Evil - Aasif Mandvi interview

Aasif Mandvi plays Ben Shakir, a contractor who works with David as his technical expert.

Evil - Aasif Mandvi interview

How would you describe your character in Evil?

Ben is a skeptic. He's a hardcore believer in what he can touch, feel, taste and smell. He doesn't ascribe to anything in the paranormal. I don't think he likes things he can't control, explain or deconstruct. He believes there is a sucker born every minute and he is not going to be that sucker. I think he looks at people who buy into things like demonic possession and miracles as misguided. He feels like it's his job to explain these things and to deconstruct them.

Does anything that happens in Evil change Ben Shakir's beliefs?

As we move through the series, you're going to see Ben's beliefs challenged in different ways. I think that's one of the great things about the show, because all of the characters have their own internal struggles and their own internal demons. I think Ben has that in himself. He came from a religious Muslim family, but he rejected that for science and things that he can explain. That's part of his MO. I think we'll unpack that a little bit more as the story progresses.

Do Ben's views mirror your own personal views?

I am not an atheist and I am not as much of a pragmatist as Ben. I start out believing and then I investigate - and I'll often end up realising my beliefs are flawed. Ben is different because he will start out not believing and then he'll investigate. I think I'm much more right-brained than Ben is. I grew up in a religious family, but I often enjoy poking holes in people who follow things blindly. I'll challenge those blind beliefs that have not been examined. I guess that's where I overlap with Ben a little.

There's a fair amount of frightening things in the real world right now. Does Evil tap into any modern day angst?

What I love about Robert and Michelle King is the way they are able to marry fictional stories with what is going on in the world. On some level, I think a show like Evil is an exemplification of a psychological terror that we're all experiencing right now, because it deals with things that we're all terrified about; things we can't understand. I feel like there's a lot of that in the world right now, with things like global warming, totalitarian regimes and white supremacy. There's a terror in the world that gets manifested into these shows. I think this is the reason why the genre of horror and shows like this have become so popular again. It's because we're all terrified all the time.

What do you hope audiences take away from Evil?

Ultimately, all good art gives you texture and richness of character and story, and it lets you know that you're not alone. It lets you know that the world is complicated and answers are not easy, despite what people tell you. When you watch something that is nourishing for the soul - even if it's a horror show that terrifies you - I think it will hold you and you come to realise that the world is a complicated place. Good people do bad things and bad people do good things, but we can't always explain why. However, it's always worth examining and going on the journey to tell those stories.

How closely does the show follow the procedural format - is there a case to crack each episode?

The show toggles between different genres. It's not really a procedural show, but it's not really a horror show. There's a procedural element to the show, but then there are also the personal stories of these characters. I think it's going to be really fun and interesting to explore the personal demons that these characters are fighting in themselves, as well as the procedural demons that they fight every week.

What can you tease about the supernatural manifestations audiences might see in Evil?

What's great about the show is the fact that it's not just about the demon of the week. It's not just about a Freddy Krueger character or anything like that. There is a psychological component to the show. I think that psychological component and that question of 'what is evil?' is important. Is evil something that comes from outside and possesses us? Or is evil something we create and manifest ourselves? I think that question is a human question and it's a struggle for all human beings to answer. It's a question that we struggle with all the time.

So what's your personal take on that all-important question? What is evil for you?

Personally, my answer is that evil is like good. It exists in tandem with good and it is part of the DNA of the universe. Our job as human beings, or as sentient beings, is to choose the right path. What path we choose at any given moment in the universe is important, and this includes our path through social media, religion and whatever it is that human beings have created that has the capacity for evil - but we must remember that it also has the capacity for good. Even the worst people on Earth have the capacity to be great people, but they have chosen to not do that. They have chosen to go in a different direction. There's a Native American tale, which involves two wolves existing inside every human being. One wolf is good and one wolf is evil. Which wolf is more powerful? Well, the answer is whichever one you feed. I think that's my belief, too. It's very metaphysical.

Do you think people always have complete control of that choice? Which wolf to feed?

I think there are times where there isn't a choice, perhaps when there is mental illness involved. I don't know if it's always a conscious choice. Sometimes it is a reaction to something else. But to me, it feels like great good can come out of the battle against suppressing your own inner demons.

What are your thoughts on ghosts and the paranormal? Are you a believer?

My belief is that there is more than we understand in the universe. Everything that we can see is on the colour spectrum of our very small colour spectrum, so there's more in the universe than we understand. I'm much more of a believer in the idea that there are things outside our realm of understanding. I don't know whether they are ghosts or whether they are part of the DNA of the universe and how energy works in the universe, but I know there are things that we cannot explain with science. Interestingly, Ben would disagree with me about that!

Do you think someone's upbringing has an effect on their belief or disbelief in ghosts and the paranormal?

I grew up in a Muslim Indian family. Eastern cultures often have a much closer relationship to things like ghosts and the paranormal. Growing up, my grandmother would tell me ghost stories all the time. She would also tell me stories about miracles and religious miracles. I'm sure that probably affected the way I view the world. I think Western culture is very focused on things you can understand and things you can explain. The history of Western civilisation is one of dominating nature, but I think Eastern culture and Eastern belief systems are much more in line with nature. And in nature, there are things that you can't always understand.