Mike Colter on the Layers of Supernatural and Psychological Storytelling in CBS’ ‘Evil’

     October 24, 2019

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From co-creators Robert and Michelle King (The Good Wife, The Good Fight, BrainDead), the CBS psychological drama series EVIL follows Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers), a skeptical psychologist who is asked by priest-in-training David Acosta (Mike Colter) to help investigate the Church’s backlog of unexplained mysteries and determine whether they involve miracles, demonic possessions, hauntings, or just the mundane and everyday. While they look at whether something could be explained in a logical way or if something truly supernatural is at work, they learn that something more sinister could be at play.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Mike Colter talked about what drew him to this TV series, what he likes about collaborating with the Kings, the layer of supernatural vs. psychological, the bigger life questions that the show brings up, the fun of playing off of Michael Emerson’s antagonistic character, how much his character will be tested this season, David’s greatest strength and weakness, and how much he was let in on, when it came to the overall arc of the season. He also talked about his journey since learning that Luke Cage was canceled, and why sometimes it’s okay to leave fans wanting more.

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Image via CBS

Collider: I’m tremendously enjoying this show and just how suitably creepy it is.

MIKE COLTER: I’m glad. Suitably creepy is a great way to describe it.

Before this show, you’ve worked with the Kings previously on The Good Wife and you returns for The Good Fight. What is it that you like about working and collaborating with them?

COLTER: First of all, they’re just great writers. They’re people that really helped develop me, as an artist, by giving me an opportunity on The Good Wife, when I was still breaking in and cutting my teeth in the business. They gave me a character that had some legs and that was going to be developed. That opportunity was something I never forgot, and I’m grateful to them for that. And then, this opportunity came along and it seemed perfect for me. I was looking for a change of pace and a different direction, and this is definitely a different direction for them, in terms of what they had written before, with it being a genre piece that tackles different subject matter, outside of the courtroom. So, it was just perfect for me.

Even though you know the quality of the shows that the Kings do are great, when it comes to a project like this, you still have to sign on for a few years, to play a character that you could be playing for quite some time. So, did you do some reflection about that? Was there any kind of a thought process for you, as far as deciding whether or not you wanted to sign up for what could be awhile?

COLTER: There are a couple of things that go into that. First, anytime you think about the longevity of something like that, you have to first achieve success. You have to first have that be an option. So, I don’t like to get ahead of myself. A lot of people worry about whether it’s going to be something that they’re going to have to do for awhile, but we should all be so lucky to have that problem. If it’s good, hopefully people will respond to it, and then you can cross that bridge when you get to it. That being said, I had a real good discussion with the Kings, and I think we all were going into this with the idea that, if it’s successful, great, we can do this as long as everybody wants to do it and, hopefully, we can have fun doing it. I don’t think anyone was really concerned about the commitment of how long it would be. We also have a 13 or 15, episode commitment, if things go well and the show is successful. So, we’re not making 22 episodes a season.. That leaves time to do other things, to have a life, and to do other projects, so I don’t think anyone’s too concerned about it. Things lined up in a way where I think everyone feels comfortable.

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Image via CBS

There are a lot of layers to this show, which is something that you want to have, when you’re going to be exploring this story for a longer period of time. There’s the layer of supernatural vs. psychological, and there are all of these really interesting character dynamics and relationships. Was it all of that that appealed to you, or was there one aspect of it or certain themes that you found interesting?

COLTER: It’s what you said. The Kings always do a great job at balancing multiple storylines, all at once, and developing characters, in a way that unfolds organically. They layer everything. It’s very dense writing. At any given time, the pieces that are presented may tie into something else later. Each of the characters are at the center of their own storylines, and they can function without the other characters. The writing has always been the first thing that I respond to, so when I looked at the pilot, it was well written and sparingly written. You knew that there was so much potential there and there were so many questions, and that made it so appealing. So, it was a great pilot, but it also set you up for so much discovery later, down the road.

I also really like the fact that this show is less about exorcisms and miracles, and more about the question marks in life. It’s not so much about the exorcism or miracle of the week, but it’s more about what questions that brings up. Was that also something that appealed to you, that it wasn’t just a case-of-the-week type of show, and that it would also focus on those bigger life questions?

COLTER: Yeah, for sure. There was no aspect of the show that spoke to me, as a procedural, other than the fact that, when you’re exploring these various characters and cases that are presented to you, there was the formula there of, what are we dealing with? Who is this person? What’s at the root of all this? Is it evil? Is it supernatural? Is it a psychological thing? Is it a sociopath or a psychopath? What is it? That’s there, but the character development is really where actors respond and get excited. That’s also where the writers respond and get excited. We’re trying to create something, and anytime you talk about formula, that can become a little monotonous. So, we have a formula at the core of it, enough for people to get involved and be like, “Okay, I sort of know what we’re doing, on a week to week basis, but not really,” because we’re gonna take it off course quite a bit and talk about the characters, and you’re gonna discover more about the characters, as we go along. We’re filming Episode 8 now, and the episodes have just gotten better and better. I think people that are really gonna respond to it.

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Image via CBS

I love how Michael Emerson’s character, Leland Townsend, has become the devil on your character’s shoulder. You’re not sure what to make of him, but you know that he really wants bad things to happen. What’s it like to have Michael Emerson to play that off of?

COLTER: It’s lovely. I love to play bad guys, and I think I’ll also play them in the future, and it’s a joy to play the opposition. It’s a give and take, and Michael’s having a great time. He’ll tell you that he’s having so much fun playing the character, and because he’s having fun, I have fun, and my character has fun. That’s what’s going on right now. It’s a symphony of give and take, in response, and responding to what he’s giving. I really enjoy the interaction. It’s just a joy, going on set and having fun playing something that is such a departure for him. He’s done stuff, in the past, that’s somewhat similar, but this is a unique opportunity for him, and it gives us another thing in our show for people to look forward to. We have George, we have Michael Emerson’s character, and week-to-week, we have guest stars that come into play and that will be very interesting. There’s a lot going on, at all times.

How soon after getting the phone call that Luke Cage wasn’t going to be going ahead for another season did you jump into this? It seems like it’s really quick, but was it as quick as it seems?

COLTER: No, it just seems quick because we stopped filming Luke Cage in December, the year before. It was almost two years ago that we stopped filming Luke Cage, and then it launched in the summer. And then, in the late fall, we realized that we weren’t gonna go onto another season. So, in hindsight, when you look at the timeline, it’s actually been awhile. We talked about signing on to do the show, probably almost a year and a half after wrapping Luke Cage, and then waited to see if the show was gonna go to air for another three months, and then we started filming about a month or two later. So, we were closer to two years, since Luke Cage wrapped, by the time the show premiered. It’s been awhile, and during that time, I’ve been busy. But for the fans, time passes relatively quickly, especially since they watch things in their own time. With delayed viewing on Netflix, you can watch stuff, months later, and you can watch it, over and over, which makes it feel like it’s more recent. So, it seems like I just went from one show, and now another show is on the air, but it’s been awhile between the shows. Time is deceptive.

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Image via CBS

When you’re an actor, you have to say goodbye to every character that you play, at some point, and move on to the next one, but is it particularly challenging to move on from a character like Luke Cage, when you don’t necessarily have the opportunity to wrap up their story?

COLTER: I’ve always had to try to find a way to be in the moment in life because, especially in this business, you don’t have any control over anything. Until you film it, and it’s in the can, and it’s actually on air, it hasn’t really happened. There are so many projects that have been shot and never saw the light of day, or that have been written and were never filmed, or are projects that were looking like they were gonna come together and everyone was involved, from the producers to the writers to the directors, and it just fell apart, at the end. It’s always that way. You have to just wait and see. So, while it was a little shocking, I also was not completely shocked because I’ve been in the business long enough and have had enough disappointments to know that it’s easy come, easy go. We left them wanting more, which is better than overstaying your welcome. If we had gotten a chance to wrap it up, it would have been nice, but there are a few projects that have ended prematurely, in history, and people still wonder what could have been and wished they had gone a little longer, and it’s okay to be in that group, too.

Over the course of this season, how much will this character doubt and question himself, and how much will he be tested?

COLTER: Based off of what we’re filming now and the plans for the rest of the season, I think the character comes into a lot of doubt and a lot of conflict within himself. There are things that he has to deal with, and a past that he has to reckon with. The great thing about it is that, because they show, at its core, is a great debate about the truth, people will flounder and be indecisive, at times. They won’t always know or believe, 100%, in what they know. You think you know something, and then you come into contact with something that makes you doubt your beliefs, and that’s okay. It’s okay to not always know exactly what’s going on. I think that’s what’s happening. Throughout our show, we will have so much exploration of the characters. We will find moments where every character is in doubt and every character is not so sure anymore.

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Image via CBS

What are David’s greatest strengths, and what are his greatest weaknesses?

COLTER: His greatest strength is probably that he’s emotionally intelligent and is a person who wants to bring people together that don’t necessarily agree with him or have the same viewpoints. At the end of the day, he wants the truth and he wants to make sure that what they’re doing is actually thorough. Being a leader, that’s a strength for him. He brings together different people, from different walks of life and different beliefs, and lets them work autonomously to come to a conclusion that they can debate together. And his faith could be his weakness. Sometimes when you have a strong faith, it blinds you. He’s somewhere between being blindly faithful, and being very, very aware and awoke, in a sense. He knows that he doesn’t know everything, but he does believe in a certain way of life, and he’s holding onto that. His faith is almost everything to him.

How much of the bigger picture of this series are you aware of? Have you had conversations with the Kings about where they see the show and character headed, in the future? Is there always that open dialogue with them?

COLTER: Yeah, we’ve had a detailed discussion about the future, and about where it’s going and where it’s headed. I’ve read outlines for the entire season, and all I could say, without giving too much away, is that where he starts and where he is, by the end of the season, is not the same. He won’t be in the same place, by the end of the season. He will have gone through a lot of change and a lot of adversity, and there will be some doubt. There will be some things that he’ll experience that will force him to question everything, and that’s a great place to be. Sometimes we have to have questions and doubts to come to a place of clarity.

EVIL airs on Thursday nights on CBS.

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