SPOILERS AHEAD — This item includes information vital to Monday night's episode.
She's alive! As those of you who watched tonight's episode of The Following now know, Natalie Zea's Claire Matthews is back among the land of the living. Yep, turns out the woman who loved both Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) and Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) didn't die at the hands of that knife-wielding psycho at the end of last season after all. How did they pull this twist off? We went straight to the source and got Zea to spill the deets on Claire's return...and why a certain pixie-cut cuckoo bird should be very afraid.
TV Guide Magazine: Welcome back! So Claire has been in protective custody all this time? Witness protection?
Natalie Zea: WitSec is what they call it on Justified. [Laughs]
TV Guide Magazine: Do you think fans suspected this? We never actually saw her die on screen.
Zea: Right. I think there are some people who are savvy to that. The TV-viewing generation has seen all of the tricks, so they're hard to fool.
TV Guide Magazine: What did you tell people if they asked?
Zea: Well, [executive producer] Kevin Williamson told me that I needed to keep this close to the vest and I totally understood that. But like, my best friend was in the room when I got the call, so she knew. And I told my parents and fiancé, but when other people would ask or when I was doing press for other things, I would just deflect. Or you know, not answer! [Laughs]
TV Guide Magazine: And how do we get her back into the story?
Zea: Well, in the episode, Joe sends out a video [message] that he's alive and I decide that enough is enough. If he is not dead, we need to do something about this, because I cannot live the rest of my life looking over my shoulder. So I say, several times, that I need to talk to Ryan Hardy. And then finally, I do...eventually.
TV Guide Magazine: How many episodes are you back for?
Zea: All of them, from now on.
TV Guide Magazine: How has Claire changed in the year since we last saw her being stabbed?
Zea: Well, she has a horrible hair color. [Laughs] I call it "actress brown." It's the brown they ask actresses to go when they want them for mousy roles or when the character is in hiding. There is no dimension or texture to it, it's like brown threw up on my head.
TV Guide Magazine: So, aside from the unfortunate hair...
Zea: She has been in Arizona, so her wardrobe is a bit different. She is also kind of hardened quite a bit, she really doesn't want to f--- around. She has no patience for any kind of shenanigans. This just feels like déjà vu for her, she doesn't want to go through this again.
TV Guide Magazine: Did you know you were coming back at the end of last season?
Zea: Williamson and I had a talk...and he pitched this whole idea. He said I would come in during the second half. So I have been sitting on this secret for over a year.
TV Guide Magazine: Does Claire still have feelings for Ryan? Because he was kind of moving toward Connie Nielsen's character until her crazy came out.
Zea: Oh yeah! That doesn't go away. But he has moved on in a sense — he's had to — and I am really happy they didn't go the route of the jealous ex-girlfriend. Because that would have been crazy. No, Claire is on a mission now. She is not even confronting romantic feelings at this point.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you get to do more action stuff this time around?
TV Guide Magazine: Please tell me Claire gets to throw down with Emma (Valorie Curry).
Zea: OK. [Laughs] Maybe.
TV Guide Magazine: How was it coming back?
Zea: It is so great, they are incredible. I know everybody says it, and it is so cliché, but it really is the hardest working crew on TV...on the real! They are tireless. And the cast, I just adore every single one of them. There is not one person on this show I don't want to just make dinner for. [Laughs] I was really thrilled to be back with the family again.
Were you shocked to see Claire back on The Following?