Hollywood Notebook: 'The Following,' 'Salem' and Mickey Rooney

The Fresno BeeApril 19, 2014 

There are only two episodes left of the second season of the FOX series "The Following." The penultimate episode airs at 9 tonight on Fox 26.

Although the second season has wandered off the creepy path that was so perfect in the first year, the show continues to feature one of the most fascinating maniacs in TV history with James Purefoy's Joe Carroll.

The series focuses on the efforts of a flawed FBI agent — played by Kevin Bacon — to track down Carroll. But Purefoy's character gets a lot of attention.

"I think people are really fascinated by psychopaths. Psychopaths are willing to step outside the normal bounds of human behavior, and I think people find that really interesting and people fantasize about that themselves," Purefoy says.

"Most people don't carry it out, but they think, wow, that's amazing that these people can live with no sense of empathy for somebody else or no sense of an idea of a consequence to any of their actions.

"I don't think it has anything to do with 'The Following.' People find psychopaths fascinating in drama and have done for centuries. They're dirty and what was that word? Skeevy?"

Even more skeevy is the character played by Valorie Curry. Her Emma is a wisp of a woman with a pixie haircut who is ready to do whatever necessary to make Joe Carroll happy. Curry believes the character is not completely hated because Emma has a vulnerable side.

"Some people can absolutely sympathize and see the victim in this girl. Some people absolutely can't. And she is very polarizing in that way. And I think that's why people connect with her," Curry says.

"At the same time, I think people are compelled to watch and love to hate her because she undermines their expectations so much because she looks so sweet. She looks so innocent. She can behave that way and convince you that she is that and turn on a dime in the next moment, which is what makes her so fun to play."

Trial and errors

The new WGN America series "Salem" is set during the Salem Witch Trials and is based in historical fact. But the show takes some magical liberties with the people, places and witchy things.

Seth Gabel, who plays Cotton Mather, who heads the witch hunt, sees the series as being more about mystery than history.

"This show is about perception and questioning the things that we accept as fact, and what is truth and how do we define truth and how do we know that the stories — because they are stories — that were told about history are, in fact, true," Gabel says. "What I love about this show is it questions those facts. It questions those perceptions, and at the same time, it kind of gives you an access for understanding the truth of the situation that, perhaps, may be metaphorical, and you can experience what it was like to be in Salem during that time and actually live there."

He stresses the show should not be defined as just as a series about witches or about witchcraft or about the witch trials. What he sees as important and relevant is that the show addresses a lot of energies that exist within the human psyche that so often get repressed.

"The blood and death that followed that tragic event in American history, I think, is the result of that kind of repression. And so I think this show's a brilliant exploration of that and does it in so many ways," Gabel says.

Tough talk

The passing of the 93-year-old Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney made me think about the multiple times I interviewed him and the one chat that remains one of the toughest ever.

The assignment was to do a telephone interview with Rooney to talk about a performance in November 1999, "The Night Time Classics," which he was doing at the Tower Theater with his wife, Jan Chamberlin Rooney.

It took less than two minutes to ask 25 questions. Rooney answered every question with one or two words — mostly yes and no. Asked if his appearance here would be anything like his 1994 one-man show "Mickey Rooney in Mickey Rooney," the actor simply answered: "It will be a variation of that." How is it different? "I am working with my wife," the Brooklyn-born Rooney said.

Pressed, he added that he sings, she sings, they do impersonations, tell stories and they have "a grand old time." Simple response. Right to the point.

Because he was offering so little, I finally asked Rooney if I could talk to his wife since she would be part of the show. She was far more giving with her responses. Putting Rooney back on the phone, he wrapped up the talk by saying "My life has always been an open book."

It suddenly became very clear. Rooney had been acting all his life and part of that process put him in the position to talk about himself. He had heard all the questions.

And a lot of those interviews were to talk about negatives because his life had gone from the high of being the biggest box office actor in movies (even at 5-foot-1) to the low of being paid $500 to make an appearance at a party.

He had dealt with financial ills, eight marriages and a world that traded an interest in the simplicity of putting on a show in a barn for the complexity of political thrillers and big special effects.

Considering his history, Rooney had earned the right to answer his way.


TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, rbentley@fresnobee.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at www.fresnobeehive.com.

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