For such a wide range of main characters in the Paramount+ series Evil, it would be easy to get lost in the shuffle but creators Robert and Michelle King manage to find creative ways to incorporate compelling storytelling for all involved. Christine Lahti, who plays Sheryl Luria, might initially appear to have taken a back seat in the second season but came back in a huge way given the latest arc that sees her involved again with her former lover Leland Townsend (Michael Emerson). I spoke to the actress about her involvement with the supernatural series, Sheryl's growth over the course of the series, her relationships with daughter Kristen (Katja Herbers) and Leland, and what we might see from her in the home stretch of the final two episodes of the current season.
"I had worked with the [Kings] on 'The Good Wife' and 'The Good Fight', and I think their writing's extraordinary and they're always very funny, topical, and political. I just adore them," Lahti said. "So I knew even though the part wasn't really defined at the beginning, I knew it would turn into something really interesting." Season one saw Sheryl's relationship with the sociopath Leland helped drive a wedge between her and Kristen, manipulating his way more into Kristen's life before abruptly revealing his nefarious plan to break up with her.
"I think Sheryl's breakup with Leland was the trigger that has catapulted her into her 'dark side' or you might say her more 'empowered side'," Lahti explained. "I think that she's had one too many demons in her life, and when I say 'demons,' I just mean bad men, men who have hurt her, abused her, or tried to control her. I think now she's on a journey that it is her turn, her time, and 'Watch out world!' I'm not saying that she's going to use all positive methods to become empowered, but I think she's on that journey and it's fueled by revenge, rage, a history of being unempowered, and being abused by men. So I think she's that is what's fueling what's going on." One of the dramatic changes for Evil was its move from its original network television home on CBS to the ViacomCBS' streamer service Paramount+, which opened up new opportunities to reshape its identity.
How Evil Changed Homes from CBS to Paramount+
"In terms of the Paramount+ question, it felt very seamless, honestly," Lahti said. "We went back and did a few ADR curse words to kind of spice it up. When we found out we were moving to streaming, it's just been the scripts have just gotten grittier and more fun. I just think it's a great place for it, actually." While Sheryl and Kristen ultimately reconciled as Leland helped orchestrate the divide, the mother-and-daughter relationship evolved towards a different path. "I do think that there were a lot of hurt feelings on both sides," she explained. "I think that Sheryl does see now that Leland is a bad guy and does understand why Kristen was so…maybe didn't understand the full extent of why Kristen was so afraid of him. I think Sheryl loves her daughter and her granddaughters very much. I don't think she would do anything to intentionally harm them. I think she does things that she thinks will empower them. Like, yes, I want to show your granddaughters how what a badass you were in the grocery store when you hit that guy. That's good. That's taking your power. That's standing up for yourself. So I don't think she thinks of it as all positive. She never would intentionally give advice or I think do anything to hurt them. "
Lahti thinks the world of her two main co-stars Herbers & Emerson and warns viewers that despite Sheryl's current predicament, don't underestimate her. "They're both extraordinary actors," she said. "I love working with them. They're very alive and present. The relationships are obviously completely different. I think with Leland, I'm doing a lot of manipulation and pretending to go along with his stuff, but I have a greater. It's for a greater good. I have a higher purpose that I can't reveal, and I'm not even sure too much about it, but I've been told that there's something coming down in terms of a power dynamic between Leland and Cheryl. I feel like people think that I'm under his influence or, you know, his subordinate, but that is the opposite of what I think with Sheryl. With Kristen, I think there's there is a kind of frayed trust, it is not a completely connected relationship and I'm not sure how I will regain each other's trust. Right now it is there's a little bit of a distance for sure."
One thing Sheryl embraced from her initial time with Leland is a fascination with the occult. "I think that she's exploring satanic worship," the Chicago Hope star said. "I think she's one with the dark side, but I think there's a higher purpose. I think it's not to hurt. I think it's to empower. I think that she will always try to protect her grandchildren and her daughter. But she's really getting a sense of her own power, which she's never had. That's both positive and negative. It can be negative in that it is fueled by revenge and maybe it's not going to be very pretty, but I do know that she's on a journey and she's not everything that you think she is at this point." New episodes of Evil, which also stars Mike Cotler and Aasif Mandvi, stream Sundays on Paramount+. You can check out our interview with Emerson here.