No one trusts Lily Gray (Connie Nielsen), the art dealer who was the lone survivor of the Season 2 premiere subway attack on “The Following.” The audience knows not to take anyone on the FOX serial killer thriller at face value anymore — we’ve been burned one too many times. But no one saw the big twist coming: Lily is actually the mother of psychopath twins Luke and Mark (both played by Sam Underwood).
The one person who did know the truth about Lily from the beginning? Nielsen herself. “I did know that, yes,” Nielsen tells Zap2it. “I planned from the beginning to show just how manipulative and to show in hindsight how manipulative psycho people are. On the psychopathic spectrum, some are just straight-up psychopaths.”
She continues, “I wanted to show how good they are at pretending to be normal and behaving in a normal way, and that is the truly scary part about dealing with people who are like that. They know how to mirror our expectations of normal behavior.”
Lily acted so normally that she even fooled Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) until the very end when he noticed her one slip-up — she said she was in a hurry but didn’t get on the express train. She waited for the car with attackers. But Ryan still doesn’t know her connection to the twins.
Nielsen is happy that she was able to fool an audience that is already so skeptical of characters’ intentions. “You’re right, there is this expectation from the audience that everybody is trying to see the signs everywhere,” Nielsen says. “But that is [executive producer] Kevin Williamson’s expertise. He knows how to surprise and put a wrinkle in it so that nobody could see it coming. It makes it exciting to watch these characters.”
So now that Lily’s cover has been blown and she’s reunited with her sons, what’s coming next for the family of psychos? “I can’t tell you a thing!” Nielsen laughs. “That would take the pleasure away. I know there is a lot of people who think, ‘Oh, now the cat’s out of the bag,’ but actually the cat’s not quite out of the bag yet. There is so much to come.”
When we tried to squeeze out any details about Luke and Mark’s father (is it Joe?), Nielsen was equally tight-lipped. “I can’t tell you guys that,” she says with a laugh.
Okay, so she can’t reveal anything about the father. What about Lily’s family dynamic with Luke and Mark? “I don’t know if I can even describe their family dynamic,” Nielsen says. “There’s a lot of stuff that you’re going to see, and it would be a pity for the upcoming episodes to spoil any of it. I don’t want you to be prepared for it. I’d rather have you guys experience it.”
While Nielsen wouldn’t reveal anything about what’s coming next, she was able to discuss Lily’s budding relationship with Ryan and whether or not she had any true feelings for him, or whether she was just playing him from the start.
“It’s hard to tell with psychopaths. It’s hard to tell if they can really love any other people than themselves, whether they’re attracted to people or whether they’re just fulfilling some kind of personal plan or dream or vision,” Nielsen says. “I think she looks at people in terms of what kind of validation they can give her, whether they’re able to play along with what she wants. I don’t think she’s necessarily that emotional. I do think she has dreams. Whether those dreams are about what she wants vs. being a normal woman who loves selflessly, I don’t know.”
Nielsen has enjoyed playing Lily so far. “It was a lot of fun to play on this type of character, this type of woman,” Nielsen says. “What would she do, what would she be working with, in order to be really convincing to someone like Kevin Bacon’s character. How can she convince him, and what is it that she needs to play on to convince him that she’s real? That was incredibly interesting to see how you play sincerity when it’s not there.”
So far we’ve seen Lily as the victim, the romantic interest, and now a mother and a villain, and Nielsen promises that isn’t the last role Lily will take on. “You’ll see all those other dark, dark sides of Lily,” Nielsen says. “You’ll see her underlying fear of abandonment, you’ll see her need to control, you’ll see so many abilities to play mind games and you’ll see this completely dark space that she lives in. You’ll also see some really surprising sides of her that I don’t want to talk about yet.”
Plus, Nielsen warns that even though Lily’s cover has been blown, she hasn’t lost her ability to cause trouble. “She’s definitely a planner but she’s also directly involved in some of the things that are happening and will happen,” Nielsen says. “There’s a lot of really potentially wonderful confrontations that are about to happen. I’m excited for fans to see these new confrontations go down.”
As for Monday (Feb. 10), Nielsen wouldn’t spill any details for fear of spoiling, but she did promise that the shocking twists and reveals have only just begun. “There will be so many twists and turns and surprises that I just bet nobody will see coming,” Nielsen says with a laugh. “Oh yes. You guys are going to have a lot of fun with that. I sure did.”
“The Following” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.