Bell Media/SPACE Channel
The Todd & The Book of Pure Evil gang (L-R): Maggie Castle (as Jenny Kolinsky), Melanie Leishman (as Hannah B. Williams), Chris Leavins (as Atticus Murphy Jr.), Alex House (as Todd Smith) and Bill Turnbull (as Curtis Weaver)
As guidance counselor at Crowley High School, Todd & the Book of Pure Evil’s Atticus Murphy Jr. leaves a lot to be desired. While he should be helping students achieve their scholastic as well as future goals, he has other things — much darker things — on his proverbial plate. A member of a Satanic group that is secretly running the town of Crowley, he is hunting for a magical book that can grant the desires of the person who possesses it, but not without a cost.
Unfortunately for Atticus, someone keeps getting in the way of him and the book — Todd Smith. This Crowley High metal head and his peeps — Jenny Kolinsky, Curtis Weaver and Hannah B Williams - are also chasing after the book. Like typical teenagers they are using it to make their own dreams come true, while at the same time saving the world as we know it. In the show’s first season, Atticus tried being buddy-buddy with Todd and his friends, but he has recently decided to change tactics, making the character even more fun for actor Chris Leavins to play.
“For me, Atticus is a perpetual teenager,” says Leavins. “He’s trapped in the adolescent phase of his life and has some pretty severe ‘daddy’ issues. What I like about the character is that he’s relentlessly tenacious. Atticus might not be the brightest guy in the world, but he will not give up on proving himself.
“In the first season, Atticus was part of the gang, and this [second] season he is very much the villain. It makes for great storylines, but I have to say I really miss hanging with the cast on the set. I’ve been very much on my own this year. I know it sounds lame, but sometimes I’ll go to the set on my day off just to hang with the cast and watch them work.
“Maggie Castle [Jenny Kolinsky] is an awesome actor and totally hilarious in real life. Melanie Leishman [Hannah B. Williams] is probably the most technically perfect performer I’ve ever worked with. I study that girl; I want to be her when I grow up. And don’t even get me started about Bill Turnbull [Curtis Weaver]. I think the show’s blooper reel is posted somewhere on the web and you can see the whole thing is me being very unprofessional and unable to keep a straight face when I’m in scenes with him.”
Todd & the Book of Pure Evil began life in 2003 as a short film by Craig David Wallace (who also directed the short) and Max Reid. Leavins was not involved in the original film. His Todd debut came later on when Canada’s SPACE channel greenlit a pilot for a potential Todd TV series.
“I knew Craig socially, and we actually had dinner in Los Angeles about six months before he shot the [Todd] pilot,” recalls the actor. “I was so happy for him because he had gone through seven years of development to get the show on the air. I had been at TIFF [Toronto International Film Festival] when Craig screened the short film that the TV show is based on. Everybody loved it. There was no Atticus character in the short, though, so I didn’t think there was a role that Craig would consider me for. I ended up putting myself on tape based on one scene that the casting director sent me. It was a nerve-wracking audition for Craig since he was a friend. I didn’t think I did a very good job and, truth be told, the [Atticus] character has evolved a lot since then. However, Craig saw past my bad acting and gave me the part.
“We shot episode five [of season one] ‘Monster Fat’ about a year before the series was picked up,” continues Leavins. “We did some re-shoots about a year later and if you watch that episode closely, you can see that I have several different haircuts from scene to scene. If you ask me what sticks out most in my mind about ‘Todd and the Metal God,’ [the first episode shot for the show’s first season], it’s Alex House’s [Todd Smith] performance. He really went to the mat for that episode and did an awesome job. I remember the assistant director making an announcement at the end of the day about what a good job he did, and everybody burst into applause. I also think we lucked out with our guest star Marc Devigne [Stuart]. He really nailed that part. Not an easy feat when you’re only on-set for one day.”
Season two of Todd premiered October 30, 2011 on the SPACE channel with the episode “Redirement Home.” In it, Todd, Curtis, and Hannah break into a retirement home to rescue Jenny from the clutches of the evil Satanic Society, now run by Atticus. As Leavins already pointed out, his character is exercising his villainous muscles this year, and it sounds as if the best is yet to come with this baddie. “Atticus is crazy this year,” he says. “He’s freakin’ nuts.
“I have to say, every episode has been a huge challenge in season two. Todd is not your ‘normal’ show. If you’re playing a cop or a lawyer on a procedural TV show, you can find your groove quite easily and have a good idea of what’s happening from one episode to the next. On Todd you have to learn to dance, sing, fight, and god knows what else. This season alone I play a caveman, sing an Elton John-style ballad, transform into a man goat, get attacked by a wolf, and perform a ballet in a forest. This show is crazy. I’ve never worked so hard and never been happier to work so hard.”
RoboCop, Due South, Traders, Slings and Arrows and Blue Murder are among the other TV series that Leavins has appeared in, while his big screen credits include Nothing to Lose and The Hanging Garden. The actor has performed onstage as well, and from 2006-2009 he starred in Cute with Chris, a satirical video podcast that the actor wrote, anchored, and produced from his own apartment. Leavins also has a reading series on iTunes called The Chris Leavins Story Hour, and has written a series of essays based on the podcast entitled The Captain (and other stories). Given all this creative energy, it would seem he was destined to have the spotlight eventually shine on him.
“I wanted to be an actor when I was a kid. It was my life’s mission to get on TV,” says Leavins. “The hard thing was learning that being on TV doesn’t necessarily make life better. God, I miss being young and naïve.”
The old adage, “Good things come to those who wait,” definitely applies when it comes to Leavins and his involvement with Todd. “I always have this strange visceral response when I read the scripts for Todd,” notes the actor. “My first reaction is, ‘Oh, my God. The writers want Atticus to do what?’ Then I calm down, get a game plan in order, and do my best to get behind it. When it’s all over and I watch the episode, I truly see where the writers were going and I hope I helped them get there.
“I have to say that I trust the writers on this show implicitly. They are 99% right, 100% of the time. I’m very close with all these guys here on-staff and I’m a huge admirer of them all. I will do whatever crazy-ass thing they want me to do. This is the best team on TV.
“The fact that I would get cast on a comedy, after exclusively doing drama for 20 years, is a bit of a mindblower. I never thought I’d be given a good comedic part like this, with people I love working with. The challenges you face building a career as an actor are pretty huge, but, man, the rewards are great. I’m really having the time of my life on Todd.”
Season two of Todd & The Book of Pure Evil is currently airing Sundays at 10:00pm EST/PST on Canada's SPACE Channel, while in the U.S., the show's first season airs Tuesdays at 10:00pm EST/PST on FEARnet (season two will have its U.S. premiere in March, 2012).
Please note, all photos above copyright of Bell Media & SPACE Channel.