This Evil interview contains spoilers.
Evil knows how to get the blood pumping. From mundane angst to cosmic dread, Paramount+’s psychological and paranormal mystery series finds the vein which controls the pulse. The main team of investigators are warned they will face their most frightening subject in their latest probe. Though it is said with a chuckle, the fear is universal. If it’s not death, it’s taxes. But “I Is for IRS” doesn’t merely mine the collective subconscious for a familiar terror, it turns the horrors of abuse upside down for an insidious take on the empowerment of darker dabblings.
While Ben (Aasif Mandvi), David (Mike Colter), and Kristen (Katja Herbers) all have shadowy sidelines, Sheryl (Christine Lahti) appears to be the most enthusiastic. She is willing to give all for the cause. This took an alarming turn during “O Is for Ovaphobia,” when Sheryl was forcibly drained after being drugged in a bar. But the twists didn’t end there. The distinctly unhealthy looking light brown fluid which is being pumped into Sheryl to replace the blood loss is an elixir of life. The opening sequence makes it look like quite the addictive drug.
Christine Lahti is an award-winning veteran who is as comfortable on stage or screen, big or small. Evil is her second role with Michelle King and Robert King, along with The Good Fight and The Good Wife. Lahti spoke with Den of Geek about the importance of keeping up the battles, righteous and profane, and what’s in that chemical cocktail she makes look so addictive.
Den of Geek: How are the rackets on the West Side?
Christine Lahti: They’re very rackety. Yeah. I love that line. That was so funny in that scene.
How much do you know about what’s happening to Sheryl and how much does she know about what’s happening to Sheryl?
I think, on the night of the last episode, where she got the roofie put in her drink, and was given the blood transfusion and this brown elixir, I think she blacked out all that. I don’t think she has a memory of that, but I think she feels fantastic now. This brown elixir they gave her was, it was explained to me by the Kings, like going to a spa. It’s vitamin B and C and youth serums and whatever, but she feels very empowered and great.
Sheryl is on a mission now. I think after Leland broke up with her, that was the last straw. There will be no more abusive men in her life. There will be no more “demons,” bad men. I don’t serve actual demons. I think she’s on a journey of empowerment. It’s not going to always be pretty, but I think she’s fueled by rage and revenge, and I think she’s using Leland. He thinks he’s using her. I think she’s got a bigger mission in mind.
Is it my imagination or do the denominations you feed to Eddie keep getting bigger?
I actually didn’t notice that, but I would not be surprised if that was true, because Eddie is a real positive force for Sheryl. I had to look at it that way. She is exploring her dark side, but to me, her dark side also involves, as I said, empowerment, and Eddie gives her calm and gives her a sense of confidence and entitlement, and things that she hasn’t really felt in her life. So, she meditates to Eddie. She talks to Eddie. It’s all positive.
Was stealing the dress part of a ritual?
No. I don’t think there’s any kind of evil ritual going on. I think she is exploring, again, her dark side, and maybe satanic kind of stuff. But she was doing this for empowerment, and she has been dealing with a psychopath who is Leland. I don’t think she believes that there’s a devil there. She doesn’t believe in the devil or God for that matter. I think she believes that this man is an abusive, dangerous psychopath, and she’s going to somehow, by hook or by crook, gain power over him.
The stealing of the dress was, I think, an act of rebellion about having to be a good girl, or obeying the rules. I don’t think it’s any kind of demonic possession. It’s not something she does a lot. I think it was a bad thing she did.
You bathe Leland in blood in “I Is for IRS.” What is he getting out of that? He’s human, isn’t he?
He is human. Yeah. I begrudgingly help Leland out. Again, I’m using him, I think, for something much greater, and some eventual power over him. You’d have to ask Michael Emerson or the Kings what she thinks he’s getting from this blood. From Sheryl’s point of view, she says it makes him feel better. It’s like the transfusions that I’m getting, the brown stuff. It is something that makes him feel better, like going to a spa.
Did you study any magic for the role?
No, not magic, but I did read up on satanic worship. Do people really believe that blood transfusions, if you get a blood transfusion, say from a psychopath, are you going to take on psychopathic qualities? And there are schools of thought that believe that you could take on some personality traits of people whose blood you have in you. So, it’s possible that I have some influence from that evening. But again, to me, I think of it all as positive right now. We’ll see, I don’t know what’s going to happen to this character, but I think that she’s on a journey that is very much about empowerment, and she’s going for it.
Do you have any idea what occult tradition Sheryl is practicing?
Occult. No, I don’t. I think, again, there’s a satanic cult thing that she is exploring and intrigued by, but I don’t think she’s following anything strictly. But I do think she’s very intrigued by that world, and whether it’s to ultimately have control over it or have some kind of revenge over Leland, I don’t know. I think she’s smarter than people think she is.
Why were you singing the song from Flight of the Conchords? What were you doing all night?
Well, it’s interesting because that next morning when we’re singing that song, I’m dressed in a completely different, non-Sheryl, pastel tennis outfit, singing this song. So, it was kind of a wild night, but I think I feel great. I feel rejuvenated. I don’t have a memory, as I said, of the horror of the previous night. I don’t know where the hell we got that song, but it probably had something to do with Tim Matheson’s character.
You worked with Robert and Michelle King on The Good Wife and The Good Fight. What is different about a King set? What’s different about what they bring to TV?
Just the writing. The writers room that they have, the writers that they’ve hired, they’re all just so smart and funny. They know their genre, but it crops genres. It’s a mix of such wonderful comedy or drama. It’s topical. The key to their office is so topical and political, which I love. And on set there’s a real sense of freedom. And I think we all feel as actors that we can try stuff, and improvise. They’re very confident that way. They’re very open to actors’ ideas and improv and behavior twists in the characters, which is great.
New York has plenty of spooky exteriors. Do you think the city will become more of a character as this show moves on?
I hope so. I’m not part of that planning, but I can’t imagine that the Kings wouldn’t take advantage of, as you said, many, many spooky exteriors that are all over New York.
Why won’t RSM give up Kristen’s unfertilized eggs? You’re the mother, does Sheryl have the evil gene? Is that why they’re holding onto her last egg?
I don’t believe in evil. I don’t think Sheryl has anything evil. I think Sheryl is exploring her dark side and there might be some psychological problems with Sheryl. It’s not about evil or the devil. I think that there is some truth to the blood transfusions. I don’t know about truth, but there’s some belief that when you have, let’s say you get, you need, blood and you happen to get it from a psychopath, that maybe you’re going to have some psychopathic problems, right? Or if you get blood from a really kind Buddhist monk, that maybe that’s going to influence you somehow. So, there might be some truth in that. But I don’t think that there’s anything about the devil to me.
What do you think you’re doing for Leland and Tim Matheson’s character? At one point, you’re driving holes in their heads.
Okay. I do not think I am Leland’s handmaiden. I think I am helping Leland out, but this is, to me, a bigger picture. It’s a grand scheme of how I’m manipulating Leland. I’m helping him out to get power, to get empowerment. And I don’t think I killed the guy with the drill. I think he probably has a really bad headache, but I drained some brain fluid. Big deal. I don’t think I killed him. I kept saying, I said to the Kings, “I’m not killing this guy, right? I’m not a murderer.” “No, no, no, no, no, no. You’re just taking some. Borrowing some brain fluid for Leland.”
Aren’t you afraid it may escalate to that?
To killing? Yeah. I am afraid of that. I don’t know where they’re taking Sheryl. I don’t think it’s going to get to that, but we’ll see. And again, and I said also to the Kings, I want to be sure that no matter how dark it gets, which I love exploring, and I’ll do anything, but she can’t hurt her grandchildren or her daughter. And they reassured me that Sheryl loves her family, who would do anything for them. And, in fact, would go to the greatest lengths to protect them.
What path is Sheryl bringing Kristen’s daughters? You showed them Eddie. You’re giving them little pieces here and there. What do you want for these kids?
I want them to be empowered. I want them to stand up for themselves. Sheryl’s proud of her daughter for hitting that guy in the grocery store. It’s misguided advice, but I think from Sheryl’s point of view, it’s “Stop taking shit from men, girls, and daughters. I took shit from men my whole life. I’ve put up with abuse and put up with being controlled and repressed.” Actually, physically and sexually abused is my backstory for Sheryl. So now she’s done. She’s had enough and she’s going to get revenge. She’s going to get power by hook or by crook. I don’t think it’s necessarily virtuous, but I think that there’s a real righteous rage that Sheryl has that’s fueling all of this.
You’re also very permissive with your daughter when she comes in. Where do you stand on the husband with that, if she’s stepping out?
I don’t think Sheryl likes this husband at all, and I think she’s thinking he’s just a dead weight on the family. And why isn’t Kristen just dumping the guy and carrying on with her life? He’s been such a burden on the whole family, and a non-father to these kids. I think that she’s giving her daughter advice that she feels is positive. Like, “Here’s how to hide it. I had to do it with your father. I didn’t have a good relationship with your father.”
I think Sheryl’s husband was abusive. And I think that I stepped out on him and this is how I covered my tracks, and here’s how you can cover your tracks. Of course, you’re going to step out on this guy, your husband. He’s never around. He’s a bad guy. From Sheryl’s point of view, I think it’s good advice.
What was the most fun sequence to film? And did you wish you could have been in the wine barrels a couple of weeks ago?
Oh, that wine barrel sequence was hilarious. It was like Lucille Ball getting drunk at a winery. It was so cheeky. Katja was so delicious in that episode. For me, it’s all been fun. Navigating the relationship with Leland is really fascinating. It’s so complex because she wants to pretend that she’s helping him, I think, and that she’s “under his influence” but she knows better. She has a bigger purpose, as I said. So that’s all very delicate and, I think, full of subtext and rage and revenge, but pretending otherwise, right? It’s complicated. I love that.
When you’re preparing to do horror, what horror do you watch?
I don’t watch any horror. I don’t like the genre, generally. But why I love this show is its infusion of humor and intelligence and topical subjects. It’s such a mixed genre piece. But the horror stuff, honestly, I just close my eyes when that stuff comes on because I get too scared. I can’t watch it at night. The monsters freak me out. And actually, I’ve done some horrific stuff, but I don’t have a lot of monsters in my scenes so far, the monsters that Kristen dreams about George, and now Aasif [Mandvi] dreams about. Those monsters have not entered my world yet.
Right. But it’s all psychological horror.
To me it is. Yes, imagined psychological horror, that we are dealing with evil that emerges out of psychotics’ brains, mentally deranged and psychosis, so psychologically based, explained psychosis. Not the devil.
Does Sheryl like what her daughter’s doing, looking for the truth? Or does she feel, because it’s for the Catholic Church, that it’s not ever going to find the truth?
I think that she likes that her daughter is the truth-seeker in a world that’s so filled with deceit and corruption and lies, which is the Catholic Church. And she likes that she’s going to be a ghostbuster in a way. But she is impatient with her because she wants her to stand up for herself more. And again, I think she applauded hitting the guy who cut in line, because her daughter’s been so passive. She used to put up with a lot of shit from men. She’s impatient with her daughter, like, “Come on. Dump this husband. Stand up for yourself. Be more empowered,” just like she’s on her own empowerment path.
We’ve gotten comedy episodes, a silent episode. Is there a musical episode coming up, a period episode?
Oh, I would love that. That would be a dream. Yeah, that would be great. I don’t know, honestly, I haven’t seen anything for next season, but I’m very excited about it, because I think Sheryl’s path, her journey, is just getting more and more interesting and fun to play.
Evil airs Sundays on Paramount+.