An Interview with The Strain’s Corey Stoll


From an early age, Corey Stoll had a passion for acting. He studied drama at Long Lake Camp for the Arts in New York when he was eight years old, and completed his studies there when he was twelve. He was a Drama Department Graduate of Fiorello H. La Guardia High School of
Music & Art and Performing Arts, from Oberlin College in 1998 and from New York University’s Graduate Acting Program at the Tisch School of the Arts in 2003.

Since then, Corey has built a prolific career for himself, starring in a multitude of television shows and movies, including Law and Order: LA, House of Cards, Midnight in Paris, Ant-Man and FX’s The Strain. His range and versatility as an actor is both impressive and note-worthy. Talk Nerdy with Us was fortunate enough to get the chance to talk with Corey about Eph’s transformation, what he thought about Wig-Gate, and what viewers can expect from the rest of the season. Check it out below!

So, in the opener of this season, Eph told Fet that he is not a very good vampire killer so he’s going to go back to what he knows. And now that he’s on to something, what’s sort of driving him at this point? Is it really vengeance against the master and all of the vampires or is it really just to try and redeem himself in the eyes of the CDC and the people that sort of put him out to pasture because they thought he wasn’t valid in what he was trying to tell them?

 Well yeah, I think it’s really both. I think obviously it’s personal now that Kelly has turned and is actively trying to turn Zach but I think just his personality is such, too, that he’s won at everything pretty much in his life, up till now. Now he’s in a situation where he’s lost more in the last week than he has in his entire life. So he’s obviously a very—he’s always been a very alpha guy and very type A. He’s been knocked down numerous pegs and is admitting such but he still can’t let go on either front, so it’s personal but it’s also professional.

Let me ask you, 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 sort of operate in this world, especially one created by Guillermo del Toro where anything can really happen? It must be very interesting.

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.

I’m curious Eph, in last night’s episode, when he throws his former boss off a train, sort of I guess a two-part—

By accident.

Did he have a choice or did he make the choice to kill him?

No, he didn’t; 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 this is—it’s still obviously a very big deal, it’s his first human kill. No, he did not intend to kill him.

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?

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.

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?

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.

I just wanted to ask you, 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?

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.

In the last episode we saw the vampire children kind of going into full action now. Can you tell us how much—what factor will they play in the future episodes?

Well, the feelers are the formidable part of the Strigoi Army. They’re fast, they can crawl on walls, and they play an important part of the master’s arsenal going forward the rest of the season.

Alright, and what about Eph’s alcoholism? We’ve seen it gradually increase. Can we expect to see that affecting how he handles the whole situation? Will that play a big role?

Yeah, definitely. He does not sober up the rest of the season. He was never the best fighter in the world; but, no, he’s a little easier and a little bit more handicapped.

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

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?

Darren Cross.

He fights dirty?

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

So, 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?

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?

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.

In the first season Eph was much more involved with the actual hand to hand fighting with the strigoi, especially with the second season there’s been a lot of escalation and a lot of really neat and different fight scenes with them, especially when Dutch and Fet fought the Strigoi in the YMCA. Now I’m just wondering, especially since Eph has been taking more of a—I mean he’s still a very important character in the war but he’s much more removed from the fighting. Do you expect him to fight more, and also do you miss doing all the fight scenes at all?

In terms of in total between the two seasons, it’s about the same. In the first bunch of episodes Eph is taking a much more—he’s using biochemistry to fight the strigoi. Especially like that fight scene that I had with Barnes was actually one of the more—I think a lot of it was actually cut, but it was one of the more involved fights that I’ve had in either season. Definitely moving forward there’s more fighting.

A lot of shows these days, you know, 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?

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].

This has been a consistent theme with the rest of the cast we’ve talked with, but I was curious if there was this theme, something by Guillermo del Toro, any kind of a creep factor, 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?

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?

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.

You can catch The Strain on FX on Sundays at 10:00 pm!


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