The Dark Prince of “The Following”
by Pamela Price
Psychotic, maniacal and enigmatic: all adjectives you’d prefer to not find in someone you know. But for an actor, they make up a complex character which many would long to portray. Sam Underwood was given the opportunity to play not one, but two roles of this nature on a hit series “The Following.” Now in its second season, millions of viewers are captivated by the dark and violent FOX show in which Detective Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) continues his hunt for serial killer, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy). Two of the most enthralling new characters are the deranged twins, Luke and Mark. Sam brilliantly steps into the shoes of both brothers, thanks to split-screen technology and his diverse acting abilities. The British actor has been working consistently in television, from “Zero Hour” on ABC to “Dexter” and “Homeland.” But theater is one of Sam’s truest passions, as seen through his artistic direction of the Fundamental Theater Project. Whether it be on stage or the silver screen, I am certain we will be seeing more of Sam, from “The Following” and beyond. Although he could not reveal any spoilers, Sam delved a little deeper into his roles of one of our favorite primetime series.
Joining the show for Season 2, were you already familiar with the story and characters?
Absolutely. I was very, very aware of the show before the possibility of being an addition to the cast came about. As an artist, I’ve always been very, very fond of Kevin Williamson and his writing. And with the stellar cast that they’ve had since season 1, it was just a very amazing opportunity to join a really great team.
Did they tell you that it was going to be two roles, or did you have to read it first?
I was given material under the assumption that I was just going to be reading for one character—Luke. The way Luke’s character was described was this young, dangerous man with many different characteristics, many different personalities. And I was fascinated because knowing from season 1 the types of characters that Kevin develops, that this would be an extremely complex and interesting character to develop, and it wasn’t until I got into my final screen test that Kevin Williamson actually told me, ‘You’re actually playing twins.’
(laughs) And your immediate reaction was…
My outward reaction was, “Oh yeah, that makes sense!” I think that’s exactly what I said. After it dawned on me and I was internally going a little bit crazy processing that information.
Audiences were introduced to movie-twin technology with “Multiplicity” and with Armie Hammer in “The Social Network.” The question is always, ‘what is the process of shooting?’ How does it work for Luke and Mark?
Marcos Siega, the director of the first episode and the overall producer/director of the season, sat me down before we started shooting, and said, ‘Listen, I’m going to cast another actor to work with you.’ He didn’t just want a stand-in, he wanted an actor who I could rehearse with—who I could, in a way, direct to imitate the actions that I do in a scene. So I could basically work off of myself without having to just look at a ping pong ball on a stick or something like that. It was a huge help for me. I’m very lucky to have a great scene partner. And when you see me in the actual shot—that is usually done through split screen. The incredible camera crew always has the option of giving two split-screens in any scene. They literally have a divide in the middle of where the screen is, so I can be in both places at once, and they shoot it twice. And then through the magic of TV, they put it together. For a lot of the performance, I really have to give credit to the directors and editors, but also the camera crew because they just capture these twins so well.
It’s unbelievable. Obviously on top of doing different takes you have to do the scenes twice. How close are those shot together?
If we’re shooting a scene, we will shoot that scene that day, so we wait until the next day to shoot the other character. It’s a rigorous process for the hair and makeup, and costume department, because they always to be on hand ready to change me over, so I think the actors and directors and the rest of the crew have longer five-minute breaks because of me.
Luke is much more confident than Mark, who is quite nervous. It seems to be a great acting challenge. What do you really do to go from one pair of shoes to the other?
Without giving away all my secrets, the thing that I use on set to help me make that transition quickly when I’m having to go back and forth is – I have a music playlist on my iPhone, so it will help me get into a different attitude: the way they talk, the way they hold themselves physically. So that’s one of my little on-set devices to help me. But really growing these characters is just a long process of taking your inspiration from other wonderful performances I’ve seen. it’s been said a lot online that they see Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, or Norman Bates from Psycho, and actually those were two characters that I absolutely watched from the get-go to give a broad stroke to these characters. And there are many different other things in there. It’s nice to get the opportunity to develop rich, three-dimensional characters.
How is it working with James Purefoy and the other cast members?
Joining a stellar ensemble which carried on over from Season 1, it has been a very safe environment. They fully created a family environment on set, and they really welcomed me into the cast, into this dysfunctional family. James, who is an incredible stage actor as well, is someone I was captivated by in Season 1. He keeps the levity off set because you can’t get too dark and deep when you’re waiting to shoot, because you want to try and have fun while you’re doing this very intense work. And watching Kevin Bacon’s work; and I’m learning all of the time from this actor who’s done such integral work over his long career. And then to join the ranks with people like Shawn, and Valorie—I feel very fortunate to be working with all of them.
Speaking of that dysfunctional family— how is it for your to portray a serial killer? Someone who receives great pleasure from stabbing someone can’t be the easiest to play.
The thing with any villain you play, or any complex character – I believe as an actor you can’t afford to judge because otherwise you’re going to struggle doing some of the types of things we have to do, especially on this type of show. The murders that I do myself on the show are all part of my job, my mission. The wonderful and delightful thing for me, in addition to that, is that Luke and Mark have this real fascination with creating the vignette of this family in the second episode, and their mission to lure Joe Carroll. I really see it as a job. But also, my characters take such pride in their work; where they’re not just going out and killing people. They’re having way more fun with it.
It almost seems like they feel that they’re seeking justice for themselves.
And also they’ve been raised by their mother, in this international house of psychopaths. They’ve been brought up and nurtured in a very specific way, so they don’t see anything wrong with what they’re doing. They’re doing what their mother tells them to do. And mother knows best.
Lily is a tough one to crack. Your character speaks some French on the show. Did you know the language already?
Oui. I’m very lucky that I had a legitimate French-speaking partner, so that I could really authenticate as close as possible to how Luke would sound when chatting with Giselle. That was a challenge for me because French isn’t a language that I speak fluently, so it was fascinating to discover why they speak in French to each other? ‘Oh, they have this very close, intimate connection or it’s code’— so those things are just another lovely challenge. And also, Luke’s relationship with Giselle is so vastly different from anything else Luke has in his life, so that was fun to explore as well.
Back to the beginning, you’re from the UK. What are your roots in acting?
It’s just as simple as I’ve always enjoyed communicating. I’m a huge lover of language. I was very lucky to have the arts in my household as a child, and it really just grew from there. It may sound cliche, but I think I really was just born to be an entertainer and that’s where it came from. It wasn’t anything specific. I think the arts are an important part of our society, of our culture and it’s taking people and giving people an escape if that’s what they need.
Aside from your TV work, you have a theater company.
I certainly do. The company is called Fundamental Theater Project and we are a New York based, transatlantic arts organization. Part of our mission is to help international artists collaborate, and that’s my other huge passion. I’m devoted to that.
You’re making your mark in TV with DEXTER, HOMELAND and now THE FOLLOWING. What’s next for you in terms of the roles you would like to play and the people you’d like to work with?
There are many I want to collaborate with in both theater and TV and film. Really, it’s just about finding that next piece of good material that makes for an interesting character. I’m just going to follow where the work is, and whether it’s interesting work. That’s what I want to spend my time pursuing.