Nothing ever truly dies in Hollywood. Case in point: in 2003 director Scott Derrickson met a hard-core cop from the Bronx named Ralph Sarchie, who happened to give him a copy of a long out-of-print book about the exorcism-related death of a young woman. Derrickson found Sarchie, a demonologist in his own right, to be a fascinating figure worthy of his own movie. When that didn't happen, he instead turned the book Sarchie gave him into a movie called The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
Fast-forward nearly a decade. Now Derrickson has an increased amount of clout under his belt (thanks to the hit success of Emily Rose, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Sinister) and was able to finally turn Ralph Sarchie's story into a movie called Deliver Us from Evil, which just so happens to hit theaters tomorrow, July 2, 2014, and stars Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn, Joel McHale and Sean Harris.
We spoke to Derrickson about the film's long road to reality, what kind of truth he's still trying to find in telling his second film about exorcisms, and what unexpected part of Deliver Us from Evil ended up being one of the best decisions he's ever made in his career.
Movies.com: Since this is your second exorcism movie, in making it are there still answers you're trying to find for yourself about life, higher powers and the paranormal?
Scott Derrickson: I'm always trying to find answers to the very questions you just mentioned, and I'm always struggling with a healthy measure of doubt and skepticism. I'm always questioning the things I'm confident in, and want to expand my understanding of the world more.
Movies.com: If this project wasn't based on real-life source material, if it was just a script that came across your desk, would it still have interested you?
Derrickson: If the script was the final script we ended up shooting, yes. For me, the two major points of interest are the two characters. There's the real Ralph Sarchie, and I met him for the first time back in 2003, so knowing who that guy is and what a hard-core Bronx undercover cop he really was, in literally the most violent precinct in the country at the time. He was the one I could never quite let go of. I always wanted to make a movie about him. And then the character Edgar Ramirez plays is really an amalgam of two people from Sarchie's real life, with a fair amount of fiction added. If I had read the way those two were built in the finished script that we ended up with, I think I would have been compelled to make that movie.
Movies.com: Have you been trying to get the movie off the ground since meeting Sarchie in 2003?
Derrickson: It wasn't so much that as Ralph was the guy-- when I was out here in New York with him, he was still an undercover cop and I did ride alongs with him, he gave me for the first time a photocopy of the out-of-print book The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel, which I optioned for $100 and turned into The Exorcism of Emily Rose. So he's the guy who turned me on to that case. And Bruckheimer hired another writer to redo the draft that I wrote, so when they did that, I went off and made Emily Rose.
Movies.com: What ultimately lured you back to the project?
Derrickson: The real Ralph Sarchie. I still knew him, still stayed in touch with him, and just thought he was an interesting guy with an interesting story. After I finished Sinister, Clint Culpepper at Screen Gems came to me and said, "What do you want to do next?" And I'd never forgotten about that script or character, so I told him about it and he went and read that original draft and said he wanted to make it. I went and read the draft and there was a lot that was in there that was still compelling to me, particularly the real character, but at the same time I'd made Emily Rose and there had been a lot of other exorcism or possession movies since then, so I went and read all of the other drafts – there were three writers and probably a dozen drafts over eight years or so since I'd done a draft – and sat down and did a pretty massive rewrite to reinvent the Mendoza character. And after rewriting that, I was very interested in doing it.
Movies.com: Even though you've made quite a few horror movies, it seems like your career, especially given the movies on your horizon, has managed to avoid pigeon holing you exclusively as a horror guy. How have you managed to avoid that whereas some others get stuck in horror only?
Derrickson: I don't know for sure. I haven't been super calculated about that or anything. I think part of it is the horror films I make have more to them than maybe the average horror film, and certainly I've been privileged to work with great actors who have been attracted to the characters in the scripts. So you look at Emily Rose or Sinister or Deliver Us from Evil and no matter what you think about them, they're certainly deeply felt. And I think there's some really great performances in them, which inspires confidence in producers that there's more to me than just putting a scare up on-screen.
Movies.com: Speaking of great actors, how did Sean Harris come on your radar for casting?
Derrickson: I am so glad you brought him up because of all the directorial decisions I've ever made on any film, casting Sean is the decision I'm most proud of. The success of the movie depends on the performance of that particular character, especially during the climax. When you see the movie, you'll see what I'm talking about.
I read dozens of actors in New York and L.A. for the role and couldn't find anyone I felt confident could pull it off. It's a really demanding role, and with Sean I had seen him in Prometheus, but that didn't weigh in my thinking at all. It was actually his one scene in Harry Brown with Michael Caine. That sequence has a complexity and a sophistication that's primal and dangerous, and it's unlike anything I'd seen an actor do. It was understated, but it was extraordinarily powerful and I just knew that he could do it. I just knew.
It was a real leap of faith, but it was one I took in great confidence. I offered him the role without ever reading him, without ever even talking about the role. He's English and lives in London, and so I just told the studio, "This is the guy, he'll nail it" and they trusted me. And I think Sean was really appreciative of that fact. I didn't offer it to anyone else, and I didn't talk seriously with anyone else about it. And it's funny because what he does in Harry Brown is nothing like what he does in this movie. It's not like they're similar roles, it's just the quality of the actor.
I'm very proud of that decision because it proved I was correct, but more than that, what he does in the climax of this movie is some of the deepest acting I've ever seen. He really went into a kind of a trance state the last night we were shooting that scene. It was kind of scary, honestly, how far down the rabbit hole he went, but it was awesome. Just awesome.
Movies.com: I have a feeling he's got a big career ahead of him.
Derrickson: He absolutely does. I really believe with absolute conviction I could have cast 500 different actors and shot the same scene 500 times and no one would have topped what Sean Harris does. He is a truly remarkable actor, and I've never seen anyone do work the way he does. It was a privilege to watch.
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