During a recent press event prior to a special screening of The Exorcist at the 20th Century Fox studio lot, Daily Dead had the opportunity to chat with the show’s creator, Jeremy Slater, who has done an incredible job of adapting William Peter Blatty’s novel for the small screen.
During the interview, Slater talked about the pressure he felt taking on The Exorcist and what inspired him to tackle the monumental challenge in the first place. Slater also discussed how certain storylines and characters will intersect for the show’s finale on Friday, and more.
**SPOILER WARNING: If you have not watched the first season of The Exorcist, you definitely should NOT read on, as there are MAJOR SPOILERS ahead. If you are caught up with The Exorcist through episode 8, you should be just fine.**
Congratulations on everything. We were kind of talking about this earlier, but The Exorcist has been the biggest surprise for me as a horror fan, and I don't mean that in a derogatory way at all. It's just when you have that name attached to a project, there are certain expectations, and as a fan, you're like, "How on earth is this going to live up to it?" And there has been a really good critical response, and fans have really gotten behind the show, too. How has all of this been for you so far in terms of seeing the response and how much fans are really into the show?
Jeremy Slater: It's a giant relief, because you work for so long in a vacuum. We shot the pilot in March of this year, and then went back and shot basically the first six episodes before episode 1 actually premiered. You're working in a vacuum for a large part of that, and just hoping that you're not screwing it up and hoping that fans are going to respond to what you're doing.
Seeing the hardcore Exorcist fans, particularly the ones who are really skeptical about the idea of ever turning this into a show, seeing them realize there's some genuine love and passion on our side, that this isn't a cash grab, that we're not just trying to make an easy buck, but that we're all actual giant fans of the property and want to create something that lives up to that legacy, seeing fans recognize that and respond to it has been hugely gratifying and relieving.
Why The Exorcist? Was there something in particular that made you decide, "This is the show I want to make," that this was the right time for that?
Jeremy Slater: You know, I wasn't the rights holder. The rights holder was Morgan Creek, and they were going to make a show no matter what, because any sort of big valuable intellectual property is going to get turned into a TV show sooner or later. I heard that they were looking for a writer to come in, and my first instinct was, "Oh, that's a terrible idea. I wouldn't want anything to do with that. I don't want to do it, and you shouldn't either." The more I thought about it, the more I said, "Well, the idea of remaking the movie and telling the exact same story of Merrin and Karras coming in and six-year-old Regan MacNeil," it held no interest to me.
It seemed like a fool's errand, but the idea of telling a new story with a new cast of characters set in present day that carried on the spirit and the tone of the original movie without duplicating its beats, that seemed really exciting to me. I actually changed my mind and went back to my reps and said, "You know what? Just get me in the room with these people and let me pitch my version of what I think the TV [show] should be." They really responded to it, and they were really excited by it. We [were] kind [of] off to the races.
There was huge hesitation on my part, taking on something that big and that scary, because if you screw up, you're going to screw up in a very public way. You're going to fall on your face with a lot of people watching. Luckily, we just had the best cast and crew and writing staff that you could ever wish for. Everyone worked hard to elevate it and to live up to the shoes that we had to fill.
I've been feeling like the show's been leading up to a rift between Tomas and Marcus, where they may actually be pitted against each other, one on the side of the good, one on the side of the bad. Can you discuss if that’s something intentional, or maybe if I’m just reading too much into it?
Jeremy Slater: I'm trying to think how I can address this without going too spoilery here. The season has definitely been about Tomas getting his shit together to some extent, in the sense that he's not a good exorcist as we saw in episode 5. The fact that he does have these secrets that are eating him alive from the inside, it's constantly giving the demon an avenue to attack him. It's a weakness. It's this raw wound that can easily be touched and manipulated by the forces of darkness, so the big challenge for Tomas going into these last couple episodes is choosing his destiny and his path.
Do you want to become a broken warrior like Marcus? Do you want to go this road knowing that you're forsaking any chance of happiness or love, or do you keep doing what you're doing but knowing that that means you can never be an exorcist? You're only going to be the neighborhood priest. There really is this kind of conflict between them, where Marcus has no conflict in his character. He knows exactly who he is and why he's here and what he's supposed to be doing. It's the only thing he knows how to do in this world, where Tomas is definitely still struggling.
Without spoiling anything, you're going to see the two of them butt heads quite a bit in episode 10. Their stories are in very different trajectories right now.
You've been planting all sorts of seeds throughout this first season, which I love. How far do you have it all scoped out?
Jeremy Slater: Right now, it's season 1 just because we were literally writing the finale a few days before we shot it. We got a really late start in our writers' room this year, so we've been at a dead sprint just to deliver a satisfying story with a beginning, a middle, and an end in this first year. I have ideas for where I want the future seasons to go. I have ideas for what's going to happen to some of the characters, some of the arcs, and some of the surprises, but I also discovered this year that it's never a good thing to save your best ideas.
I'm stealing someone else's words, a different show writer, but someone said once that, "If you have 22 good ideas for a show, you write 22 episodes." You don't space those ideas out over seven seasons. You don't say, "Well, this is a great twist, but I'm going to save it for season 4." You throw everything you have into every season, and the challenge is just, can you top it in the next year, can you beat it? We definitely have ideas for where we want to take the characters in the story, but [we're] trying to not get tied into anything because so much of what makes this show great came about in our writers' room this year.
It's putting a bunch of really smart people in a room and saying, "What's the best story? Okay, now we've got this, someone try to beat it. Now we've got this, someone try to beat it." That's where you elevate your show, by trusting the people around you as opposed to saying, "Here's my seven-year plan and we're never going to deviate from it."
What is Pazuzu's endgame? He doesn’t seem to be involved in the main conspiracy plot, but there is a lot of evil forces at play here, so it seems like that intersection could be a possibility going into the finale.
Jeremy Slater: Yeah, Pazuzu has never been a part of the conspiracy that's taking place in Chicago regarding the Pope, and that was by design. We felt like it would feel like giant bullshit if all of this was happening, and concurrently this demon who was fighting these priests and an exorcism, was also masterminding this assassination attempt on the side. It's definitely parallel stories, but if you look at Pazuzu as a character, he's incredibly vain. He's incredibly arrogant.
He likes to be the big boss, so after taking Regan, after killing Chris at the end of episode 8, the demon got everything it ever wanted. It got what it's been after for the last 40 years, so in episode 9, Angela says, "This is a victory lap," and she means it. The demon is now celebrating all the things it hasn't been able to do in four decades. It's acting on pure wish fulfillment at this point, but it also sees that there's this conspiracy afoot. It sees that there are other demons in town who are vying for control and prestige, and Pazuzu doesn't necessarily like that because he's used to being the biggest dog on the playground. You're absolutely going to see the demon inside her coming to a head with Brother Simon and Maria.
In case you missed it, check out Heather Wixson's interview with Geena Davis: