Season 2 of the Fox horror series The Exorcist finds Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera) and the newly collarless Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels) taking their hunt for evil on the road. When Andrew Kim (John Cho), a widow and former child psychologist who runs a group home for at-risk foster children realizes that one of the children under his care is being targeted by a powerful and scary force, it will bring the two priests to them, in an attempt to keep evil from winning.
To promote the new season, executive producers Jeremy Slater (who also created the series) and Sean Crouch sat down with Collider to talk about how Season 1 influenced Season 2, the high expectation after the success of the first season, why they wanted John Cho to join the series, why the possession of a child makes things extra scary, how the dynamic will shift once the priests show up to help this family, and whether they ever feel bad about what they put their actors through. Slater also talked about the pilot he wrote for The Umbrella Academy (which will be a live-action series for Netflix), having to step down from the series, and why he’s excited to see how it all turns out.
Collider: What were you most proud of with Season 1, and what did making the first season teach you, that you could carry over to Season 2?
JEREMY SLATER: The thing that I was most proud of was the fact that I felt like we delivered a cable prestige show on a network, which is what we originally set out to do. We said that we didn’t want to compromise storytelling or character work, in the service of just making a weekly procedural. I think this show could turn into sexy priests fighting monsters of the week, very easily. We had a lot of great atmosphere, slow burn horror, and some really strong character work in Season 1. Those were the important things to me to carry over. And for Season 2, we wanted to improve on some of the areas where we weren’t as happy, such as pacing and propulsion, and really hitting the ground running and not making people wait until half of the season is over before you get to the good stuff. That’s why our first two episodes are our James Bond teaser, where we’re coming in on the possession of Cindy, this waitress in Montana. That will be wrapped up by the end of Episode 2, and then we will send the priests towards Seattle, which is where our foster family is located. Slowly, their two stories will come into orbit of each other.
People really didn’t know what was coming with Season 1. Is it more challenging, now that you have a certain level of expectation from your viewers?
SEAN CROUCH: I love that we have high expectations because, in the room now, we have to constantly be better. The fans are lifting us up, so we have to give them something, hopefully, that’s what they liked last season, but that’s also different enough that it’s something they want to watch. Hopefully, we’re escalating, every season. I like the pressure.
SLATER: Personally, I feel the pressure is easier this season because last season we had to prove our existence. There were a lot of skeptical horror fans, sitting back with their arms crossed, and I’m sure I would have been one of them, if I hadn’t been involved with this. We really had to prove that we weren’t just a quick and easy cash grab, and that we weren’t just taking someone else’s IP and grafting it onto a cynical story. I felt like, by the end of the first season, we had proven our credentials. We proved that, at the very least, we’re better than The Exorcist prequels and we’re better than The Exorcist II. Quality wise, are we as good as the original film? No. Nothing is that good. But I felt like we had proven that we belonged to exist in that universe. This season, it’s less about having to prove a seat at the table, and more about identifying what fans like and not disappointing people. There’s always going to be pressure, just because you want your fans to like what you’re doing and be happy that they gave you 10 hours of your life, but I don’t feel like the deck is stacked against us, the way it was last year.
Did proving your worth and having success with the first season help you get John Cho for Season 2?
CROUCH: Yes, 100%. We have the best cast on TV, and it’s because of what they did last year on the show that people want to do this. That’s how we got John. He wanted to do the show.
SLATER: If you look at how we treated Geena Davis and Alan Ruck, and some of the actors last year, as an actor, you can say that this show isn’t just about dousing you in blood and gore and having monsters fly at your head. It’s a character study, and we’re gonna do some deep character dives this year and really delve into the emotional meat of what makes these people tick. If I was an actor, I know that would be appealing to me. We try to tell the stories that we want to see, and luckily we have amazing actors that can pull that off ‘cause that’s not always the case in television.
CROUCH: We could give Ben [Daniels] and Alfonso [Herrera] the back of a cereal box, and they could knock it out of the park and make it a very interesting scene. I would watch that scene.
What was it about John Cho, specifically, that made you want him for this character?
CROUCH: I’m a father of three, and in crafting this story, we wanted to create a story about a father and what a father would do, if one of your five children is possessed. Do you protect the child, or do you protect the other children? What would you do? John has that softness for what I think a modern American father is now. I think 95% are SNAGs, or sensitive New Age guys. That’s the power and intensity that he brings, which to me is what true masculine power is. I really feel like this is a father who will protect his family, no matter what. He doesn’t have to be an asshole about it. He can actually be a really sensitive guy. That, to me, is masculine power, and John has masculine power in spades.
SLATER: Part of the fun of the job is you look for people you’ve always loved, but that you’ve always wanted to see more of, versus the people who you’re sick of because they’ve been on your TV screen for the last 20 years. I think John really hits that sweet spot of being an actor that everyone loves and respects, but he’s always someone who comes in and does a character here or a small arc there, and he always leaves you wanting more. It’s never quite enough. So, the idea of centering a season around him and really giving him that material and giving the audience a chance to fall in love is much more appealing than plucking someone who’s been on your TV for the last decade. There’s more of a discovery with someone like John.
CROUCH: And he’s knocked him out of the park. He’s really fantastic.
What is it about the possession of a child that makes it extra terrifying?
CROUCH: From my point of view, I would rather take a bullet than my kids take a bullet. To me, it’s the scariest thing I could think of. One of my kids being possessed, or one of my kids in danger, and there’s a demon and I can’t do anything about it, that’s the scariest thing in the world.
SLATER: What makes possession stories powerful is that they’re usually a corruption of the innocent, and children are innocent, to some degree. They’re helpless and they can’t defend themselves in a way that an adult character can. It’s a good dramatic shorthand. Putting a kid in danger is always going to tug at your heartstrings a little bit more than putting a grown-ass adult in danger. That’s one of the reasons we start with the grown-ass adult, with Cindy. That way, it doesn’t step on the creep factor of the kid later.