By Samantha Highfill
November 02, 2014 at 12:00 PM EST
  • TV Show

For fans of Gotham, Cory Michael Smith is known as Edward Nygma, but on Sunday night, he will set aside his riddles to appear in a new miniseries from HBO titled Olive Kitteridge.

In the four-part miniseries, based on the book by the same name, Frances McDormand stars at the title character. The series tells the story of her life, her relationship with her husband (Richard Jenkins), and her interactions with others in her small town, all spanning over 25 years. And in part two of the miniseries, viewers will meet Kevin Coulson, Smith’s character.

When asked to describe the miniseries, Smith said, “It takes place over 25 years so it’s certainly long-form storytelling. I see it more as portraits of people in this small town. You’re essentially following this through line of Frances and her marriage and her relationship with her child but it’s about this small town and people leading seemingly small lives. It’s a lovely story about real people.”

Specifically, what attracted Smith to the role of Kevin was how he handled a not-so-great childhood. In the story, Kevin’s mother suffers from hallucinations and severe depression, something Kevin himself copes with later in life. “I love that he spent his childhood taking care of his mother and as a 13-year-old, you see in a flashback in episode two the first time that he hallucinates and realizing that he’s going to become his mother,” Smith said. “Flash forward 15 years, and you just have this tormented guy that, despite all of his damage and mistreatment, doesn’t hurt anyone.

“I find that so fascinating. He’s not abusive to anyone but himself and that kind of person is really interesting to me. They’re not outwardly harming people for the harm that’s been done to them. It’s all like self-torment and self-torture and wanting help perhaps but not always knowing how to ask for it.”

Plus, working with McDormand was an added bonus.

For more on Smith, watch his Pop Culture Personality Test and read the transcript below:

EW: What R-rated movie did you see too young?

SMITH: Oh this was my parent’s fault. I saw Dolores Claiborne. That was my first rated-R film. And it’s a lot of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and I just remember being really young, watching this thinking, “This just feels so wrong to me; this feels really wrong.” But it’s a great movie.

What book did you pretend to read in high school?

Tale of Two Cities. Oh god. You know, I just wanted to practice my piano and I just couldn’t make it through that whole book. I remember being told by my English teacher that he was paid per word, because he used to be paid per word, and it showed. I’m sure it’s great. Maybe I should give it a second chance as an adult. I’m not going to. [Laughs]

What movie do you wish you could see again for the first time?

As an adult, if I could, for the first time, watch What About Bob?, I would be fascinated to be what my experience would be now. The music is so ’90s, like these clarinets, you know? It’s like the orchestration on the music—so almost offensively ’90s. But I think the acting is brilliant, and to watch it as an actor as an adult, I think I would appreciate Richard Dreyfuss’ and Bill Murray’s performances even more.

What’s your prized pop culture possession?

I went through a stage of writing TV and movie stars asking for autographs. My mother informed me that she went through the exact same stage at the same age and we had never talked about it until like I started getting them in the mail, and so she gave me her stash and one of them was a signed photo of Carol Burnett, and so I kept that in my room and it was one of my favorite things. The only two people that ever responded to me: Tyra Banks, Jason Alexander. So I had Tyra Banks, Jason Alexander, and Carol Burnett. Doom, doom, doom. That is my childhood.

Score: Offensively adorable

Olive Kitteridge airs parts one and two Sunday at 9 p.m., with parts three and four on Monday, Nov. 3 at 9 p.m., all on HBO.

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