They may be three of the most terrifying characters on TV this winter, but the actors who play Joe Carroll's (James Purefoy) cult-like devotees on Fox's The Following, which airs Monday at 9/8c, describe their alter egos in a way that's a little more, well, lighthearted.
"The three of us kind of have this Wizard of Oz sort of joke about Emma being the brains and Jacob being the heart and Paul being the courage," Valorie Curry, who plays the manipulative, matricidal Emma, tells TVGuide.com. "We work well together when we're getting along, in that sense."
By "working well together," she's referring to the fact that Emma, Paul (Adan Canto) and Jacob (Nico Tortorella) have successfully kidnapped Carroll's son, Joey, and are now keeping him in a safe house in Pennsylvania. As the primary puppets in Carroll's game of revenge against former FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), the three have spent the past few years positioning themselves to do his bidding — as the nanny to Joey, in Emma's case, and as the (allegedly) gay couple living next door to Carroll's final victim, Sarah Fuller, in Paul and Jacob's case.
But now that the three are holed up together in a tiny cabin with Joey, wanted by the FBI, tensions are starting to mount. "They've been separate for so long and they've all sort of been in control of their own mission that they were on, whether it was the guys with Sarah Fuller or me with Joey," says Curry. "Now we're having to work together and we're having to be together and share a lot of space. And there's a lot of friction because of that, and Emma has to try a number of tactics to control Paul. She has a relationship with Jacob, but she doesn't have that sort of intimacy with Paul. So they're all sort of finding their way around each other."
Complicating matters is the twisted love triangle dynamic among the trio. While Emma and Jacob are a couple, it's Jacob and Paul (who's now the third wheel) who have been masquerading as partners. And the first two episodes seem to indicate that, at least on Paul's part, their role-playing wasn't entirely for show. "You spend three years with somebody in a house pretending to be in a relationship for the entire public, there's bound to be mutual attraction," says Tortorella.
Paul "needs to feel connected somehow. He doesn't want to be abandoned. He doesn't want to be neglected," Adan says.
But one thing the trio can agree on is their utter devotion to Carroll. "Specifically for Jacob, he has a slew of daddy issues and at the point where he needed that void filled the most, there was Joe waiting with open arms," Tortorella says. "And he just completely fulfilled that in him, and same thing with Emma and same thing with Paul. We're just looking for this higher power to give us some type of validation in this life, and acceptance. And he's the perfect person to do that."
"He's obviously an incredibly charismatic, magnetic man who is very adept at manipulating people," Curry says of Carroll. "And I think part of that comes from being a teacher, his experience sort of molding minds. With the three followers that we have met, I think it's just a matter of catching them at exactly the right moment. ... If he can catch them in this perfect moment of vulnerability, as long as it's the right kind of person, who maybe has a propensity for violence or needs leadership, then he's able to take advantage of that opportunity and mold them."
But all three note that it's not so much that Joe is coercing them into being sadistic killers; he's merely offering them validation for their already-existing tendencies. "Each one of us has our own distinct qualities that he lets shine," Tortorella says. "He's not making us drink the Kool-Aid or playing the CD backwards to put things in our heads. It's already there. He's just telling us that it's OK."
"He's empowering them," Curry agrees. "I think that's what it is. These are people who have been, for whatever reason, sort of alienated or disenfranchised or just feel like outsiders, and he not only gives them a place, but he empowers them, which is intoxicating."
Adds Canto: "[Joe] gives us a philosophy, a way in life in which we can actually feel free, where we can feel that there's a reason for us to be who we are and to enjoy what we feel passionate doing. ... He kind of encourages that, the sense of finding the beauty in those desires, in those behaviors."
Viewers will gradually learn more about Paul and Jacob's back stories, but already know that Emma met Joe when she was a student of his and sees him as a father figure, while at the same time being completely enamored of him. "She has a very particular devotion to Joe," Curry explains. "She's been with him since she was so young. He's essentially sort of raised her and groomed her."
In fact, it's Emma who's arguably the leader of Carroll's cult, having been placed in the role of caring for Joey while Carroll was in prison. Curry says Emma's affection for the boy is genuine, but viewers should always be mindful of where her deepest loyalties lie. "She genuinely loves Joey and cares about him, partly because she's been with him for two years and has helped raise him, but also because he is Joe's son," she says. "She would love to be with Joe and be a mother to his son ... and she has this really important, prestigious position to be [Joey's] caregiver. And that's a point of pride for her as well, to be that close to Joe through Joey. Her love for him and her protectiveness is very real.
"At the same time," Curry cautions, "everybody always has to keep in mind that the most important person is Joe. [Emma] is capable of doing absolutely anything for him. But that's sort of the tragic thing about her — she does love Joey, she does care about Paul, she does love Jacob — but at the end of the day, she will do anything Joe asks her to, because her love for him is just more important."
Everything we know about Joe, however, indicates that the three are just pawns in his twisted game to get back at his ex-wife, Claire (Natalie Zea), and Hardy. "He's spent so much time in jail now and he's mapped out exactly how he's going to attack, his master plan," according to Tortorella. "And this is just the beginning."
Check out a clip of Carroll's followers from this week's episode below.
The Following airs Monday at 9/8c on Fox.