Patrick Fabian And Ashley Bell Talk THE LAST EXORCISM

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Patrick Fabian And Ashley Bell Talk THE LAST EXORCISM
With Daniel Stamm's Eli Roth produced horror picture The Last Exorcism coming to theatres next week I had the chance earlier this week to sit as part of a round table with stars Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell to talk about the film and their experiences making it. You'll find the complete transcript of that conversation below.

(To Ashley) It's funny, you were born and raised in Hollywood, always around the industry, and here you are playing this hick. This girl who has never really been off the farm. It must be great to be an actor and live all these different lives.

Ashley: It is. It is so much fun. And I probably shouldn't say that for this heinously violent character that I play but it was so much fun. The process of preparing for Nell and figuring out what she hasn't been exposed to because she's never left, she's never really needed to. And then trying to figure out, when she's either possessed or in an episode, how to play that ... Daniel actually gave me a huge hint in how to play that, to try to maintain the possibility that she's not possessed, that it's mental illness. So I started researching different illnesses and hysterias, post traumatic stress disorders, certain manias, stuff like that. I got to pull from my teenage years!

Did either of you research real life exorcisms?

Ashley: Yeah, we actually both did.

Patrick: We went to a Pentecostal church in Los Angeles, just outside of Hollywood. I looked it up. I thought we were going to have to drive way deep into the Inland Empire, maybe into Nevada, but no. Ten minutes on Hollywood Boulevard. Out on sixth street there was this little Pentecostal church and that was one of seventeen we could have chosen from. It's right there in Los Angeles. Hellfire and brimstone and wiping the brow and they've got the bass player and the drummer and they're singing to Jesus and they're the friendliest bunch of people you ever want to meet. "Welcome! Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!" So much so that as we were leaving, as things were ending, we left the church and all of a sudden someone came after saying "Where are you going? The pastor wants to see you!" "Uh, no, we're good, thank you very much." "No, the pastor asked specifically to see you." And we both were locked in with that sense of having had an authority figure who said stay, more importantly the pastor is talking to us and then your ego kicks in and I felt that pull of wanting to go back in and, of course, eventually give them money. You know that's part of where that was going. Or they just wanted to bring us into the congregation. I just looked at Ashley like, "What do we do?"

Did they know why you were there?

Patrick: No, no, not at all. In my mind they just saw fresh meat. They saw potential converts. And I don't mean that in a negative way, they just felt like, "Who are you people? Did Jesus bring you here today? It's our obligation to help bring you in." That's the way I took it. It was very powerful.

I wanted to ask you, Patrick, specifically about your preparation to play Cotton Marcus and how much time you spent around the churches. You had that preaching patter exactly right.

Patrick: A lot of it comes from, and I've said this before, is that I think good preaching has a lot of good acting in it and vice versa. The ability and the need and the want to stand up in front of people and say "Listen to me, I know what I'm talking about and I wouldn't mind a little money on the side." It takes a lot of hubris to say "No, no, no I don't need your money but why don't you give it to me anyway and meanwhile here's how you get to heaven." There's a lot of great things to look at. In Elmer Gantry, Burt Lancaster really has that patter down and that sense of believing his own charade, which I think is the key to it. I never believed Jim Bakker but he made a lot of people believe him. Jimmy Swaggart did the same thing, too. I looked a lot of those tapes and I also have a lot of theatre training so I understand the dynamics of what a crowd is.

However, I've got to give a lot of props to the ladies and the men who were in the church down in Louisiana. They filled up a church with church goers who were also background artists. And I got up to do two days of preaching with them and I said, "I'm an actor. I don't know my verses that well but I'm going to try and do this and this and this and this." You rob and steal and pick what you can. But what they gave me was instant feedback. The first time I said, "Can I get an amen?" They went "AMEN!!!" and I was like, "Woah!" and I had to really get up and get going. They were playing but they weren't playing, they were dead on real about it. And they started saying "You've got the Lord in you, you've got the Lord in you!" And I said, "Yeah! I've GOT the Lord in me, let's go! Let's go! Let's go!" And I knew we only needed a piece, we didn't need a whole sermon, so that made it easier to be authentic.

I've got a bit of Irish in me so I can talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. But those ladies and gentlemen really helped infusing a sense of really feeling it and when that's happening, those clichés - like putting a Bible on somebody's forehead - they don't feel like clichés any more. And who's to say that there isn't something in there? And that's where that whole thing comes from, that's where the faith enters. I don't know what happened but I know I felt good! I know I was hot! So I think that's where it comes from, in a nutshell.

(To Ashley) How physical was your part? (gesturing to the poster) That aside ...

Patrick: (about the poster) That really is her, you know that? That is her doing those bends. Everything physical in the movie she does. No CGI.

Ashley: Yeah, I did all the physical stuff myself. Except break my fingers. Which I was willing to do because I'm a method actor! There was a lot of physical stuff but that was part of what was really exciting about it, to actually do all that. The night before filming the second exorcism I was talking to Daniel [Stamm, director] and he asked me if I had anything I wanted to try the next day. That's an actor's dream, you never think in a million years you'll be asked that, as an actress. And I showed him the back bend and I showed him several other physical things I was working on and he said "Great! Let's do it! Let's use it!" That was really exciting. They nailed me down to the floor and tipped me over and that was that.

So you created the iconic pose of the film?

Ashley: I would never in a million years have dreamed that would happen ...

Patrick: I thought it would be me, like this (raises a hotel Bible over his head) but it's fantastic and it is iconic and what's great about it is that it sort of tells you everything you need to know about the film in one fell swoop. Plus, as a piece of poster art, I think it's one of the best we've seen in the last ten, fifteen years. It's very strong. It's arresting. You go driving through Los Angeles now and it's above Pinkberry. It makes Pinkberry look like an evil, evil place.

With such a difficult topic, how was the vibe on set?

Ashley: It's terrible to say but I had so much fun. It was such a huge role to get an opportunity to play and I think, also, so much of it can be attributed to Daniel and the environment he created on set. We would do twenty or thirty takes of a scene and he created such a safe place to try everything and feel like your ideas are ... like you can go there and be safe about it. It was a dream cast to work with. Everyone was so generous and we all were there for each other and all supported each other. Patrick and I for the initial interview scenes, we would be in a room together all day.

Patrick: (Singing) Getting to know you ... (Stops singing). No, it really was. Also, I think, even though we were doing a scary film what you're telling is a logical story about characters that are going though things. And then, at some point, it starts lurching and turning until you're upside down in it but it doesn't just happen like this (flips hand over quickly) it happens slowly. You're just walking down this path. And you don't realize when you're walking sideways. And you don't realize you're walking upside down until the final bits, you know? But when you're making a film it's not so scary. The mood is ... We're down in New Orleans, it's crazy hot and humid and those things come into play without a doubt. For my own part I'd go into work wearing the same linen suit, which may be a bit musty, but I'm walking into a barn where Ashley is chained to the floor and she's wearing a bloody dress and bending like this. So, for me, sometimes going to work was not as fun but it certainly was authentic.

Ashley: It was so funny, during the days we would go back to the hotel after the night shoots and there was a period of ten or twelve days when I was always covered with fake blood - at least I hope it was fake - and hay and mud. And I was getting breakfast one morning and I had just put on some shorts, I was just getting a bunch of stuff to bring upstairs, and there was this man just staring at me, glass-eyed. I was like, "Hi! Good morning! Are you okay?" And he said, "Are YOU okay?" And I said, "Oh, I'm feeling great!" And I went upstairs.

How does it help you to be in a set that's so confined and so limited in its connections to society? Does that help?

Patrick: It was great not walking out and having an In And Out Burger available to me. It was great not walking out and hearing traffic or sirens. We were in the lower 9th ward at the end of the line ...

Isn't that nearly in the sea?

Patrick: Oh, yeah, Yeah, yeah. You go to the lower ninth ward and you go by the construction from the floods and you keep going. You go to the end of the line where it's a left or a right, you take the left and it's the last farm on the right. It's a giant farmhouse and it was originally positioned so it could take advantage of ships coming in. It was built back in the 1800s, it's an old plantation so access was important. We were out in the middle of nowhere and it does help. You get that sense when we drive up to the farm for the first time, that we're intruding. That people don't visit here. What are you doing here? And I think that's because of where we were at.

Ashley: Yeah, the house was just redone right before Katrina so everything is polished but just warped slightly. Everything is a little bit off, a little bit crooked. Walking in, the bed that's in Nell's room was there. Seeing that, it gives you some much. Daniel has said in several interviews that if the character, any one of us, suddenly wanted Corn Flakes, we could be allowed to go down to the kitchen and get them and eat them. He wanted that kind of real feeling and you got that immediately from setting foot in that house.

In light of what you're saying about Daniel's working methods, one of the things that really struck me about the film and all of the characters, I don't want to say that they were in shades of gray because that implies that they're kind of murky, but there's a richness to them all and an inner conflict to them all and all these layers of things happening. Even with the really minor players. How much of that was on the script when you got it and how much came out in rehearsal and performance? Did Daniel have an idea of what the scene should be, was it shoot what's on the page first and then maybe improve a bit, or how did it work?

Patrick: It was quite collaborative. He would talk a lot about the idea of the scene, the necessary elements that needed to come out of the scene, and we'd start from there. A lot of stuff did come out in our own improve. The script was definitely there as a roadmap and we stuck to it a lot but we also drove off it a lot because certain scenes required other things to come out. With the multiplicity of takes, and in the exorcisms, with the emotionality involved you weren't always locking yourself in to "And now we're going to be here and in thirty seconds we're going to be there," and consequently you'd get things stretched out and things coming out of her mouth and my mouth that were the result of working together for so long.

So you're kind of reproducing the real relationship. That seems like beyond acting, like you're living it.

Patrick: Yeah, I would say so. I think so. I think some of the most true moments that happen are when we're stripped away of our artifice, when we're stripped away of the idea of "I'm a guy putting on this suit and pretending to be this guy," and all of a sudden you get a real emotion. I think that comes from multiple takes and the way he works and where we were at and the setting and having a strong acting partner beside you willing to expose themselves honestly. I think that gets your attention. I don't want to say gray, either, but that's what we are as people, right? We're a combination of things. It's the black and whites that we really suspect because nobody really behaves just like that.

Ashley: Right, right. We both saw it for the very first time at the LA Film Festival with a whole audience of people. And seeing it with that group of people ... I was completely unaware of how much humor there was at the beginning of it. That's all thanks to the script that Huck and Andrew wrote, with so many twists and turns and constant surprises and the manipulation, they trick you with humor and before you know it you're in over your head with chaos and horror. It was really fun.

Like your brother at the window of the truck, acting all cute and folksy and then turning. That was pivotal.

Patrick: When he threw that mud ball, when it hits the back of the truck, I think as an audience that's the first time you realize you've been lulled into a different type of film and you remember "Oh, yeah, there's danger out here and we are not welcome," and yet we're still going in.

Are exorcisms real?

Patrick: They still go on, absolutely. Absolutely. That's not a lie when I say in the film that the Vatican has re-upped their school and has three hundred exorcists in training. That still goes on.

Ashley: When doing the research I talked to a lot of people who had either been around people who did exorcisms or had seen them happen. I listened to a lot of tapes of exorcisms. I read books that hadn't been banned already from the United States. Yeah. It's creepy. Talking to people who have been around it you hear a fear in their voice even approaching the subject. They're scared it'll come back.

Patrick: It's an invocation. Even mentioning it might invite it.

Ashley: You really saw it in their eyes and heard it in their voice.

Patrick: Don't you know people who have ghost stories? I mean legitimate ghost stories. I don't know anybody who doesn't have some sort of thing. And they believe it with a conviction that you cannot shake them of. And who am I to say? You ask are there really exorcists, I don't know ... if you really feel that you're possessed and a priest comes and says now it's gone and then you no longer feel possessed, where is the truth?

Do either of you worry about religious groups being upset with the film or with you specifically?

Patrick: Since I haven't really lived a pious life to begin with ... Ultimately I don't think the movie really condemns anything. It allows for every opinion.

Ashley: Yeah, you have a fake exorcist going in and you laugh at him kind of because you know what's coming at the end. It doesn't condemn anything because he gets his comeuppance.

I think the whole arc for Cotton is actually the restoration of faith not the collapse of it.

Patrick: Absolutely! I go in thinking one thing and instead I find out that the tools that I've abandoned are still there for me. It's the Jesus walking in the beach thing, "There's only one set of footprints!", "That's when I carried you!" If Cotton's crying  "You've forsaken me!" well, no, he hasn't, actually. I'm the one who's forsaken me.

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Daniel StammHuck BotkoAndrew GurlandPatrick FabianAshley BellIris BahrLouis HerthumDramaHorrorThriller

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