TORONTO, ONTARIO. When we left the heroes of FX's “The Strain,” the present was looking bleak.
The New York City skyline already exhibited signs of the bedlam caused by the gradual infiltration of vampiric forces turning ordinary people into monomaniacal bloodsuckers bent on devouring loved ones.
And as we ended the first season, the plucky anti-vampire resistance made up of virologists, ratcatchers and other motley believers, had just been dealt a major blow when direct sunlight failed to kill The Master.
It's late March and “The Strain” star Corey Stoll doesn't necessarily seem gloomy about the future.
Sitting in a ballroom at the Toronto hotel serving as a location for a late-Season 2 “Strain” episode, Stoll admits that Dr. Ephraim Goodweather isn't just dealing with the undead this season, but will continue to face his own demons.
“You know, he can hold his liquor really well. But… he”s drinking a lot,” Stoll chuckles, referring to an addiction that was introduced in the first season, but never really came to hinder Dr. Ephraim Goodweather's performance. “And it”s medicinal. But it”s fun because I think one thing that I, when I was able to see the first season all cut together, I could see how it was. It”s hard not to fall into a very sort of somber mode with where the stakes are and all the awful things that happen to my character, and it”s actually sort of nice to have a device that enables me to have some distance a little bit and to have a little bit more of a sense of humor in the midst of all this craziness.”
Wait. So Eph is a funny drunk?
“Yeah,” Stoll reassures a table of reporters. “He's a happy drunk.”
That doesn't mean that “The Strain” is about to become a more vampire-laden “Leaving Las Vegas” or “Arthur.”
“I try not to overplay it,” Stoll says of Eph's drunkenness. “But myself, I don”t really show it when I”m drunk. So he”s somebody who really can, except in the most extreme cases, can really handle his alcohol. I mean it”s a cliché in terms of playing drunk, but you always — somebody who”s drunk is really focusing on appearing sober, and so that”s a helpful thing to focus on when you play drunk.”
That's more of a spoiler about what Corey Stoll is like as a drunk than about anything that viewers can expect in Season of “The Strain,” but it's interesting to hear Stoll talk about “a little bit more of a sense of humor,” given how dark things were for Eph in show's initial run. It wasn't just that Eph was fighting a vampire epidemic, struggling with the upheaval of his entire intellectual code and being set up as Public Enemy No.1 for all nosferatu. He was also going through an increasingly ugly divorce and floundering in his attempts to be a father to Zach, who's going to be facing some major PTSD, possibly very soon.
“Yeah, he”s a terrible dad,” Stoll says. “[A]nd this is something that”s been part of his character from the pilot, that he”s very quick to make promises that he can”t uphold. And so he”s continuing in that, and finally, I think, towards the end of the season, Zach is getting hip to that and sort of calls him on it and that”s been a fun sort of change to the dynamic with Zach, is that it”s becoming much more adversarial and not quite so lovey-dovey.”
That also doesn't sound especially cheery.
“It was such a defeat at the end of the first season,” Stoll clarifies. “There”s definitely more of a sense of there are things we can do. There are options open, there”s strategies that we can employ. So in that sense it”s more positive.”
He adds that while we can expect “more human misery” and “a lot of awful things” to happen to Eph, the season is “very forward-moving but yet still dark.”
Among those forward-moving steps, Stoll teases an interaction between Eph and an important character he has yet to meet, as was as a possible excursion beyond New York City. This is progress for a character who was such an unimaginative stick-in-the-mud that he refused to even acknowledge the word “vampire” until late in the first season.
“He still very much thinks of himself as a man of science, and he happens to have opened up the boundaries of what”s possible,” Stoll says. “In his worldview he assumes there are scientific answers for them, they just don”t have them yet. And Setrakian is right about a lot of things, and the lore is right about a lot of things including telepathy and really far-out-there things, but his worldview is just… It doesn”t work. And I mean the great thing about playing the character, too, is that he”s so forward-moving. He”s all about solutions. And so he understands there”s a lot of things he doesn”t understand, but he can just sort of put those things aside and focus on what he does.”
Get ready for the drunker, more forward-moving Ephraim Goodweather when “The Strain” returns to FX on Sunday, July 12.