Lastly, it was a really hard movie to make. There was a lot of pressure from studio, the New York weather was brutal, and we were doing night shoots in sweltering heat. There was a grueling quality to the shooting. And the ending scene was emotionally demanding.
This was certainly the hardest movie on me personally in terms of how much it drained me. The cast became a support system to one another. We've become close. When we're all in town, we go out and get a meal, and it won't be about anything professionally.
Eric Bana and Olivia Munn both talked quite a bit about an NYPD police tape they've seen which disturbed their sleep for several days. I know you've said you're going for realism with this film. Can you confirm that the tape is as shocking as they've made it out to be? And can you comment on to what extent people might be surprised to find out just how realistically depicted possession and exorcism are in this film?
Well, on the one hand, the depiction of possession and exorcism in this film, like The Exorcist before it, is still really hyped up. And yet, in various ways, it really is like this. So I haven't seen a video that's as extreme as what happens in the movie.
But some of what happens in the movie is true to life. I've seen a guy being held down and his forehead all of a sudden opens up on its own and starts bleeding. If you're a materialist skeptic you're going to have to deny that it happened. But Ralph Sarchie was there and saw it. Some of these extreme things really happen.
But what makes it scary is not those inexplicable things, it's the depth of human suffering that you're witnessing and the unrelenting banality of evil and the sense of alien presence in these people and the credibility of the testimony of the people who've gone through it.
I didn't show Eric [Bana] one tape; I showed him a bunch of tapes. I even showed him some Islamic exorcisms. This isn't just a Christian phenomenon. This is an anthropological reality. When the disciples came to Jesus complaining of someone casting out demons even though he was not one of their followers—Jesus says let him do it, because he's still helping people.
It's not as wildly dramatic as what it is in The Exorcist or my film but it's more dramatic than people think. But what's deeply frightening or disturbing about it is not the paranormal activity; it is the profundity of human suffering at work.
One of the things I'm most proud of is that the Mendoza character as constructed is not a warrior demon hunter priest. His primary concern is helping people. He cares so much about the people who are possessed. He cares about Santino and that's why the ending has emotional power. The reality of possession and exorcism is being approached from an emotionally truthful perspective.
The exorcists I've approached in real life are not making a game of it—they're not interested in the demonic—they care about people. They have helped people find relief in ways that they couldn't find from the psychological or material world.