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You've probably never heard of Jennifer Carpenter. But starting this weekend, people everywhere will be talking about her.

Carpenter, 26, plays the title character in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, opening September 9. Her performance as a demon-possessed young woman is so convincing, one of the film's producers said that people on the set nervously joked that perhaps she was really possessed. Director and co-writer Scott Derrickson said Carpenter's act was so realistic that "she was, in and of herself, entirely terrifying."

The film is based on the true story of Anneliese Michel, a German college student who died during an exorcism in 1976. Her parents and the priests who carried out the exorcism were later convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six months in prison.

Emily Rose, likewise, begins with the same premise: A young woman dies during the course of an exorcism, and an ensuing court case explores the fundamental question: Was she truly demon-possessed, or merely manifesting mental illness and/or epileptic-like episodes? The movie flashes back and forth between courtroom scenes, the tormented life of Emily (played by Carpenter), and scenes of the exorcism.

At the trial, the defense (Laura Linney) tries to convince the jury that Emily really was possessed, while the prosecution (Campbell Scott) argues that there's a scientific explanation—rather than a spiritual one—for Emily's disturbing behaviors. In the end, it's essentially up to the audience to decide who's right—and who's wrong.

We recently caught up with Carpenter on a day when she was promoting the film.

Why did you want to play this role?

Jennifer Carpenter: I wanted to play this role because I thought the story was so incredible and so fascinating ...

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