Patrick Fabian Sermonizes talks The Last Exorcism

The Reverend Cotton Marcus takes us behind-the-scenes of this year's most terrifying demon possession

As we get closer to August, one film is slowly building buzz as the must see horror experience of the summer. Daniel Stamm's The Last Exorcism, which was produced by the infamous Eli Roth, has been picking up strong word of mouth from advanced audiences and critics alike. The film follows renown exorcist Reverend Cotton Marcus, a shame artist and spiritual healer not quite on the up and up. The man sets out to document his last "fake" exorcism and expose himself as a phony in the process. When he arrives on the rural Louisiana farm of Louis Sweetzer, Reverend Marcus expects to find another exaggerated, routine "demon" possession taking place in the disoriented mind of Sweetzer's daughter Nell. But upon entering the blood-drenched farm house where this supposed "possession" has taken place, Cotton soon realizes that he may be dealing with something very real, and very evil.

We recently caught up with the man behind the Reverend Cotton Marcus, actor Patrick Fabian, to discuss the film and find out more about the buzz surrounding it's impending release. Here is our conversation:

This movie looks crazy. I know they've had some advanced screenings. Did you get to attend any of those? What has the reaction to the film been like?

Patrick Fabian: They have only had one screening thus far. It was at the Los Angeles Film Festival. They screened it at the giant open amphitheater, across the street from the Hollywood Bowl. I had not seen the film up until then. I had seen some of it while doing ADR work, in terms of sound. I'd only seen bits and pieces. Up until that point, I thought it was just a movie about me going, "Uggghh, ahh, ugggh, aggghhh!" Out of breath. And that was it. I went into it blind. I didn't know what to expect. And I have to tell you, I was pleasantly surprised. There was a lot of humor in it. And a lot of scares. It was legitimate on both ends. It was really fun to be in the audience. I got to sit back and watch as the people laughed. They laughed when they were supposed to. And then they got really scared. It got really quite when it was supposed to as well. I thought it was a solid, scary creep-fest. Its not a hack and slash. Its not a gory thing. I think that's good. Its PG-13. But it takes that PG-13 all the way up to the edge. That's for sure.

I saw that particular screening at the Los Angeles Film Festival listed on the Reverend Cotton Marcus website. It seemed as thought you were going to be there in character. Did the reverend actually show up for the screening?

Patrick Fabian: No, they didn't ask me to do that. Though, I thought so, too. I thought that they might ask me to do that. They decided not to. Which is kind of good, otherwise I would have gotten stuck preaching up and down the isles during the entire movie.

Its funny, because you play Ted on Big Love, a show that deals with faith and religion. Now you have this film, which also deals with faith and religion. Did that happen by circumstance, or are those two things important to you in terms of entertainment, and the messages you are trying to convey as a person?

Patrick Fabian: I think both things are true. Its interesting. Its not just about religion. Its about right versus wrong. Good versus evil. Your moral point of view versus mine. There are a million dramatic elements that can be brought into play. It really reveals an interesting part of the human psyche. Appearing in both projects was also a matter of good luck. I got Big Love, and then this fell into my lap, too. It just happened that way.

The Exorcist is a lot like Jaws in the sense that any shark movie or any exorcist movie that is ever made will be directly compared to those two iconic films. Taking that into consideration, how did you and the filmmakers set out to make a film that would stand on its own, away from the preconceived notions about what an Exorcism movie should be?

Patrick Fabian: I'll tell you what. There are two things with that. The original title of this film was Cotton. Just from a filmmaker's point of view, I believe that director Daniel Stamm wanted to tell this man's story. The fact that an exorcism happens during this film was almost a by-product. If that makes any sense? We are talking about someone that is losing his faith. He is on a desperate search to find out what is what. But then Lionsgate got a hold of it? They retitled it The Last Exorcism. Because they are smart at what they do. They realized that if you named a film Cotton, the next question is, "What's that about?" When you name it The Last Exorcism, we all have a pretty good idea about where we are going. With the 800 pound gorilla in the room? With The Exorcist itself? That is the granddaddy of them all. For me, I think it's the scariest movie I have ever seen. I don't know if its the age in which I saw it. But I saw it again about three years ago, and I was equally terrified. It touches on that profound sense of good versus evil. And that profound fact that evil is here and real. I think that's what makes the film sing. Its all really plausible. In making this, we did look over our shoulder. Because we weren't trying to make Exorcist II: The Heretic. The premise is that this is the last exorcism. Cotton has gone ahead and hired a documentary crew to strip away all of the BS that goes along with an exorcism. Or rather, the charlatanism that is going on. Along the way, we run into some things that make us question the ideas we already know. But the fact of the matter is, you can't get away from The Exorcist. There was even that movie that came out just a few years ago,. What was it?

The Last Exorcism of Emily Rose?

Patrick Fabian: Right. You can't get away from that one either. I don't think anyone here was trying to top, or recreate the same punch, as The Exorcist originally had, and still has upon that first viewing. We are not in direct competition with that film at all. Also, the style of filmmaking? The style of storytelling? Its so different than the style of storytelling that we had back in 1973. Or, 1974, was it? Maybe?

December of 73, I think. Its so funny, because I remember when Cotton came up on the feeds, and there was talk about the film going into production. Every time I saw that title, I seriously thought it was about an exorcism on an old plantation in the South. To this day, I still can't shake the feeling that Sally Field is supposed to be in the movie. Is that weird?

Patrick Fabian: It is weird, because at one point, Sally Field did show up on set, and we had to tell her that she'd been written out. She threw a fit. It was very, very hard for her to take. I think she is over it. I think she is okay now.

And James Garner showed up along with her, right?

Patrick Fabian: (Laughs) That is the reason. The more we were working with the title Cotton, and I would tell one of my friends about it, they were like, "Huh? What's that about? Are you playing Eli Whitney? I was like, "Ah, man. This just isn't going to work out."

In talking about the original Exorcist, most of the Exorcist sequels have failed because they forget how integral that relationship between the two priests was to that particular story. It wouldn't have existed without it. Here, we're seeing a campaign built around Reverend Cotton Marcus. This seems to go back to that one core element...

Patrick Fabian: Absolutely. You hit the nail right on the head. What we discovered in watching the movie in front of an audience is that the director knew exactly what he was building. He was building a character for you to go along on this ride with. When we see a movie called The Last Exorcism, we expect to be frightened. What this delivers in spades, which we might not expect, is to care about the exorcist himself. By laying that out, and the writing and directing that went along with that, by the time we found the scary ride part of it, we were a little more invested than we have been in other horror films. We don't go for the jugular right out of the gate.

Is the film set up as a faux-documentary? Is that the way the story is being told? I haven't seen the film myself. I have only seen the trailer, and some of the photos on the various websites.

Patrick Fabian: The premise is that I've hired a documentary team to come along with me as I blow the lid off of the stuff going on. When we say it's the last exorcism, we are referencing the fact that this is Cotton Marcus's last go. He is hanging up his cross. He is done with this. This is the last night that he is going to do it. But he wants to film it along the way.

What did that shooting style allow you to accomplish as an actor that a straight forward narrative might not have allowed you to do?

Patrick Fabian: Working like that? They were very generous about letting us go off-script. They were very generous about letting us bring our own stuff to bare. They would have us shoot thirteen hours a day. I was the lead, and we had this premise that a film crew was with me. So I had the behavior that I would have in that scene, but I was also constantly checking in. I was constantly using the lens as another character. At first, I was very self-conscious about that. Like any thing, you do it enough, and it becomes something that you don't even realize is there. You start using it as another character. I really hope that comes across in the film. It seemed to on opening night, at least.

There is a more natural and real sense to the dangers that Cotton Marcus faces in this film. There is an idea of realism to it, because of the way its being shot. What were some of the difficulties of achieving that believability when shooting in this format?

Patrick Fabian: That would be a better question for the director. He handled all of that. We, as actors, tend to be more narcissistic. Also, we're supposed to over tell, and over sell. What Daniel Stamm was able to do was show restraint. What that ended up doing was creating a certain mood and tension. We did this the old fashion way. We didn't have a budget. We didn't have any CGI to work with here. He used light, sound, and shadow to give us an idea about what is just left of the screen. What is over there that the cameraman is not going to. That is where the film gets ratcheted up. Just as we are about to reveal something. Because the cameraman is over my shoulder, he is in my face, and he is operating on his own. He captures things on his own that are away from the scene, that help push the story forward.

How tough of a shoot was this for Ashley Bell? You are quite close to her in a lot of the exorcism scenes. What sort of torturous process was she put through, especially considering that you aren't using any CGI. Were you able to help her through some of the more terrifying sequences?

Patrick Fabian: I can't say enough about how glad I am that Ashley Bell played the possessed girl. Because she is top notch, man. If she had not come delivering the goods, the whole thing would have fallen down. But she does come delivering the goods. I have to say, I'd love to go on about the fact that I am a fantastic actor. But there is no acting involved on my part. When she is doing some of this stuff, looking the way she is looking, running around, there is no acting involved. I am seriously creeped out. I don't know what to do. That translates to the film. I can't say enough about how good this girl is.

Everyone always wants to know how a set like this is affected by real evil. Did you have any otherworldly or unexplainable experiences on set that scared you or any other member of the crew?

Patrick Fabian: So far, I feel "kind" of healthy. But there is this mole on the back of my neck that I have to take a look at. We were down in New Orleans, which is hot. We were shooting in the lower 9th ward, which had not recovered at all from Hurricane Katrina. There was devastation and stink. We were down on a farm that was a buttress between the Mississippi River and the Delta. There were mosquitoes and swamp rats. Alligators, crickets, and frogs. It was so hot. We were working in this old barn with instruments of destruction, and dirty hay. All those things brought this certain feeling into the movie. The house certainly felt haunted. The house? The woman who owned the house showed up with her husband one day. She must have been about ninety-five. She was dressed in her finest. Her husband was dressed in a linen suit. He looked as though he fell straight out of a Tennessee Williams play. She was born in that house. Along with eleven of her siblings. She was telling us that she learned to cry there. She learned to ride her bike out there. There was a real sense of history in that house. The floorboards had only been replaced one time since the Civil War. She talked about the flood. The water was up eight feet. You could literally feel ghosts running around the place. In terms of anything happening to the crew? I know that there wasn't anything too untried, other than them having to work some really long hours. Maybe a couple of cuts here and there.

I didn't realize the film was shot in New Orleans. Even when you're not on a film set, you can literally feel ghosts all around you. It's a haunted place. That certainly had to play into this atmosphere we're going to see captured on film.

Patrick Fabian: Its funny. Having been in this experience, we were shooting for thirteen or fourteen hours, six or seven days a week. In my mind, the film is supposed to be forty-eight hours long. Now, when I see it cut down to ninety minutes, its so great to see all of those individual spots again. I'm like, "oh, yeah! I forgot about that. Look at that creepy place. We were there!" Daniel really got that spooky feeling to come across in the film.

While you were shooting, did you have time to track down or join any real exorcisms that may have been happening down there in New Orleans? Or did you look to any specific material in regards to creating Reverend Cotton Marcus and his methods of demon eradication?

Patrick Fabian: Its interesting. I got to go to a couple of Pentecostal churches and I got to go to a lot of Baptist churches while I was in Los Angeles. Which I was surprised there were even so many here. But then when I went to New Orleans, I also went to a lot of Baptist and Pentecostal churches. I got a real feel for it. Then there is the city itself. The French Quarter is so loaded with history. Voodoo and what not. In the movie, we went ahead and stole liberally from across the religious spectrum. I would carry around things that I found in the French Quarter and throughout the city in my pocket. I kept this stuff within my wardrobe, and whatnot. Also, when I was actually preaching, there was three days when we were shooting in the church. The background artists, the locals who filled out the congregation, were so invaluable to me. I said to them, "Look, I am not a real preacher. I am not a very religious guy to begin with. So if I am off base, help me out." These woman didn't need a second of encouragement. I would get going, I'd be rolling along, doing my sermon. They would be flop-sweating, and shaking, falling, and screaming, "Jesus, give me the blood!" It was a real workout. There was a real sense of authenticity. When I was doing it, they would let me know when I was doing good. If I thought I was going a little too big, or I was falling off, they would encourage me. They would tell me to keep going, "No, no, no! You have the spirit! You have the spirit!" There is nothing like a five hundred pound black woman fainting for you because you are preaching the word of God. You know what I am saying?

That sounds like a truly awesome experience. Are we going to see a lot of that in the actual finished film?

Patrick Fabian: You will see some of the preaching. But, again, its funny. Typical actor, you think its all about you. But in the end, the director knows what he wants. Of course the film is not three hours of me standing up on the pulpit preaching. It is shorter than that. I had to smile to myself when that portion of the film came up. Of course, I am thinking, "Oh, I wonder what five minutes of genius they are going to show now?" And of course, they don't show five minutes. There is one second of me in there.

We have to see some of that stuff on the DVD. That sounds pretty cool, those scenes.

Patrick Fabian: Well, you know what? Call Daniel and Lionsgate, and let them know that should happen. You can't get too much of me. That's the way I look at it. (Laughs)

Let's talk about getting too much of you! I am a huge Big Love Fan. And I actually enjoyed last season quite a bit, even though there was a bit of a hubbub dusted up about the overall quality of Season Four. What were your opinions on last year's Big Love? And do you know what this coming year might entail for Ted?

Patrick Fabian: I love Big Love. Bill Paxton is someone I can't say enough good things about, and he sets the tone for the whole show. What I love about it is that, week to week, you don't know what is going to go on. They are pretty tight fisted with their storylines. They don't ever sit down with us and lay down character lines. They may do it with Bill and Jeanne Tripplehorn. But they certainly don't do it withy me. I am pretty much in the dark, and will only find out what is going on next season the closer we get to shooting. Which won't be until September. For me, I am with you in that I liked last season. I liked the storylines, and I like the way it is going. I like the way its accelerating. Its not unlike 24. When you realize its going to end, you are screaming, "No! No! What else is going on?" Its like anything else on television, though. We got through three seasons. And it was very successful. It garnered critical acclaim. When it finally reaches the fourth season, some people are going to say, "That girl isn't so pretty after all." Just to be contrary. I think season four was still riding high, and I am very much looking forward to season five. I think its going to be better than ever. Working on Big Love, I would forget what some of the other storylines were about. By the time I finally would watch the episodes in January, I was like, "What is going on with this crazy lady? Oh, right, she is doing that!" For me, I get to be in it, but I also get to experience it as a first timer, too. Its easily one of the best work experiences I have ever had.

Next week is Comic-Con. Do you have any plans of showing up in character as The Reverend Cotton Marcus?

Patrick Fabian: You know what? I really can't say yes or no to that at this point. I guess for anyone who may be reading this, all I can say is, "Show up to San Diego and maybe you'll find out."