Evan Peters on That Explosive End of This Week’s ‘Mare of Easttown’

This interview contains major spoilers for Episode 5 of “Mare of Easttown.”

When Detective Colin Zabel (Evan Peters) breezes into the grim, insular, working-class Pennsylvania community of Easttown, he’s the young hot shot from county, sent to babysit the troubled detective Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) as she investigates the murder of a teenage mother.

But as the HBO limited series “Mare of Easttown” has unfolded, it has become clear in recent weeks that Colin’s instincts aren’t nearly as sharp as Mare’s. And for all of Mare’s embarrassing secrets, Colin has a few of his own — like the truth behind his role in the big case that made his reputation, and the sad revelation that he still lives with his mother.

He needs a win just as badly as Mare does.

So much for that win. In the show’s shocking fifth episode, Colin and Mare near the end of the hour on the same redemptive arc, closing in on a suspect who may be responsible for the abduction and possible murder of several young local escorts. When they find their man, he’s holed up in an abandoned corner tavern, where he has two of the missing women held under lock and key.

Just as things begin to get really tense: BAM! With one clean shot to the head, Colin is gone.

Fans of the show may still be reeling, but Peters seems perfectly happy to die for the cause.

“I like the idea that he gets shot because it’s so real,” Peters said last weekend in a video call from Los Angeles. “That’s the way sickness and death is. It hits you in the most unexpected ways. You never plan to get sick. You never plan to die. It all just happens.”

Peters doesn’t give off the faintest whiff of disappointment over Colin’s fate. His character may have been on track to solve the case and even pursue a romantic future with Mare, but such a fate would seem conspicuously out of place in the fictional berg of Easttown, set just outside Philadelphia, where all the characters are simply playing the lousy cards dealt to them — and usually not that well.

It’s another pop culture moment for Peters in a TV year that has been atypically short on them. His sudden demise in “Mare” comes on the heels of his lively appearance in the Disney+ Marvel series “WandaVision” as Ralph Bohner, a Westview resident who surfaces as Wanda Maximoff’s deceased brother Pietro. And more may be in the offing. As we spoke, Peters was juggling simultaneous shoots for the title role in the Netflix series “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” and for the 10th season (and his ninth) of the FX anthology “American Horror Story.”

Between shoots, he talked about all the work that went into creating a doomed character, and about acting opposite his favorite actress. He also talked about the wonders of a Wawa hoagie. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.

When and how did you find out that Colin would not survive the fifth episode?

Well, I got the scripts for Episodes 1 through 5 or maybe 6, and read them all. And obviously he dies in 5. [Laughs.]

That was it.

Yeah. I bit the bullet, for lack of a better term. I was absolutely shocked when I read it, and I hoped and kind of knew that the audience would be shocked too, if we did Colin right.

By that point, the audience is heavily invested in Colin as a part of the investigation and as a part of Mare’s life, and presumably you were, too. How do you process that loss, as someone invested in the show?

I was excited by the idea that that would happen, to craft this whole character and formulate this whole plot so it’s almost like we did it for that moment. It’s this interesting way to develop a character, knowing that he’s going to die in such a way.

To me, it felt very real, and it sort of speaks to the danger of being in this line of work. It reminded me of that moment in “Burn After Reading” where Brad Pitt gets shot in the forehead in the closet — which is sort of hilarious but also really shocking, and we wanted to have that sort of feeling once it happens.

Did it ever get in your head knowing that this is where it ended for your character?

I didn’t really think about it much. I guess there was a different way to play Colin that’s a little bit more cocky and overcompensating for his impostor syndrome. I felt like I wanted to stay away from that because I wouldn’t really care if that guy got shot, you know? [Laughs.] I would care more if he was a likable guy who you were kind of rooting for and wanting to grow and be a better person and sort of man up.

The slow reveal for your character is that he’s not the sort of super-competent, ace-in-the-hole type that he appears to be. How would you describe that trajectory?

That’s exactly what I was doing with this character the whole time. As a detective, he’s just trying to be better. He took credit for this information [on a previous case] that wasn’t really his, and he took it because I think he was so stuck and just wanted to be lifted up. He’s thinking: “Maybe this will solve it. I’ll do something great. Impress my mom. I’ll impress everyone around me, and it’ll solve all my problems.” But I think he quickly realizes that it’s phony. It’s not real, and it creates a hole inside of him.

What went into preparing for this role? How did you make yourself persuasive as both a detective and as a person from this specific place?

It was amazing shooting in Philly, first of all. It’s always amazing to be able to shoot where the story takes place, because you can go out, you can eat the food, you can meet the people, you can talk to them, you can learn the accent, you can feel the energy of the city and the towns and really get into that. I really don’t like shooting on stages because it just takes away the whole energy of the reality of it. I went to Reading Terminal Market and Tommy DiNic’s and got the cheese steaks and all sorts of local stuff, and visited it all and really tried to get into that.

There’s a real detective named Christine Bleiler, who Mare is based off of, who I was emailing with and asking if there was anything I should watch or read. And she recommended some true crime stuff, some Netflix stuff, and recommended a book, “Sex-Related Homicide and Death Investigation,” by Vernon J. Geberth, which is basically a detective handbook. It has all these case studies and pictures and horrific stuff that you cannot get out of your mind, and I wanted to read that because I wanted to know what it was like to deal with that stuff on a daily basis, to have that in your psyche. It just makes you question everything because you’re face-to-face with the darkness every day. I found that very helpful to sort of get in that head space.

Most of your scenes on the show are opposite Kate Winslet, who’s widely understood to be one of the best actresses alive. Was that intimidating?

I obviously was a little stressed out because I have to be a scene partner with her, and I don’t know really what I’m doing. There’s a little bit of Colin in there, too, where I’m trying to learn from her.

She’s an incredibly humble, real, down-to-earth person who cares deeply about the crew and the cast and everyone involved. It felt like a very comfortable place, and she kind of immediately nipped that stress and nervousness in the bud. It was like, We’re just all in this together to make the best show that we can.

Kate Winslet was saying on a podcast that you helped introduce her to Wawa, which sounded like a religious experience for her. Do you remember this?

Yes. Wawa is like … It’s incredible. It’s a one-stop shop. It’s got everything in there. The thing that really sold me on the Wawa was “The Gobbler.” Around Thanksgiving time, they have this … it’s basically a hoagie but like Thanksgiving, so it’s got turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce. And it’s just, like, the biggest, most unhealthy thing you could ever eat. It’s incredible. They have great coffee. You can get ice. You can get all sorts of good stuff there.

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