How Evan Peters Navigated a 'Head Trip' Making 'Mare of Easttown' and 'WandaVision' (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
Getty Images / HBO
Not many performers can say they were at the center of TV’s two most shocking and zeitgeisty moments of the year. But thanks to his spoilery roles on WandaVision and Mare of Easttown, Evan Peters, who earned his first Emmy nomination for the latter, can do just that. “It feels very cool to be a part of it,” the 34-year-old actor tells ET by phone.
“But I’ve got to give the credit to Kevin Feige for coming up with the idea,” he continues, referring to the president of Marvel Studios and master planner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which now includes the limited series about longtime characters Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany).
Halfway through its run, the actor, who played a version of Quicksilver in the X-Men movies, appeared as Pietro, Wanda’s deceased twin brother previously portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Ultimately, this Pietro was just an out-of-work actor used as a pawn to manipulate the grieving heroine. But it didn’t put a stop to the countless theories and debates about the crossing over of film universes and implications for the future of both franchises.
“Getting me in the show that way I thought that was such a very interesting, sort of shocking, and almost weirdly meta -- I hate that word -- kind of way to do it, which I thought was really cool. And I was honored,” Peters says.
Perhaps even more shocking than Pietro knocking on Wanda’s door was the unexpected and untimely end to Peters’ turn as Detective Colin Zabel on the HBO limited cop drama created and written by Brad Ingelsby and starring Kate Winslet as Detective Mare Sheehan. But again, the actor also hands over all the credit to Ingelsby for “writing the arc of Colin,” he says. “That was all from him.”
While the captivating story about a hardened, small-town detective, who is tasked with investigating the murder of a teenage girl while trying to keep her own life from falling apart, is all from the mind of Ingelsby, it was Peters who brought Colin to life onscreen, surprising many longtime fans with a restrained and grounded performance -- which is admittedly a far cry from some of his most notable work on Ryan Murphy’s long-running anthology series, American Horror Story.
“I just love to go big. I think it’s so fun, and some of my favorite actors are very big actors. But this was an opportunity to go the opposite direction,” Peters says, noting that Colin had a lot of different layers to him that he thought would be a challenge to play. And given the nature of the series, “we wanted to make it very natural and real and sort of toned down,” the actor continues. “It was an opportunity to take everything down a notch and be a little more still and subdued.”
The ultimate goal, Peters says, “was to make it as real as possible.” And in the end, it gave him the chance to bring more of himself -- “How I am in my everyday life” -- into the performance. “That was a little bit of a switch out from some of the other things that I’ve done,” he says, before adding with a laugh, “You know, I can sometimes go big.”
And if there was one pivotal moment in episode 3 (“Enter Number Two”), where he could have been big, perhaps erroneously, it’s the much beloved bar scene, during which a drunk Colin confesses to his own shortcomings and inadvertently endears himself to Mare, establishing a potential romantic connection between the two. Instead, it’s a shining moment for Peters, who gets to steal some of the spotlight from Winslet’s commanding performance.
“In the scene, he’s showing his cards and showing his true self and what he’s going through. And I wanted to make sure that we were hitting this idea that he’s not where he wants to be in his life and he feels really distraught by that,” he says, adding that director Craig Zobel gave him the time and space not only to find and capture that, but also improvise and experiment within the performance.
“The opportunity to play around in a scene, especially with Kate, where you feel like, ‘Ahh, I got to get it right. You know, it’s got to be perfect.’ And so you’re trying to measure up to that bar and I was grateful that she let me do that,” he adds.
Although Winslet was a supportive screen partner who inspired Peters to be at his best, the actor was unable to live with her and their other co-stars, who all shared a house in Pennsylvania, where the series filmed after production resumed during the pandemic.
Holed up in a hotel room in Philadelphia, Peters “was pretty solo” during the shoot largely because he was traveling to and from Atlanta, where WandaVision was also filming at the same time. However, the experience “lent itself well to Colin’s feeling like an outsider,” the actor says. “I was alone a lot of the time, and Colin was probably alone a lot of the time, too.”
While Peters filled his time in Philadelphia by watching the A&E series The First 48, The Silence of the Lambs and “other crime stuff” or listening to John Mayer on repeat, it was a far cry from the reruns of Full House and Malcolm in the Middle he watched in Atlanta as he prepared for “this really over-the-top, fun performance” on WandaVision.
“It was a little bit of a head trip and I had to sort of compartmentalize,” he says, admitting it ended up being a fun challenge. “It was nice to take a little break from the serious drama and go have some fun. And then take a break from that and go back to getting a little bit more serious.”
While WandaVision was just limited to one season, the success of Mare of Easttown has led fans clamoring for more and hopes it will get another season much like Big Little Lies before it. And following the finale, Ingelsby told ET if he comes up with a great idea, then they would definitely try to make a second installment.
At this time, nothing has been confirmed, but one can’t help wondering if Peters has any remorse about playing a significant character who he could have easily reprised if he hadn’t been killed. “I’m very happy and pleased with the arc of Colin. I was excited by the idea that it was one and done, and the way that he dies was always something that was sort of shocking and really jarring and felt very real,” Peters says. “I was enticed by the idea of playing that character and going through all the things that he goes through and then have it be cut short.”
That said, “I hope they do another one because I would love to watch it and see Kate do it again,” he says, adding that they could “do a flashback, with Colin at another bar.”
And at the end of the day, the actor is “grateful that people responded to the show the way that they did.” Not only was Mare of Easttown a rare watercooler hit, the series garnered 16 Emmy nominations, including his for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie, which “is pretty surreal,” Peters says. “Knock on wood we get to go to the event and celebrate with everybody and raise a glass to the show and everybody who worked so hard on it.”