Rev. Emilio Sheehan is a gentle man of God in Midnight, Texas, but Yul Vazquez imbues him with a dark inner turmoil simmering just below his calm demeanor.
Sure, “The Rev” is a were-tiger who, when released from the confines of the church basement, killed a local sheriff’s deputy and swiped a chunk of flesh from Manfred’s leg. But in that sense, The Rev isn’t much different from other supernatural Midnighters. Most have some kind of inner darkness.
Lem keeps he blood lust under control. Sweet Fiji could crush someone—or something—with her magic if she’s crossed. Chuy fights a literal inner demon! And as the veil between hell and earth splits open, their dark sides come closer to the surface.
We’ll see more of their challenges as trouble stalks Midnight in the final three episodes of the season. But as his sanctuary of Midnight is threatened, Vázquez teases, The Rev’s human darkness—not his inner tiger—might break through the surface.
“I think you’ll see some shenanigans, as I like to call them,” the actor told me in a recent phone interview. “The Rev is a man of God and he’s a peaceful man, but everyone has their limits.
“Sometimes self-preservation becomes the order of the day.”
Vázquez and I talked more about The Rev’s inner turmoil, how he tried to play that struggle, and what his favorite part of Midnight’s pet cemetery.
The final three episodes of “Midnight, Texas” air at 10/9c Sept. 11, 13 and 18.
Could you feel while filming “Midnight” that you were doing a project that reflected the United States today in so many ways?
The idea of this show itself, a place where everybody is included, is so relevant it’s crazy. When we started shooting it, we already were starting to deal with the politics of a place where nobody is welcome. In fact, they’re being ejected from the country.
So, as we were making the show, we already felt that we were making something that was in direct contradiction to the politics being put forth. Of course, no one knew where it was going to end up, but we had a show where you have people of color, gay characters, misfits that are tigers or vampires, a witch—they all are welcome. It really runs the gamut. If you have three heads, you’re welcome there. Everybody can come here and live in peace as long as they don’t rock the boat, in a way.
So what we the Midnighters deal with, which again, is so interesting, is outside forces who threaten that world for us.
That feeling probably really culminated in Episode 5, “Unearthed,” with the Nazi motorcycle gang airing around the time of the tragedy in Charlottesville. There was no way for Monica or the writers to know when they wrote it a year ago.
There’s no way to know, man. If you had put what happened in a movie, like that episode and the social relevance to the moment, people would say, “Oh. That’s so contrived.” But you can’t even make that up. It’s so crazy that that episode would coincide with what’s going on.
Will there be an orange-haired villain in the last episode of the season?
Oh, no. I don’t think we’re going to have any of that. No. That’s funny though.
The Rev had to deal with his own secrets as part of what happens to him every month. I thought maybe his personal experience has him wanting to make Joe tell his.
The ultimate thing, particularly for The Rev, is the preservation of Midnight. Nothing can harm this community where we live in peace. And in many ways, The Rev, is the moral compass of the town. The Rev is probably one of the earliest inhabitants of Midnight, which is where he can have this transformation and not hurt people. He doesn’t want to hurt people. He, as the tiger, feeds on animals. But, it’s because of a meddling police officer who cuts the chain and the Rev gets out that he kills. It costs her her life.
You mentioned that he’s the town’s moral compass and he’s possibly it’s most dangerous resident. How did you approach showing that duality?
The Rev is constantly in conflict. He’s constantly tortured about what this other side of him does. It’s the whole reason why he finds Midnight—to get away. It’s to be as far away from people as he possibly can, so as not to hurt anyone.
He is constantly in a state of torture with this and he’s quite vulnerable, really. It just sort of sneaks out of him. He’s in a fragile place. He deals with it because what other choice does he have?
To me, that’s the most interesting thing to watch on screen, really, is that he’s in conflict with something deeper within him. It’s hard because we have not seen what the tiger is going to do because we don’t have all those digital effects, but we have an idea of what’s going to happen. So, you have to carefully dial that in and decide that when he is The Rev, he is a very measured man. He’s a contemporary man. When he’s unleashed, he’s deadly. So it’s a 180.
When he is The Rev, which is most of the time, you see the struggle within him. It’s kind of in his eyes. It’s in him. He’s kind of dealing with it. He’s not as free as most of the people there are.
Would The Rev, if it came down to it, ever hurt someone as himself if it meant protecting Midnight? Sort of like what Lem did in killing Creek’s brother.
That’s a very good question. I think even men of God can be pushed. I saw this incredible interview with a Vietnamese British monk. One imagines these men to be men who lay down because they’re so peaceful. He was asked a question that he didn’t like and he looked at the interviewer and said, “Next question.” He basically shut down the interviewer. He went on to say that being Buddhist is not about laying down and letting people walk over you. The same idea applies to The Rev.
Yul Vazquez on the tiger effects
I think you told us in January that you didn’t know much about your character except that he was a reverend. Were you surprised when you found out he is a were-tiger?
I was very surprised. They sent me the pilot script. I read it. I never read the books, so all I had was this pilot script. And I go, “Oh, this is cool. This character’s really cool. This is something that’s very much in my wheel house, and I’m excited to do this.”
David [Janollari] and Monica [Owusu-Breen] wanted to have a conference call with me, and I was in New York at the time, and I got on the phone with them. We had a great chat and by the end of the chat they said, “And by the way, what do you think of a tiger?” I went, “What did you say?”
They told me the Rev turns into a tiger. And then I said, “OK, can we talk about the tiger?” They kind of laughed and said, “Don’t worry.”
I had a subsequent conversation with David Solomon about the tiger. And he’s like, “Don’t worry. We’re not going to put you in a tiger suit. The tiger is going to be a very expensive digital tiger. It’s going to be beautiful.”
They did not disappoint. I wish I looked as good as that tiger right now in my everyday life. It was all digital and very expensive. The transformation back from the tiger to the Reverend is incredible. [In Episode 6, “Blinded By the Light”]
David Solomon and the digital effects team were incredible. There was a two-and-a-half minute window to shoot that shot of me on the ground turning in Episode 6. David was waiting for the exact moment that the sun was coming up. He shot it at sunrise and light during sunrise changes every 10 seconds.
It was a tiny window to shoot the plate shot that would become the shot that would then be transferred to show when the fur comes off. And I was freezing. Literally, all I had on was a pair of tiny underwear and it was very, very cold. And he was freaking out, “We gotta go! We gotta go! We gotta get this now!” It was like scramble, scramble, scramble.
But he got it. It was really beautiful, actually. It’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever been a part of. That transformation back is incredible.
MIDNIGHT, TEXAS — Season: 1 — Pictured: Yul Vázquez as Rev. Sheehan — (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)
The Rev (Yul Vázquez) buries another animal. (Cathy Kanavy/NBC)
Yul Vázquez stands in the church built just for “Midnight, Texas.” (Karen Kuehn/NBC)
I had some fun during a January visit to the “Midnight, Texas” set at Albuquerque Studios in New Mexico.
Did you contribute a name to the pet cemetery?
I didn’t. But I do have favorite grave on there and it’s a lizard. There’s a lizard in there. It’s amazing and pretty funny that there’s a lizard who was a beloved pet. His name was Shrek or something like that.
I loved the giant sign I have in front there, that’s on a trailer hitch and says, “Weddings and pet funerals by appointment only.” That church is amazing, too. We could have a full-on service in there. It’s a little building.
I was totally impressed by those buildings and the little downtown Midnight the crew built.
I was blown away. That town—those are full-on buildings. We could literally go, like the restaurant, we could go in there and serve lunch. Actually we did. They were cooking barbecue outside as our prop meat, but it’s real barbecue and I was eating the crap out of that stuff. They brought a barbecue company because it was hundreds of barbecue meals that they had to pull out and it was really good. So, that town is unbelievably impressive. And that mountain range, is a real mountain range. It’s unbelievable.