Corey Stoll is a Golden Globe-nominated actor who was probably the best thing about Woody Allen’s Academy Award-winning Midnight in Paris. He’s had a marvelous last couple of years, but 2015 is shaping up to be his best yet. He gets his villain on as Darren Cross/Yellowjacket in Marvel’s Ant-Man, out next week, and he’ll play Charlize Theron’s brother later this year in Gillian Flynn’s follow-up to Gone Girl, Dark Places. Oh, and he’s the star of one of the biggest shows on cable, FX’s The Strain, which returns this Sunday.
We recently spoke to Stoll about season two of The Strain, the show’s trademark violence, and not losing his penis. That might ruin anyone’s year, no matter how great it’s shaping up to be.
How soon after the events of season one does season two begin?
It’s pretty much immediately after, maybe 12 hours.
So, we’re immediately dealing with the consequences of Kelly getting away?
Yeah, and the fact that the Master survived direct exposure to sunlight. And all that entails in terms of what else was Setrakian wrong about.
What are some of the biggest changes between last year and this one?
There’s definitely a bigger sense of scale, in terms of the size of the invasion. We’re dealing with bigger numbers and some pretty cool destruction and explosions and stuff. But also in terms of scope of the story in time and place, so we’ve got a lot of flashbacks. There’s a lot more about Setrakian’s life and about Palmer, and some new characters, too. The story now spans thousands of years, literally. It goes all over the planet. It’s impressive to do in Toronto [laughs].
This season is largely about finding a cure, yes?
Yeah, absolutely. That’s one thing that’s really essential to the storytelling. I think there are a number of other shows that do a similar subject matter, and I think there’s more of a sense that it’s really about survival. But as [showrunner Carlton Cuse] has said, which I think is an interesting distinction, this is not a horror show; it’s an adventure show with some incredibly sophisticated horror elements. Which is basically to say, the main driving force isn’t fear or survival, it’s about solving a problem and all the crazy places that brings us.
Does the action move outside of New York this season?
Yeah, I mean, the vast majority of the present day stuff is still in New York, but my character does get a little bit of a breather.
One of last season’s most memorable episodes was the one set in the gas station. Almost the entire thing took place there.
It’s ironic. That was our version of a bottle episode…
A very expensive bottle episode.
I don’t think they saved any money on that.
What are some of the bigger set pieces you guys have planned for this season?
I don’t really wanna spoil anything, but I can say that there are at least four set pieces that are bigger than that episode. We start off in the first episode already topping that, probably by a factor of two or three, just with the amount of vampires we’re dealing with. And the finale was nuts. This show does not want for ambition.
So, there’s going to be more action then. In other words, less of you running around trying to get people to believe you, and more you chopping heads off. Is it fun to have more stabbing and less talking?
[laughs] It is. The thing is, I definitely do have my fair share of swinging a sword and shooting, but my character is still a scientist. His plans, while no less murderous — in fact, far more murderous — require biochemistry. When he’s confronted by a vampire, he obviously doesn’t hesitate to release them. But he’s thinking much bigger picture, and he realizes a cure of the individual affected people is not an option. But a culling of the infected people, and eliminating every affected person, is possible. And the only way to stop the epidemic from becoming a pandemic.
The Strain quickly gained a reputation for fantastic gore. What was the most quote-unquote gross thing you had to do?
Your penis didn’t fall off in the toilet, so you have that going for you.
I can safely say my penis doesn’t fall off in season two.
That’s going to be the headline.
It’s funny, I feel like I didn’t really witness that much gore this season. But there’s still some pretty gross stuff.
You talked earlier about what you’ve learned from Carlton. How about Guillermo del Toro?
Guillermo has such fearlessness about just going for it. He’s not afraid of mixing the lowbrow with the highbrow. He’s always wondering, what more can we add to it? Which I’m sure drives the people whose job it is to keep the show on budget crazy, but his joy in seeing this come to life is making this world as full and crazy as possible. So, he’s constantly just upping the ante in terms of size and bizarreness.
That go-for-it-ness must be nice for you as an actor.
My role within the show is…
You’re the voice of reason.
Exactly. I can’t just go off the deep end and start acting crazy, because I have the responsibility of being the surrogate for the audience. And the normal one, frankly. That being said, certainly going off the wagon and some of my tactics and strategies do lead me into very ethically dubious waters. It’s fun to go there. Not quite anti-hero territory, but definitely questionable.
How does that compare to playing Darren Cross in Ant-Man?
He’s definitely a bad guy [laughs]. His main motivations are selfish. In his core, Darren is a narcissist. Eph has narcissistic tendencies, but he really does take the Hippocratic Oath seriously. He really does want to heal. That’s what he was born to do, and what he does best. It’s a helpful thing to hold onto even while doing ethically dubious things. He remains noble, in that sense.
I’m sorry, I gotta ask: Is the hairpiece still around?
I have a hairpiece.