The horror thriller The Last Exorcism opened this past August at #1, earning nearly $25 million for its opening weekend, and became leading man Patrick Fabian’s highest-profile performance to date. As the charismatic Reverend Cotton Marcus, the actor took audiences on a chilling journey, as he traveled to perform what he expected would be a routine exorcism on a disturbed religious fanatic, but instead encountered a true evil, far beyond his wildest imagination. Available on DVD/Blu-ray on January 4th, viewers will also get to see bonus material that includes a featurette of the making of the film (which also includes some audition footage of the film’s lead actors), real stories of exorcism, and commentaries from the actors, director Daniel Stamm and producers Eli Roth, Eric Newman and Tom Bliss.
In a recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Patrick Fabian talked about the 10-minute sermon he had to improvise for his audition, how much he enjoyed recording his first DVD commentary, how happy he is with the success of the film and the debate it sparked over its ending, and his own theories for how Cotton Marcus might have fared in the end. He also talked about his recent Teen Nick television series, Gigantic, opposite Helen Slater, his upcoming CMT sitcom Working Class, premiering on January 28th, and how blessed he feels to have been a working actor for the last 20 years. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: How did you originally get involved with The Last Exorcism? Was it something that you auditioned for?
PATRICK FABIAN: It came up because of Lauren Bass Casting. I’ve seen her a number of times, over the years. She’s had me in for some films and whatnot, and she brought me in. The audition was sort of odd, in that there was no script available at first. They just wanted people to come in and improv, and she knew that I was fairly strong and quick on my feet. So, I went in and did an audition, and then they had me for a callback. At the callback, they asked me to go ahead and come up with a 10-minute sermon, and Daniel Stamm, the director, was there. So, I went in and gave them my best 10-minute sermon and he directed me around.
As a matter of fact, the Blu-ray disc that’s being released on January 4th has our auditions, both mine and Ashley Bell. I’m very curious because I’m sure my memory of it is much more genius than the actual thing. That was a crazy process. Then, I got the job, I read the script, we went to New Orleans and we shot the movie. It was a bass ackwards way of working, but it was really nice.
I’m sure that making up a 10-minute sermon for an audition was certainly something you’d never had to do before and will most likely never have to do again.
FABIAN: Somebody said, “That’s kind of crazy,” but I’ve been around long enough and, as you can see from my resume, I’ve worked in a variety of different things and, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, you just have to be prepared to go with the flow on it. It was like, “What are the job requirements for this?” “Well, today, you’ve gotta show up and make up some stuff.” I was like, “All right, I can do that.” I think 20 years of experience really came to fruition and enabled me to be able to play Cotton Marcus.
Is there anything else on the special features for the DVD/Blu-ray that you think fans will be excited to see?
FABIAN: I think the commentary is really cool. It was the first time I actually got to do that, where I got to watch myself in the film and do the commentary. It was me, Daniel Stamm, the director, Ashley Bell and Louis Herthum. We all sat there, and it was the first time that all four of us had watched the film together since the L.A. premiere. We sat there and meandered and talked about it, and as we were talking about it, I was trying to think, “What would a fan be interested in?” I think other actors are interested in the process of what you were thinking in a scene, but fans are a little more interested in things like, “Oh, this isn’t a spooky at all because there’s a guy off camera left, right here, that’s doing something.” I remember, at one point, Ashley and I were both like, “Oh, we really like this scene. This is really good.”
It will be curious to watch the commentary that Eli Roth and Eric Newman did, who are the producers, and to see if it perhaps matches up. I imagine that Ashley and I are like, “Oh, this is great,” and then Eli’s version is like, “Yeah, I don’t like this part so much.” The compare and contrast will be great for any fan. I’m curious to see exactly what I was saying during the commentary. As you can tell from the film, the gift for gab is definitely at my doorstep.
Since this is the type of film that could have gone horribly bad, in the hands of the wrong person, when you first read the script, before you knew how they were going to approach the film, were you hesitant at all about doing the role?
FABIAN: Right, let’s face it, it’s a horror film and we were going to New Orleans to do it in documentary style with an unproven director. All those things could have easily been a disaster. But, I was game for it. What’s the worst thing that could happen? You make a horror film that’s not very good. You’d be joining a long line, in a long video aisle, of stuff that doesn’t work. I really was impressed with Daniel Stamm, and I loved Eli Roth’s stuff. It was the sort of thing where, as an actor, you just take a leap of faith and say, “Let’s go.”
And, once we got into it, I had to figure out how to work with Daniel, who had a different way of working. We did multiple takes. We did 20 or 30 passes at things. I come from the land where, at some point, somebody with money is saying, “Move on. You’ve got it or you don’t.” But, Daniel was able to delve into that. I think he got the performances from everybody that he got, by doing all those takes. But, that’s a trust factor. I didn’t see any dailies or anything. I never really work like that. I was unsure. It was a real leap of faith to put my trust in Daniel and be like, “You’re going to cover me the right way.” And, he did. I couldn’t be more pleased with the result.
Was it challenging to get to a point where you could just let go and not act, in doing all of those takes?
FABIAN: I think that’s exactly what the point of his process was. As much as I’d like to pretend that I’m not performing, I think any actor sometimes has themselves outside of themselves and is trying to direct themselves and control what you’re seeing and thinking. But, what Daniel really needed from the film, in order for it to work, was a real sense of realism and naturalism. By doing multiple takes, he helped break me down to myself, which was great.
Were you surprised by the level of success this film had and how strongly people responded to it?
FABIAN: Initially, when we were in New Orleans, we were joking about whether or not we were going to get our pictures on the cover of the DVD, when it got shipped directly to Blockbuster. It was a horror film, so you just don’t know. And then, as we were making it, we realized that it was more than a horror film. It was more of a smart thriller with a horrific ending. In the hands of Daniel, and with the guidance of Eli Roth, they ended up crafting something that was really good. I’m not surprised people were talking about it. The first time I saw the final result, at the L.A. Film Festival, I was really blown away by how smart a film it was. I didn’t really appreciate what we had been doing until I saw the final, edited down version.
Were you frustrated at all that audiences never got to know what becomes of your character, or were you happy with the way the film leaves it ambiguous?
FABIAN: I’m glad I’m not the camera man, that’s for sure. At least there’s a chance for The Last Exorcism in Paris to be made. I love the ambiguity. I know the ending frustrated a lot of people, but I think ultimately had people talking about it. They were talking about what happened and what exactly was going on, and I think that’s good. It was the same thing with Inception this summer, and the whole ending of that. Did the top fall? Did the top keep spinning? What was going on? That didn’t ruin the film for me. That gave me a talking point, whatever you decide, and that still worked for me. I think The Last Exorcism worked the same way. Is Cotton Marcus alive? You don’t see him get killed, and that certainly leaves the door open for other possibilities and different interpretations of the ending, which I always find interesting.
Did you think about how he might have ended up, if he had survived?
FABIAN: You say if he had survived. You’re assuming that he’s dead. All we know is that he goes walking toward the demon. That’s the last you see of him. The way I look at it is, “Does he fight the demon successfully? Does he surface somewhere else, in a backwoods country, preaching again, this time with a fervor unlike he had before? Does he re-find his faith? Does it galvanize him? Does he have this footage?” It’s open to interpretation. It could go either way. He could have also just walked into the fire and died. That could have happened as well, but it’s so not interesting, going that way.
In the research that you did for this, was there anything that was particularly helpful in defining this character for you?
FABIAN: Through the process of working on it, I got more and more comfortable with it, especially when we were preaching in the church. We spent about three days preaching, and that was early on. We got to shoot the film in sequence, which was fantastic and a real luxury. Consequently, as the viewer watches the film journey itself down into the backwoods, we got to do exactly the same thing. But, when we were preaching, that was about three days of me just standing up there and going, again and again and again, doing sermons and making up stuff. We had a whole congregation of background artists who were good church-going folk, and they got everybody revved up. It was really fun.
It was that point where I really got a good feel for what was going on. We had an actual priest, who was an exorcist, down there working with us. I was telling the people, “I’m an actor. I’m not a man of God. I’m going to get scripture wrong, but if you help me out, we’ll make it all look real.” The first time I asked for an, “Amen!,” and everybody went, “Amen!,” and then said, “Can I get a Jesus Christ?,” and everybody went, “Jesus Christ!,” it was fantastic. There was a real power in that. The best compliment I got was from the preacher himself, who said, “You know, you’ve got a little preacher in you as well.” I said back to him, “Well, you’ve got a little actor in you as well,” ‘cause a good actor and a good preacher probably share similar qualities.
Actors and preachers are people who stand up on stage and have no problem with that. They have no problem talking and they have no problem saying, “Listen to me. Follow me. I know what I’m talking about.” They also have no problem relieving you of 20 bucks, along the way. There are definitely good similarities with it. Had this role come about two years into my career, who knows what it would have been, but 20 years into it prepared me rather well for it.
Since you normally have to pretend that the camera isn’t there, was it challenging to have to establish a relationship with the camera for this film?
FABIAN: That was probably the oddest thing. You’re trained to pretend the camera isn’t there, and this was the exact opposite. Daniel was like, “The camera is your scene partner,” and it really was. Zoltan Honti, who was the cinematographer, and Iris Bahr, who actually played the documentary filmmaker, are only seen briefly in the film, but their presence was really felt because they really were my primary scene partners, especially for that first 20 or 30 minutes. In working on it, at first it was kind of odd, and then it really wasn’t. You get used to it. We didn’t have a giant crew. The conceit was that it was a small crew, and so therefore, it really was. There was a sound guy, the camera man and Iris. I got to travel with them and we became this triptych that was making the trip, all the way through the movie.
In working this way, playing this kind of character and doing as many takes as you did, did it ever feel like you were taking this character home with you, more than other characters that you’ve played?
FABIAN: Because we were so immersed in it and it was a pretty intense shoot with 12- to 16-hour long days and six-day weeks, and I was doing a majority of the talking, yeah, it did feel like I brought it home more often. As we shot the film, I got more worn down. By the time we got to the exorcism scene, there was definitely a physical and mental weariness that comes through in the film, without a doubt.
How impressed were you, working with Ashley Bell?
FABIAN: I can’t say enough about her. She was so committed, on both ends of what she was playing – the innocent sweet Nell and also the possessed girl. It’s funny because she’s newer. She’s a younger actress at the beginning of her career, and I’m more mid-stage, but between the two of us, it was a great learning experience. She was so committed, physically. We became friends and we were working closely with one another, but there was still that sense that I got to know her as I got to know Nell, in the film, because our scenes were in sequence. It was very, very intense work, and in the hands of somebody less committed and less talented, it would have really fallen apart. I can be as good as I want to be, but if the possessed girl in the exorcist film isn’t believable or any good, you don’t have a film. Everything collapses around that. Instead, she’s so spot-on that it made my job easy. I got to put on a suit and go in there and actually just react to her. She was totally committed.
FABIAN: I’m a journeyman actor. The very next job is the job I like to do. It was with some friends of mine, and it was fun to play a movie star dad. Grace Gummer played my daughter, and she’s actually Meryl Streep’s daughter, in real life. It was fun to go to work and drive my Jeep Patriot, and then I’d get a Maserati for my prop car and a giant house. The kitchen island that everybody always wishes they have, that only seems to exist in the movies, is something I got to have, five days a week, from eight to five. That was really fun. And, I had a really good time working with Helen Slater, who played my wife. She’s from Supergirl fame, among other things.
Since then, you did the first scripted comedy series for CMT, right?
FABIAN: Yeah, it’s 12 episodes of a new show, called Working Class, which is a sitcom with Melissa Peterman and Ed Asner. That premieres January 28th on Country Music Television. You couldn’t get 180 degrees more opposite from playing an exorcist in a horror film. The DVD for The Last Exorcism is coming out on January 4th, and then immediately three weeks later, I’m on a sitcom on CMT. That just goes to show you how crazy and varied an actor’s career can be, and I was equally at home and loved doing both. If they called up to do The Last Exorcism Part 2 next week, I’d sign up in a second.
Who are you playing on Working Class?
FABIAN: I play a Richie Rich guy. Martin Moll plays my father, and he owns a chain of supermarkets in a Chicago area, and I’m his son. I’m dressed in Armani with a sport jacket, and I own a grocery store. Melissa Peterman, who the show revolves around, is a twice-divorced, working class girl, trying to make her way in the world. I’m from the rich side of the tracks and she’s from the poor side of the tracks, and there’s definitely some interest and spark between us.
FABIAN: I’m not the clown on the show, but they write really good stuff for me. The fact of the matter is that Melissa Peterman is sort of the Lucille Ball of the show, so she gets the brunt of it, and Ed Asner is incredibly funny as the butcher. I get my share, but my role in it is a little more of the straight man, at this moment.
Working in a business that is as unpredictable as the business of acting, do you feel fortunate to have had a career for as long as you’ve had, with as many varied projects and characters that you’ve gotten the chance to do?
FABIAN: I’ve had such a great time. At some point in my career, I was thinking, “Why am I not a star? Why am I not Brad Pitt? Why am I not Tom Cruise?” Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise, and Brad Pitt is Brad Pitt. I think everybody goes through that. When the reviews came out for the movie, I found myself struck by how I was being referred to as, “Veteran TV support player.” I was like, “Oh, right, that’s exactly what I am.” When I looked at my own resume, I realized that I had done all these different things. I’m so blessed to have been a working actor. If they still would like to make me a superstar, I’m available, but so far, being a working actor has been great. It’s taken me everywhere. It’s taken me to New Zealand, Europe, Canada and all over the United States, with a variety of work. It is a hard business, and I’m very, very fortunate. That’s why when jobs come up, like a low-budget film like The Last Exorcism, you say yes and you see where it takes you, and look where it’s taken me. It’s taken me to this great, crazy place, which has been a fabulous ride.
With all the roles you have done, is there anything that you still haven’t gotten the chance to do yet, that you’re hoping to be able to do?
FABIAN: I’ve got my eye on playing the President. That’s what I’m looking at, at some point. I would love to play the President. Give me the suit, give me the power, give me the oval office. That would be really fun. And this is a boyhood dream, but I’ve always wanted to play the sheriff. I’ve wanted to be in a Western, in the hat, playing the sheriff. The great blessing of being a man in the business is that those roles are open to me. For me, there’s still plenty of ground to be covered, as I get older. It’s worked out great so far. I take it one job at a time. I’ll just keep my eyes toward the next job and see where it takes me.
THE LAST EXORCISM is released on DVD/Blu-ray on January 4, 2011