Wilmette native Nico Tortorella shows some of his tattoos. (Fox )
In Fox's "The Following," Wilmette native Nico Tortorella plays one-third of a serial killer love triangle that henceforth shall be called "Jemmaul."
"Jemmaul, I like that," the 24-year-old told me, laughing, when I suggested that nickname, PauJaMma (pronounced Paw-jam-ma) and Jacmaul. "That's definitely the best one."
"Jemmaul" is Jacob (Tortorella's character), Emma (Valorie Curry) and Paul (Adan Canto), three people who have fallen under the spell of serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) and are currently holed up in a remote farmhouse with Carroll's young son.
Spoiler alert: If you have yet to watch the Feb. 11 episode, "Mad Love," you might want to stop reading.
In the episode, "Jemmaul" jumped in the shower together after Emma and Paul recaptured a woman Paul had kidnapped and Jacob was unable to kill. The scene was less sexy than emotional, as Jacob revealed to his two serial-killer lovers that he has never killed a human being.
"He's ashamed," Tortorella said of his character. "He's been lying and once that lie is revealed, it's just shame. Now he wants to prove that he can actually be part of this bigger picture."
The only way he can stay in the picture, obviously, is to kill someone. Tortorella wouldn't reveal what happens exactly, but said, "A whole lot happens at that farm house."
His role in "The Following" is much heavier than his first acting gig, which he got when he was 8. Far from starring as an apprentice killer, he played as a munchkin in "The Wizard of Oz" at a children's theater in Wilmette. He went on to do theater at New Trier High School and after that, while living in Chicago, where he starred in "Over the Tavern" at the Mercury and other area theaters.
He was in high school when he started collecting the "10 or 11" tattoos that now adorn his body. His mom took him to get the first, while his grandmother's love of antiques turned him on to taxidermy. Read an edited version of our chat below.
What's the key to playing a guy who has these two convoluted relationships?
Right. I think that the key as of now is to just make my lies seem somewhat acceptable and explain why I have been doing what I've been doing. It's just, with these two people that I have these relationships with, it's just fully giving myself to them and just trying to find that acceptance.
He genuinely feels for both of them, right?
Yeah. Oh, completely. It's just all that he lives for--and Joe Carroll, you know?
How do you approach playing a serial killer?
That's the fun part, you know? It's every actor's dream to be the bad guy. I have that opportunity here. And also it's with all the amazing actors and characters and filmmakers that I'm able to work. I think it just bringing as much of my darkness in my own life into the role. Clearly that's just a tiny, tiny little piece of what Jacob is.
Do you see him as a bad guy or is it hard to approach a character thinking that about him?
No. I don't go to work thinking, "I'm going to be a bad guy today." I'm put in scenarios and situations where I come off as such. But I totally empathize with Jacob and I think that he really believes that what he's doing is for a greater purpose. On paper, yeah, he's 100 percent a bad guy. And it just gets worse.
In the episode before "Mad Love," Jacob begs Paul not to tell Emma his secret. I love that it had nothing to do with him having real sexual feelings toward Paul, but the fact he hasn't killed anyone yet. And I felt for your character.
Yeah. That I think is the most interesting part of our show, that the audience is totally going to empathize with the bad guys. There's going to be some episodes where they're going to want the bad guys to win and the good guys to lose. And other times where it's going to be the opposite. But I think that's what makes our show so interesting.
And why do you think that is?
Kevin's not portraying us, like you said, as these mustache-twirling evil people. He's really showing our family relationship and how we interact with each other. It's based in love, really. It's just kind of one big, fucked up love story with blood everywhere.
The 'shippers are probably going to have a field day. "I like Jacob/Emma." "I like Jacob/Paul." "I like all three together." Where do you see that dynamic going?
It's constantly changing.
How do you think Jacob identifies himself and his sexuality?
I'm sure that he's had issues his whole life with it and I think that he would be the first one to say that he's not gay. But he's been in a relationship with Emma and he's been in a pseudo-ridiculous relationship with Paul for the past three years. That's a long time to be living under one roof with one person. And I think that he's just opened up to the world. He's well-rounded.