Melanie Leishman (as Hannah B. Williams), Alex House (as Todd Smith), Chris Leavins (as Atticus), Maggie Castle (as Jenny Kolinsky) and Bill Turnbull (as Curtis Weaver)
Math, English, History, lunch, study hall, Gym, Science - that pretty much sounds like a typical school day for the average teenager, including Todd Smith. However, when it comes to this stoner Metalhead, even that type of schedule often proves a bit too taxing. Imagine Todd’s surprise when he along with his unrequited love Jenny Kolinsky, best buddy Curtis Weaver and bookworm Hannah B. Williams are also faced with fighting the dark side.
In the Canadian supernatural TV comedy/drama Todd & the Book of Pure Evil, these Crowley High School students must find and destroy the Book of Pure Evil -- which grants the wishes of those who possess it but in dark, bizarre and twisted ways -- before it falls in the hands of a group of Satanists who are descended from those who secretly founded the small town. Their task is made more difficult by the fact that the book flies away once its spells are undone.
Unfortunately, Todd would not be your first choice when it comes to taking on such a responsibility. He is, after all, just a teenage boy, as actor Alex House, who plays our hero, explains.
“I always say that Todd is not very bright,” says House with a chuckle. “He’s also definitely what I think is a good example of an anti-hero or a reluctant hero. The two of us aren’t too similar, and that’s the real challenge when playing him, which is filling in the parts of Todd that aren’t really me.
“Todd is maybe a little bit like what I used to be in high school in terms of immaturity and just general recklessness in his way of thinking. So I have to just allow myself to have fun with Bill Turnbull [Curtis Weaver] and be sort of childish in order to help get me into the mindset of a 17-year-old boy who’s obsessed with girls, heavy metal, general destruction and stuff like that. For Todd, things that concern, say Jenny when she’s not wanting to talk with him or date him are what he considers end of the world issues as opposed to fighting monsters and the forces of evil.
“I actually went through my old journals from high school and found things I’d written about girls like, ‘Oh, she’s THE one, and I have to dedicate so much time to making this [relationship] work.’ Now, of course, I don’t even remember ever having a crush on this girl, do you know what I mean? So again, that’s very much a part of who Todd is, which for me means getting back to that state of being really self-absorbed and where nothing else matters.”
Todd & the Book of Pure Evil began life back in 2003 as a short film written by Craig David Wallace [who also directed the film] and Max Reid. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and went on to tour other festivals around the world. In 2009 a pilot for a potential TV series was commissioned by Canada’s National Screen Institute’s Totally TV program for the Space channel. As soon as House heard the news he knew he had to be a part of the project.
“I went in for my first audition and Craig happened to be there,” recalls the actor. “Shortly after that I got a callback and was told by the casting people that they wanted me to read with other people to check for possible chemistry, so I figured that I had a decent shot at the part. So I read with Bill Turnbull as well as Maggie Castle [Jenny], and then after that I went back in a third time to read for the network.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking, but with each audition I became more and more determined to get the part, and things finally worked out. However, after everyone had been cast we still had to wait a few months before filming began because Craig went off to get married. I was over the moon, though, when I got the phone call telling me that I had the job and we would be shooting a pilot. That said, I also remember trying not to get too excited because it was still just a pilot and there was a chance that it might not get picked up for a series.”
The first Todd & the Book of Pure Evil episode that House shot was called “Monster Fat.” In it, an obesity epidemic takes over Crowley High and Todd must face up to his irrational fear of heavy people and battle a monster made out of human fat.
“We were kind of thrown into the fifth episode of the series and had to play it as if our characters were an established gang,” notes House. “In fact, it’s in the second episode where Chris and Todd band together with Hanna [Melanie Leishman] and Jenny and decide, ‘OK yeah, we’re a gang now. Let’s find this book of pure evil.’ This episode was filmed later on, though. We didn’t know that was even going to happen if the show got picked up.
“So we just had to go on the idea of that our characters were friends and this interesting dynamic was going to develop where they all came together to fight evil. I remember at the time not quite knowing what the hell was going on and making [acting] choices, some of which I look back on now and think, ‘Oh, man, I can’t believe I did that.’ Having said that, it was a lot of fun and I was also a little bit scared that maybe it [the pilot] wasn’t good enough, but I guess it was because in the end we got picked up for a series.”
The first season of Todd & the Book of Pure Evil opens with “Todd the Metal God,” in which our reluctant teenage hero uses the book to transform himself into a Heavy Metal guitar god in order to impress Jenny. House and the rest of the show’s cast and crew worked double duty when shooting this and the remaining season one episodes.
“We block-shot season one,” he explains, “so we filmed all the episodes out of order based on the convenience of our locations as well as actor availability. The core group of us - me, Mel, Maggie, Bill and Chris Leavins [Atticus Murphy, Jr., school guidance counselor and member of a Satanic group who secretly run the town] - were around pretty much the whole time, but we would only have certain other actors for a little bit.
"So we filmed two episodes simultaneously, and I think we wound up shooting episodes one and eleven [“The Phantom of Crowley High”] at the same time. That meant we were jumping back and forth as far as where Todd is at in the first episode and where he is as a character in episode eleven. For me, the biggest [acting] challenge was making sure not to play Todd the same way and in episode eleven make it look as if he’d experienced a thing or two since the first episode.
“I also had to learn how to play the guitar, or at least look like I knew what I was doing, for episode one. I wish I could play as well as Todd does in the show, but I learned how to fake it pretty well. I had this awesome guitar teacher and we practiced a few hours a day until I got it right. I love performing anyway, so I really enjoyed myself. I think they [the show’s producers] were pleased with how the episode turned out. It was a good start to the series; a lot of people said we hit the ground running and I would have to agree with them.”
This past June, the Todd cast and crew returned to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada to begin shooting the show’s second season. Despite having played Todd in 13 episodes last year, House had some trepidation about reprising his role.
“I remember kind of having cold feet, because as an actor I can sometimes be hard on myself. I’d watched the entire first season of Todd and thought I could do better, but I didn’t know how,” admits the actor.
“I began wracking my brain with the new scripts that we had been given for season two and thinking, ‘How can I be funnier? How can I do this or that better?’ Sharing the screen with guys like Bill Turnbull and Jason Mewes [Jimmy the Janitor] is very inspiring because they’re so natural at comedy and seem to nail it no matter what they do. However, at the same time you realize that you need to step up your game so that you can compete with these guys.
“A day or so before we began filming season two, I had a talk with Craig. He explained to me that the comedy from Todd’s perspective doesn’t really come when he’s trying to play the jokes, but rather when he commits to something, like going in and cutting off a monster’s head. That really helped me step back into Todd’s shoes, and then a week or so after we’d been filming, I felt like we were all back into character and just riffing off one another.
We’re all very excited about season two,” enthuses House. “I think Craig and the rest of the guys tried to remain consistent with how the show was last year and how the viewers responded to it, but it seems like we’ve taken things up a notch and to the next level. Everyone has really stepped up to the plate and I think we have a very excellent second season coming up for the fans.”
Prior to Todd & the Book of Pure Evil, the actor appeared in a number of made-for-TV movies as well as guest-starred on such shows as Total Recall: The Series, Degrassi: The Next Generation, Life With Derek and Warehouse 13. He was also a series regular in Jane and the Dragon and Dark Oracle. Although having one or two career aspirations other than acting while growing up, House seemed destined to perform in front of the camera.
“When I was around six years old I wanted to be a knight, but was then informed that that probably wasn’t possible,” he says. “I wanted to be a marine biologist after that, and when I was 12 years old a friend’s mother had an agent who said to my parents, ‘I noticed that your son is a total ham and loves to dance and perform. I think he might make a good actor.’
“My parents asked me if I wanted to do it [act] and I said, ‘Yeah, sure,’ like it was the most casual thing in the entire world. I don’t think I really gave it much thought at that age. It was just something I sort of did throughout my teens. It wasn’t until I was probably 18 that I realized this was the doorway to a great career and I had to start working hard at it and commit to acting. Looking back now I can’t really picture myself doing anything else.”
Season Two of Todd & The Book of Pure Evil premieres Sunday, October 30th on Canada's SPACE channel, while in the States, Season One is airing Tuesdays @ 10:00 p.m. (EST) and 7:00 p.m. (PST) on FEARnet. Please note all photos above copyright of SPACE.