Bald and lethal: The Strain's Corey Stoll on his hairy (and hairless) vampire battles and political intrigue

[Spoiler Alert: The following discusses the latest episode of The Strain]

In the interests of not burying the lead, Corey Stoll is no longer wearing a wig on The Strain.

The second season of the viral vampire FX series from Guillermo del Toro and Carlton Cuse has revolved around Stoll’s character Ephraim Goodweather’s mission to create a bioweapon to wipe out the vamps.

But the actor, who made his appearance as the villain Yellow Jacket in this summer’s Ant-Man, has become so recognizable for his bald pate that his hair piece became a topic of fan discussion, and journalistic interviews.

So, in the latest episode of The Strain, Ephraim – still a wanted man -- shaved his head for an undercover trip to Washington D.C. to get his weapon made. But a funny thing happens on the way to the nation’s capital when Eph has a confrontation with his former boss at the CDC, Everett Barnes, which leads to the latter getting tossed from a train.

And in the second episode of the D.C. arc, Stoll revealed in a set visit last April that Eph’s storyline becomes an entirely different genre. Instead of horror, he ventures into Three Days of the Condor territory.

“It’s about conspiracy and sort of cloak-and-dagger stuff,” he said, and shared that Eph gets caught up in political intrigue involving old friends, a mysterious woman, hot pursuit, and murder.

The actor took a break during filming while I visited the Toronto set to provide some insight about where we find his character this season, as well as discuss Eph’s overall motivations, and his direction this season. Also, at the end of this piece, I’ve included a couple questions, from an interview conducted this week, about his character’s murder of Barnes (accidental or intentional?). And yes, the so-called “wig gate” does come up as well.

How bad would you say Ephraim’s drinking is this season?

You know, he can hold his liquor really well. But he’s drinking a lot. And it’s medicinal. But it’s fun because I think one thing, when I was able to see the first season all cut together, I could see how 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. 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.

Is Eph’s mission to wipe out vampires to stop the plague, or is it more now a mission of vengeance?

It’s to stop the plague. I mean, obviously, he has very personal feeling towards The Master and the strigoi conspiracy, and Palmer, but in the end he does feel that it’s his responsibility that he didn’t stop the plague before it happened. And that is his driving force.

The first season seemed to have a clear divide between good and evil. Is there more grey area for your character in Season Two?

Yeah, definitely. Right off the bat, in the first few episodes of this season, Nora and myself are doing very questionable things in the goal of creating this bioweapon. But we’re definitely not following the Hippocratic Oath. You know, human experimentation and s--t like that — it’s pretty ugly.

Does The Master see you or Abraham more as the threat to contend with right now?

I think Abraham, definitely. It seems to be my relationship throughout the season with The Master is much more about Kelly — you know, because there’s a lot in this season about The Master choosing different strigoi to give more sentience or power to, and for whatever reason, he’s chosen Kelly. Maybe because I am a threat. But she seems a lot more sort of self-empowered in that sense, and so the stuff between Kelly and myself and Zack seems to be much more about the family unit.

How does Washington D.C. see what’s happening in New York City?

Well you definitely get the sense that this is affecting the rest of the country but everybody else had the lead time to sort of protect themselves. So DC is somewhat normal, but there are huge political ramifications; they’re trying to reach the president, and the government is definitely reeling from it, but it’s not this vector of disease like New York is.

Did Eph have a choice to kill Barnes, or did he make the choice to kill him?

No, he didn’t; he didn’t. It was really a move to not get hit, and before what he knew what was happening, he had killed him. Now it was in his best interest probably to kill him but this is  — it’s still obviously a very big deal, it’s his first human kill. No, he did not intend to kill him.

Now that he crossed that line will this open up a door to sort of a darker Eph, a guy that’s willing to do more and cross the line a little bit more easily?

Yeah, I think you can say that. The first time he killed anybody intentionally he was being attacked, and that was sort of purely defensive. As the first season went on, he became more inured to killing to the point where he doesn’t really sort of flinch killing people who are completely turned. 

Then he crossed the line, again, at the beginning of this season experimenting on freshly turned people and then this is another one, and then sort of the ratchet that sort of keeps pushing him past these lines that he never thought he would cross. But yeah, it definitely from that point on to the rest of the season, he is in a different place, morally.

There was a lot made of the “wig gate.”  Are you relieved that that’s behind you now?

Yes, I’m relieved, and I spoke about this at the TCAs that it was -- just from the sense that it was a distraction for the audience. It’s unfortunate, and there’s an unfortunate bargain that every actor has to make ... the more you work the more recognizable you are. That can be helpful in getting you more work, but it’s detrimental to your job as an actor because you’re less able to disappear into the role.

I can see why someone like Johnny Depp has gotten so enamored of really intense hair and makeup for his roles because when you get that famous it can sort of be the only way to really do your job, just sort of become somebody else. So that’s an unfortunate thing that people’s ability to see past the image. It was limited here. So yeah, it’s a relief to have that not be an issue in this particular project.

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