In "The Following," Shawn Ashmore plays the affable and eager to please young FBI agent Mike Weston, who has a particular hero worship of Kevin Bacon's Ryan Hardy. The actor spoke with IGN about the buzz around his new dark series.
The actor is genuinely humbled by the positive critical and viewer response to the series so far, but tries not to pay too close attention to it all. "Right before the show started I read a few of the reviews just to see how people were responding to it. But I don't get too wrapped-up in paying attention to all of that stuff, because ultimately it doesn't matter one way or another. If it's an amazingly positive or negative response, for me it's always about: 'Do I care? Is it something that I'm proud of? Is it a show that I'm proud to be on?' You can't control what other people are going to think."
With the high praise has come equally harsh criticism of what some have deemed over-the-top violence. Ashmore sees the series' use of gore and shock as part and parcel with a series that examines these themes. "It doesn't gloss over [the violence], it really shows the consequences. And ultimately, too, there is violence in it but it's not over the top. It truly is a story about good versus evil. I think the show really makes it clear that Joe Carroll and his followers are evil, and he real crux of the story is the FBI and Ryan Hardy trying to stop this psycho killer. So to me it’s not more violent than other things I've seen on television, and I think it helps to tell the story. I mean, it is a story about serial killers; you're going to need to have violence in it. But I don't think it's over the top."
Weston's eagerness to work closely with Hardy has some viewers drawing comparisons to the Carroll Followers and their own hero worship of the cold-blooded killer. However, Ashmore insists that Weston's idolatry is genuine, and the he is not a Follower hiding in plain sight as some have surmised. "I guess [the comparison] was the idea that he was so into Ryan that yeah, he could be seen as an acolyte or a fan boy of Ryan's, and I guess that's kind of creepy. I think the difference is though, that the followers are manipulated by Joe Carroll because they are missing something. There is that idea that there is a hole in them and that the manipulator, that egotistical serial killer cult leader, fills that hole," the actor explained. "That's how he gets the followers to do what he wants. I think the opposite is true in this case. Ryan, especially at the beginning, doesn't want to have anything to do with Mike. He certainly isn't trying to convince him to follow him. I think Mike genuinely respects and looks up to Ryan because of his accomplishments. It's that simple. So I think it's a completely different relationship. But there is a sense of him looking up to him and being willing to bend the rules sometimes just to follow Ryan."
Expect the bond between Ashmore's Mike and his idol Hardy to grow as the FBI crew goes further down Joe Carroll's rabbit hole. "[Mike]'s been working in mostly academia, and not really been in the field a lot. As we've seen in the first few episodes, stuff is happening and it's fast and it's furious and it's overwhelming. So obviously Mike is affected by that. He's seen a lot of people hurt; he's seen the frustration of all of the FBI being a step behind Joe Carroll and the followers. So I don't think he becomes jaded, but it does start to wear on him a little bit. And the more that the case wears on Mike, the more that Ryan accepts him," Ashmore said. "There's a level playing field. I don't think Ryan wants anyone to look up to him. I don't think Ryan thinks he's worthy of that. Mike is always trying to bond with Ryan and work this case with him, and as the episodes continue the playing field is leveled. They can start to relate to each other, and it's sort of a great arc of where the relationship goes."
How are you enjoying Fox's "The Following" so far? Do you think Carroll has his claws in any of the FBI task force members?