OTB Interviews: James Purefoy


James Purefoy is a dark and menacing man. This, at least, is the impression that he’s trying to present to me, as we speak about his latest role as James Carroll, a psychotic killer in the new US series The Following.

“Anyone could be a killer—even somebody in this room,â€? he tells me, edging forward on his chair as if, with a single leap, he himself could jump across the room and bite off a bit of my cheek.

After he got the part, Purefoy explains, he locked himself in a room in LA for 16 hours a day for a week Googling and YouTubing every interview with every serial killer and cult leader he could find.

“I won’t mention the ones who are still alive because, generally speaking, serial killers are the most narcissistic, egocentric maniacs you could possibly ever not want to meet.â€?

The problem is, he says, the smartest ones are able to hide their monstrous inner core behind a veil of superficial charm, much like Ted Bundy, who Purefoy reveals was his biggest inspiration when preparing for the part.

However, Carroll is even more manipulative. Communicating with other active serial killers, he encourages a cult of believers willing to follow his every command. It’s FBI agent Ryan Hardy’s job to stop him, a part played by Kevin Bacon, who James is quick to praise.

“Doing scenes with Kevin is like playing tennis with someone better than you: he makes you better,â€? James says. “He really raises your game. There really is nothing at all egocentric about him.â€?

Having worked extensively in British television, James explains that he held off working on a series in America for a long time.

“There had been quite a lot of interest in me doing television in America for some time, but I had a young boy,â€? he says, confessing that, in recent years, he’s come to prefer the way that TV is made in the states.

“In America, the networks wine and dine you, and they don’t do here because they constantly want full control. But just take a look at Breaking Bad—the quality of that show. Breaking Bad is like watching a proper novel without anything cut out. It’s not like a BBC three-parter where you know that dozens of chapters have been ripped out.

“I don’t like what they call ambient TV—TV that just drifts through you. I like TV that grabs you by the fucking throat. That’s the best kind of television and that, I hope, is what The Following is.â€?

The Following starts on Tuesday January 22nd on Sky Atlantic