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Evil’s Katja Herbers Is Exploring a Darker Side of Kristen in Season Two

Katja Herbers. Photo: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

The first season of Evil ended on CBS with Katja Herbers’s ever-skeptical psychologist Kristen Bouchard burning her hand on a crucifix. She’d just taken matters — specifically, an ice ax — into her own hands after having her family threatened by Darren Pettie’s murderous Orson LeRoux. But even if Kristen can justify killing him as an act of self-defense, her actions are still haunting her, and as season two starts up, some other demonic forces might be, too. The show, now on Paramount+, picks up with a version of Kristen who just may have verged into the darkness. She’s still on the job, investigating potentially supernatural occurrences with Mike Colter’s priest and Aasif Mandvi’s tech expert, but she’s also experiencing a new set of hallucinations involving a djinn, exploring more of her sexuality, and trying to work through the aftershocks of, you know, murder in therapy.

That’s a lot to take, so luckily, as Herbers pointed out to Vulture, Kristen can let off more steam by saying “fuck,” instead of “darn” or whatever other network-TV-acceptable phrases she might’ve used before, now that the show has moved to streaming. Over a Zoom call, Herbers talked about leaving room for the audience to guess about Kristen’s darker turn, bonding with Kristen’s many daughters, and her journey from Holland to American TV.

As the season begins, it gets into the question of whether Kristen might have become evil or demonic after killing Orson LeRoux. How did you approach playing that?
I never thought of myself as evil, or that I’d gone to the dark side, but as Kristen is a psychologist, she has a way of explaining it away as the aftereffect of murder. But in playing it, I wanted to leave space for that [other interpretation]. If you are evil, do you know that you’re evil? She doesn’t regret killing this person. She’s happy he’s no longer a threat to her children, and in the way that she talks about it to her psychiatrist, she almost seems to flirt with him as she tells him that she’s killed a person. I guess you could interpret that as being pretty evil. So it’s open to interpretation, whatever you might think watching it.

As the show goes on, Kristen’s confronted with more and more evidence of demonic activity, but she’s still clinging to whatever explanations she can. Do you think about at what point she might really believe something supernatural is happening?
She’s like an elastic band, she keeps snapping back to science. There might be a point where she can’t explain it away, and then she’ll just find a way to say, “No, I need new medication. I’m hallucinating.” But there is doubt, and she’s not in a great mental place, I’d argue. [Laughs.]

What are the scariest moments to film on your end? I imagine some of the ones that involve CGI are less so.
Well, the stuff with the elevator was pretty real [in the fourth episode], because I was sort of stuck, and that’s not necessarily a place you want to find yourself in. Obviously, you always know it’s not real, but you can envision it being so, and that’s pretty scary. Then the idea of her slowly losing her sanity, that was the most scary thing for me to play. That could feel like a real neurosis: What if I’m losing my mind?

Coming back to film the second season, did you talk with creators Michelle and Robert King about what Kristen’s arc for the season would be?
They leave me very free to interpret their writing and how I want to play it. They did tell me an arc, and then it ended up not being the arc when I read episode ten. I was like, “Wait, wasn’t it going to end that way?” And then, no, clearly not. But it didn’t matter. It keeps me in the present, and their writing is so multifaceted and I can do so many things with the character they’ve written for me. I read their scripts and I interpret it and they watch dailies and they see what I do with it. It’s a nice dialogue in that way, without talking to each other.

Are there things you noticed them writing toward based on what they’ve seen in the footage from the set?
You’d have to ask them, but I think they do see things about whether actors work well together. It was a question of whether Mike Colter and I would have any chemistry, and we do and we’re fun to watch together. It was probably also going to be the case on the show that the two characters connected with each other, but maybe more so because we do have that.

You have these confrontations with Michael Emerson on the show that intensify in the second season as he comes by asking for an exorcism. What’s it like to play off of him?
It’s like chess. We’re constantly trying to outsmart the other people, and I think it’s different now, this season, because Kristen has killed someone. I went into those scenes just thinking, “Well, I could kill you.” What’s great about this season is that I’m shattered from within by what I did, but also extremely empowered by what I did. It unleashes a whole different side of her. She’s also more in touch with her sexuality.

There’s a difference in her costumes and makeup too. She’s wearing more of it this season.
I wore almost no makeup in the first season. She still doesn’t wear a lot, but I think she is more interested in power and her sexual power, and being able to manipulate a guy. And I guess a way to do that is to look attractive? [Laughs.] So I added a little something-something. Then there is a question about female empowerment. Because of the obstacles women face to be taken seriously, is there always a conceit within that empowerment?

Kristen has a whole bevy of daughters to take care of. What’s it like to film those family scenes with all the child actors?
I really love it. It’s going to sound bubblegum or whatever, but I love these girls, and we’re going to be a fake family for life. What you see onscreen is an actual loving relationship. They get along very well with each other, and they’re great improvisers.

Well, that’s crucial, because so much of the horror comes from threats to what might happen to her kids.
Which is why I hope that people who watched and find out that Kristen has murdered this guy understand why she did it. I hope a lot of mothers can relate and not write her off. He literally said, “I’m going to kill your children.” I think Kristen would do it again, if in the same situation.

Evil’s got a lot of moving parts. It shoots in New York. You have a lot of guest actors. How did filming during COVID affect your process?
I’m humbled and proud that we got to film 13 episodes during the pandemic. On a basic level, we weren’t allowed to have a lot of extras in the scenes. Some of the things we had to downscale. The crew was always masked, and that felt distant at times. It’s nice to get to act in front of a community of people and receive some kind of response, like theater. You don’t see a little chuckle from the guy holding the boom or whatever. But once we got used to what it was, there wasn’t too much of a difference. And then, as in the first season, we did get a lot of Broadway actors who came in for an episode. I’d look at the call sheet and be like, What, he’s coming?

What was your reaction to the news that Evil would be moving to Paramount+ for this season?
I’m very excited about it. We heard when we were around the 11th episode that it was going to happen. I think our show is more fit for streaming. We don’t have to worry about it being exactly 43 minutes and having exact commercial blocks. And also, I can say “fuck!” A lot of the situations Kristen finds herself in do warrant a “fuck.” I went back and did some ADR for some of the earlier episodes where I didn’t have to say “darn it” and could just say “fuck it.”

Looking back on your career, you started out in American TV on the show Manhattan, which had a great cast of people like John Benjamin Hickey and Rachel Brosnahan, but unfortunately didn’t get much of an audience. I was wondering what it was like having that be your entry into the U.S. industry.
I’m still very grateful to have been on that show, and all those people are still my friends. We were in Santa Fe, in the desert, and that just made for a big connection. I’m still in touch with all those people — I had tacos with John Hickey just the other day. I guess it just made me spoiled because I thought, This is working in America!, and it became the only work I wanted to do, TV I wanted to watch myself.

Were you looking to do work in America specifically, before that show came along?
I was doing theater in Germany at the time, and I’d always wanted to go to America, because I can pretend to be American with my fake accent and I wanted to put it to use. I grew up watching American TV and film, and my parents are musicians who always traveled to America and all over the world. I always thought it was a shame actors are limited by their language, so I learned languages and thought it was important to learn many accents so I could pretend to be all these people.

So I went to America and tried it, and Manhattan was my fourth audition. I was like, Wow, what’s the fuss? Hollywood is so easy. But then obviously, we got canceled and I didn’t work for a year and it was not easy at all.

In the first few episodes of this season of Evil there’s a little reference to COVID spreading in China, in the background on the news. Did you all talk about how much the show would engage with the pandemic?
We did talk about it. The pandemic isn’t going to hit [on the show], which I think is a great choice. I don’t think we want to see anyone wearing masks. We’re all so tired of it. But I do like that the show is in the moment before and that danger is there. There’s the plagues in the Bible. It’s all [meshes her hands together].

There’s so much of the show that does reference specific biblical passages or occult literature. Is there someone who comes in as an expert on whatever you’re depicting?
Yeah, for instance, when we do an exorcism, we have a monsignor come in who actually exorcises people, which I cannot get my head around. I stay away from him a little bit, because it just sounds so bonkers to me. Sometimes when we do it and it starts to get really messy or gory and clearly this person who’s exorcised is being tortured, we ask him, “Is this right?” And he goes, “Yeah, this is exactly how it goes.” You’re like, “What the hell?”

But I can see, as myself or as Kristen, that going through an exorcism can be something where you’re able to let something go. Some people take mushrooms and vomit in a field, and it’s like that. You destroy yourself and at the end of it you’re all clean. I can understand it from that therapeutic way of looking at it. Maybe? I don’t know.

On the flip side of that, is there a way you get your head around the psychological perspective Kristen has?
There’s nobody I talked to, except that I’ve been in therapy myself and I studied psychology for a bit. While filming, I read a lot of psychology books because it makes me feel smart and like I can pretend that I know what I’m talking about. There’s one that’s actually by a Dutch psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, called The Body Keeps the Score. It’s been used for Kristen this year. She might think that she’s entirely fine and did the right thing after killing LeRoux, but is she? Her mind might think that she’s totally fine, but her body’s going to tell her that she’s not. You can’t unlive the experience of bludgeoning someone with an ice ax. Clearly that’s going to cause some problems!

Evil’s Katja Herbers on Exploring Her Dark Side in Season 2