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Everyone’s got demons, but SurrealEstate’s Adam Korson knows ex-priest Father Phil has it especially rough
We’re halfway through Season 1 of SYFY's SurrealEstate with tonight's premiere of Episode 5, “Ft. Ghost Child,” and each episode brings us closer to the demons plaguing the hearts of our heroes at the Roman Agency. This week belongs to Father Phil Orley (Adam Korson), who gets more of a challenge on this case than anyone else as Luke Roman (Tim Rozon) and his team investigate an exceptionally playful haunting.
Throughout the episode, we see Father Phil return to his former diocese to investigate a house it once oversaw. While there, he’s confronted by his past: the painful decision he made to leave the Catholic Church behind after confronting its corruption and outward homophobia. While there, we get a better sense of who Phil once was, and how he struggles with his past in the present.
SYFY caught up with Korson ahead of SurrealEstate Episode 5 to discuss the story so far, what’s next, and being besties with Jesus.
**SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers below for SurrealEstate Episode 5, “Ft. Ghost Child”!**
In Episode 5, we’re finally learning more about Phil’s backstory and the trauma that he has endured. He’s struggling with a lot. Could you talk us through Phil’s journey thus far in the series and how this episode serves as being pivotal to really push him forward?
Yeah. So what I love about the series is that we start and this world already exists. The Roman Agency and Phil and August [Maurice Dean Wint] and Luke, and so they’ve all been living their lives. So when everyone catches up to what they’ve been doing, you know Susan [Sarah Levy], Sarah’s character, and Megan [Tennille Read], they bring us into this world that already exists. So Phil, I always imagine, and this is also a conversation with George [Olson], the creator of our show: Phil grew up in the Catholic Church. He grew up with that in his life and he’s proud to be a part of it, he’s happy to be a part of it and he had different mentors throughout his life... within the church, that certainly helped him get to where he is, but for him, being a priest was always to combat evil. It was always to bring good to the world and in his mind, it was the evil that required the exorcisms. The demons, the ones that weren’t so... like, it wasn’t necessarily an internal evil, more of an external evil. And so that’s what got him excited about the Church.
His departure from the Church came from a huge wrestling within himself, his own sexuality and sort of this idea that the Church was brandishing him as a sinner. And in his mind, in his eyes, he’s not a sinner. He’s living his life and this hypocrisy around the Church for who he is didn’t sit right with him. And he could no longer be a part of this sort of environment. This environment that perpetuates lies and hypocrisy. He couldn’t do it, so he left, and to his surprise, finding the loop, that the Roman Agency in a real estate firm, who would have thought that he would have been able to also still combat evil. It was like a perfect fit. It was a perfect marriage. So when we catch up to him now in Episode 5, you notice the first few episodes, him like a lot of us... sort of sprinkled in and out, because we’re doing our jobs. You know, Phil, he’s doing the analysis, he’s doing the research. He goes head to head with demons and with [the] paranormal, which is cool. I always think of Phil — he uses his brain and his brawn. He uses both. You know, he’ll go head to head.
And likewise, he’ll go into the hall of records and analyze a house and figure out stuff that no one would figure out. That’s one of the big things that I love about him is that he goes between those two areas that balance out his overall personality. So in Episode 5, [is] everything for him that he wouldn’t necessarily need to face head to head, even though people within the Roman Agency know bits about his past, and I’m sure things have been revealed for them. Certainly, our audience doesn't know. But he’s never had to face it head to head, and this is the moment when he does. And he does it because a house requires it and he’ll do anything for the Roman Agency and for the sale of the house and inevitably to help the person and the spirit that is trapped. Because like most of the homes, there is usually some sort of spirit that can not go forward and not move on, and it requires lots... to help that spirit move forward. So this just so happens that in doing so, Phil has to face a lot of his past that he’s shut out, that he has been in denial about, that he doesn’t want to have to face.
Including the couple of the nuns that he had worked with previously. One who is a little bit of a mother figure amongst them, who by the end of the episode doesn’t actually have a change of heart — but I think we get the impression that she at least acknowledges the negative aspects of what she has been involved in. Do you think that’s just because Phil came in here and gave her a talking to, or has there always been something there inside her, much like Phil?
In my opinion, with a lot of organized religion, that guilt is something that you either face head on or that you push aside and pretend is not there. And I think that [usually] the older nun would not bat an eye, maybe late at night if she’s falling asleep or if she wakes up in the middle of the night... maybe at some point in the day catches her, but as quickly as that thought of the things that have been done in the past, that is either completely denied, shut away, or there is some sort of reason that has been put on it to make it make sense and to make it palatable and to make it “right.”
So would the old nun have faced this? No. If Phil didn’t come to her door, she would not have faced this issue. And certainly, she may not have even thought of his child. So definitely feel to instigate all of that, what I think what’s really lovely about that episode is you do have the old nun and the young nun. Sort of a play on the old priest and the young priest in The Exorcist, but very different storylines.
But the young nun who, which I think is what we are seeing in a lot of religion in general, is sort of the new generation of people that love a lot of teachings that religion has, but is modernizing it and is sort of making more sense of it all. Which I think is really nice to see in the episode. I think what’s also really nice is we see Phil’s battle between sort of his feelings about the Church and the old ways of doing things and the hypocrisy, but he’s pulled toward the love that he still surprisingly has for the people and for the community, and he even says in the episode, just knowing some force out there that he could turn to, that would bring comfort. That he misses that connection that he had with God, with Jesus.
I’m happy that you brought that up, because the moment that I think really stuck out was the moment when Phil’s doing the research and he turns to a portrait of white Jesus. And you’ve played with a lot of humor and Phil has got this ease and comfort showing his continued love for much of what he learned and what he believed was the religion he was following. Could you go into that scene a lit bit more and break down what it means for his character moving forward as he continues finding these bits of his past that he still enjoyed?
That scene, so we filmed all of the church stuff later on. That was actually the last stuff that we filmed in Season 1. We filmed it in Toronto versus Newfoundland. So, that particular scene, George wrote in December. We had already filmed a lot of Episode 5 and I got this huge monologue and it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever read because it brought this relationship... I mean everyone has their own relationship with God, whatever God you believe in, right? The Universe, God, Buddha, whatever. People that believe have a relationship with that being and what was really lovely with Phil is that... certainly the way it was written and certainly the way I read it and the way that I interpreted it through Phil, was that white Jesus, God, was very fatherlike. Was a friend almost. That knowing that this figure brought him comfort and that he hasn’t talked to in a long time. That finally he’s in this place almost like a friend that you haven’t seen in a long time and then all of a sudden get together and it’s like no time had passed. The first time I read it, it gave me that impression. No time had passed and he’s just sitting down with someone that he knows so well and that he has spent so much time with that it was like old hat.
I think Phil definitely carries on, you know he uses humor to deflect, to blow off things, not allow himself to go so deep into whatever feelings he’s having... certainly as a defense mechanism. And we sort of see it in the beginning of the episode. He doesn’t really want to go to the church and he goes to the church and uses humor to deflect when he’s talking to the nuns. And then does the same with white Jesus. But what’s interesting about the conversation with Jesus is that because it’s an old relationship and a known and familiar one for him, again it’s like that old friend that you can put up all your defense mechanisms as possible, but that friend is going to see you and won’t let you get away with anything. And so that’s what ends up happening is, as he continues having this conversation, Jesus brings these things out of him that no one else can. Not his husband, not anyone at the Roman Agency, just Jesus. And it’s the first time, in my sort of interpretation, it’s the first time that he’s had this sort of conversation with him in perhaps decades.
What are you most excited for people to see for the rest of the season, to experience, to learn about your character?
Well, I will say this, that as the season progresses and one of the great things about this show is that you start to peel back more layers of each character. And you get more and more invested with the world. It almost becomes like your own family. It’s almost like you’re working in the Roman Agency and having these relationships with the characters and that just continues to progress as the episodes go on.
They get intense. There are some scary moments, some funny moments. But with Phil, again you’ve already pointed it out...The season leaves a lot of questions unanswered and definitely with Phil, you can tell, he’s on a journey and that journey does not end at the end of the season, with the church, with his own inner demons, and that’s a big one for Phil. I always knew it, but putting it into words now with you, he fights these demons but it’s his own inner demons more so than I think any other character.
Everyone has their own thing that they go through, no doubt, but these inner demons for Phil I think are so deeply rooted in such an old way of thinking and associated with such an old corporation that it’s going to take a lot for him to work through it. And you definitely get that sense throughout the scene.
New episodes of SurrealEstate drop Fridays at 10 p.m. ET on SYFY.
This interview has been edited for clarity.