VOICE-OVERS, EXORCISMS, AND MARSHMALLOWS:|
AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ASHLEY BELL
(PART 2 of 2)
Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
June 4, 2010, introduction updated August 24, 2010
In this second half of our exclusive two-part interview with Ashley, the intrepid, energetic star of The Last Exorcism previews her role in the supernatural thriller in advance of its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Directed by Daniel Stamm and produced by Eli Roth, the movie features Ashley in the lead role of Nell Sweetzer, a teenager who is suspected of being under the influence of demonic possession.
This was amongst the earliest interviews that Ashley did in support of The Last Exorcism, and we were thrilled that she was able to share many of her experiences on the project even before she herself saw a final cut of the movie. Her detailed description of the film--from its use of practical effects to its shunning of subgenre conventions--also kicked our anticipation factor into overdrive and made us particularly anxious to screen her breakout role.
RadioFree.com: After being the unsung hero in many voice-over performances, audiences will get to see you in front of the camera in a big way in The Last Exorcism. How do you feel about not only being thrust into a lead role, but also effectively being cast as the face of the whole project?
ASHLEY: Wow...Yeah, it's been absolutely surreal. I wanted this role so badly, from the first time I auditioned for it. There was something about the character of Nell Sweetzer that just truly struck me. And I called every single day about it. [laughs] I just really wanted to be a part of this project. Filming was so much fun. We filmed in a plantation about 30 minutes outside of New Orleans in Louisiana. It was the perfect location for a horror film. The plantation had just been totally redone, and then Katrina hit. So everything was perfect, but warped. And it led to such an eerie feeling. And, you know, there's also just so much lore in the surrounding Louisiana woods and everything like that. It was the perfect location.
The movie poster shows you contorted backwards. It's creepy as hell, and one of the coolest posters I've seen for a horror film in a long time...
Oh, thank you! They did such a beautiful job! [laughs]
Is that a digital effect, or are you really twisting your back out gymnast style?
That is me. That is 110% me, yes.
Oh my God...
I did all of the physical stuff in the film that you'll see. It was totally me.
Your resume lists yoga as a skill. Is this poster sort of a manifestation of that skill?
Yeah. Yoga, I've done a lot of ballet...I've always been interested in very physical things. As an actress, I think acting is really almost an athletic profession, and I've always tried to involve myself in a lot of physical activities. I've taken up karate and ballroom dancing. So I was able to put it all to use.
Are you double jointed?
I am double jointed, yes. That helped a lot! [laughs]
I'm looking at a list of your other talents...Fencing, boxing, kickboxing, karate, stage combat, firearms...Does this all mean you're inherently violent and ready to kick ass at the drop of a hat?
[says in a tough voice] "Absolutely! Get scared right now!" [laughs] You know, I'm impossible to bore. I'm always continually interested in pretty much everything. So in between projects, I would always kind of take up a new hobby or a new activity to kind of figure out what I could learn, or even in preparation for roles--you know, kind of research things to expand my knowledge.
The Exorcist has pretty much written the book on the subgenre of demon possession, which doesn't seem to be a theme as open to interpretation as that of other horror subgenres, like vampirism, for instance. What do you think The Last Exorcism brings to the formula to distinguish itself?
Actually, in preparation, Daniel had said, "Watch all the Exorcist films, and then don't do that." The Last Exorcism is very different than, I think, everything else that's been done before, [while still] holding respect to everything that's been done in the past. What's cool about The Last Exorcism is it's shot like a documentary. So it's a first person perspective following the Reverend, and he's coming clean. He's done fake exorcisms his whole life, so he comes clean in this story and shows all of his tricks, and then [later] that night, essentially all hell breaks loose. And not only is it Eli Roth, so you know it's going to be extremely suspenseful and just genuinely horrific, but because you're following this Reverend, as he begins to lose control of the situation, the audience begins to feel extremely vulnerable. And that's also where a lot of the horror comes in as well.
Since you're doing a lot of your own stuntwork, does that mean most of the effects in this film are practical rather than digital?
Yeah. Mainly everything physical was me. There was a blood pump on set, which was awesome to touch! [laughs] And the special effects studio that was used was through Greg Nicotero and KNB EFX, and they are just artists. They're the effects studio that Quentin Tarantino uses--and Eli Roth uses--for all of his films, and they got on board for The Last Exorcism. I got a chance to go visit their studio, and oh my God, they really are artists. The monsters they create and the body parts and the warehouse of stuff is just incredible.
What were the biggest challenges in shooting this film? Did you sustain any injuries?
Challenges were having it end! I loved being on set every single day! [laughs] On one of the nights of filming, I was like in the middle of a field with a huge crowd of people around and light boxes up in the air, and it was four o'clock in the morning, and I was looking out, and I just was like, "God, I have the best seat in the house! I just am so grateful to be here." There weren't really many injuries. Actually, none at all. In the big exorcism scene, I got a little bit bruised up that day. But I probably did it on purpose because I wore it proudly. I always get so proud of my bruises when I work. [laughs]
Would you say the scene of the final exorcism is the film's signature moment, or is there something else that really stands out for you?
I'd have to say there are several moments that are really going to surprise everyone--you know, through the vulnerability and through the suspense, there are a lot of turns in it that are really exciting.
Obviously, one of the dangers with this type of movie is being unintentionally comical. How did you guys avoid that pitfall?
I think that's all credit to Daniel. You know, we were allowed so many takes, but he had such control over what he wanted and what was going on on set. He's an incredible director, and I think he really maintained the authenticity in the film and everything. And also, the whole cast--you know, Louis Herthum plays my father, and he's just an incredible actor, and Patrick Fabian--got very close filming, and there was a tremendous degree of trust between everyone. So it was truly a credit to the whole cast and crew.
This movie is about to make its big debut at the Los Angeles Film Festival. How do you feel now that it's on the verge of finally getting out there?
I'm counting down! [laughs] It's so exciting! This got filmed a year ago in Louisiana, and it was truly like a dream. And now that it's being able to be shared with the world is just unbelievable. I never would have thought in a million years this would have been happening. So everything that's been coming along with this film has just kept on getting better and better, and I'm so grateful to have been a part of it...I actually have not seen the whole film yet. None of the cast has. We've seen parts of it for ADR, but they're keeping it so under wraps and so secretive that truly, at the film festival, that'll be when we're all seeing it for the first time. The suspense all around for this film is huge.
Is it too early to be talking about a sequel?
I think it is too early in the process. [But] you know, all of us had such an amazing time working together, I know everyone would just love to jump on board for a sequel if that arose...
One of our signature offbeat questions, to wrap up: If you were throwing a party for friends and had a pinata there, what would the pinata be shaped as, and what would you put in it?
Ummm... [laughs] You're asking [someone who is] playing a crazy girl in a horror film this question... [laughs]
You shape it as a cloud, and you fill it with...Ummm...marshmallows. That'd be fun.
And you don't have to worry about breaking them by hitting the pinata too hard...
Right. Well, I was going to say something horribly nasty. [laughs]
Nice! I like the inappropriate sense of humor, even if you didn't say it...Ashley, thanks for your time, it's been a pleasure speaking with you...And of course, best wishes on your career going forward...
Oh wow, thank you so much, I really appreciate that. It was great talking to you...Have a good weekend!