Actor Michael Emerson is the quintessential example of perfectly blending in work and fun into his profession with his role as the nefarious Leland Townsend on the Paramount+ series Evil. With the supernatural horror series moving from its broadcast home on CBS to streaming platform Paramount+, the show was allowed to spread its demonic wings so-to-speak, embracing grittier content and deeper layers of storytelling & character development. I spoke with the actor about Leland's increased role in the lives of Kristen (Katja Herbers), David (Mike Colter), and Ben (Aasif Mandvi), how he defines his current relationship with Sheryl (Christine Lahti), and if there's anything he can offer about the third season.
Evil – Leland and Sheryl's Relationship
"[In terms of] tone, I was surprised or I should say pleased to find out how theatrical Leland was going to become," Emerson said. "It's a lot of fun to play and always kind of something fresh and wild. Every episode, I've been a happy actor on this show this season." One of the biggest defining aspects of Leland was how his relationship with Sheryl evolved. "I think in season one, it looked like Leland thought Sheryl was a mark," he explained. "She was a vulnerable person and that he could put to his own use. There was something that she was inclined towards the dark side. I think what he discovered in season two is that they are more on an equal footing and that they're able to make partnerships outside the realm of romance."
Evil Season 2 Analysis & What About Season 3?
As far as where Leland is going for the third season, Emerson admits it's still under development. "I've never really spoken to [Robert and Michelle King] about where things are going or what I'm doing," he said. "I'm just happy to find those things out when I get a script and then figure out I have some surprises and I guess there's a scramble and see what I can do with the material, which is always really good." As far as the developments in season two, Emerson provided some give-and-take about his efforts infiltrating Kristen, David, and Ben's lives in addition to the Catholic Church.
"I feel like the writers are figuring out how everything works together, how the big narrative machine scene of 'Evil' plays out," Emerson said. "So I think a lot of relationships are settling down into something that really makes sense and is fairly dramatic. It's been fun that way. I'm kind of happy where Leland is still a great mischief-maker. He seems to have a lot of irons in the fire. He seems to be connected to a lot of stuff that's happening on the dark side at the same time, it seems like his primary agenda is to take David away from the priesthood and break his faith, somehow. I'm not sure why that's so important to Leland. Maybe we'll find out."
The actor admits there are wrinkles in Leland's plan he didn't anticipate. "[Leland] stirred up a lot of trouble and he's made a mess of things," Emerson said. "He's gotten his way about getting on the inside of the Catholic Church, which will give him a better position from which to create mayhem. At the same time, we're finding out more about his other project than we're seeing occasionally that he's vulnerable. Like during the exorcism that at some point that kind of got on top of him and he needed the help of someone close to him. In this case with Sheryl, he needed love and needed root beer. He needed a hand to hold that kind of thing. It's interesting that his power grows and so does his sense of his possible vulnerability." Evil is available to stream on Paramount+. Check out our previous interview with Emerson and his Emmy Award-winning legacy on Lost.