Actor Corey Stoll is poised to have a breakout summer thanks to his starring role as Dr. Ephraim Goodweather in Season 2 of Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain on FX, which debuts July 12th, and his role as villain Yellowjacket in Marvel’s big-budget summer blockbuster, Ant-Man, which hits theaters July 17th. That’s going to be quite a week, and quite a summer, for the character actor who’s kept busy throughout his career. He’s the guy who you’ve seen in shows like Law & Order: LA, House of Cards, and NCIS over the past 14 years, but you don’t know his name. The odds are good you’ll know his name starting in mid-July. Stoll talks vampires, super heroes, and comic books in this exclusive interview.
What can fans expect from the evolution of The Strain heading into Season 2?
Stoll: Almost through the whole first season there was this sense of this secret infection or conspiracy happening below the surface that most New Yorkers are only barely aware of. Our team is seeing it face-to-face as they chase down this strain, but it hasn’t taken over the whole city. And from the get-go this season, New York is a war zone and there’s no denying The Strain has lept from this containable little outbreak to a full-on epidemic. And society is already showing signs of breaking down a little bit and the skepticism that my character clung onto for most of the first season is really starting to slip away. I’m taking it as a given that there are vampires, and there’s this powerful creature called The Master who can control them.
The Strain really pushes a lot of different TV boundaries when it comes to the intensity, the scares, and the visuals. How do you feel you’re upping the ante with this second season?
In terms of scale, there’s just huge amounts of infected. And we’re getting better as fighters, so those fight scenes are becoming a little bit less clumsy. You see signs of this ragtag group becoming great vampire slayers. And there are other variations of fighters, which I’m not a part of. We get a lot of the backstory on a number of the characters, so it gives this incredible sense of scale where we can be in ancient Rome or in 1950s Vienna.
What’s it been like to work with Guillermo Del Toro and what do you feel he brings to this series?
He’s a maximalist, if there is an aesthetic. He’s just full of ideas. It’s not to say that he doesn’t have an editor, but he tends to be the one when coming up with ideas who’ll say, ‘What if we did this? What if we added this?’ And you see the line producer sweating bullets trying to figure out how to keep these ideas in line with the budget. When you really get moving on a series there are so many forces, including time and money, that are at play. There’s so many different choices to make, you want to choose the easiest thing to shoot, and really push this into a real cinematic play.
How does working on a big TV series like The Strain compare to working on a big Marvel movie like Ant-Man?
They both have their challenges. Sometimes when you’re on a movie set and you spent three days on the same scene, you spend 80 percent of your day in the trailer. It seems a little absurd. On this show, sometimes we’re sometimes moving and going through scenes, it can be really addictive. At times it can be grueling, especially with the hours that we shoot. Sometimes we’ll look back and look at what we shot in a day and it’s incredible how much you can get done in a day when you’re forced to.
What do you feel it is about vampires as monsters that have stood the test of time?
It’s very flexible metaphor. Hunger is the first lesson we learn, and it really is true. Hunger is the very first need and the very first motivator for expression. It’s so primal. And so a creature whose hunger — that very essential driving course of their existence is turned onto their fellow man — is a really powerful metaphor that touches us very deeply. There’s something very deeply perverse about that, and yet they’re identifiable.
Having worked in serialized hit shows like House of Cards and The Strain, how have you seen that medium evolve as a premiere entertainment offering in recent years?
Less than twenty years ago there were certain types of stories like Transparent or even Breaking Bad that you’d only find in a theater. Now things have really opened up and there’s really no story that you can’t tell on television. I think television still has a long way to go in terms of racial diversity, but it seems like it has come along farther than film has at this point. Once you’ve opened up that sense of what kinds of stories you can tell, there’s so much fertile ground to explore.
What’s it like for you to be able to go from playing the hero in The Strain to playing a villain like Yellowjacket in Ant-Man?
It’s super fun. They both have their charms and they both scratch a different itch as a performer. In Ant-Man I get to be the more flamboyant character in a world that’s in some ways more real than The Strain. And then in The Strain I’m in the role of valiant surrogate in this very crazy world with these very crazy characters. So it’s really great to push both of those polarities.
Both The Strain and Ant-Man have comic book ties. How big into comics were you as a kid?
When I think about how much money I’d have now if I had just put some money in stock instead of all those comic books. That was a major part of my life really through high school. And I still love comics. I don’t really follow any particular comics month to month, but I do like to grab a some collections now and then and read them.
What were some of your favorite comics?
I was really into X-Men. If there was one that really stood out it’d be X-Force or Excalibur. I also liked Alpha Flight, which is connected to X-Men. There’s something about that really big cast of characters, almost a soapy aspect that was fun. And of course as I got a little bit older and discovered the great Frank Miller’s Batman stuff and the Daredevil stuff and the great Alan Moore stuff I really got into all of that.