Mike Colter spent the last few years heavily immersed in the Marvel television universe as superhero Luke Cage, with a few breaks to reprise his “The Good Wife” role as a guest star on “The Good Fight.” But now he is teaming up with that showrunning duo, Robert King and Michelle King in a much larger way, starring in their new CBS drama “Evil” as a priest-in-training who investigates potential demonic possessions and other ruthless acts.
How heightened is the world of “Evil” compared with the Marvel world you just left?
Trying to ground a superhero with powers and make him a relatable character was difficult, but I enjoyed the challenge. Now we’re dealing with a world that’s really in the real world, and we’re dealing with psychology — but then there are these nuances that are odes to the supernatural and myths. And the things that are otherworldly are things we’re not so sure about. We’re not beating people over the heat with the idea that we’re definitely dealing with unrealistic things; these are real-life experiences and real-life occurrences and we’re trying to figure out what causes them.
What drew you to the character of David in “Evil”?
I’ve found this character to be pretty level-headed but at the same time the most emotionally intelligent character I’ve played — because he’s dealing with two different sides, and he’s invited [the skeptics] to team up with him. He’s got a person who’s basically a contractor — a computer guy — and he’s got a psychologist, and both of them are about as pragmatic and straight-forward as possible, and I dare say both of them are probably agnostic, non-believers. And he is a believer, but he’s trusting that they will challenge him and they will bring their doubts to the table. A lot of people who I think are religious and faithful, they don’t necessarily want their truths or their beliefs to be challenged, but he’s completely OK with finding out that something tied to religion or Catholicism or any of the myths he can find in scripture or in the bible are maybe not real.
As an actor, do you find yourself doing a lot of work to believe what David does?
I have always been pleased to play characters that are unlike me because it gives me a challenge. There are always parts that are similar to me, and I don’t worry about those as much because I know they’re going to come through. But the things that are not like me, I pay more attention to those because I want to make sure they’re believable. In this case, I’ve been lucky because I grew up in the South, and there’s a large group of followers down there, so I’m accustomed to this world, and it’s not foreign to me. I didn’t grow up as a Catholic, but I grew up with people’s faith; that’s not something that goes over my head. His journey, and his arrival to be on this walk is different than anything I could have imagined, but I know people like this: I know people who became ministers late in life, and that’s what this character is. I’m embracing knowing what makes him tick.
How solid is he in his beliefs?
I don’t think he would do a 180, but if there’s any room to shift or to have doubts, it will probably come out in the first season. We’ll find out, through his backstory, something that will affect the way we see him because we all know people who are in this area, and I always say sometimes people who are religious zealots are running away from something, or they’re using one addiction in the place of another addiction, or they need so much structure that they have to buy something that’s so rigid that it keeps them in lockstep because without it, they’ll fall apart. We’ll find out more about why he’s chosen this path. I always make the joke that if you saw David walking around and I gave you 10 guesses what his job was, you’d never come up with the one it is.
How much of his backstory do you need to have in mind to understand why he decided to walk this path when he did?
When we did the pilot I remember talking about the guy in generality, but it was just the pilot, and there was so much more we could have talked about, but I just needed to make sure this one thing worked, so I didn’t really want to know too much. I think knowing the overall arc of something is good, but we always talk about Chekhov: Sometimes knowing something will actually inform you. Even if you don’t know why you’re doing it, if you do something, it starts to then inform you as to how it makes you feel. And if you walk a certain way, it’s going to inform the kind of person you are, even if you don’t know why you’re doing it. You know how you see somebody walking across the street and you make judgements — you make assumptions — based off what they’re dressed like, how they walk, how they talk? All that stuff informs you. You may be completely wrong, but you think you have an idea of who the person is. So, that’s kind of how you can approach some characters for a bit, but then you do have to figure the rest out.
How collaborative is your relationship with the Kings now, to have more agency in who David becomes as episodes go on?
Collaborative is a good word. They are steering the ship, and where we end up is completely up to them, but I think we’re going in the same direction. How we get there, it’s like going on a road trip: We know where we’re going, but what road we take to get there is up for grabs. I may recommend taking a shortcut or a road they didn’t think about or stopping some place, but if it’s along the way and it makes sense to the overall journey, it may happen. It’s all about exploring what makes this guy tick and where he comes from.
Obviously your schedule is full here but have you had conversations about popping back up on “The Good Fight”?
It’s funny, we have half, if not more, of the same crew as “The Good Fight.” We are literally one block away. So if anybody can figure out how to put me back on there, if they want to, it won’t be hard. I don’t think the door is closed at all. They might bring me back for an episode. I could see that happen.
That show gets very topical, and “Evil” feels like there is a lot of room to also dive into some real-world sinister threats, as well. Are there specific issues you want to see the show take on?
It’s very timely. When we shot the pilot, I felt like everything that we’re dealing with now could end up on our show. It’s scary and creepy and depressing sometimes, when you think about the world we live in, because there just seems to be people who don’t care about other people and you don’t know why. There are so many of us trying to live a good life and have good intentions, but then there is a small percentage that just don’t seem to have any sense of humanity and are out to see people suffer, and that is what we’re exploring through all of this. I don’t think we want to glorify it at all, but we’re trying to not ignore that shift in humanity. We’re becoming less of a people who are concerned with the overall issues of our kind and more concerned with ourselves, selfishly. We’re becoming numb as a society — to catastrophic disaster, to horrific crimes — and maybe it’s the news, social media, but it’s bizarre. So we’re trying to drill that down to very character-driven plots.