As Gabriel Bolivar on FX’s The Strain, Jack Kesy has gone from playing a beloved shock rocker and would-be “survivor” of the doomed flight that started it all, to a bloodsucking vampire henchman for the villainous Master. (Let’s see Ozzy Osbourne try to top that.) And now, in Sunday night’s latest episode, Bolivar undergoes another major transformation that should shift the balance of power in the vampire plague-ravaged New York yet again.
Back during our set visit in Toronto earlier this year, Rotten Tomatoes was part of a roundtable discussion with Kesy about his recently expanded role in The Strain’s second season. Here’s what the actor had to say about Bolivar’s surprising metamorphosis into the show’s new big bad – and what’s coming next. [Warning: Contains spoilers from last night’s episode, “Identity.”]
From The Strain’s first season into the first five episodes of season two, we’ve seen Bolivar go from a self-obsessed rock star to one of The Master’most trusted lieutenants, the vampire put in charge of Eldritch Palmer’s personal security detail.
Much like Natalie Brown’s Kelly, Bolivar has clearly been an important part of The Master’s, well, master plan. “He’s been eyed by The Master as someone special, with qualities that are important,” said Kesy. “He’s been under his wing, watched after.”
“He’s been a loyal henchman,” he continued. “He’s strong. He’s kind of embraced this outbreak as a survivor. He definitely caught The Master’s attention in that sense.” And that loyalty has paid off in the form of a major promotion: as we saw on Sunday night, Bolivar’s tapped to become The Master’s new-and-improved vessel, after the ancient vampire’s previous body was severally damaged by Setrakian (David Bradley) and his gang during last season’s finale.
In doing so though, The Master passed up someone else in his organization that’s potentially more qualified than Bolivar, and certainly more willing: Richard Sammel’s Eichorst, who had previously been promised the position. And it’s a tough pill for The Master’s right-hand man to swallow — at least initially, said Kesy.
“There’s a disappointment, naturally, because he was so eager and earnest, and he had this whole plan in his head because he worked alongside The Master for so many years. It just seemed like a natural fit,” Kesy explained. “As opposed to this rock/pop star who comes out of left field and usurps this position. But I think he comes to terms with it.”
Because as we’ve seen so far, Eichorst is nothing if not a team player. “There’s a grand master plan to it which is not about him, but about the big picture. He’s intelligent enough to know it. He’s been around for thousands of years,” said Kesy. “He’s got to have some kind of brains.”
When Kesy first signed onto the series, he says The Strain showrunner Carlton Cuse and co-creator Guillermo Del Toro didn’t let him in on what exactly was going to happen to his character in the show’s second season. “When we spoke about it, it was just kind of an arc of Bolivar, beginning to end — vague. Not super vague, but not super specific,” he said.
And even though he’d read the first book in Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s literary trilogy, the fact the show has departed somewhat from the source material made him unsure what to expect going forward. “As the scripts were being delivered, I noticed they were not exactly tailored to the books,” he explained. “So, no, I wasn’t sure where we were going to go with it. I’m fine with that. I like surprises.”
“Just seeing what they’ve thrown my way and rolling with the punches is exciting,” Kesy said. And whereas on any normal show, you’re typically only playing one role, The Strain offers a whole lot more potential variety. “Here it’s going from one body to another body,” he said. “It’s exciting coming to work.”
While Kesy wouldn’t say if his version of The Master will ditch his previous attire of heavy, hooded robes for Bolivar’s leather jacket and signature black wig, he would say that some of the rocker’s swagger does rub off on the ancient vampire.
“He’s been in that body for a long time. He’s been burned, he’s been around, he’s been weathered. He’s in a fresh body, and things are fresh,” he explained. “From biological makeup to the bone structure to the skin.”
“He is in the vessel of a rock star, so there’s a physicality to it,” Kesy continued. “I think people will miss a little bit of Bolivar. But hey man, a snake’s gotta shed his skin and move on.” Still, the old Bolivar that fans grew to love won’t be gone completely. “He’s ready to rock and roll again. In a different way,” he promised.
“The other Master suffered from gigantism, so he was limited to some extent,” said Kesy. But taking over Bolivar’s body gives The Master a new lease on life. “He’s in a healthy, athletic body,” he explained. “He certainly is a lot more mobile, and he can do things more hands-on, instead of letting the minions have some action. He can put up his dukes a little bit.”
That makes for a bolder, stronger — and more dangerous — Master. “He comes out of the shadows a bit more, he’s not so hidden. He feels he can come out; he has a fresh new body. He shows his face a little more. He makes some dangerous moves here and there,” promised Kesy. Setrakian and the others had better watch out.