Geena Davis Interview: ‘The Exorcist’ Series

The Exorcist Geena Davis and Jeremy Slater
Brianne Howey, Alfonso Herrera, Geena Davis, Ben Daniels, Hannah Kasulka. and Jeremy Slater from ‘The Exorcist’ at Comic Con 2016 (Photo © Richard Chavez / Showbiz Junkies)

Fox did a good job of freaking out San Diego Comic Con attendees by staging realistic-looking fake exorcisms around the San Diego Convention Center in support of the new horror series, The Exorcist. The series is inspired by the book by William Peter Blatty which was made into one of the scariest horror films of all time. The Exorcist series is set in the same world as the movie, but takes place four decades after the events depicted in the film. Oscar winner Geena Davis (The Accidental Tourist) stars as a concerned mother who believes there’s something terrifying going on in her house. Teaming up with writer/executive producer Jeremy Slater, Davis talked to us about why she was drawn to The Exorcist series and her character, Angela Rance.

Geena Davis and Jeremy Slater Interview:

You’ve done TV before so what’s the appeal of going back to television and doing something in the horror genre?

Geena Davis: “Well, I have done TV. I’ve kind of gone back and forth between TV and movies and I love doing TV. I really loved doing my show where I got to be the President. That was super fun. It had a very short administration, sadly. But, I’ve always had my eye out to see if there was something else that would come along that I’d like to do. I happen to love horror movies and I was in one at least – a definite horror movie – and having been scarred for life by watching The Exorcist I thought, ‘Oh, let me read this.’ I just thought it was really well written and exciting, and scary. I could see where I was going to get a lot of very cool stuff to do as it goes on. That was enough for me.”

How are they turning The Exorcist into a TV series? What are some of the differences between the movie and the series?

Geena Davis: “The series takes place in a world where that really happened. The movie took place in this world in 1973 and it’s now however many years that is. And, uh oh, something starts to happen again. So it’s different priests and a different family, and a whole different situation because so much time has passed. There are references to the movie being real, like the priest that my character talks to can’t believe that I’m talking about there might be possession in my house. He Googles exorcism stuff and finds a newspaper article where there’s a picture of those stairs from the movie. So it’s got very subtle nods to the fact that the movie took place.”

How does your character differ from the character played by Ellen Burstyn?

Geena Davis: “Obviously it’s a different time and a different world. I have two daughters and a husband who has…something’s wrong with him but we don’t reveal yet whether he’s got Alzheimer’s or has had a brain injury or who knows, but something’s off with him. And I’m a very successful career woman; I have 700 employees. I have a lot going on but spooky things start happening in my house to the point where I feel like I need, rather than a psychiatrist, I feel like I need to talk to a priest. We’re obviously a very Catholic family. We got to church; we already know a priest.”

So, it’s not like she’s skeptical to begin with. She’s already willing to accept this is a possibility?

Geena Davis: “She kind of goes there, yeah. Because the stuff that happens is pretty…”

(Geena Davis is joined by writer Jeremy Slater for the remainder of the interview.)

Can you say anything about the signs of possession?

Jeremy Slater: “Yeah. Angela Rance’s family has kind of been beset by calamity over the past several months. Her daughter was in a terrifying car accident that kind of crippled her and ended her career. There’s problems with her husband, but there’s also Angela is starting to hear weird whispers in the walls. Things are being moved around her house. She comes from a very religious background so the more she digs into it and starts to realize there’s something wrong with her daughter, the more she’s kind of led to this conclusion that this may be demonic possession.”

Geena Davis: “When the walls are talking to you, it’s not a good sign.”

Can you both talk about the challenges of bringing to television something that has such history?

Jeremy Slater: “It’s a classic. It’s one of the best movies ever made. It’s very large shoes to fill and a big part of why I took the job in the first place was to prevent someone else from taking this and just remaking the same story. Because you’re never going to do it better, you’re only going to do it longer. So when I came on board the project I said, ‘The only way I’m going to do this is if we can tell a brand new story with brand new characters set in the same basic universe.’ It’s kind of like the show Fargo in that regard where if you love the original movie, hopefully you’ll find stuff to love here. But it was so important that you care about the Rance family and that you’re invested in their plight. That’s what keeps you coming back week-to-week, and not necessarily the title.”

If you solve the problem the first season, where does the show go? Will it be an anthology like American Horror Story or does the priest go off to somewhere else?

Jeremy Slater: “That’s a great question. We’ve asked ourselves that many times. The idea is that this first season is a self-contained story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. So by the end of this season, you will get a definitive answer to the main possession case that’s taking place. But while we’re doing all of this, we’re building in mythology and we’re saying that evil has some ambitions here, that there’s a larger design. They have larger goals than just taking a six year-old girl and possessing her. And so as we start building in that mythology, hopefully by the time you get to the end of the season, that question will be answered. You’ll know exactly what we’re trying to do and where we’re going. It’s hard to say without spoiling things but the bad guys have a plan and they’re working towards it, and there aren’t many good guys left who can stop them.”

As a fan of the movie how much did that weigh on your shoulders when you thought about taking on the role?

Geena Davis: “Well, that was sort of mitigated for us by the way it’s designed in that we’re not competing with the movie which we all acknowledge couldn’t be improved on. But, we’re adding to the mythology of the first one. Once you see it, you’ll see that it’s a very ambitious show. It looks very cinematic. There’s been great care put into creating these rich and troubled and complicated characters, so I don’t think anybody is going to be disappointed or that we’re going to suffer from comparison. It’s just an enhancing continuation.”

Are there any moments of lightness or relief from the horror in the show?

Geena Davis: “Yeah, sure. [Laughing] We’re living our normal lives while we’re being possessed.”

Jeremy Slater: “Our pilot’s not a barrel of laughs but we’ve got some funny characters in there. There’s some stuff. It’s always important to have that release in any sort of horror thing. Also, you can’t have wall-to-wall 43 minutes of pure horror every week because then you tune out. The reason people are going to come back week after week is because they’re invested in these characters and this story. And if there’s one or two moments in each episode that really scare the hell out of you and stay with you the next day, then that means we did our jobs right.”

We just had Damien on television…

Geena Davis: “Wait – Damien like from The Omen?”

Yes, it was TV series on A&E.

Geena Davis: “How did I miss that?”

Why do you think people are attracted to the notion of the Devil and possession?

Jeremy Slater: “Look, the world is a scary place right now. You turn on the TV and there’s a lot of darkness happening. Sometimes it feels as though the bad guys are winning, so the appeal of any sort of fiction like this is to address that head on and say, ‘Look, maybe there’s a reason the bad guys are winning but there are still good guys in this world.’ There’s still light to push back against the darkness and that we still have a chance.”

Watch the full interview with Geena Davis and Jeremy Slater: