Kevin Durand practices the Fet art of extermination on The Strain Special

Posted Oct 3, 2014 by Earl Dittman
According to the Canadian actor, if there's one man you’d want to have by your side during a vampire apocalypse it would be his vermin-killing character on the hit series. It’s a dirty job, but it’s one he and his Ukrainian alter-ego more than enjoy
Kevin Durand portrays expert exterminator Vasiliy Fet on  The Strain
Kevin Durand portrays expert exterminator Vasiliy Fet on 'The Strain'
Even with the world around him falling into complete chaos, as the strigoi (victims of an evil, viral strain of vampirism) begin to overrun Manhattan Island, Vasiliy Fet — the former NYC Bureau of Pest Control employee and current exterminator of human bloodsucking vermin — never misses an opportunity to enjoy the finer, simpler things in life. Canadian-born actor Kevin Durand, who deftly portrays the charismatic, second-generation Ukrainian vamp slayer on The Strain, contends Fet’s devil-may-care attitude is what has made him a favorite among fans of the hit series based on Guillermo de Toro and Chuck Hogan’s trilogy of novels.
“How can you not love a guy who is making googley-eyes at a girl when the world's going to crap?” the affable and witty Durand says. “Fet can get away with that because he's very comfortable, he's ready and he knows that if there's anyone for the job than he's the guy. It’s been so incredibly gratifying to watch this first season unfold and to see him evolve. From the first time that we get to see Fet to where he's at now, I mean, I've been just been tickled by his whole journey. And, now as we see that things are getting more intense as the minutes roll by, watching Fet is kind of like seeing a great kind of prize fighter before a big fight — staying really calm and relaxed and ready for action.
“Look, he loves his work,” he says of the pest controller-turned-strigoi hunter. "I think that Fet has this inner kind of warrior — this Viking warrior inside of him — and it was always kind of living within him. And, in this specific circumstance, when all hell has broken loose and the vermin have turned into human bloodsucking vermin, he knows that he's a master at exterminating and this new world really needs him. I just think he's so happy to step up to the task."
A veteran of television series such as Lost, Dark Angel, Touching Evil and Mystery, Alaska and motion pictures including Fruitvale Station, Robin Hood, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Noah and Cosmopolis, Kevin Durand (who hails from Thunder Bay, Ontario) was hand-selected by acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro for the role of Vasiliy Fet, the rodent exterminator who proves to be just as good at killing vampires. It was a job offer that Durand says came out of left field, and it was one gig he didn’t expect to land.
Kevin Durand is Vasiliy Fet on  The Strain
Kevin Durand is Vasiliy Fet on 'The Strain'
"I was prepping for a film at the time called The Captive that I did for Atom Egoyan," he remembers. "I had lost like 40 pounds, and I had this little mustache, and I looked like a very different person. Then I found out that Guillermo and Carlton wanted to meet me on this project. So, I had three days. After I read that first book I was like, 'There is no way that Guillermo del Toro and Carlton Cuse are going to see me at this big, robust, heroic, stoic fella Fet,' because I was so skinny and sick looking. We had this meeting and sat down and I assured them that I was kind of starving myself just for this project I was going to do and then I was going to get back to normal. In the room, they asked me if I wanted to be Vasiliy Fet. Every day since I've been so grateful for that meeting, because in playing him I don't know if I've ever had so much fun, ever."
Much like the ever-growing legions of fans devoted to The Strain, Durand claims he is bracing himself for "The Master," the Season One finale — an episode in which Eph and Fet recon for an all-out assault that Setrakian assures them will finally kill the Master. “Hopefully, I make it through Episode 13,” he says teasingly, “that way, I get to come back and we get to explore more stuff about Fet.”
Did The Strain trilogy of books inspire the way that you wanted to portray Fet in the series? "I guess, in reading the three books, I kind of saw him very similarly to the way that I'm playing him. I feel like a lot of it was on the page. I hear that he's a lot more of a charming kind and happier than people had anticipated, but I kind of always saw that because through the journals and the books see how he really finds himself within this apocalypse and is blooming like a beautiful Ukrainian flower amidst the apocalypse."
If you had the chance to read The Strain comic book/graphic novel series, did they, at all, also help you prepare for the role? "Yes, and it's really interesting. Initially, I read the books then Guillermo also gave me some of the graphic novels, and reading through them it was very informative to kind of see the physicality of Vasiliy. And, even though my ideas were a little different, I still did take a lot from it. It was very helpful to get to see an artist's rendition of who your guy, who your character looks like, and even in every frame you get a sense of his movement and it just gives you more artillery to go into work with."
Fet has now become a full-time member of Setrakian's vampire killing team. What kind of affect do you think that it has had Vasiliy? "I don't think he's used to playing with other kids in the sandbox, but he's a smart guy and he understands that there's a lot of power that comes with numbers. He looks around the room and he has a genuine respect for everybody in that group and knows that we can all play our role in taking down the Master."
Fet is one man who thinks very quickly on his feet and has nerves of steel, even when he was facing that sleeping hoard of strigoi in last week's episode. Given that, what do you think it would take to really unnerve this guy and put true fear in his heart? "Wow, that's a really good question. I'm not really sure, because we haven't gotten that yet. I don't know if we will? I think it's going to be interesting to see him in a group of people like this, and when you're in a group of people under such a high level of duress there is a very high, intense level of bonding amongst the group. I think the idea that Fet will develop feelings for people within this group would definitely raise the stakes for him and probably put fear in his heart.
"It's just like Setrakian (David Bradley) has told us before, he said love is our downfall. I think of him being a loner up to this point, like even seeing that he hasn't seen his father or mother, he's been estranged from there for years. He hasn't really had to account for anyone for a long time, and now he seems like he really, genuinely respects Setrakian, at this point, and I see a relationship budding there, like a father/son relationship. It seems like he's kind of interested in Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas), as well. I don't see a whole lot of love lost between him and Eph (Corey Stoll) but, who knows, they may become friends. I don't know. But, I think that that might be the thing is connection to these human beings under that duress may take him to that point."
Ruta Gedmintas portrays Dutch on  The Strain
Ruta Gedmintas portrays Dutch on 'The Strain'
Speaking of Dutch, what's the deal? Does Fet like this girl, or is it just harmless flirting? "We haven't really explored it a whole lot. I think that he sees a spectrum of things in her. Obviously, she's not hard on the eyes, but she's hyper-intelligent, she's rebellious like him, she's tough like him, she doesn't take any crap like him, and he really gets a kick out of it. I think he sees she's kind of reflecting to him kind of like a mirror in some ways in the short time that they have known each other, so he's just intrigued. Actually, as you probably know if you've read the books, I mean she doesn't exist in the book. So, her fate and what she ends up doing within the show are completely a mystery to me. It's one of those things that I'm so excited about with this show — we really don't know what's going to happen. So, if I make it through Episode 13, the season finale, then I'll get to shoot a second season and maybe we can find out." (laughs)
I meant to ask, why is there so much friction between Fet and Eph? “Vasiliy is very straight up and he reacts to people the way — let’s say he's very reactionary. So, Eph, off the top, just kind of gave him — I think he has a thing in terms of judging people. I think that he kind of gets set off a little bit, his temper gets set off a little bit when people look down upon him and when they just expect a lot less from him. People have been looking down on him for a long time because of his job, and I think he feels that from Eph. And, Vasiliy's a very learned man. He might not come off that way, but he never, ever sees himself as a step below Ephraim, just because he's a doctor. So, he kind of takes people for the way that they react to him, I think.”
Essentially, though, Fet is a pretty upbeat character in this rather grim tale. Does he really think things are going to turn out okay or does he simply have no fear? "I think that when you're going up against the odds that we're going against, I mean, even just putting our little group just against that one seven-foot, eight-foot, maybe nine-foot tall Master, I mean that's scary enough as it is, but now we have a population that's just exploding with these things. The only thing that you really have is hope. The only thing that you have is optimism."
The first two books of the trilogy — The Strain and The Fall — are super dark. Do you feel like for the television version of The Strain that it's really important to give viewers some kind of ray of hope or light? "Yes. Absolutely. I mean, I think you have to have a reason. You can't be watching this show for five seasons thinking that they're all doomed. There has to be some chance that they could make it, and this is the group of people that I would hope for in a vampire apocalypse. I hope that there's a real Fet, an Eph, a Setrakian, a Nora (Mia Maestro) and a Dutch out there to help take us through it. I think that's part of why people have been drawn to Fet, because he's not kind of letting the fall of civilization get him down. I think he truly believes and truly has hope in his heart, and not just hope, though. I think he really believes that he is going to get through it, and he's starting to understand that he's going to be instrumental in that, and it really makes him feel good and strong and confident in himself."
Kevin Durand  Mia Maestro  Ruta Gedmintas and David Bradley in a scene from  The Strain
Kevin Durand, Mia Maestro, Ruta Gedmintas and David Bradley in a scene from 'The Strain'
For the first half of the season Fet is sort of unknown, he's sort of stalking the streets as like the solo hero, and then about halfway through suddenly you're in this big group dynamic. What is it like going through that change as an actor? "I really, really appreciated the opportunity to have the first half of the season to find Fet. I was really kind of exploring, trying to really feel him out, and by the time we got into the group dynamic I felt like I had a good hold on who he was. So, when I started working with this group, who are all like such great actors and people that I genuinely fell in love with, became friends with, it was really rewarding to get to bounce ideas off of each other and move the narrative forward and find moments. Yes, it's just really great to be a part of that group."
Throughout your career you've played some different nationalities and you've done different accents. Do you work with dialect coaches or do you devote a lot of time to practicing different accents that your characters call for? "I have a funny kind of OCD. I'm a little obsessive compulsive with sounds and people's idiosyncratic behavior, and I generally I don't work with anyone. Sometimes the production will have someone that will kind of check up on me. But, I'm so obsessive with this stuff that I usually just come to the table with what I end up doing. For instance, for Robin Hood, before (director) Ridley Scott had actually given me the job, I moved to Scotland for two months and was frequenting a lot of hangouts in Glasgow and Edinburgh — just recording people, having conversations. There's this one fellow, Bill Haggerty in Glasgow, that I'd meet at a pub about three times, four times a week, and I would record our conversations, and I was trying to become Bill Haggerty. So, it's always a different process, and I kind of go about it organically. With Vasiliy I wanted to find a way to meld a Ukrainian sound with a New York sound."
You do a masterful job, because Vasiliy obviously sounds Ukrainian. "That's so good to hear. It was definitely a learning process trying to think out the marriage between the two accents. Because Fet, to me, is like really like New York, but it depends. I'm French-Canadian, so my natural accent is not the one that I'm speaking in right now. I know that in certain situations I start to hear my accent again. Usually, when things are a little bit more intense, or if I'm having a couple beers, or if I'm just talking to my mom and dad it all comes back. So, I kind of implement that into Fet's kind of life. If he's hanging out and talking to his dad, like that one scene, it gets a little thicker, because it kind of brings out the Ukrainian. If he's just hanging out with some dudes from the neighborhood then he definitely gets more New York. So it's been really, really fun finding it, and I'm excited to keep finding it every day."
What has been the most challenging aspect of filming The Strain? "The most challenging? It's just been such a blast and so much fun shooting. I mean, we had long hours, it was cold. I know that a lot of the cast members found the climate to be a bit challenging; however, I'm from 20 hours north of Toronto so I kind of felt really at home. So, challenge-wise I feel like all my preparation was there going in and my challenge was just to try to be the best that I could be every day."
Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand) battles a strigoi in a scene from  The Strain
Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand) battles a strigoi in a scene from 'The Strain'
Are you a big thriller or horror fan? "Yes! When I was a child, much to the chagrin of my father, my mother would keep me up and I would watch horror films with her since I was about four years old or five years old. So, I've always been a fan. And they always say that you marry your mother, and my wife is the biggest horror fan ever, so I kind of experienced a rebirth in terms of my interest in the genre since I married Sandra four years ago. So, when this opportunity came along we read the books. We were kind of like snickering and giggling like some little kids going, 'Oh my God, this is going to be awesome.'" (laughs)
The Strain is, without a doubt, an incredibly unique and compelling cable series. What is it about The Strain that makes it so appealing to horror fans? "Well, you're seeing this story being told from the perspective of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. But, Guillermo has his eye on every single frame and he brings a certain beauty to the most horrific things, and it's very hard to look away. You can't help but stare at The Master's face when you're in an extreme close-up and look at the beautiful, intricate details. I think he has such a unique take on horror. I remember watching Pan's Labyrinth and just being in absolute awe of the things that scared me, because they were so beautiful."
I know you're brand-new to the Twitter unverse. What was that live tweeting experience like during this past episode? "That live tweeting experience last night — I was so excited and had so much fun. I've always been so against doing the social media thing. I don't know, my head must have been up my butt. I've just been so scared to share stuff. I thought I should stay mysterious, kind of. But, I have to say since I've joined I've really enjoyed being able to see immediately people's reactions and have communications to people who are watching the show or other projects that I might be a part of. Luckily, they're not tweeting and saying, 'Wow, Kevin Durand, you really suck.'" (laughs)
I'm sure it helps that everybody loves Fet. "Exactly. Exactly. It could have been a very different experience. I might be Sean Astin already if that was the case. (laughs) But, yes, it was just so lovely to get all that kind of support, and, yes, I really enjoyed it. I think I might want to do it again for the finale. I don't know, we'll see."
Nora (Mia Maestro)  Eph (Corey Stoll) and Fet (Kevin Durand) in a scene from Season One of  The Stra...
Nora (Mia Maestro), Eph (Corey Stoll) and Fet (Kevin Durand) in a scene from Season One of 'The Strain'
If you walk into any bookstore you can usually find a whole wall of vampire fiction, which is great, because teenage girls need something to read. But I think it's cool that The Strain has taken vampires back away from those books, TV shows and movies that want to make the vampires charming, sexy, brooding and angst-ridden. Do you take pride in being involved in a show that makes vampires truly bad again? "Absolutely. I mean, obviously, I can't take credit for that at all. It lays in the wonderful, crazy, beautiful, dark mind of Guillermo del Toro. Because he's been having dreams about these vampires and making sketches and taking notes since he was a child, and that's how these vampires came to fruition. They've been a part of his nightmares for decades. So what's really satisfying is to see Guillermo, who is such a lovely, charismatic visionary, actually get those nightmares out of his head and onto the screen. I'm so grateful to be a part of it and help him tell the story."
"The Master," the Season One finale of The Strain, airs Sunday, October 5th, 2014 at 10:00p.m.EST-PST/9:00p.m.CST only on FX.