Over the weekend at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con, Daily Dead had the chance to speak with several cast members as well as the writer for Fox’s upcoming new series The Exorcist. Geena Davis, Ben Daniels, Alfonso Herrera, and Jeremy Slater all dished on what’s to come once the series premieres in September, and they also discussed the pressures of taking on such an iconic name as The Exorcist.
Geena, you've done some horror movies and now you've returned to the genre for The Exorcist. How does it feel for you to be back in the genre?
Geena Davis: I love it. I love horror. I love to watch horror movies and to be in them, too, is something I’ll always love. Just hearing the title of this series when they called and said they wanted to talk to me about doing it, I was like, “Oh my God.” That's been the reaction of anybody who I tell, "Oh, I'm going to do The Exorcist." It's just got a very strong place in everybody's psyche because everybody saw it and was scarred by it.
I remember I was 13 when I saw the original film, and I still remember it so vividly. I couldn't believe what I saw in that movie, and certainly my parents didn't know anything about it. I went with some neighbors and I'd only seen G movies, literally, up until then. Talk about a total shift as a kid.
Can you discuss building up this dynamic with your family, because there are some really interesting things happening beyond just the supernatural elements. How was it for you to balance out the horror versus the rest of the family drama aspects?
Geena Davis: Right, exactly. Which is why the character was so well-designed, I thought. As an actor, I want to be this character. Having a very complicated life, or a lot of problems, or a lot of flaws, is always great to play. She's just got too much going on, where she has a very high-powered job, a husband with brain damage, and two teenage daughters to contend with, and that’s before she realizes something spooky is going on in the house, where the walls are talking to me. There's just a lot that she has to deal with, and it just gets worse and worse as the series goes on. It's going to be fun.
How do you prepare to work on such an iconic property and have it then translated into a television series format?
Geena Davis: [To Jeremy] I'll let you talk about the writing of it, but for me, it actually works to our favor in a way. That the movie is so iconic and hopefully people will come to understand that what we’re doing is not in any way a remake. We fully acknowledge that that movie took place and we’re not trying to replace it. It’s something that’s incredibly iconic to all of us who are working on this show.
Jeremy Slater: Yeah, I think everybody on board feels that responsibility of following in the footsteps of greatness and knowing that the original film cast a very long shadow. We feel that responsibility every day of being true to the spirit of The Exorcist and telling a story that's going to satisfy fans of the film, while bringing in an entirely new generation of viewers into the fold, hopefully.
If you watch the pilot, you'll see that we have some hat tips and we have some homages in there to celebrate some of those more famous moments. If you watch the pilot, you'll see that there's a scene where they reference the original exorcism in Georgetown, and that's our way of letting fans know that the story you love isn't being written out of existence. This is a new story, with new characters, that takes place in the same universe as the original film. It's more of a continuation of the mythology, as opposed to a reboot or remake.
Were you given a blessing by William Peter Blatty or William Friedkin?
Jeremy Slater: Not Friedkin. Definitely not Friedkin, but I hope he watches the show and he likes it. We have the rights to William Peter Blatty's novel. He's not very involved creatively, but he's been pitched and briefed on everything. He's incredibly excited. We can't wait for him to come visit on set because this really is his baby. This is the world that he created and right now we're just trying to do it justice.
Ben and Alfonso, can you talk about your characters and how they fit into this iteration of The Exorcist?
Alfonso Herrera: My character is Tomas Ortega. He's a priest that has a parish outside of Chicago, in the suburbs of Chicago. He has a quiet life. He has a very good relationship with the congregation where he resides. Because of that, he has this tiny ego, and because of that ego, in my personal point of view, he opens this tiny window for this entity to come around. Also, there is this connection between Father Marcus, which is a bit interesting.
Ben Daniels: I play Father Marcus Keane. He's had several surnames, but he's now Marcus Keane, and he's been an exorcist for 41 years. He did his first exorcism at age 11 and he comes from a very working class, quite violent background. A traumatic event happens to him when he's seven or eight that leaves him with this pent-up rage which he can use in his work. It also makes him very abrupt and abrasive as a human being.
When we meet him in the pilot, he's gone through two other events which further complicates who he is as a human being, and so he's quite raw and unpredictable.
Having seen the premiere episode, it’s evident that your characters come at the world of exorcism from two very different places. Will we see that dynamic explored through further episodes?
Ben Daniels: Yeah, they're very different men. They don't particularly like each other, but they're drawn to each other purely because of the strangeness of the events that happen, especially how they meet. So they both can't let that go, so they have to work out what that is and why they're being drawn together, and is that a good thing or is it a bad thing? Who knows? We've read the next two episodes now, so it kicks off into a very different arena than the pilot.
The original Exorcist was a classic film that’s highly regarded for the right reasons. What was your initial reactions when you got the script and heard about the project?
Ben Daniels: I didn't read it [laughs]. I thought it was a terrible idea. I love, love horror movies, and like any horror lover, The Exorcist is at the top. That movie is a perfect horror movie. Even though it wasn't made as a horror movie, but it is. So it sat in my inbox. I didn't look at it. I just thought, “Why are they going to remake that? It's a really bad idea.” And my agent called and said, "No, you should look at it. It isn't a remake." And so I read it and realized where they were going with the concept, and then I really wanted to do it. It was written for a 30-year-old American, so I had to go in and convince them that I was their man, which is no small thing on a network show. It was a lot of hoops to jump to get this job, but I’m glad I did.
Alfonso Herrera: It's given all of us a great opportunity to show something new on network TV, in terms of the quality of it. It feels much bigger than a network show. For example, the cinematography in the pilot, even though it's a TV show, it really stands up against theatrical films I’ve seen this year. It really stands up. So, I feel very lucky to be part of this amazing show with such an amazing cast of actors, with a really talented writer behind it all.
Did you do a lot of research to prepare for this role at all, perhaps looking into Catholicism and exorcisms?
Ben Daniels: Yeah, I did. It was something that had always sat in a realm of fantasy for me, but the more I delved into it, I was like this man, this is someone’s job. The more I read it, it became so apparent to me and then I went and spoke to a priest about a lot of the things you’ll see in this show—it sits in an area that isn't necessarily a fantasy realm anymore for me, because demonic possession and exorcism exists within every culture. It sits in a slightly realer place for me now; not in a Catholic sense, but maybe there are forces out there we can’t really understand.