By PETERSON GONZAGA
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—“The Exorcist” has become an iconic and must-see film in the horror genre. The 1973 film centered on the possession of a young girl, Regan, played by Linda Blair, with her helpless mother, Chris MacNeil, played by Ellen Burstyn, watching helplessly as her daughter battled a demon that ravaged her body. It’s been more than 40 years since the film, directed by William Friedkin, first played in movie theaters, bringing demonic possession to the world, and now Fox brings the horror story to the small screen.
Academy Award winning actress Geena Davis (“The Accidental Tourist”) plays Angela Rance who has a hidden past that may have caught up with her as her daughter Casey (Hannah Kasulka) is now experiencing a demonic possession. Seeking help, Angela reaches out to local parish priest Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera). In episode 5, Sharon Gless (“Cagney & Lacey”) joins the show as Chris MacNeil.
During ScreamFest, a horror film festival in Hollywood, fans were treated to a special screening of episode 5 of the Fox series “The Exorcist.” Joining them was the show’s executive producer Rolin Jones (“Weeds”) and Gless, in a surprise appearance. They talked about the excitement of creating a new chapter bringing a new storyline to the show based on the iconic horror film. The series airs Fridays on Fox at 9p.m./8c.
Q: Why bring “The Exorcist” to life on TV?
Jones: There’s no good reason to bring “The Exorcist” to life on TV. So you get over that moment, where they go, “We have a big intellectual property. Do something with it.” And then you take a deep breath and go, “How can you honor it?” The best way to honor it is to do something aggressively new without being trashy about it. I think there’s a couple like “Friday Night Lights,” “Fargo” that have attempted to become a good show after they were already a great novel or a great film. It’s intimidating. I would never be able to say why. You’re doing it. Try not to offend and try to see if you can do something to add to it a little bit. Try to evolve this little story and see if there is something new in this moment in time that you can make this genre and idea fresh again.
Q: How did you come about bringing Sharon Gless onto the series?
Jones: I mean…
Gless: She’s just weird enough. Sick enough.
Jones: Right. I don’t know how it comes. I mean somebody says, “This role’s coming to you by an iconic movie and iconic thing…” I don’t know.
Gless: I was in Saks Fifth Avenue helping my niece get a dress for her 50th birthday in the fancy room. We were just dressing my niece and I got these calls. There were calls from many people. That’s how I found out and I went out of the store so I could get the (phone) reception and was thrilled. I said, “Yes.”
Q: “The Exorcist” is an iconic film with Ellen Burstyn playing Chris MacNeil and now you are playing the same character. Is this an homage to Ellen or are you wanting to make this character your own?
Gless: I would never try to imitate Ellen Burstyn. She’s just fabulous. I just did my own Chris MacNeil. But we don’t look dissimilar actually. I did my own. First of all, it’s like 40 years later and everybody changes. The situation is different. The story is very different. I mean what’s she’s gone through in 40 years and appears again. It’s a different character.
Q: What do you see is the magic of “The Exorcist” that people will gravitate to?
Gless: I think “The Exorcist” is… iconic. Is that the right word?
Gless: Such an iconic piece and I think it’s in the right hands. I mean, you take something like that and try to bring it to another medium. It could be “Oops.” (But) this man is a genius; everything he touches turns to gold.
Jones: How about we talk about Jeremy Slater who created this thing? I’m just the dumb TV hack who kind of makes things. I think the success of that movie and why it kind of continues to haunt people is that it’s steeped in something real. It something that seems like these are lived in lives and it could be happening next door to you and there is something primal and chilling about that. I think something was executed really really well a long time ago. Generations pass it down and pass it down. It stands the test of time and you really got a big obstacle to really try to kind of hurdle over.
Q: Sharon, did you watch the film when it was first run in the movie theaters?
Gless: I did. It was in the ‘70’s, correct? Right behind me was a row of Catholic priests, with the collar on—the entire row. I was raised in Hollywood. I was born in this city. I’ve never seen Catholic priests ever in the theater. All of a sudden, I got nervous. I turned around and said, “Hi Father, are you going to keep us protected?” I was raised Catholic. And he said, “We don’t know.” But, obviously, the film meant a great deal to them to come. Then, when I was offered this job, I ran it again. I’m glad I did because I needed to be reminded of certain things and it holds up, it holds up very well. It’s a good series and my name is not over the title so I can say that.
Q: The poster and it says, “Every soul is a battlefield.” Do you believe that’s true?
Jones: Even Donald Trump’s?
Gless: Especially. I think it’s a brilliant line. I just said to Rollin, “Can you get me a t-shirt with that on it?”
Jones: So some love for the marketing department.
Gless: Yes. It’s wonderful. I do think every soul is a battlefield, its own personal battlefield. And hopefully we all win.
Q: Have you ever experienced any paranormal activity in your life or are you starting to experience it on set?
Jones: I’ve already found my talking point. Here’s what has happened since I started working on this show: I got double pneumonia, I broke my foot and I got an ulcer, just within the first season of this show. It is totally real. “The Exorcist” curse is out there and it will infect anybody out there who comes near it and I’m touching you now and you’re going to get it yourself.
Gless: I’ve experienced paranormal activity. Not of this sort. I had a friend who died who kept haunting (me) and being mischievous. I rented my apartment in Toronto to an actor and my friend, my driver, had died. He kept knocking on the door and my actor tenant would go an answer the door and no one was there. Finally, it got so crazy, he would stand there and wait for the knock and throw it open, and there’s nobody there. I had to go over there and talk him into not leaving. I said, “It’s just Al, my driver.” He’s just being mischievous. But stuff would move. It’s energy. The body’s gone but the energy’s very strong.
Q: Why should people who love “The Exorcist” movie want to watch the series?
Jones: The cast (and) the cinematography are two things you are not going to see on network television. They are of a completely different order. The writing is all right but this is the best cast on network television and a lot of faces you haven’t seen are day players. There is this amazing group of Chicago theater actors and they’re pretty ******. Mostly, you just get out of the way and let the actors do what they want to do. That’s why I would see it—for the acting.
Q: Any final words, Sharon?
Gless: I’m just lucky to be very fortunate to be part of the ride.