Corey Stoll Talks 'The Strain,' Losing the Wig and Those Creepy Spider Kids

Corey Stall in The Strain Seasonn2 image

Following his scene-stealing turn as doomed congressmen Peter Russo on House of Cards, Corey Stoll has become one of the most buzzed about talents in both the TV and film world.

The actor can currently be seen on The Strain, in which he portrays Eph - a CDC worker grappling with the effects of a vampire outbreak. During a conference call for the FX hit, Stoll discussed his character’s personal struggles, the chatter surrounding the wig he previously wore for the series and his recent big screen ventures - Ant Man and Black Mass.


The majority of your roles….and you have a long list to your credit….they are very much more reality based than this scenario in 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 two 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 vampire movies out there, but Guillermo brings something unique. So trying to find that right balance in the same show, it is definitely a challenge with the show where the stakes are incredibly high but it’s not the same world that we live in. There’s also a real sort of a wicked sense of humor that runs throughout the whole thing. I think this season there have been a lot of conversations between Carlton and myself about how to participate in that sense of humor. I think the danger is offered to sort of fall into melodrama. So 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.


In the opener of this season, Eph tells Fet that he’s that he’s not a very good vampire killer so he’s going to go back to what he knows. Now that he’s onto 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 to try to 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’s trying to tell them?


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

Corey Stall The Strain Season2image1


I’m curious about the episode when Eph throws his former boss off the train, sort of…..


By accident (laughs):


Did he have a choice, or was did he make the choice to kill him, or….


No, he didn’t. It was really a defensive move to not get hit and before he knew what was happening he had killed him. Now, it was in his best interest probably to kill him. It still is obviously a very big deal as it’s his first human kill, but no…..he did not plan it.


Now that he’s crossed that line will this open up a door into sort of a darker Eph, a guy that’s willing to do more and cross the line  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, and as the first season went on he became more endured to killing, to the point where he doesn’t really sort of flinch, killing people who are considerably turned. Then he crossed the line again at the beginning of this season experimenting on freshly turned people. Then this is another one, and the ratchet sort of keeps pushing him past these lines he never thought he would cross. From that point on for the rest of the season he is in a different place morally.


I wondered for you as an actor, since they recast the role of Eph’s son Zack 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 one to season two in terms of the types of scenes that I had. It would almost be a whole new sort of relationship with the same actor, which had nothing to do with the recasting. This character was going in a very different direction from where he’d been in the first season. Just the very nature of the scenes are so different. In the first season, Zack was really an object in the fight between Kelly and Eph. Here in this season he is much more willful and self-governed.


There was a lot made of the whole “wig-gate.” Are you kind of relieved that that’s behind you now, and were you surprised at all the attention that got while it did?


Yes, I’m relieved, just from the sense that it was a distraction for the audience. It’s unfortunate, and there’s an unfortunate bargain that an actor often makes 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. So I can see why someone like Johnny Depp has gotten so enamored of really intense hair and makeup for his roles. When you get that famous it can sort of be the only way to really do your job, to become somebody else. 


It’s an unfortunate thing that people’s ability to see past the image was limited here. It’s a relief to have that not be an issue in this particular presence.


In the last episode we saw the vampire children sort of going into full action. Can you tell us what factor it will play in future episodes.


The feelers are a formiddable 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 foward for the rest of the season.


What about Eph’s alcoholism? Is it going to gradually increase, and can we expect to see that affecting how he handles the whole situation? Will that play a big role?


Yeah, that definitely…. he does not sober up this season. He was never the best fighter in the world, but now he’s a little bit more handicapped.

The Strain Corey Stoll Season 1

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


I have not noticed a big difference. I was pretty recognizable before and was stopped pretty often. The one thing I was sort of bracing myself for was that children would be stopping me and that would be another level of intensity, but I think children are not maybe expecting to see people from movies walking around. I remember growing up my elementary school was on the same block as Christoper Reeves apartment, and I remember very vividly seeing him walking down the street and everybody was just going crazy that there was Superman. Occasionally, he would even have a good disguise. He would come out and have glasses and I think he even put on a fake beard or something because 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.


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


There were a few things at the beginning of the first season like a bashed in head, a couple of bashed in heads and the autopsy. This season there seems to be, in terms of my exposure to it a little bit of a break from that. In terms of my exposure to the makeup it’s sort of a daily…’s an amazing thing to see on a daily basis. You come in at six o’clock in the morning on a Monday and the makeup people are there for hours already churning out this army of vampires who all have there own unique level of transformation and different degrees of appearance of vampires. It’s an incredible level of artistry and industry. Every vampire is sort of a bespoke job.


Is there anybody in particular that you took inspiration from when you started the role? Either a character….well, besides the book, obviously?


No….I certainly wasn’t modeling the character after anybody. I think there’s all the….no, I really wasn’t. (laughing) There’s all of the great, cool actors who have played iconoclasts, but I don’t want to name any because that would be a headlock.


In the first season, Eph was much more involved with the hand-to-hand fighting with the strigoi, especially with the second season there has 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. Eph is 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 yo miss doing all the fight scenes at all?


In terms of 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. But that fight scene that I had with Barnes was actually one of the more involved fights I’ve had in either season. I definitely moving forward there is more fighting.


A lot of shows these days, there is always that hard decision of whether or not there is going to be a definite ending. In "Breaking Bad" they knew they wanted to end at around season five. In other shows they’re made to keep going like The Walking Dead. Are there any plans for a definite ending of The Strain, or are you guys going to keep going?


Well, according to Carlton it’s a very specific 56 episode arc where it will go for three more seasons and to not feel a need to kind of loiter and sort of stretch it out.


Since Guillermo Del Toro has somewhat of a creep factor, was there something that was a horror film or a horror icon or a creepy story that really kind of stuck with you in your youth that kind of resurfaces when you’re on set with these things.


(Laughs) It’s hard to explain, but 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. There is a moment of wow, that’s really cool. Then, by the fourth setup and the twentieth take, you know, it just becomes work. You’re trying to make believe or get yourself into a state of terror, but the stuff isn’t really scary on its own pretty much after your first…..


You mentioned Johnny Depp briefly earlier, have you had a chance to see a cut a Black Mass yet, and is there anything you are particularly excited about for when it comes out?


Yeah, I’ve seen it and it’s great. It’s an incredibly complex story to tell with a lot of characters, with this sort of complicated idea of what the power structures are within the mob, 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 proud to have my small part in it.

The Strain airs Sunday on FX at 10pm.

Watch Interviews

Latest Trailers

Meanwhile On Instagram