“Earnestness” is a dirty word in the writer’s room of the supernatural Paramount+ series “Evil.” “We’re always looking for the weakness in a character or in their situation and if we can bring some comedy to it, it just feels natural,” said executive producer and writer Michelle King, who created the series with her husband Robert King, during a recent Deadline Zoom conversation. The couple are best known for the acclaimed CBS’ “The Good Wife” and Paramount +’s The Good Fight.”
“One thing that’s fun to play with as a storyteller is to take someone who the audience identifies with and sympathizes with and then skew it because otherwise the easiest thing in the world is to get an audience to identify with the leads,” said Robert, who is also a series director. “So, the more you do that, I think you’re playing with the narrative structure.”
“Evil,” which originally premiered the fall of 2019 on CBS, revolves around investigations of purported supernatural occurrences by a skeptical forensic psychologist Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers); David (Mike Colter), a former journalist who is now a Catholic seminarian but has increasing feelings for Kristen; and Ben (Aasif Mandvi), a technical expert who relies on science to explain the incidents.
The well-received series moved to the streaming service for its second season last summer; the third season begins June 12. The episode that screened before the conversation, “S is for Silence,” finds the team having to observe a vow of silence when they are sent to a monastery to investigate a case of a late monk who is being considered for sainthood.
Though “Evil” can be downright scary and creepy, the Kings imbue the show with healthy dose of comedy especially in “S is for Silence” when Kristen gets drunk with a young Dutch nun. Robert had long wanted to do a silent episode of one of their series, but according to his wife “has gotten shot down year after year. Finally, we all got sick of saying no. I think that’s the short answer.”
“The writers would always go ‘Are you coming back to this?’ It’s not going to work,’” added Robert King. That is until a writer on “Evil” came up with the idea of setting the episode in a silent monastery. “And it seemed like things just started to click into place,” said Robert. “It just seemed like a challenge. How can you do a challenge where the characters are having to pantomime everything they need or want and still tell a story that has drama, suspense and comedy. I knew I wanted to direct.”
When Robert directs, said Herbers, “we feel quite free to goof around during rehearsal and then he’s like ‘That’s funny’ or ‘that’s not funny’ or “be funnier.’ With the silent episode, there was a lot of options for comedy. There was a lot of improv physically and it was probably my favorite episode to shoot.”
Robert pointed out the strong chemistry between Herbers and Alexandra Socha who plays the nun. “It feels like there’s a crush sometimes between the two of you.” “I liked the idea of playing Kristen slightly bisexual sometimes,” admitted Herbers. “I remember reading that she washes my feet and I thought ‘I’m going to just make that a little erotic. So, I made a very conscious effort to flirt with the actress in real life, all the time on set to create that chemistry. And she was great. I’m glad that worked out.”
But it’s not all fun, games and erotic feet washing. David contemplates staying at the monastery because he admired the monks’ commitment to God and “how much these people had really given their life to a big purpose,” said Colter. “He sort of checked his own commitment. I think up until that point he thought he had really sacrificed a lot. I think for a split second, just in his mind, he thought to himself ‘What a life?’ I don’t know if that’s what he wanted, but he definitely considered this idea.”
And the usually unflappable Ben is truly terrified with the eerie happenings in the monastery “because he doesn’t really understand or understand how to process what has happened,” said Mandvi. “I was able to play all of that just without words. I remember in the scene that we shot where Ben sees this dark figure moving toward him in the crypt and then he’s running out of the crypt. We built this amazing set that looked like it was out of Indiana Jones. All of a sudden, I got to play the action hero a little bit.”
The Kings won’t reveal much about the upcoming season, though Robert divulges that David will become a priest. Nevertheless, “sex is very much built into this year. The lust, not just the attraction, but the lust that David has toward Kristen and Kristen towards David. When you are on streaming you can show more, you can do more….It just gives you more honesty in how you can explore it.”
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