A Whirlwind of Evil: Michael Emerson’s Unconventional Co-Star Adventure

It isn’t a fantasy series or a procedural drama, it isn’t a police procedural or a serial drama, or a legal drama or a supernatural thriller. It’s a horror-humour-procedural-drama-comedy-supernatural-mystery-lawyer-serial, and it stars Michael Emerson. Maybe you’ve heard of him? Lost? Person of Interest? If you haven’t already seen Evil, which has been on CBS for the past two seasons with a third on the way, you might be wondering why you should even bother. And I get it, we live in a world of infinite content. There’s no shortage of entertainment, and we have never been more occupied trying to keep up on all of it. But think about what sets Evil apart. It’s advertised as horror with humour, so that’s good. But it’s a drama on CBS, so what kind of horrors can it possibly bring? I spoke with Emerson recently to find out more about his latest adventures in horror-humour-procedural-drama-comedy-supernatural-mystery-lawyer-serial. His answers are sly and revealing, but only in the most meta of ways. Spoilers for Evil below.

The Lure of ‘Evil’

What Draws an Actor to Darkness?

While there were several reasons why actor Michael Emerson (best known for his starring role on the TV series Lost, 2004-10) joined the cast of ‘Evil’, the pilot script grabbed him from his first reading. ‘It was very funny in the beginning, and then it gets horrifying – which is the best combination,’ he told me. But most important, there was the character of Leland Townsend. ‘He’s just deliciously evil. It’s a great part. It’s really complex and he’s got a devilish charm – it’s hard not to like the guy.’ Emerson believes that viewers will likely manoeuvre back and forth between buying and not buying Rupnow’s assertion.

The Art of Being Bad

Unraveling Leland Townsend's Appeal

There is no villain like a villain who admits that he is a villain. There are special challenges – and gratifications – to playing someone as black-and-white as Leland. Emerson talks about the fun of playing a villain, but not a cardboard-cutout villain. He delights in the ‘grey’ shadings he gives to his character – in the wit and humour that he brings to the role. ‘I like that [Leland] enjoys what he is doing. He enjoys villainy,’ he says. Leland’s callousness is an important part of his charm, but it is also part of what makes him a compelling and provocative character. Leland’s callousness is not only a key reason that audiences find it easy to dislike him. It also demonstrates one of the reasons that Emerson was cast in the role: the actor’s ability to play such a wide range of characters.

Facing Off Against the Unheard Of: A Giant Hairball

An Unsettling Yet Fascinating Encounter

Engaging in a discussion during the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour, Emerson described the part he had to play opposite the giant hairball as one of the weirdest moments of his time on Evil, and this from a series with legions of weird moments. He called the hairball ‘a really unique co-star’, and his description of the experience helps to crystallise the show’s signature ability to spin an outrageous premise that is both outlandish and relatable.

The Element of Surprise

Unexpected Turns in Storytelling

Emerson doesn’t know how the hairball will fit into ‘Evil’s’ storyline when he bites it off: he is, blessedly, still in the dark about most of what happens next. The surprise is not just clever and funny, but also, finally, testament to the writers’ ability to harness their imagination, and to control it, so that something as literally eccentric as a hairball can play an important part in the dyed fabric of the show.

The Secret Sauce of ‘Evil’

A Recipe for Success

Asked what he thinks is the key component of ‘Evil’s’ appeal, Michael Emerson replied: It’s writing. It’s great writing. It’s characters and stories that run the gamut between horror and comedy, as close to the razor blade of horror as you can get and still get a laugh. And so stitched into that fabric is all this other stuff – you get your thrills and chills and shivery crap, of course, but you also get your laughs and your empathy.Listen to the interview here: https://www.youtube.com/embed/yekXywHhvwY This, Emerson implies, explains why so many of us are still drawn to Evil.

Conclusion: The Irresistible Charm of ‘Evil’

Reflecting on his conversation with io9, Michael Emerson touches on the factors that make Evil a brilliant show. From the authenticity and humour of its characters to its witty convolutions, Evil asks questions of good and evil while keeping the audience glued to the television. Emerson’s insights give us a rich and amusing behind-the-scenes account of the show, emphasising its concoction of horridness and hilarity as Evil’s winning recipe.

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May 30, 2024
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