Q&A: Corey Stoll Ditches the Wig & Turns Up His Edge On ‘THE STRAIN’


Corey_Bridge_FNL_hires1Preston Barta // Features Editor

After last week’s rather intense episode of THE STRAIN, we saw the beginning of a different, darker Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll)– and that definitely continues tonight.

Fresh Fiction had the opportunity to speak with Corey Stoll about his character’s change, ditching the wig, and working on ANT-MAN and the upcoming BLACK MASS.

Kelly Goodweather (Natalie Brown) and the creepy "Feelers." Photo courtesy of Michael Gibson/FX.

Kelly Goodweather (Natalie Brown) and the creepy “Feelers.” Photo courtesy of Michael Gibson/FX.

Most of your roles are grounded in reality compared to the scenario presented in THE STRAIN. How has it been for you to sort of operate in this world for two seasons now, 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 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.”

Last Sunday’s episode, we saw Eph throw his former boss off a train. Did he have a choice, or did he make the choice to kill him?

Stoll: “No, he didn’t. It was really a move to not get hit and before what he knew what was happening, he had killed him. Now, it was in his best interest probably to kill him, but it’s still obviously a very big deal: it’s his first human kill. No, he did not intend to kill him, though.”

Well, now that he crossed that line, will this open up a door to sort of a darker Eph, a guy that’s willing to do more and cross the line a little bit more easily?

Stoll: “Yeah, I think you can say that. The first time he killed anybody intentionally he was being attacked and that was sort of purely defensive. As the first season went on, he became more inured to killing to the point where he doesn’t really sort of flinch killing people who are completely turned.

Then he crossed the line, again, at the beginning of this season experimenting on freshly turned people, and then this is another one– and then sort of the ratchet that sort of keeps pushing him past these lines that he never thought he would cross. But yeah, it definitely from that point on to the rest of the season, he is in a different place, morally.”

Corey Stoll rocking his new shiny dome as Ephraim Goodweather. Photo courtesy of Michael Gibson/FX.

Corey Stoll rocking his new shiny dome as Ephraim Goodweather. Photo courtesy of Michael Gibson/FX.

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?

Stoll: “[Laughs] 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.”

I bet. And now I have to ask about BLACK MASS since you mentioned Johnny Depp. Have you had the chance to see a cut of it yet?

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.”

Awesome. I can’t wait.

Stoll: “Me either.”

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?

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.”

Mia Maestro as Nora Martinez, Max Charles as Zack Goodweather. Photo courtesy of Michael Gibson/FX.

Mia Maestro as Nora Martinez and Max Charles as Zack Goodweather.
Photo courtesy of Michael Gibson/FX.

Since they’ve recast your character’s son, Zach, for this season – previously played by Ben Hyland and now played by Max Charles – has it 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?

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.”

Since playing the villain in ANT-MAN, have you notice any kind of change? Are you recognized more?

Stoll: “You know, I have not noticed a big difference.”

Oh, really?

Stoll: “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.”

THE STRAIN airs tonight at 10 p.m. e/p only on FX.

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Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.