen to stay underneath the radar and protect my family, and protect myself prior to having a family, and do my work, and retreat back into my little bubble. That’s harder to do nowadays in this business, and so Theo wanting to not be Joe, not wanting followers, not wanting the attention from the media. All of that, I think was my “in” for Theo.
How was it working with Kevin Bacon as Ryan Hardy’s nemesis.
Michael Ealy: Kevin is an icon in the business, and his character is, as you see this season, it’s even more apparent this season, that his character is so much closer to the villain’s than you think. You know what I mean? You think he’s an FBI guy, he’s going to do the right thing. We were talking about this on set the other day, and I was like, “You know, I think Ryan might have a higher body count than Theo or Joe.” He has, it’s interesting the way the show is set up, but I find that technically his character has ended more lives than any of the villains on the show. It’s something that nobody pays attention to it or thinks about. It’s interesting because he does it as law enforcement, so it’s okay. But at the same time, make no mistake he’s saving lives. But at the same time, what does that do to a person’s spirit, to a person’s soul over time? And I think you’re going to see some of that from him this season, and he’s doing some wonderful work with Ryan and it’s kind of fascinating to watch him live, watch the character, Ryan Hardy, live with these demons, and live these issues of ending life constantly, and how many of those people stick with you. I find it fascinating to think that the line between good and evil is extremely thin. It’s extremely thin and I think this show is a great indicator of just how thin that line is.
You’re both a film and TV actor, how do you choose your roles?
Michael Ealy: I tend to look for roles that have impact. I paid my dues early on where I was just happy to be in the show or in the movie. And at this point in my career I need to have impact in the story I need to be focused upon, because that’s the only way I can really impact the show. To be able to come into this show and be the new big, bad villain, that was an impactful role. And as I said before, it was also a role that it took me a while, but eventually I was able to find an “in” and a connection with this character and that’s always the challenge. You should always challenge yourself as an actor to find the connection between you and the character, and this one was probably one of the most difficult times I’ve ever had finding the connection.
Is there a part or a person that you would want to play in the future, like in a biopic?
Michael Ealy: Yes. I get this question from time to time and here’s the thing, I can’t say what that character is because if I say it and you print it, then someone else goes out and buys the rights and I don’t get to play that person. But yes, doing a biopic is definitely on the bucket list in terms of my career to be able to wear the shoes of some individual, whether they’re known historically or not, would be a joy for sure.
What would be something that someone would be surprised to know about you other than you’re a talented actor? Do you sing, do you play music, do you have an album?
Michael Ealy: I do sing and I do play music, but none of it would ever, ever qualify as music or singing. Does that make sense? That’s a joke. I love to sing, I love, love, love to sing— I just can’t.
Michael Ealy: It’s kind of unbearable long-term. Although I can hold certain notes, and my son actually likes it when I sing to him. Yes. That’s something that I don’t share often. But yes, I can hold a note, I just can’t really sing like John Legend can really sing. You know what I mean? I can hold a note or two. And as far as playing music is concerned, I’m really good with beating on a table as like a drum beat. I am the quisma [ph] of the beating on the table. You know. I couldn’t play a drum set to save my life, but to count the count I’m awesome.
You make a really convincing villain. How hard is it for you to detox from that once you’ve played that type of person? Does it take you days, does it take you hours? Or do you just have to take a week off because it was just so strenuous?
Michael Ealy: You know, it’s an interesting question. It was actually one of my concerns before taking the role, was how dark am I going to get with this, and what is that going to mean to me in terms of detoxing when the time is right? You know, I think that’s one of life’s beautiful lessons in terms of having a family. They tend to yank you out of whatever you’re in and force you to deal with real life. It kind of wakes you up and you realize I’m playing pretend here. As convincing as it is, I’m playing pretend. And like a dirty diaper, something that Theo would never, ever deal with. So it makes you, it almost instantly snaps me out of that, and so that’s been very helpful in terms of not staying too dark. And at the same time, this crew is so amazing, but they’re also very used to this dark world so they have jokes, they keep it light on set. You can’t stay too serious about it all day because we keep it pretty light on set, on The Following for sure.