SURREALESTATE, the new supernatural drama series premiering Friday, July 16, on Syfy, brings together two naturally compatible genres: haunted houses and realty. Created by George R. Olson, SURREALESTATE follows the team led by realtor Luke Roman (Tim Rozon). Luke genuinely is in the business of selling houses; he and his team just specialize in clearing out things home buyers won’t want, like ghosts and demons.
We meet everyone at the Roman Agency just as they are joined by Susan (Sarah Levy), an expert saleswoman who has some unique qualities of her own.
Adam Korson plays former priest “Father” Phil Orley, the Roman Agency’s research specialist. Phil is the one who finds out whether houses have a disturbing history, if there have been similar incidents in the neighborhood, and so on. Phil is also married to the company’s general repairman, Anthony Tamblyn (Paul Ewan Wilson).
Korson, a native of Toronto, Canada, has credits that include LUCIFER, the latest iteration of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, TEACHERS, IMPOSTERS, REAL BOB, and SEED.
In an exclusive phone interview, Korson talks about getting his inner ghost-hunting realtor on for SURREALESTATE.
ASSIGNMENT X: In the first three episodes, we don’t see Phil getting to do very much besides research. Does he get to do more as SURREALESTATE progresses?
ADAM KORSON: He does, yes. The first three episodes are really establishing Sarah Levy’s character Susan, Susan coming into the mix of things in a world that’s already been going on previous to her. As the season goes on, the creator and writer, George Olson, who’s just phenomenal, really goes into more detail in all of our characters. And so, Episode 5 is a big episode for Father Phil. We really get more into his background, his history, where he comes from, dealing with the Church, and more history for him as a character and as a team member. The same with Episode 4, you start feeling more of him there as well. And as the season progresses, the team really becomes more united with Susan. So, there’s definitely more to play with, with Father Phil, as the season goes on.
AX: We know Father Phil is a former priest. Can you tease if his breach with the Church came from lack of belief, too much belief in things the Church doesn’t believe, or his marriage to Anthony?
KORSON: Definitely his marriage and sexuality was a big part. He was branded a sinner for who he was, who he is. And for him, it was very hard for him to stay in a world that looked at him that way, and that treated him that way. That was probably the tipping point for him. I’ve had long conversations with George about Phil, and about that, and I actually fold in my own experiences from my uncles in that world. They’re gay men. Uncle Bruce actually worked within a parish, where he was privy to things that were not, I would say, ethical or on the up and up, and certainly not the way the Church would like to be presented. So, he was able to give me some insight into that. So, I was able to, like I said, pull in from their experiences in building Father Phil.
The Catholic Church is sort of set in their ways, saying one thing but doing another behind the scenes. It was something that, for [Phil], while he loved the world [of the Church] and loved being brought up in the world, there’s a love/hate relationship with the Catholic Church, and it still exists. He hasn’t really come to peace with the Church. And he never really does in the season. In the last episode, George crafted something really beautiful, and all of our characters have an encounter. I won’t go into too much detail, because I don’t want to spoil anything [laughs], but for Father Phil, he has an encounter where we really see him still wrestling with the Church, and with his place and his feelings and thoughts around the Church. I get to play a fallen priest? I love it.
AX: Were you were brought up Catholic?
KORSON: I actually wasn’t. I was brought up Jewish.
AX: Me, too. As you may have surmised from “Bernstein.”
KORSON: My whole thing is, I don’t care what you do, as long as you don’t harm anybody. For me, it was, and it always has been, the hypocrisy around religion – again, saying one thing, but doing another. This person [that Korson was dating] was definitely that. So, I was able to pull a lot of my own personal experiences with religion, and infuse that into Father Phil, because there are a lot of the same sorts of things. It just surprises me how a religion that is all about love, and caring for others, ‘Do unto others,’ the Golden Rule, can how a religion can turn its back on someone who’s gay, or someone who doesn’t necessarily follow what you say to be true to the T. It boggles my mind.
AX: Now, did you have to learn how to do anything in order to play Father Phil, either about real estate, or how to do research, or Catholic ritual, or how to type when he’s looking up stuff on the computer?
KORSON: [laughs] Definitely some Catholic ritual. In one episode, I’m required to do a certain ritual, so I had to research that. Certainly, the metaphysical portions, researching what certain things are. Again, in the scripts, everything that George has been writing is not made up. These things exist. There’s a record of them. So, definitely researching there.
AX: A style question – Phil wears a lot of Hawaiian shirts. What does that say about him, and was that your wardrobe choice, or did they just say, “Okay, you wear Hawaiian shirts”?
KORSON: I worked really closely with our costume designer, Alison Ruth Hicks, around building his wardrobe. For me, it was always, he’s been so tied down to the priest collar, it was very metaphorically choking and suffocating, whereas now, him breaking away from the Church, he’s able to be free to be who he is. So, the Hawaiian shirts definitely are a metaphor, and represent his ability to break away, to be more free. You can’t get more free than a Hawaiian shirt [laughs]. But his wardrobe does change as the season goes on. It’s less Hawaiian shirt, more button-up. And I don’t know how that came to be. The Hawaiian shirts are definitely sprinkled in, but he’s not beholden to the Hawaiian shirt.
It’s never brought up in the series at all. I think he’s stylish – he’s just a stylish guy, probably more influenced from his husband [laughs], although again, we don’t really see that in the series. But his ability to go from Hawaiian shirts to something a little bit more clean is, again, his ability to wear what he wants, instead of being tied down to the collar.
AX: Do we know if his experience with the kinds of issues the real estate company has, the kinds of things the team runs into in the houses, has given Phil a different perspective on the existence of God?
KORSON: Well, his background is in the metaphysical and exorcism. That is what excited him about the Catholic Church, was being able to delve into the evil and the unknown and the metaphysical, and being able to cast out the evil in this world. That’s in the series, it’s mentioned, his mentor was very much about casting out the evil, and the exorcisms, and so, that’s what excited him about the Catholic Church. Again, it could be seen as a metaphor, depending on what you believe, as far as the metaphysical and ghosts and whatnot. But being able to help people be good and cast out evil is definitely where he’s come from. So, it’s not a coincidence that when Father Phil finds Luke, and Luke specializes, obviously, in the metaphysical, that this is a position that he took on. It reinforces his passion. I guess he just never expected that he would move from the Catholic Church to a real estate agency to do what he always wanted to do [laughs].
AX: [laughs] Have you learned anything interesting about real estate in the course of working on SURREALESTATE?
KORSON: Well, it’s so funny, because before I booked this show, I was looking into real estate, just for fun. We had just sold our home and moved into another home the week of the shutdown. So, real estate has always been fascinating to me, and sort of a quiet hobby of mine. I’m always on Zillow, checking out different properties and homes, and what something was sold for.
AX: Did you and your fellow SURREALESTATE actors get to sit down at any point and sort of have a little bonding over coffee to talk about the relationships between your characters, or did you just all show up on set, and it’s like, “Okay, act like you’ve been working together”?
KORSON: Well, Sarah Levy and I knew each other beforehand. So, that was really fun, being able to do this show together, and reunite on TV this way. But we were right smack in the middle of COVID. So, the typical things that one would do, like getting together and having dinner and talking about things, we couldn’t do, because we were all in quarantine [laughs]. We literally hopped off the plane, and for fourteen days, couldn’t leave our homes. [The production company] found some beautiful homes. The home they put me in was this old Victorian home. I couldn’t leave there for fourteen days. It felt like the scene in BEETLEJUICE where Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis come home after they die, and all of a sudden, things feel a little bit weird and they can’t leave the house. That’s what it felt like when I got to St. John [laughs]. I just couldn’t leave the house.
So, we weren’t able to do that. The first time I saw Mo [Maurice Dean Wint], who plays August [the team’s technical expert], it was like this, “Oh, yes, hi, let’s …” We got to talk to each other our first day of shooting. Most of us did, because of the quarantine. But everybody, the entire cast, is super-friendly and open, and everyone’s so collaborative that we fell into a rhythm so quickly, which was really nice. Everyone was professional, and just wanted to play. So, we were very fortunate.
AX: How was it working with the COVID protocols?
KORSON: A learning curve definitely at the beginning. You just forget that after you shoot a scene, then you have to put a mask on. And little things like, okay, once you put a mask on, makeup has to touch you up a little bit more. But again, the production company, Blue Ice, had things so on point that we fell into that pretty quickly as well. The COVID officers were always cleaning something, once you leave, once you come back. We always felt safe. But it was definitely a learning curve. You start to realize how many germs [you were exposed to] beforehand [laughs].
AX: How is it acting opposite the scene elements that aren’t physically there, when there’s an apparition or something that’s being added via CGI, or is it mostly practical effects that are on the set?
KORSON: There’s definitely a mixture of both. My experience was more with the practical, although certain CGI elements were put in afterwards. It’s always a fun thing. It’s like you’re a kid using your imagination, playing cops and robbers. That’s what it always feels like to me. But I tell you – they say don’t work with animals and kids, right? Once the animal gets it right, you’re stuck with that take [laughs]. But there was one scene where I’m working with an animal, in the first episode. That dog was not cooperating that day at all. So, that took a little finessing.
AX: Do you have a favorite SURREALESTATE scene in what you’ve gotten to do so far?
KORSON: Yes. There’s a lot that happens in Episode 5 that I love. The opening sequence of Episode 5 is a lot of fun, because we have a direct interaction with – I don’t know how much I can say –
AX: You have a direct interaction with something.
KORSON: Yes. “Something,” in quotes [laughs]. It’s a very close call.
AX: Have you had to learn how to do anything as far as fighting, ducking, rolling, zapping spirits with an exorcism gun …?
KORSON: [laughs] Nothing like that, although I did all my own stunts in the season, and there are some doozies. So, that’s always fun, and that’s always a new experience for me, doing a stunt. But I attack the metaphysical with my pen more often.
AX: Do you have any other projects going on that we should know about?
KORSON: I do. There’s a [horror] film that’s being released, called THE STAIRS. It’s coming out this summer. I don’t know the exact date, but I definitely know it’s coming out this summer. I’m very grateful. I won a Best Actor Award from the Horror Hotel Festival.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about Season 1 of SURREALESTATE?
KORSON: I would like them to be ready for a kickass ride. Honestly, it’s such a fun show that uses both drama and comedy to execute the stories that are being told. There are relatable characters. I think that everyone’s going to find themselves in one of us. And while we deal with the metaphysical and the supernatural, it’s definitely grounded in real and relatable storylines.
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Article: SURREALESTATE: Actor Adam Korson chats new Syfy supernatural series – Exclusive Interview