[Originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of DEADLY Magazine. Catch up with Part One of the retrospective here.]
Though it was prematurely cancelled in 2012, the horror comedy TV series Todd & The Book of Pure Evil has lived on through the memories of its loyal fan base, been discovered by a new audience on home media, and will return in an animated film in the near future. Last fall, I had the great pleasure of speaking with the series' co-creators and main cast, who looked back on fighting evil... with mixed results.
In this second part of Daily Dead's retrospective on Todd & The Book of Pure Evil, Alex House (Todd Smith), Maggie Castle (Jenny Kolinsky), Bill Turnbull (Curtis Weaver), Melanie Leishman (Hannah B. Williams), Shawn Pierce (music composer), and series co-creator Craig David Wallace discuss their time on the truly unique series that showed the humor, horror, and often blood-soaked trials and tribulations of high school.
What were your auditions like for Todd & The Book of Pure Evil?
Alex House: Some roles I think, "Yeah, it’s a stretch, but I could pull it off," and other roles I’m like, "Oh, this is perfect, this is something I could really sink my teeth into." And that’s how I felt about Todd. I understood him right away.”
Bill Turnbull: One funny thing that’s never happened to me before in an audition—they asked me who my favorite person that played Todd was and who my favorite person that played Hannah was, and I picked Alex and Mel [Leishman] and luckily they both got it, which was awesome.
Maggie Castle: Initially I didn’t want to go in for Todd because I was playing a teenager and I was in my twenties and I just thought, "This is a waste of time. I’m too old to play this part." They started auditioning and they said, "You should really go in," and I said, "Fine." That year I was a bit ho-hum about auditioning because I was having one of those "I don’t play teenagers anymore" phases. I went in and I was pretty blasé about the whole thing and they were like, "That’s what we loved about you. You were Jenny, you just didn’t give a shit."
Todd & The Book of Pure Evil features a cast of lovable, unique characters. What did you enjoy the most about each of your character’s individual traits?
Bill Turnbull: I liked that he [Curtis] was a sweet, lovable, cuddly dummy. He was a genuine and loyal dude.
I had somebody with Asperger’s come up to me at a convention once and she told me how it was so nice to see somebody on TV like Curtis [who has a prosthetic left arm], who has a disability but doesn’t let it bum him out. He embraces it.
Using the first [prosthetic] arm wasn’t the end of the world, it wasn’t super hard, but it was very sweaty. It did not breathe at all, so in between takes, I would take the arm and go, "Hey guys, check this out," and turn it over and water would drip out. I remember one time we tried putting baby powder in the arm—I don’t know what we were thinking—and at the end of the day there was this sludge inside it. I don’t know who had to clean that up, but my apologies to you.
In the second season, the arm [a robotic model with the ability to shoot out hot queso, among other features] was a lot less sweaty because it breathed. It was fun in between takes to clear my mind by playing with the buttons and Alex used to come over and just start playing with the buttons, too, because they were fun to push.
Melanie Leishman: We just found out things as they went along, but it was pretty amazing to be given that juicy stuff to play with. Even some of the sillier things with the more episodic quality—like singing or being in a video game—they were gifts. I don’t think you often get the chance to sing in a musical one week and put on your pink wig the next. Most other series you’re just playing your one character.
Maggie Castle: They gave Mel and I a lot of opportunities to kick ass, and not have it be just a guy’s show. And even though the demographic might be more male-driven, I think if women watch the show, they don’t feel like the female characters are annoying. We both have our own personalities and there’s a lot that girls could like about us, too, and not just the guys.
What were your most memorable moments from making Todd & The Book of Pure Evil?
Melanie Leishman: Early on while filming season two, Craig pulled me aside in between takes during an episode he was directing, and he said, "I have something to tell you. We’re killing Hannah." I was terrified because there was a one-second pause before he added, "And bringing her back." But I was sure that I was fired and that all my worst fears had been realized [laughs].
Maggie Castle: It was so all-over-the-map that you didn’t know what was coming next. I’ve been in a fat suit and covered in blood and dirt. I’ve been a monkey, I’ve been all these things. It was like going to work every day and playing make-believe. We got dirty and had a lot of fun and were children, essentially.
Out of all the monsters conjured up by The Book of Pure Evil and brought to life by creature effects guru David Scott, which one stood out the most to you?
Melanie Leishman: David Scott did an amazing job. With the big bad baby I had an out-of-body experience. I remember it coming down the hall with its huge lifelike head and I just thought, "Wow, this is absolutely nuts," before going back to being terrified of it. That was definitely my favorite.
Maggie Castle: For “Monster Fat,” I had to get stuff molded to my body and my face and I would spend a couple hours in the morning getting into that and an hour at night getting out of that. It was a real process. I know I wasn’t a monster, but I felt like a monster [laughs].
That was a really interesting experience for me. We were shooting at a high school at the time [Tec Voc in Winnipeg] where there were actual classes going on. And I remember walking through the halls in my fat suit, and the comments and the reactions… It was such an interesting experience to look like that and be around people thinking you’re that big. It was really wild. I really enjoyed it. It’s sort of like wearing a mask, like people on Halloween losing their inhibitions. That’s how it felt sometimes on Todd.
Alex House: The cock monster was the funniest to me because when we shot it we weren’t sure how much of it we’d be allowed to show. The idea was for it to be very Jaws-esque, where you’d only see its shadow or maybe just a part of it at one point. We very quickly realized there was literally no way we couldn’t show this thing. And amazingly, Space [the network that aired the series] let us use everything.
Todd & The Book of Pure Evil was shot in actual high schools, providing the series with a realistic setting. What were your experiences working in those environments?
Melanie Leishman: The first one was Silver Heights High and it was great. We took over the whole school. It kind of felt like we were in high school or the best summer camp ever because we were all out of town and placed together. That was perfect. And then when we were at Tec Voc—it was a pretty amazing school—the students were still there. And poor Maggie, the day she was in her prosthetic makeup [wearing the fat suit for the “Monster Fat” episode], the kids were laughing at her. But overall, they were very gracious and loved having us there.
Alex House: It [Silver Heights High] became our headquarters. Me and Bill would run around between takes, causing trouble and exploring rooms—just doing things our characters would do. You could throw yourself into imagination. It was freeing. We were on school property a lot. It kind of reminds you to stay where you are as a character, in high school.
Playing Atticus Murphy Jr.—a guidance counselor with plenty of his own issues—Chris Leavins was exceptional. What was your experience working alongside the consistently entertaining Chris?
Alex House: Chris is brilliant. He’s a genius of comedy and I learned a lot from him. We had scenes that we could barely get through because we were both laughing so hard. His lines on paper would literally be, "Hello children," and he would make it funny. That’s why he’s the fan favorite, because he created this immensely rich and detailed character. The things he would come up with shocked me sometimes, like his weird accent when Atticus was stabbed in the chest during “The Toddyssey” episode. Working with him was incredible. He’s like our father, too. He’s very sweet and kind and protective of us.
Jason Mewes brought a spunky humor and intriguing depth to Jimmy the janitor. What was it like having a seasoned pro like Jason in the cast?
Alex House: As the show went on, we became really close. He’s one of the most street-smart and aware people I’ve ever met in my entire life. Really nothing gets by the guy. He would improve a lot of stuff. He also whipped out his genitals for me to look at several times on my coverage [laughs].
He kind of became my big brother and was really helpful. I remember I was really nervous during a scene when I had to have sex with Nikki [played by Carmen Lavigne]. With sex scenes you basically get a flesh-colored pouch that you put around your genitals and I was really nervous because you can basically still see everything through this pouch—you’re not leaving much to the imagination.
But then Jason came up and he’s like, "Hey dude, check this out. So what I do is I put my dick in one sock and then I put it in another sock and then I put that on top of it." He was telling me how to tie my stuff up and do it so you couldn’t see it [laughs]. It was really funny. That’s one way he was like a big brother to me.
I remember we ran off one time because he found some swords in Atticus’ sanctuary in the old folks home where there’s a bunch of decorative weapons. So I came with him and he got these swords out and we just started fighting with them. I said, "Jason, stop, we’re going to get in trouble," and he’s like, "Okay, just three more." We parried and fought and chopped up wood. It was that moment in my life where I was like, "I’m literally having a swordfight with Jason Mewes."
Heavy metal is embedded in the DNA of Todd & The Book of Pure Evil, as well as the character of Todd. Did you listen to heavy metal music before coming onto the show or did you become a fan of it during production?
Alex House: When I was a teenager, I listened to a lot of Nu metal: Slipknot, Limp Bizkit, Korn. And I talked to [series co-creator] Craig [David Wallace] and asked, "Hey, would Todd listen to this?" And he said, "Uh… no.” And then he made a mix-tape for me and I still have it—actually, I should put that up somewhere so people can listen to Todd’s playlist, the one that helped me get into character. So as the show went on I tried to listen to pretty much only metal, just because it would help center me. So I became more of a fan.
There’s some stuff on my iPod that I never had before that I started listening to because of the show. It wouldn’t be the same show without that whole metal attitude—"let metal be your guide" and all that stuff. There’s almost a mythology to metal and metalheads. When I was researching Todd, I would watch documentaries about these dudes with long hair and they took it so seriously, like a religion, which I loved. So I became more of a metal fan, but I’m not a metalhead like Todd. Craig is basically the metalhead of the group.
Todd & The Book of Pure Evil mixed many music genres with its underlying heavy metal theme, particularly in the series’ two musical episodes. Shawn, as the music composer for the show, how did you go about creating the eclectic scores?
Shawn Pierce: When we were talking about using a throwback, head-banging high school theme, I was thinking it was way more ’80’s metal-inspired, but it wasn’t. I was thinking more commercial and it was way deeper and heavier—it was way more “old Metallica” and death metal that Craig was really into. And then I found out it was going to be really guitar-intensive, and I own a few guitars and I can play a couple of things, but by no means do I call myself a guitar player. So I said, "We have to hire somebody to come in with me on this bar and basically be the voice of Todd on guitar."
So we hired my good friend and longtime collaborator Mike Olekshy, who’s a guitar god, and he ended up playing guitar on all the scores and co-writing a bunch of the scores, including the two musical episodes [“The Phantom of Crowley High” and “2 Girls, 1 Tongue”] with Charles [Picco] and I. He became a really integral part. He handled all of the heavy stuff.
The cool thing about Todd is that we had all these different styles: heavy metal, full-on orchestrals, comedy, jazz. A little bit of everything was thrown into Todd in some way or another—usually as parody—but obviously the main underlying tone and theme was the heavy rock stuff, so Mike was a huge part of that.
Although Todd & The Book of Pure Evil was cancelled, it lives on through a fervent fan base. What are your thoughts on the continued support for the show?
Shawn Pierce: I had no idea it would become this thing that it is. Sometimes when I’m procrastinating and killing time, I’ll go online and check out a bunch of the musical videos on social media. Seeing the musicals dubbed into Russian… it blows my mind to see the kind of support there is for Todd out there. It’s just incredible how many songs we wrote that made us laugh our heads off—such as “Horny Like the Devil.”
Alex House: Some time has passed, and we’re like, "Okay, you know, it’s over." But then you guys come up and say, "Hey, this show really meant a lot to me." That, for me, is the ultimate compliment. That is why I forewent a much more consistent career in other things. People feel affected by my work and the projects that I work on. You really have no idea how much it means to me that everyone is affected by it.
Craig David Wallace: When I was a teenager, I was always trying to figure out what I wanted to achieve out of life. And there was this video store in Vancouver that had all of these obscure movies, and I had taken an hour and a half bus trip from the suburbs to go there. I just absolutely loved Santa Sangre, by [Alejandro] Jodorowsky, and I stole the video box from the store so that I could make a Santa Sangre T-shirt. After I did that I thought, "What I want to do is make something that would inspire somebody to do something stupid like this. I don’t care how many people watch what I do, just as long as it affects somebody." And Todd has been amazing that way.
When we did the Indiegogo campaign to raise money for the animated feature, not only did people donate, but they also sent us these stories about what Todd meant to them. Some of the stories were unbelievable. There were a lot of really depressed people out there who found laughter through Todd. It really gave them an outlet to have a moment of happiness, and it was shocking and amazing to know that we were able to touch people in that way.