Patrick Fabian discusses surprise hit thriller, The Last Exorcism
One of this summer's unexpected surprise hits was Daniel Stamm's scary thriller The Last Exorcism, which is set for Blu-ray and DVD release this Tuesday, January 4th. Produced by Eli Roth, this mockumentary of sorts follows Reverend Cotton Marcus on a journey to expose exorcism as a fraud. But deep in rural Louisiana, he soon discovers that some demons are very real. Actor Patrick Fabian brings Cotton to life with an undeniable energy that gives the film some much needed gravitas. To help celebrate this upcoming release, we caught up with Patrick for a quick discussion about the movie and its home video release.
Here is our conversation:
Watching The Last Exorcism a second time, and paying close attention to the fact that Reverend Cotton Marcus is a novice filmmaker, this certainly plays as a hoax conducted by Cotton himself. That the movie we are watching is actually a creation of this character...
Patrick Fabian: I have had a bunch of people, upon second viewing, see it as that. I think that possibility definitely exists. His business is bad, and nothing helps a business like re-branding. If you, yourself, start saying, "Ah, this is all BS!" Then you set out to prove that it is fake; and show it as real, people will believe. Maybe business was slow. By making this movie, and letting it be found, Cotton is ready to fight another day, as it were.
That aspect adds a whole new aspect to rewatching it.
Patrick Fabian: Yes. You'll start to see some double entendres. He is planting all of these things. Setting them up for later.
The kids in this movie are so believable. When we first see Caleb, you almost feel as though this is someone the filmmakers happened upon by accident while filming. Of course, as the story continues, you understand that he is just an actor...How did you manage to find such talented young performers?
Patrick Fabian: Caleb Landry Jones? He had previously had a part in No Country for Old Men. He got this. And now he is onto bigger, greater things. He is doing X-Men: First Class. And I saw that he got cast in something else. He just has a real talent, Caleb does. At that point in the film, when he does come up to the van, everything is relaxed. We are just hanging out. We're just going for a drive. Then we run into him. It's a real signpost to the audience, letting them know that we are now out of our element. That we don't belong here. He is so good at conveying that. With the looks. Then he throws that mud at the van. It really brings the audience back to reality.
Right before that scene happens, we also see the alligator out Cotton's window. There are other moments like that; they don't seem staged. Was this a production that worked certain happy accidents to its advantage?
Patrick Fabian: We got a lot of those happy accidents, and yeah, the alligator was one of those. You always take advantage of that stuff. The first day of shooting, we went out back. There was an eight-foot alligator sitting there. We thought, "What do we do with that?" God bless Daniel Stamm, our director. He told us, "Get in the van! Let's shoot it!"
Its startling to see that imagery, because it adds a realness; an authenticity that this type of faux-documentary needs to have to be believable.
Patrick Fabian: Absolutely. We were shooting in the Lower 9th Ward, outside of New Orleans. It is still devastated from Hurricane Katrina. That backdrop is authentic. And that comes across in the film.
In that area alone, removed from Katrina, there is already an awful lot of history. It's an eerie place, filled with palpable ghosts. That has to also bring something to the film that you wouldn't be able to capture anywhere else on the planet...
Patrick Fabian: Oh, yeah. The house we were shooting at was from the 1860s. It had been there for a long time. It saw a lot of people come and go. A lot of different families had grown up there. There is a real topical sense of its history, and a lot of ghosts there. Sure.
How did you guys further push that, to utilize what was there and capture that strong essence on film?
Patrick Fabian: This was my first time in New Orleans. For me, it was all wonder. The way it felt. I was wearing a linen suit. We didn't do make-up and hair. We didn't do our laundry a whole lot, because we definitely wanted to keep this authentic. Wearing that suit day in and day out, you start to get a little itchy. You start to get sweaty. You are clammy all over. It's all over you. Then you have these great actors, like Caleb Landry Jones and Ashley Bell. Everyone played their part very well. It was pretty easy to lock into that particular feeling.
Going back to the first ten minutes of the film, Cotton is set up as a nice guy. Even though he is certainly a shady individual, we can't help but genuinely like him from the start. How important was it for you as an actor, and the character alone, to set Cotton up in those important first few minutes? If we didn't have that, we might feel different about embarking on this journey with him.
Patrick Fabian: There is certainly a responsibility there. If you think he is a dork or a dick, you don't want to follow him. Because he starts off by saying, "Look, this is wrong, I get it..." Because he is inviting the audience along to witness his confession, to witness his act of contrition, you get to say to yourself, "Okay, he has done some bad. But he is really trying to make amends for it." There isn't anyone, especially in an American audience, who doesn't like to see someone make up for the wrongs they've done. I think that helps. Allowing the audience to see behind the curtain, to see that this is how Cotton is doing things, I think everyone has a natural instinct for that as well. People want to know how this works. Being invited behind the curtain appeals to a lot of people.
Its interesting to consider that no matter the person that gets up on this pulpit and starts preaching, they undeniably have some "actor" in them. They are performing, and they are trying to be entertaining. No matter what denomination they are. What are your thoughts on the differences between being an actor and being a preacher. Because its almost one in the same...
Patrick Fabian: Oh, definitely. There is a very thin line between being an actor and being a preacher. In fact, the preacher, who was also an exorcist, who was on set with me...We were doing some preaching. And he gave me a compliment, "You have a little preacher in you son." And I said back to him, "Well, you have a little bit of actor in you, son!" When doing research, you see those charlatan preachers who end up becoming all-too human. They have the ability to stand up on stage and say, "Follow me. I know what I am talking about. By the way, I'd like twenty bucks." That takes a lot of hubris. I think somewhere along the line, you are connected to God. But once you start driving your limousine into town, and you start accepting all of this cash, you lose sight of that along the way.
When this film opened in theaters, there was talk that it might become a weekly TV series. Has that idea progressed beyond just talk?
Patrick Fabian: It was mostly talk. It hasn't come to fruition through me. I know that Eli Roth has a bunch of projects That he is working on. That may have been something he was floating in the moment. But he is a very busy man. He is probably distracted by something else at the moment.
Is that something that interests you? Would you like to take this character and explore further aspects of him?
Patrick Fabian: Oh, absolutely. At one point we were talking about the idea of...Remember Kolchak: The Night Stalker? We were thinking about doing something along the lines of that. Set up where there is a certain base of people he works out of. Every week, he goes out and experiences something that tests his fate. He also explores a cranny of how supposedly good (i.e. religion) deals with evil on a weekly basis.
What sort of insight did having a real exorcist on set bring to the film?
Patrick Fabian: The thing he made me realize the most is that I didn't have to play at anything. Because he was very causal about it. If Cotton's father had of been a plumber, Cotton would have been a plumber. But his father was a preacher. And Cotton got into the family business. On set, this guy would talk very matter-of-fact about performing exorcisms. Casting out demons. It was done in a way; his conviction was as such, you could not assail it. Yet, having not witnessed it, there was a healthy does of skepticism on my part. I thought, "Is he just acting like Cotton?" He was telling me these stories, yet there were no photographs. He was there, I wasn't. It was a 'he said, she said' thing. But when someone's truth is someone's truth, who's to say it didn't happen.
Since making the movie, do you have more of a belief in some of these things? Or are you still skeptical at this point?
Patrick Fabian: I think everyone has a healthy dose of skepticism. But having been there, and having talked to him...I have done my research, and I think there are people who have been possessed. And I think there are people who have been exorcised. Sometimes by the rights of the Catholic Church, also by different ways as well. I think Cotton is an amalgamation of a lot of different religions. He is drawing from a toolbox. Literally.
What about the snake charming aspect of it all? Was that something you were totally against doing?
Patrick Fabian: We'd discussed that, but we didn't get into it at all. Snakes cost money. We tried to avoid that. But I would have done whatever needed to be done. The DVD release on January 4th has some behind-the-scenes stuff, and some making of stuff. I don't know, because I haven't had a chance to watch it all yet, but I think there are some interviews with Eli Roth and the director about options they had on the table at one point, but were later discarded. Like snakes, possibly.
I just watched a documentary on Snake Charmers living along the Appalachian Trail. Those guys get bit all the time. I can image that would be a big concern. That even the people who handle the snakes on a daily basis can't keep from getting injured by them.
Patrick Fabian: I don't think my insurance would be very excited about that whole prospect. Neither would the film's insurance. Of course that is a huge consideration when you are dealing with something like snake charming.
Yeah, I don't think the director is going to be going, "Ah, you got bit by a quite poisonous snake today? Well, that's too bad for you!" What have you found the general feedback on The Last Exorcism to be since it played in theaters? The horror fans, I know, all truly loved it.
Patrick Fabian: I will tell you what is funny. People who are religious like the film. Because it reinforces the bible. It reinforces their interpretation of the world. I think people are always interested in Good vs. Evil. They like watching that kind of thing. The overwhelming reaction has been very positive. There is a lot of surprise. When you call something The Last Exorcism, people already come with their preconceived expectations of what they are going to see. The best thing about the film is that it doesn't deliver something obvious. It's a new telling of the text. It is also told with a lot more humor than they might be expecting to see. I don't think they are expecting that, but they like that aspect when they come out of it.
You guys also found a way to keep this cinema-verite style, this found footage style of filmmaking, fresh. It seems like a lot of people are utilizing this genre, especially in terms of horror, right now. How did you find ways to keep it new and unique?
Patrick Fabian: Any new story telling device is great. And with everyone's IPhones and hand-held devices, anyone can make a film nowadays. What I like about what Zoltan Honti, our cinematographer, did was that...The conceit is that we do have a camera crew there. So we don't have to pretend like we are not being seen. What I loved was his restraint in using the camera. He wasn't running around, flipping it up and down like he was some kid on Jolt Cola. He knew his job was to allow the audience to feel like they were there. I think he does that very affectively. I think it is a device that can be used really well. But it's tricky. You need to know what you are doing. Otherwise, you take people out of the story and into the story of the cameraman. Which is not the story we are telling.
I've had other actors argue this with me, but its seems that shooting in this style would greatly affect how you approach the camera itself as an actor...
Patrick Fabian: We grew up with horror films where we had to see the actor react with...Horror! "Oh, my gosh!" They telegraphed it. They had to show us they were scared. Now the film has a little bit more realism. Especially with all of this information to be had. Everything can be exposed so quickly. It needs to be real. People can sniff out what is false. The audience can see the difference between real and not real so much sooner. They appreciate the realism, and that all comes down to casting. It's still about creating an illusion. The actors have to learn how to sell themselves, and not overact. But that is always the case. Casting in this case really helped sell the film, without a doubt.
It seems to me that you would have to think about what is going on around you in a totally different manner. Especially when it comes to hitting your mark. You know the camera is there, but it seems less likely that you'd need to hit your mark with the precision required by an expensive dolly shot. It seems like this type of filmmaking would be more freeing...
Patrick Fabian: A lot of the action was fast and loose. And a lot of it was Zoltan Honti following the crazy actor as he ran around the house. Before we started shooting any scene, the director would talk us through it. He would tell us what area to be in when certain dialogue was happening, and were we needed to be by the end of the scene. We would set up the camera and go with that. We would capture what we could.
That has to help with the aspect of bringing more realism into a performance of this kind.
Patrick Fabian: It helps push you. It helped what I am working on right now. I am doing a half hour sitcom for Country Music Television called Working Class, starring Melissa Peterman, Edward Asner, and myself. That premieres January 28th on CMT. And that is a traditional four-camera sitcom kind of thing. What is funny is, what informed me from The Last Exorcism to this is that it still comes out of a base of realism. You can't 'act'. You have to come at it in a way that is real and truthful. There are just different levels of making your stance more heightened when you are working on a sitcom as opposed to a single camera film. Like with any project, you have to see what the requirements of that story are.
Daniel Stamm's The Last Exorcism is available on Blu-ray and DVD starting Tuesday, January 4th.