Providence grad makes smart move with ‘The Following’

Actress Jessica Stroup is on the phone, explaining how tough it was to move so often when she was a kid – bouncing around the Carolinas, attending 10 different schools in all.

And then there’s a call coming in on the other line, and she needs to hang up, because it’s a couple of guys delivering a couch to her Brooklyn apartment. That’s right: She just moved. Again.

The Providence High School graduate, 27, owns a home in Los Angeles, but is living in New York, where she has spent the winter hanging out with Kevin Bacon as his co-star in the creepy Fox TV series “The Following.”

Stroup’s character – an NYPD detective who teams up with her former FBI agent-uncle Ryan (Bacon) to hunt down the leader of a murderous cult – was introduced when Season 2 premiered in January. She’ll appear through the April 28 finale. (Although “The Following” has been renewed for a third season, the fate of her character is a secret.)

It’s another break for Stroup, who spent five seasons as a regular cast member on the teen drama “90210” for The CW. But it’s her first time working so closely and for so long with an actor as celebrated as Bacon.

“I’m always trying not to bug him by asking too many questions,” she says. “He’s just super cool. He’s so funny and down to earth, and he says ridiculous things sometimes. If he slips on a rug, he’ll be like, ‘Oops! That scene got a little footloose.’ ”

Though she has focused on television for the past six years, Stroup also has a number of film credits, most of which – like “The Following” – fall into the horror and/or thriller genre: “Pray for Morning,” “Broken,” “The Hills Have Eyes 2,” “Prom Night,” “The Informers,” “Homecoming” (all released between 2006 and 2009).

Of course, around here, it’s her Charlotte resume that will be of particular interest.

Stroup was born in Anderson, S.C., to Don and Judy Stroup of Gaffney. Don’s 31-year career at Wachovia bank bounced the family around the Carolinas until landing Jessica at Providence midway through her sophomore year.

A starter on the volleyball team, she played with Ashley Fliehr (former pro wrestler Ric Flair’s daughter), the captain and star player; both were members of the 2002 squad that won the 4A state championship.

On the side, she auditioned unsuccessfully for school plays. But during her junior year, another volleyball player’s mom saw Stroup in some vacation photos and suggested she get in touch with Evolution Talent Agency in Charlotte (which also launched the modeling career of Butler High alumna Brooklyn Decker).

Over the next year or so, she signed with Evolution; learned how to walk the catwalk; went to a modeling convention in Hilton Head Island; was invited to model in Japan for two months during her senior year (she declined); and flew to New York and L.A. to meet with talent agents.

Along the way, she was offered a full academic scholarship to attend the University of Georgia.

“But I knew the possibility was really big to do something,” Stroup says. “And I just wanted to see the world. I thought, ‘Life’s short, so let me go and give it a shot.’ ”

After graduating from Providence in 2004, she went from the commencement to a shoot for a Target commercial. Seven days later, she moved to California by herself – at age 17 – and was placed at the Osbrink Talent Agency (which launched Dakota Fanning).

By then, though, she had other plans for her career.

“I’d always really connected with plays, books and movies, and I knew modeling wasn’t this thing I was gonna do forever ... it was just opening up doors for me to take (filmmaking and acting) classes in L.A.”

Every year since, Stroup has found TV or film work that has made a deeper impression, and views all the paths she’s taken in life as “a cool journey.” But she hasn’t forgotten her roots, and returns here frequently to see her parents, and her older brother, her sister-in-law and their two kids.

“It’s really nice to be on the East Coast filming in New York, because I get to visit much more often than if I were in L.A.,” Stroup says. “In my heart and in my soul, I’m a Southern girl.”

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