EVIL, having originally launched on CBS in 2019, is now streaming its second season on Paramount Plus, with new episodes available each Sunday. The series is created by Robert King and Michelle King, of THE GOOD WIFE and THE GOOD FIGHT
In EVIL, the Catholic Church has assembled priest-in-training David Acosta (Mike Colter), former Muslim/current agnostic tech expert Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi), and lapsed Catholic psychologist Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers) to investigate apparent miracles, exorcisms and the like. The team are meant to determine whether or not these events are supernatural in nature. The results are often open to interpretation.
Kristen’s family life is very much part of EVIL. She has four young daughters – played by Maddy Crocco, Brooklyn Shuck, Skylar Gray, and Dalya Knapp – and a husband (Patrick Brammall) who is often absent.
Kristen has a complicated relationship with her mother, Sheryl Luria, who is played by Christine Lahti. A lot of their tension has been due to Sheryl’s involvement with Leland Townsend (Michael Emerson), who Kristen knows to be at best a malicious liar, and at worst a possible Satanist. Sheryl and Leland had an ugly breakup, but Leland has instigated a wary reunion. He’s introduced Sheryl to the wealthy and powerful Tragoren (Tim Matheson). On her own, Sheryl has secretly set up an altar, and meditates in front of an unwholesome-looking doll.
Lahti won an Emmy Award as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her work on CHICAGO HOPE (she was nominated three other times for that series, as well as her performances in NO PLACE LIKE HOME and AMERIKA). Additionally, Lahti was nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar for the comedy SWING SHIFT and won an Academy Award as a filmmaker for the 1995 live-action short film LIEBERMAN IN LOVE, which Lahti produced with Jana Sue Memel, as well as directing and starred in the piece.
Originally from Michigan, Lahti has an extensive career in features, television and on Broadway. She recently starred in the title role of the PBS drama GLORIA STEINEM.
Speaking by phone, Lahti is firm in her view that the explanation for everything that happens on EVIL is rooted in reality, even if some viewers – and some of her coworkers – may see things differently.
ASSIGNMENT X: Prior to EVIL, it seems like you don’t usually work in the horror/science-fiction/fantasy genre much. Was that a conscious avoidance?
CHRISTINE LAHTI: Yeah. I just have never been that interested in horror. But this was a very unique situation, because it’s the Kings, and they write so smartly, and with so much humor, and always so topical and political. And I have worked with them before, on THE GOOD WIFE and THE GOOD FIGHT, and I couldn’t resist. I knew it was going to be a really great mix of genres, and not a strictly horror thing. So, yeah. I’m really happy I did it.
AX: How does Sheryl feel about her daughter, Kristen?
LAHTI: I think it’s very important to me that, even though Sheryl’s exploring her dark side, and getting into this wild ride of her own maybe misguided ways to feel empowered, she would never intentionally hurt her daughter or her granddaughters. She loves them very, very much. I think she feels impatient and frustrated with Kristen. There is a fractured trust that has to be repaired between them. But Sheryl loves Kristen, and she was applauding her daughter hitting that guy in the grocery store. She feels like her daughter has not been standing up for herself. And since Sheryl is on a path of really standing up for herself and more, I think she’s encouraging her daughter and granddaughters to not put up with sh*t.
AX: How is it playing a grandmother with four granddaughters who all talk over each other? Are you recalling to your stage improvisation days to deal with those scenes?
LAHTI: Yeah, exactly. I’ve done a lot of improv in my career; I used to teach it, actually, in college. So, it was really fun to work with those kids. They’re all really alive, and inventive, and smart, and it’s really fun.
AX: When you started on EVIL, did you like you should sit down and have coffee with Katja Herbers and discuss the mother/daughter relationship?
LAHTI: Yeah. Katja and I are friends, we were friends before the show, and we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the relationship. It wasn’t very clear for both of us, so we had to make up our own story. It’s getting much clearer. I think they didn’t quite know what to do with Sheryl at the very beginning of the first season, and now it’s just thrilling what I’m getting to do. I just love it. Again, it’s not my normal genre, so do be able to do this kind of part is very new for me, and really fun.
AX: What is your rationalization for why Sheryl goes anywhere with Leland after that breakup, because he was so vile to her, it seems like that would be …
LAHTI: [laughs] A dealbreaker. Oh, yeah. Well, I think that she is manipulating and using Leland for a much higher purpose. I think that that breakup triggered, finally, what he has to offer her. She has had a whole history of, not demons, but just bad guys, bad men, who abused her, who tried to control her, who marginalized her. And she’s done. And now it’s her turn. And I think she is only hanging out with Leland to use him and to get power over him eventually. She’s going to do something that’s full of rage against him and men, but particularly him. It’s got a revenge theme painted all over it.
AX: Is that to do with her doll on the altar in her room?
LAHTI: I think her doll – for her, it’s a very positive thing, it’s like meditation. It gives her calm, it gives her a sense of empowerment. I think her entire journey now is about her own empowerment, and it’s not maybe the most healthy journey she’s on [laughs], but she is determined to stop being treated this way by men, and she’s going to rise up.
AX: After the goings-on in Leland’s apartment in Season 2, Episode 10, Sheryl hasn’t swapped personalities with the doctor Leland has in the other room, has she?
LAHTI: No. There’s no swapping of personalities. She did get a blood transfusion, against her will. That was the roofie that they slipped into her drink. And then they put this brown stuff in her. So, some of the blood is from this Tim Matheson character [Tragoren]. That might have some kind of effect on her, but the brown stuff, I was told, was like going to a spa. It’s filled with youth serums, and Vitamin Bs and Cs, and all this wonderful stuff that makes you feel rejuvenated and empowered. So, she loves it now. And she has no memory of what happened that horrible night. It’s a blackout.
AX: So, she still likes [Tragoren], but she also has memories of everything else with Leland, so she’s still mad at Leland?
LAHTI: Oh, yeah. Very pissed at Leland, but I guess she still likes [Tragoren]. I don’t think she’s going to give it all up for him. Potentially, she can use him, too. But I think she’s on a journey of her own.
AX: Sheryl seems to enjoy flirting with Tragoren, and flirting in general. Is that an act to get where she wants, or does she genuinely enjoy being flirtatious?
LAHTI: I think it’s a combination. She’s good at it – she does have a higher purpose, and it’s about empowerment, and I’m not sure – to be with this big mucky-muck [Tragoren], influencer, whatever he is, feels good to her. It’s about using him, though. I don’t think she’s necessarily enamored of him.
AX: And on the other hand, did you have a feeling about the sequence where Sheryl shows up at the party in that red dress? You looked fabulous.
LAHTI: Thank you, it was really fun. [laughs] I had lots of feelings about it. I thought, she wants power. So, going to this Hamptons party, with all these influencers, was exciting to her. As I said, her journey towards empowerment is not exactly always going to be very healthy or wise. She’s acting out, and obviously, I think the red dress was just a fun dress to wear for her. But she didn’t like the fact that Leland didn’t tell her it was a white [clothing] party, because she didn’t want to stand out like that.
AX: This may be more of a question for the writers than for you – there’s an overhead shot in the dressing room in that episode, where Sheryl steals the red dress, that suggests we’re seeing this from the point of view of a security camera. I was primed for her getting stopped at the checkout, but that didn’t happen.
LAHTI: That never occurred to me, but the way they shot that, it was almost the point of view of a security camera. I have to guess that there weren’t cameras in the dressing room.
AX: Or is something that Sheryl is doing causing the security cam to ignore her?
LAHTI: You mean some sort of supernatural evil thing? No. I don’t believe in any of that. I know a lot of people who watch the show do, so I’m not judging anybody who believes that Sheryl has some sort of evil devil supernatural thing. I don’t. I think that she’s exploring her dark side, for sure, but she doesn’t have any kind of power like that.
AX: Does anybody in EVIL, in your opinion?
LAHTI: No. It’s all psychological to me. I don’t believe in any of that. I mean, I do believe that there are unexplained phenomena in the world, but I believe that evil is from psychopaths and mentally deranged people, who have also maybe been abused, and have a history of abuse, and they abuse because of that, but I don’t think it has anything to do with God or the Devil or anything.
A lot of this show, if you look at these monsters and these so-called weird phenomena that could be explained by devils, they’re usually debunked by Ben or Kristen, and there’s a psychological explanation, or it’s a fantasy. It’s like, okay, the granddaughter [Lexis] has a serpent’s tail. In my mind, she’s imagining it. She doesn’t actually have a lizard’s tail.
AX: Or somebody might have noticed.
LAHTI: Yeah, you think? [laughs] Exactly. So, this is how she sees her body. I don’t think it has anything to do with, she’s got the Devil in her.
AX: Sheryl has given some odd advice to her granddaughters, like the time she told one of them to hit a schoolmate with a rock. Was that all coming from Sheryl all along, or is any of that Leland’s influence?
LAHTI: That’s all Sheryl. Leland is a psychopath, and maybe he inspired or encouraged a return to Sheryl’s wild side. Sheryl’s always had a wild side, it was just repressed and suppressed by bad relationships. She’s been bullied, she’s been abused by men. So, I think that that advice to her [granddaughter] was really sound advice. If you want to stop being bullied, you show them a rock one time. She’s not going to break [the other child’s] nose.
When I first read this [scene], I thought, “Oh, my God, I can’t – how do I do this?” [laughs] Because I’m so anti-violence. But I read that there was actually a lot of stuff online, where parents were saying, “You know, I think maybe just tell them to hit back once, and that will shut them up. They won’t come back and try to bully you anymore.” So, to me, it was okay advice.
I think we all – girls and young women – this instinct of protecting ourselves, and it gets kind of conditioned out of us. We’re supposed to be good and passive and we take it. In fact, I have a wonderful story that I don’t think Gloria Steinem would mind me sharing. When she was young, some man tried to kiss her or make some move, and she bit him on the cheek, and that stopped him. And it was so instinctive. She didn’t think about it, she was, “No, you don’t get to do this to me.” I thought it was fantastic. So, yeah. It’s so primal, and it just gets conditioned out of us. I think Sheryl’s trying to say, “Uh-uh, don’t put up with this sh*t.”
AX: What do you think about Leland’s therapist, who he sees as a giant demonic goat that he finally killed and served to Sheryl as goat curry?
LAHTI: [laughs] Okay, if you talk to somebody else on the show, they’ll have a different explanation, which is why I love the show. But from my point of view, Leland’s therapist was in his imagination. That’s who he talked to when he talked to a devil for his own purposes. I don’t pretend to know what’s going on with Leland. I think he’s a psychopath, so he would have this imagination, and he would imagine that type of therapist, of course. And then when he killed him and cooked him, I think he went out and bought a goat at some market, and made goat curry. I don’t think it was actually his therapist that he was cooking for me.
AX: But Leland may have killed his therapist?
LAHTI: I don’t think he actually murdered a guy. Again, I think this is all in his imagination.
AX: How is it working with Michael Emerson?
LAHTI: A complete delight. He’s so funny, and so unpredictable, and such a joy. The whole cast is really incredible.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about Sheryl in this season of EVIL?
LAHTI: Again, if people want to think Sheryl’s under Leland’s influence, or the Devil’s influence, go for it. I think that it’s a much deeper explanation, and much more about Sheryl’s own empowerment.
Article Source: Assignment X
Article: EVIL actress Christine Lahti on Season 2 of the Paramount+ series – Exclusive Interview