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Published: Wednesday, July 9, 2014, 1:31 p.m.

Stoll enjoys ‘The Strain’ of series stardom

  • Corey Stoll and Mia Maestro in a scene from the new series “The Strain,” premiering Sunday on FX.

    FX

    Corey Stoll and Mia Maestro in a scene from the new series “The Strain,” premiering Sunday on FX.

This looks dire. An airliner has landed in New York with everyone onboard apparently dead.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hard-charging troubleshooter, Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, is summoned to investigate.
A suspicious-looking crate the plane was carrying vanishes.
Welcome to “The Strain,” a creepy new thriller about a viral outbreak threatening the human race that only Goodweather can stop.
Premiering at 10 p.m. Sunday on FX, “The Strain” can claim as co-creators Guillermo del Toro (the “Hellboy” films) and Chuck Hogan, who jointly wrote the novels that inspired the series.
It stars Corey Stoll, who tangled with demonic Washington, D.C., in the first season of the Netflix political drama “House of Cards.”
Now he’s battling bloodsucking zombies who mean to take over the world.
“I’ve NEVER seen a lot of the stuff we’ll be doing,” he says. “And there’s a unique tone: a mix of goofiness and melancholy,” often registered in the mix of horror, disgust and rapt fascination with which Goodweather greets the monstrous things he sees.
Stoll’s career has taken off in the past five years. He appeared in the Angelina Jolie film “Salt,” starred for a season in “Law & Order: Los Angeles” and memorably depicted Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.”
He considers the timing of his career to have been a blessing, particularly in one respect that, in another era, might have stopped him cold: His premature baldness, which happened shortly after college (he wears a hairpiece in “The Strain”).
“I’m fortunate,” he says, “to have entered the business when a bald person could play something other than a biker or prisoner or cancer patient.”
Even now, few pale-pated actors (Patrick Stewart, Bruce Willis) are granted leading-man status. But Stoll never looked to be a matinee idol. He envisioned a stage career of character roles, even back at New York’s High School for the Performing Arts when he had a full head of hair.
And no wonder.
“I was a really fat kid,” he explains. “In high school, I topped out at about 310.”
What turned him around was a showcase where his teacher proposed two possible roles: the Hunchback of Notre Dame or the Elephant Man.
“I remember thinking, ‘I don’t want to only be playing Quasimodo for the rest of my life, so I better lose some weight.”’
He installed his parents’ exercise bike in his bedroom and pumped away by the hour while The Smashing Pumpkins blasted. His improvised diet: white rice and V8 juice.
“I was doing it all wrong,” Stoll laughs. But it worked. He says he shed 100 pounds. (Today, at 6-foot-2, he weighs a buff 210 pounds.)
“The irony is, I got down to a less character-y weight — and lost my hair.”
Often in his roles, his signature baldness is on full display, as with Peter Russo, the womanizing, drugs-abusing congressman in “House of Cards.”
But as Eph Goodweather on “The Strain,” he exhibits a full coif, complete with distinguished-looking widow’s peak.
“I enjoy having a mask,” he says. “A wig helps put me in character.”
It serves Stoll as just another character choice. For him, hair has never been a matter of vanity, nor was its loss traumatic, he insists.
“I never thought I had good looks to lose,” he sums up with a shrug.

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