Way back at the turn of the year I spent a little time in Vancouver visiting the set of Underworld 2 (coverage soon) and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The latter comes courtesy of Screen Gems and is currently penciled in for a September 9th release date. It stars Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Campbell Scott, Shoreh Aghdashloo, Colm Feore, and newcomer Jennifer Carptenter and is directed by Scott Derrickson. We spoke to a number of folks from the film, and by "we" I mean a cadre of journalist types both brilliant and vacant (I’ll not say of which group I belong), the results of which in their near entirety follow over the next few days. Set visits are fun, you get to watch the thing happening in the most pure sense and there’s a ton of waiting around and quizzical ponderings over what kind of film it’ll ultimately be. We visited the courtroom set of the film, the locale of the film’s latter half where Scott grills priest Tom Wilkinson about his "exorcism" of Carpenter’s titular character while Linney does her best to be the voice of reason in her defense of the man. As opposed to the typical one-on-one style of CHUD.com interviews I’m keeping these in their full form as the truncated style would ruin any sense of coherence. A thanks goes out to all the folks who asked questions and kept this thing on the rails.
First in our spotlight, writer/producer of the film Paul Harris Boardman (Hellraiser Inferno, Urban Legends: Final Cut)
Q: Where and when does this take place?
PAUL HARRIS BOARDMAN: Okay we are actually trying to get the setting for the movie to feel a little bit timeless. I think when we did the production design
we sort of thought if it could feel like any time from say the seventies, maybe
late seventies, to virtually the present. You might notice in the film there won’t be people on cell
phones. There won’t be things that
particularly date it to right now. And
even in terms of the kind of fashions we used, the settings, the physical locations, the way things were art directed in the rooms, we tried
to keep it a little bit timeless like that so that it would cover that kind of
period, encompass it a little bit, and that was partly because we did not
want the film to feel like, you know, a contemporary updating of this story
that was from the past or an attempt to completely set it in the time period
when the Anneliese story (the one which the film is based) occurred. The actual case. In terms of how
much we used, you know, we certainly read all the material we could on that
case and we optioned the rights to an underlying book that had been written to cover the case as it
occurred. The only book we knew of
about it really, but then we’ve
fictionalized it quite a bit, so I would say that a lot of the incidents
in our movie are very different, but they are very true to the kinds of things
that happened to her and the way the court case unfolded similarly there’s
a lot of dramatic license in our story to fit the story we were telling and
make it more effective. But certainly, and people can always look
that up later on their own if they want to compare it, it might be an
interesting thing to do and see what in the actual case occurred and what
incidents we kind of changed for dramatic purposes.
Q: Can you tell us who the girl was…?
HARRIS BOARDMAN: Do I have any limitations on this? I mean you guys know the person, right? that the case is based on? That’s okay, right? I think what we need to
do is say that this story is inspired by the story of the young woman whose
name was Anneliese Michel. Right, and you probably all mostly know that. So yeah, it was this girl Anneliese Michel. It was her story that we… The question again specifically was who
Q: Who she was and the particulars of the case.
HARRIS BOARDMAN: Yeah, I mean in broad strokes the case was a
story of a girl who became afflicted with what may have been mental illness,
may have been demonic possession depending on your point of view. And then
there was a court case that came out of it when her treatment ended the way it
did, where some priests were put on trial. That’s sort of the basic structure of our movie too, and then, like I said,
individual incidents and individual details of our plot are sometimes
somewhat parallel, but we felt free to change them because we were just
inspired by that story.
Q: How much time is spent in the
courtroom and how much time is spent with the flashbacks?
PAUL HARRIS BOARDMAN: Yeah,
without having edited it yet I, I’d say based on the screenplay and what it
feels like it’s fairly evenly divided.
I think there’s probably a little bit less courtroom time then there is
time for everything else, obviously, ‘cause there are scenes that have… I mean the courtroom might be a little over a
third of the movie or something like that, but there are also scenes that are
not flashback or scenes from the courtroom.
There are scenes in Erin, the lead attorney’s life that happen in the
present of the story as well. So it’s a reasonable amount of
time in the courtroom, comparable to a lot of courtroom movies actually, even
though we have a whole other horror movie folded into it as opposed to just the
lives of lawyers drinking and talking about the case and all that sort of
Q: What is being done to set this film apart from any other
film with exorcism as a theme?
PAUL HARRIS BOARDMAN: Well
one big thing that sets it apart is what we’re already touching on, which is
this is sort of a hybrid of a courtroom drama and an exorcism movie a supernatural story, and it really does try to serve both of those things
and fold them together, weave them together in an interesting way and make the
two very interrelated in terms of how one unfolds the mystery of one thing unfolding
very much pertaining to what’s happening in the present and in the
courtroom attorney’s life and the courtroom story. So that’s very different. And then also in our depiction of the
exorcisms themselves. I think some
movies, you know, people talk about THE EXORCIST for example and say “Oh,
spinning head and pea soup and all that,” but there were a lot of very
realistic things in THE EXORCIST, and, and Scott and I both love that
film. It’s definitely a film we really
enjoy even now but I do think that
some of those things then that the film and a lot of the depiction of how they do exorcisms and like
the medical treatment the girl went through in that film was all very harrowing
and it felt very real. A lot of the
films since then have kind of gone away from a more realistic approach and gone
into these more armageddon type things, you know, where the devil is blowing things up and all that. We definitely wanted to go back to
something closer to that, and then even take it a little further in terms of
realism by studying tapes and things of actual exorcisms and try to make our
depiction of it stay very close to what at least has been perceived and
recorded. You know, whether you believe
it’s exorcism or not, or possession or not, I should say, that kind of things
that she does fit into what we’ve really observed and studied.
Q: How hard is it to work within the constraints of the PG-13 rating?
PAUL HARRIS BOARDMAN: We haven’t really felt constrained.
I think the studios love PG-13 movies right
now. It’s a bigger audience and, and
they’ve seen that you can make PG-13 scary films that actually draw the whole
audience, because I think that, you know, THE SIXTH SENSE and all these
films that, that were scary and effective without being a gory type horror
movie. Nothing against DEAD ALIVE and
those movies. That’s a different kind of
movie. So we have had a lot of
discussions with the studio. Ultimately
they did not make us feel constrained.
They let us, you know, go into this knowing that it could be R, it could
be PG. Make the movie you want to make, you can always edit the movie as well.
But I think we’ve kept in the back of our mind that certainly we want the possibility of it being
PG-13. If the content is too intense
and, you know, it ends up being that way then it’ll be R.
Q: Are your worried that there’ll be any confusion with Audrey Rose?
PAUL HARRIS BOARDMAN: The
question is about whether the title with Emily Rose had any concern aboutcomparisons to Audrey Rose. That
was something that we did, it did cross
our minds. The studio head
really liked the name Emily Rose, and there was a process they go through with
legal, basically, where the studio submits a name and the other studios who
have the rights to those books or whatever can challenge it. So on that level it did pass muster and it
was okay. You always
wonder a little bit, I mean ROSEMARY’S BABY too. know, there’s rose in the name of various
movies. Is that good or bad? Will that evoke good feelings about those
movies that make them want to see this?
I don’t know. But ultimately I
think this movie will feel so different from those movies that that’ll pass, you
know, pretty quickly. It was
Q: To paraphrase we have an A-list cast and how
does that change the movie and how did we get that cast?
PAUL HARRIS BOARDMAN: It didn’t change the
movie in terms of the script.
We kind of tried to write a movie that would deliver the
scariness, but also have this thematic depth to it and some, some characters
that were layered we hoped and everything.
What was really gratifying was that actors of that caliber and actors
with that kind of background responded to the script with a lot of interest and
wanted to do it and that the studio supported that. The studio supported the idea of making this
not a genre film in a very narrow sense that we just gotta do everything
about it, make it fit the genre, you know, and cast it that way and spend
that kind of money on cast. You know,
look for that audience only. I think
they know that the horror audience can be a very sophisticated audience that can like a lot of different
films. There are a lot of people that
like DEAD ALIVE and they maybe they might go see CHUCKY and
they also love to go to repertory theaters and see ROSEMARY’S
BABY and THE OMEN and films from the seventies and Dario Argento films and,
you know, all sorts of films. And so that’s a smart sophisticated audience and
I think we were very happy to see that the actors responded and that was
supported to go for that kind of cast.
So it’s helped us make the movie we kind of dreamed of making, I
Q: Does this film
use a lot of special effects?
PAUL HARRIS BOARDMAN: It’s interesting. We tried to write it again with that realism-based idea. We wanted to use them I wouldn’t say sparingly, but subtlety
and selectively in terms of special effects. We hoped we’d be able to do that. I think the casting of Jennifer Carpenter
helped us in that a lot because she, as you will see… the movie we wanted to
and her face and her voice it kind of changed the paradigm a little bit
for the visual effects people, and they just said “Once we saw her audition we
all decided that we just wanted to stay out of her way.” Obviously they’re doing more than that and,
and there will be effects through it, both visual effects and special effects
like the old-fashioned kind that we use and have a lot of fun using. They’re very effective too and I think keeping it more real like
that and then having those little things just to enhance certain things that
are there for this kind of movie makes it scarier because it doesn’t take you
outside the reality and make you think “Oh, gee, look, that’s a cool
effect.” You don’t ever have
that kind of moment while you’re watching this.
Q: Did you consult church representatives or mental health professionals?
PAUL HARRIS BOARDMAN: We
did. I mean we did a lot of
reading. Scott’s wife works in the
health profession and we talked to people that she knew and other people we
knew about it. Read a lot of abnormal
psychology things. We had a priest
who came in to consult with us and with Tom Wilkinson, we had some meetings with him to-together
with Scott, myself and Tom, and just to talk about what would the real props be
that he would have? How
would he use them? What would a priest
do or not do? You know, obviously you
take all that in and then you look at the scenes and you see if there’s certain
adjustments you might need to make for dramatic purposes. But we tried to be
very cognizant of all of that and do our homework and help the actors to do
theirs, so that Tom particularly could feel comfortable being this guy
going into this. One interesting thing
too and I don’t think it gives too much away is, is he’s not the exorcism
expert that Max Von Sydow was in THE EXORCIST for example, he’s got this long history with this.
This guy is doing an exorcism for the first time, and so that was also
something we really wanted to talk to that priest about and Tom wanted to get a
handle on that of if this is new to him, he might be a priest, a parish priest who’s
been a priest for a long time, but he’s never done an exorcism… hardly any
Catholic priests have. What would that
be like? And we
wrote it that way in the script that he goes through that experience trying to
find out what to do as he does it. And, I think he played that very well.
Q: What have been the details about other news accounts of exorcisms that ended tragically and how have they affected your writing?
PAUL HARRIS BOARDMAN: The one maybe of an epileptic person. I seem to recall
that one and I also recall the one where someone was smothered during a
particular kind of laying on of hands they do where they cover them up with
blankets and try to squeeze the demon out or sweat the demon out or whatever. Yeah, those things come up and
we’ve read all those. I think that the
epileptic connection was in the underlying case and is also an ancient
thing, you know, like that’s back in the olden days people probably who were
epileptic or had that type of mental illness were often said to be possessed by
the devil, and that all plays right into the background of this kind of story
because if possession isn’t real, that kind of looks
like a horrible thing, and it’s medieval to say that people like that are possessed when
they’re just crazy and they don’t get the treatment they should unless
possession could really be real in which case it becomes a matter of which time
is it really possession and which time is it these other things and this case kind of turned on a lot of that
and people’s perspective on that. We’ve been reading those all along as well and it factors into the back of your mind as you work
Q: What was the impetus for taking the realistic and dramatic approach to this material?
PAUL HARRIS BOARDMAN: We
felt like the subject matter merited that, you know. Obviously several,even THE EXORCIST was
based on a true story and they took that pretty seriously, I think. It wasn’t a completely exploitative kind of
film again despite how some people remember some of the more lurid things
about it. I think we felt like because
of the court case, the themes involved in and as we talked about it that it
merited that approach and we felt like that also would give this movie
something to say that would be different and we could come at it in an
intelligent way and give a broader audience a chance to deal with this and
reach out to a bigger audience. I think
the audience for this movie should range from a younger audience that might go to horror
films maybe more for the ride, the thrills of it. Although I hate to underestimate those
audiences ‘cause I still think
the fifteen year old precocious horror film fan who’s very bright is also going
to think about some of these other themes, even if he’s mainly talking to his
friends about how cool that was when this thing happened. I mean it’s all everybody starts thinking
about these things, so we don’t think that’s an audience we don’t want. But I
think the audience for this could because of the kind of movie it is
and then the cast we brought, we hope
that it’ll also reach out to people who are just the thoughtful
filmgoer in their twenties/thirties or older if those people go to
the movies, whenever they rent it or whatever.
Whatever that audience can be, because I do think if they can handle
the intense visceral scary stuff then there’s enough drama in it that a wide
variety of people should enjoy it. The
only thing I can think of is that some of them will be scared away because I
certainly have some relatives who won’t see a movie that’s this scary, and
they’ll be like “Oh, I’d love to see it, but I can’t watch that, you know.”
Q: Does the film’s true story background effect the assumption of whether the supernatural occurred?
PAUL HARRIS BOARDMAN: In the true story I think
people had enough ambivalent responses to it that that really wouldn’t have had
an effect except just in the
sense that because the true story had both arguments made so coherently that we
wanted to do that as well, but that appealed to us anyway. And our idea in the film is definitely not
to make any previous assumptions about the validity of
possession or the lack of that and the fact that it’s always
mental illness or that they should have just done a
medical approach. We want the movie to really have both of those things
articulated very well and shown very, very well in the film and
compellingly so that the audience will walk away and make their own
decisions. We just want to get
people thinking about it and create discussion about it and also just
people examining the world like a movie like that might make you do. You go out and look around and see if maybe
there’s magic in the world, something in the world that I’m not always aware
of or could be there and, and it’s a provocative thing to think about. Something beyond what we always pay attention