CHRISTINE EVANGELISTA IN NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 2017. PHOTOS: ANNIE POWERS. STYLING: LOUISE BORCHERS. HAIR: SABRINA SZINAY/THE WALL GROUP USING KEVIN MURPHY. MAKEUP: MARIKO ARAI. STYLING ASSISTANT: SHANNON RYAN.
In The Arrangement, E!’s new scripted series, aspiring actress Megan Morrison is offered an unusual contract: agree to marry Hollywood heartthrob Kyle West (think a younger Tom Cruise), and receive 10 million dollars and a foot in the door to movie stardom. The contract in and of itself is a red flag: Why is an attractive, young, successful man so in need of a wife, and why can’t he find one the old-fashioned way? There are other points of alarm, too: Kyle (Josh Henderson) recently went through a public breakup, and is possibly still hung up on his ex-fiancé. He’s also heavily involved in a cult called the Institute of the Higher Mind. But Morrison, who is played by native New Yorker Christine Evangelista, is in a vulnerable spot too, and decides to accept.
Evangelista has been working since her senior year of high school, and over the last few years, her career has steadily gained momentum. In 2015, she joined The Walking Dead as Sherry; last year, she appeared in Ben Younger’s boxer biopic Bleed For This opposite Miles Teller. Here, Evangelista talks to her longtime friend, Search Party‘s Meredith Hagner.
MEREDITH HAGNER: By the way, fucking congrats. I’ve only told you in text. I saw you on taxi TV and I got really excited.
CHRISTINE EVANGELISTA: It’s funny. You sit in a cab all the time and the first thing you do is shut those things off.
HAGNER: No! I love them. I watch them all the time and I watch them really excitedly, so I got really pumped. I remember meeting you—I think we had to have been 19—at an audition. Do you remember this?
EVANGELISTA: Totally. I knew you in the audition circuit for years.
HAGNER: When did this whole acting thing start for you? Because I remember meeting you when I’d first gotten to New York.
EVANGELISTA: I got my manager when I was about 18, 19 years old. As a kid, I started doing a lot of youth theater. When I was in high school, I would take the ferry into Manhattan every day from Staten Island and I was a part of some Off-Broadway theater groups in Times Square and in the Village. Then I was doing a play in the West Village when I was a senior in high school, and I got my manager that way, the woman that I’m still with to this day. I guess I met you right after that.
HAGNER: I was passing out flyers in Times Square. [laughs] I moved to New York at 18, and I think it took me a solid three years to get any jobs, so that’s amazing that you were working. You grew up on Staten Island. Your fam’s still all there, right?
EVANGELISTA: Yeah, they’re still there. I’m from a very borough New York family. My mother’s from the Bronx, my dad’s from Queens. We moved to Staten Island instead of the Bronx. My family is all over the city.
HAGNER: Do you think you’re ever going to live in L.A.?
EVANGELISTA: I’m sure you might have been in the same position as me [with regards to] the pressures of going out there, or being represented by an agency that wants you to work out there and thinks that there could be more things for you to do, more auditions and jobs. I was always faced with that pressure, not necessarily by my manager, who is a very New York-based manager, but from my agency at the time, especially in my early 20s. I love New York very much, but I knew, even then, that it was very important for me to spend my 20s in New York City. You’re exposed to so much here, whether it’s other people or just the grind of it and how hard you have to work. I think it forces you to define yourself: what kind of person do you want to be? What kind of woman do you want to be? And then inevitably, what kind of actress do you want to be?
HAGNER: Life is tough in New York. I think we’ve been both hoofing it together in the same circle in New York for years, and I’m so proud of you. It’s nice watching you as a friend and watching your work, too. On The Walking Dead, I was truly blown away.
EVANGELISTA: I feel the same way too. I’ve watched you, even from afar through films, discover your comedic [talent]. I feel like you’re so skillful in comedy.
HAGNER: We both started doing this when we were young kids. It’s a very rare sort of experience, and I do feel very close to you because you’ve gone through something really similar. The show is everywhere and you’re everywhere, does it trip you out a little bit that it’s happening?
EVANGELISTA: I don’t know if I get tripped out. Seeing billboards and stuff like that is, of course, surreal, but there’s also the element of just doing the job and focusing on creating the best character and making the show the best it can be. In television and films, you never know the fate of anything. Focusing on the present moment—not getting so caught up on what could happen—that’s been my biggest focus. Everything’s happening seemingly at once, but let us not kid ourselves, we’ve been doing this for a long time.
HAGNER: That’s the joke, right? Everybody likes to create [this story,] “Oh my god, and she’s this new actor.” [laughs]
EVANGELISTA: You work your whole life to be an overnight success! Especially when you’re in your 20s, a lot of these agencies take on a mass amount of actors and actresses, and you’re auditioning for everything. That’s really overwhelming for an actor. They throw everything at you and you see what you can get your hands on, and that’s creatively stifling, actually. It’s not until you start to define yourself and what you want and you find your path. Something that, in the past couple of years, you and I have both done is find our voice and what we want our voice to be.
HAGNER: I think everybody has their own superpower. Did you ever consider doing anything else at any point?
HAGNER: You were in it to win it.
EVANGELISTA: I’ve had so many jobs, the handing out flyer jobs. But anything I did it was just to make money to do this. There wasn’t any moment where I was like, “Maybe I’ll go into healthcare” or something. If I wasn’t doing this right now, honestly, I’d probably be a waitress.
HAGNER: Do you love your character on the show? Do you think she’s a good actor?
EVANGELISTA: I like her a lot. I think she’s a great actress. I think she’s the perfect actress! Speaking of superpowers, we talk about that on the show a lot, too. Every character on the show has their superpower and I really think that for Megan, it’s acting. She’s very relatable in a lot of ways, and not in a lot of ways. Obviously we’re both actresses—we have that in common—and things going on in our past. But it’s interesting that she’s faced with this opportunity that will essentially change her life overnight, and give her everything that she thinks she wants: a great guy that she’s totally head-over-heels for, job prospects, 10 million dollars. That all seems great, and that’s the lure for her, but at what price is it? I’m asked a lot, would I sign a contract?
HAGNER: Would you?
EVANGELISTA: I know I wouldn’t, but people have come forward to tell me they would or tell me how they feel about it. It is a thing. For you as an actress, what do you think of that?
HAGNER: I would fully marry a doorknob. I’m just kidding. “Sure, a doorknob?” That’s the kind of thing you read in print and you’re like, “Wow, you’re a dipshit.” [laughs]
EVANGELISTA: Maybe it will open a lot of doors for you… [laughs]
HAGNER: I love hypotheticals in general—would you rather? I definitely wouldn’t, but maybe 10 years ago.
EVANGELISTA: Or 10 years from now. [laughs]
HAGNER: I definitely had a creepy director situation when I was 19. It was fine, he was just creepy and the movie never got made, thank god, but I remember at that time, I wasn’t in my own skin enough to be like, “No. What the fuck?”
EVANGELISTA: You’re like, “Well, I’ve heard this happens. Maybe it’s normal.”
HAGNER: “I really want to do this film and I don’t want to call him a creep.” It’s this weird situation that, when you’re young and vulnerable, people prey upon you. For your character, obviously that’s a different situation, but there is that question of not just being an actress for creative purposes, because that’s our art, but also it’s wrapped up in paying your rent. That’s why your character is so interesting to me.
EVANGELISTA: A lot of people say they would’ve taken it. “Why not? What have you got to lose.” I’m like, “I don’t know, dignity?” But I also feel that I’ve always done things the hard way, and I’ve always felt a lot of pride in earning everything that I have. And there’s a part of me that’s like, I would be too insecure to do it, I would always feel like there were reasons behind it— they never really truly loved me, they did it for X reason. I wouldn’t feel like I could give myself over to someone in a situation like that, and in a relationship, you give yourself over in some way. There are a lot of reasons why I couldn’t do it.
HAGNER: You were on Law & Order, right?
EVANGELISTA: Didn’t we all start on Law & Order?
HAGNER: I’ve never been cast.
EVANGELISTA: You’re kidding. You’re lying.
HAGNER: No. I never would get any of those procedurals. I had probably 500 auditions for Law & Order and never booked one. But you were on it a couple of times.
EVANGELISTA: Yeah, a couple of times. My first experience on it, I played a hit-and-run victim. I was on the ground, covered in blood; I had oatmeal in my hair for brains, and the showers didn’t work in the trailers. I couldn’t wash it off. My mother came to pick me up, and she was like, “You’ll shower at home.” So I’m in the car in the front seat; I’m covered in blood and oatmeal. We’re going through the tollbooth to go to Staten Island, and she gets flagged to be pulled over. They thought there was a dead child in her car. I had to get out and explain what I was doing and who I was. My mother, who’s a nurse practitioner, heart of gold, was so mortified that I don’t think she ever visited me on set again after that.
HAGNER: That’s an amazing story. Your poor mom.
EVANGELISTA: That was my first job. I’m surprised that you and I have never worked together.
HAGNER: I know. Isn’t that stupid. You did Bleed for This, which you were amazing in as well. My friend Ben Younger, who directed it, lives next door to me, and he was like, “This girl Christine, I want her to do it.” You were so good in that movie.
EVANGELISTA: Thank you. That was a great experience for me. I loved Boiler Room so much, when I heard [Ben] was doing Bleed For This, I was like, “It has that same quality and texture. This is a movie I really want to be a part of.” I auditioned to play Miles Tellers’s older sister in the movie, and that wasn’t believable, but casting brought me in anyway to meet Ben. I had a really great session with Ben, and he was like, “There’s this other part in the movie. I could make it a little bigger for you, but I think it’s a great character role.” I totally agreed. I really went after that movie and I was really grateful to be a part of it. I thought it was really well done.
HAGNER: I feel like you really morphed well. In all the parts I’ve seen you in, you have an incredible ability to transform. Did you have fun on The Walking Dead?
EVANGELISTA: That was incredible. Your best friend, or your boyfriend’s best friend, plays my love interest!
HAGNER: Yeah. Wyatt [Russell]’s best friend Austin [Amelio], who’s become one of my good friends. You guys together made me feel really happy.
EVANGELISTA: I taped the audition in my living room. They’re incredibly confidential about releasing information, so I didn’t know until I got there who the character was and what her story was. I was very pleasantly surprised to play Sherry. I was familiar enough with the comics to know who she was, and what her deal was. That was a very exciting job for me for a number of reasons.
HAGNER: It was also just such a meaty part. There was that one episode that was so good and heartbreaking. What was the process of getting your part on The Arrangement?
EVANGELISTA: That was a relatively long process. I was actually working on The Walking Dead when I got the breakdown for it, and I didn’t get the job until maybe two and a half months later—kind of a long time. I auditioned on tape again. I do a lot of tapes, which I’ve grown to love.
I think it was really important that Josh [Henderson] and myself have good chemistry, because you have to buy that in the show, otherwise it’s not believable that two people would do something like this and go out on such a limb. So I read with him in Los Angeles, they flew me out. We had two really emotional scenes that were in the pilot. I flew home right after. As soon as I landed back in New York, I went to my acting class that night, and I got a phone call. Usually you find out relatively soon after a screen test if you got the job, and I got a call from my agent: “I’m really sorry to ask you this…” I was like, “Oh god.” “They really loved you for the job, but your scenes were kind of emotional, and they want to see you be funny. I don’t know if you could rap, but there’s this rap that your character does in the show. The director’s flying back to New York tomorrow, he’ll read with you in person in New York so you don’t have to go to Los Angeles again. Is that something you could do?” I was like, “Actually, I love to rap.” I’ll go to karaoke bars all the time, and I’ll put on Jay Z songs or Eminem songs or Outkast. They gave me the script and I came up with the beat for it, and then the next morning I went in and I got the job.
HAGNER: Wow. We’re going to karaoke. So the chemistry with you and your co-star is great?
EVANGELISTA: Yeah, we got along really well throughout the whole process. What I like about these characters is they met in a very similar situation to the way Josh and I met, and our working relationship sort of resembles their relationship. Everything’s happening in real time. We’re getting to know each other; they’re getting to know each other. It’s awkward at first, as is their relationship, and there’s something very authentic about that, which I like. Josh is awesome to work with; he’s a total professional.
HAGNER: You’ve been going to Texas a lot, right?
EVANGELISTA: Yes. I love Texas. I enjoy spending a little time outside of New York.
HAGNER: When are you going next?
EVANGELISTA: Actually I’m going at the end of April. My boyfriend and I got a place in Marfa, which is an incredible artist community.
HAGNER: Marfa’s amazing. My boyfriend bought a house in Austin that I pretend is mine because I decorated it, but it’s not my house at all.
EVANGELISTA: Same thing. “I bought it in spirit.”
HAGNER: I’ll be like, “Our house!” And I think he’s definitely like, “It’s fully mine.” I was hoping you’d be there for South By because we’re going down without any projects just to drink margaritas and listen to music.
EVANGELISTA: I saw you last year at South By, right? We both had stuff going on there.
HAGNER: We need to have a proper catch-up, because we’ve been like ships passing in the night. I have one more question: what do you want to do next in your dream world, slash in reality, because it will surely happen?
EVANGELISTA: I would love to continue my work and my through line on The Walking Dead. I’m very interested in where Sherry is going and what happened to her. She’s such a compelling character, and I feel like she’s incredibly strong and strong-willed, so I’m curious. And of course The Arrangement, I’d love to continue working on that and see what Megan gets herself into, or how she gets out of what she got herself into. While I’m in New York City between those times, I’m looking to do a play, just to get on stage. As you know, working on a television series, it’s 18-hour days, five, six days a week, and you’re moving at such a fast pace, you’re literally looking at lines while you’re in the bathroom. You don’t have any time. So the idea of working on a play is almost romantic to me—the ability to focus on one thing and really hone it.
THE ARRANGEMENT AIRS SUNDAY NIGHTS ON E! MEREDITH HAGNER IS AN ACTOR WHOSE RECENT CREDITS INCLUDE TBS’S SEARCH PARTY AND THE SUNDANCE FILM INGRID GOES WEST.