As unsettlingly charming serial killer (and cult leader) Joe Carroll in Fox’s “The Following,” James Purefoy proved a worthy nemesis to Kevin Bacon’s Ryan Hardy, an FBI agent who is every bit the Mandatory Unretirement trope (via TV Tropes) you might expect from a network series. The show never really managed to impress critics — of its second season, The AV Club’s Sonia Saraiya wrote that “the only way the show could shed all of the aspects that made it such a mess in season one would be to implode completely and start from scratch” — many were captivated by Purefoy’s depiction of the murderous manipulator. Moreover, it’s always at least a little hard not to follow Kevin Bacon to the ends of the earth, regardless of a given project’s narrative plausibility (or stilted dialogue).
Television-wise, Purefoy went on to land recurring roles in the 2016 TV miniseries adaptation of “Roots,” Neflix’s “Altered Carbon,” and Sundance’s “Hap and Leonard.” At the same time, there were plenty of silver screen roles still requiring the actor’s unique blend of confidence, charisma, mystery and likability. From 2015 to 2017, Purefoy starred in Stephen S. Campanelli’s action-packed “Momentum,” Meera Menon’s timely financial thriller, “Equity,” and Jonathan Teplitzky’s “Churchill,” wherein he played the role of King George VI. Notably, the actor also starred alongside Marvel prince and “Hollow Crown” king Tom Hiddleston in Ben Wheatley’s hilarious, impressionistic adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s dark, surrealist postmodern novel, “High Rise.” Memorable as all these performances were, it was what Purefoy did next that might well be why audiences most immediately recognize him.