Carpenter, Jennifer (The Exorcism of Emily Rose)
There is nothing like waking up at 7am to get on traffic jammed Los Angeles freeways to go see a horror film. After fighting the traffic for close to two hours; waiting at the long line at the studios gates, driving to the tip top of a parking structure praying the whole time to just find a spot and then going through all of the security measures before they actually let you walk on the lot, you start to wonder if you should have just slept in, waited two days and paid the eight bucks to see it a block from your home. But hey, where’s the fun in that? Plus after the film I get to sit down with Emily Rose herself, Jennifer Carpenter, and to discuss. The free lunch isn’t too shabby either!
I walked out of the theater and was escorted directly into a room where she was waiting I have to admit it was a bit creepy. I mean, just minutes before she was possessed on the big screen, now she’s sitting here in front of me. I kept expecting her to scream at the top of her lungs at any moment. Thankfully she didn’t, although it would have made for a great story. She stood up and greeted myself and a small handful of other journalist with a handshake as we entered the room and then we all sat down and got right into the questions about her title role in The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
Question: First of all, I would like to ask you about the body contortions; the physicality of the role almost appeared like it could have been CGI but I understand that was all you?
Jennifer Carpenter: Yeah, Scott said he really wanted to stay away from that and I took it as permission to play. There are certainly some things like the lean back in the church I couldn’t very well lean back by myself all day long, so they built a stand. You could see a little piece of it, which they took that out with computers and stuff, but there was very little.
Q: How did you prepare for doing what must have been a very physically challenging role?
JC: When I saw some of the sides I was in Italy on vacation with my grandmother and my mom. I had only seen twelve pages of the script and I spent money I didn’t have to come back to LA to have a shot at it (laughs). I was on the plane, so I couldn’t get in the aisle and start practicing a seizure (laughs). So I started playing it out in my mind, how I wanted certain pieces to look, and there were certain notes I would keep and certain notes I would discard and everything that happened in the middle was just a surprise.
I got a room at Captive Audience, the people who were going to work with us on special effects when we needed them. They gave me a room full of mirrors and I would just play and look and see what I liked and see what looked scary. The adrenalin let me bend a little further than I thought I could (laughs).
Q: Have you always been that flexible?
JC: No, my sisters a chiropractor and she said that I have an unusually flexible lower back. But I don’t do yoga because I don’t feel like I’m very bendy (laughs).
Q: So did you ever bend too far and hurt yourself?
JC: No. That’s a funny thing because when I look back at it a year later I don’t remember any of it hurting or being hard. The hard part of this job was communicating what went on in my mind while doing it. It’s hard to explain that. I should have paid more attention.
Q: Was doing take after take of screaming at the top of your lungs exhausting?
JC: No! I went to school at Julliard so we would spend thirteen hours a day on voice and speech. Now I realize why (laughs). But I was very specific about every sound, which I think helps protect myself. She is possessed by six demons so maybe one is sticking needles in my head, so that sound comes from there. Maybe the other one might be like chiseling away at my ribs, so to be specific helped me stay safe. Also, in that room with all of those mirrors I would just grunt and growl and see how high I could get and how low I could get. – Thank God I was in a different building than everyone working (laughs). There was sort of a method to the madness.
Q: In the film it is mentioned how the monks were able to use two sets of vocal cords to create two different sounds at once. Did you study that art at all?
JC: No. That effect was done by having my voice recorded on tape, how I would say it, and then we played that tape so I could jump in and do it the same way, or add to it or overlap my voice with my voice.
Q: Did working on this film change your personal views on the subject matter and case?
JC: Yeah, I think I was real lucky because I went to Catholic school growing up in Kentucky, but I feel like I came to it at a really mutual place. I didn’t have a lot of my own opinions to try to place on it or try to champion those causes. So I did the work on the prosecution and defense as much as I could and it’s funny because you get really comfortable on one side like, that’s exactly how it happened. I was really surprised to go over to the other side and do a bit of Laura’s homework and I got really comfortable over there too, so I never made a decision all the way through one way or another, which I think may have helped to play it.
After the fact, I was having a meal with a friend and having a completely unrelated conversation and I thought, “Oh, I know what happened and I know how I feel about it.” Then I saw the final cut of the movie and I think it has changed again. I think how people respond to it belongs to them. That’s the great thing about this movie; it’s not trying to champion after one cause or another. It’s just saying take inventory and see how much room you’ve left for possibility and doubt and new information, and whatever you leave with belongs to you. I think there was some concern about how people and certain groups would react to it, but if your faith can be rocked by a movie, there’s something else you’re not looking at because it’s just trying to give you questions, not answers.
Q: How much research did you do into the actual case the film is based on?
JC: I was so excited. I recently heard from a friend that your body can’t tell the difference between excitement and fear, and I was really excited about making this movie (laughs). So I think I did too much research (laughs). I looked at everything I could get my hands on. The book it’s based on is out of print, and they made sure I had a copy. It’s an amazing book, probably the best I’ve ever read. I think I finished it and flipped it right back to the beginning. I did that and I looked at a tape on Epilepsy and seizures and Kabuki Theater to steal certain gestures and stuff. I probably researched too much. I was surprised the first time I heard it called a horror movie because this horrific thing happened; it’s based on true events. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to tell that story and I realized it’s a solid, great script, a truthful script so I will take care of Emily Rose in that character.
Q: Have you had any contact with any of the family from the actual case?
JC: No. I wouldn’t really want to and I think it would be disrespectful.
Q: Did you visit the actual gravesite?
JC: No. It’s in Germany and I’ve only been to the Frankfurt Airport (laughs).
Q: I actually attended a set visit on the film—
JC: Was I there?
Q: No, but pretty much everyone else in the cast was present. They were filming the courtroom stuff. When we interviewed the cast and director, everyone was very hesitant to talk about the actual case, in fact they were asking some of the Sony people if they could even say her name. But now the whole marketing campaign is pushing the based on a true story tag. When did that direction change?
JC: That’s something you would have to discuss with Sony. I don’t know if it has something to do with the rights to the book or what. That was actually quite upsetting to us, to have to go to the junket and be told, “You can say this but you can’t say this and you can’t talk too much about this.” I don’t know how much it is out of respect for the family or how much legal but I can’t stress enough how – you know people put that on movies all the time and you watch the movie and think, “I don’t believe it.” I flew across the world to have a shot at this and it was out of respect for the story.
Q: So even now there are some restrictions about what you can and can’t talk about?
JC: I mean who can’t Google (laughs)?
Q: I had heard that Laura Linney recommended you for the part?
JC: We did The Crucible together in 2002 and I had a really amazing rehearsal process with her. I was at every rehearsal whether I was involved in it or not, and I really learned a lot about how to work. We also developed a friendship during it. Since I responded like this to the script and she knows me so well, I know she knows that this was right up my alley. I know I would have never ever seen it if it had not been for her. Even when I called my agent and said, “Let’s get on the phone with some airlines, I wanna come back.” He said, “Oh, it’s okay there will be other auditions.” I said, “Look, you should be begging me (laughs)! This is the one. This is the one I want!” She has been like a guardian angel both in my life and my career. Whenever I lose my footing she is just a phone call away. She’s a busy lady.
Q: Where you upset that you didn’t actually get to work with her on this film?
JC: No because I think, in a weird way, it was a blessing because I had that experience on The Crucible, not that I wouldn’t want to have it again. I kind of shot two movies because when I was off one day I would come in and watch her work, and it’s really different to get to actually sit back and observe, especially when you’re so engrossed in it. I think you want to steal from some people because you love their body of work and want to know how they are getting from A to B, but she’s just, Tom too, just kind of seamless. Their choices they will go from one end of the spectrum to the other and make both of them work. I don’t know how they do it yet. I’m gonna figure it out though and write a book (laughs).
Q: So do you believe in demons?
JC: Uh – alright…I believe in the possibility but I’m not sure I believe in demons. I was trying to downgrade that word to superstition.
Q: You mentioned before about this being called a horror film. Did that concern you with Scott’s previous work on the Hellraiser series and such that this could turn out to be more like The Exorcist?
JC: I didn’t see Hellraiser or The Exorcist and I think that if there was going to be a lot of CGI effects and stuff I would have had more reservations about it, but I knew there wouldn’t be. I knew it was going to be based in truth and if this story happened in front of you this is what it could look like. That’s why I was surprised it was being called a horror film because it’s so many other things. It’s heartbreaking more than it is scary to me.
Q: That’s interesting to me that you didn’t see The Exorcist because some of the themes are the same about faith and doubt. You didn’t feel compelled to check it out?
JC: No, because when I was in Italy trying to get back, I was trying to get my hands on something I could read that could help me, and they didn’t have it in the gift shop at the London airport (laughs). I’m glad that it avoided me somehow because I have heard about the head spinning and about the split pea soup and all that. Scott said, ”Imagine all of the clichés you can think of when you hear that word exorcism and let's move as far away from it as possible because if it’s not new, it’s not going to be in the movie...and if you get hurt you’re not going to be in the movie,” which is one reason I didn’t hurt myself.
The scary thing is he was really open to ideas and one day I said, “What if she pulled out her own hair out of her head?” I mean if someone did that in front of you, how close do you get and who do you call? Those are the things that can really happen in front of you; those are the scary things. I live alone and when I hear something outside the door it’s not the thing outside the door that scares me, it’s the laundry list in my head wondering what it could be. I think it takes a different kind of courage to come and see this movie.
Q: Is there a particular scene in the film that stands out to you?
JC: During the exorcism in the barn – I wasn’t sure if I was allergic to hay or not, I’m from Kentucky and you would think I would know but I didn’t (laughs). I took an antihistamine and I didn’t know that they make your blood thin and your heat race. So I was spending all day screaming and I almost fainted once. Right before I fainted I came to and opened my eyes and I didn’t know where I was or who anyone was so I took a breather and started up again. It was almost happening each time and all I knew was that the scream was the intention to get my sister to leave the barn. So when I see it now I know how I felt and what I was trying to do. It was so scary for me how I was feeling that it scares me now.
Q: Were there actually any scenes of you filmed in the full make-up other than the courtroom photos we see of Emily’s aftermath?
Q: Was that actually you?
JC: It was me on a gurney. They sucked my face in so it looked like I had lost more weight and they touched up the picture. The most dramatic make-up you see is what they painted on in the barn scene. I wore contacts sometimes and I had some dentures that made my gums look progressively worse.
Q: Were there any scenes you filmed that were cut from the final film?
JC: No, everything made it in. It was the same script that we started shooting on the first day as the last day, and I have never seen that before.
Q: Why do you think you reacted so strongly to the twelve-page treatment you read to want to fly all the way back across the country to audition?
JC: I feel that so often you are sent script where you are the bubble gum all American girl, “I love you too Trevor.” You know what I mean? This was so exciting to be asked – Scott wrote a letter to all of the woman who were auditioning saying this is what I want to see in the first scene, second, third and fourth and the person who can do that will get the part. And I thought you are inviting someone to be a player. You're very rarely ever asked to be a player.
Q: What were those four things?
JC: The first thing he wanted to see was pure joy and hope. Then what does something inhuman look like in a human being? How does the demon come in and what does that look like? The third one was an authentic seizure. The fourth one was inviting you to do something that wasn’t scripted. You know what I realized; I give the finger a lot when I’m having a seizure (laughs).
Q: A common question when making a film like this; did anything weird happen during filming?
JC: I thought about that when it happened, and two or three times when I was going to sleep my radio came on by itself. The only time it scared me was once because it was really loud and it was Pearl Jam’s “Alive” (laughs). Laura’s TV came on a couple of times.
Q: At 3:00 a.m.?
JC: Mine wasn’t 3:00 a.m. I was born at 3:00 a.m. but it hasn’t happened to me. I did check.
Q: Was the house a real house or built for the film?
JC: It was a house that actually exists in Vancouver and it was really strange just how perfect it was. It was really odd to walk in there. Even the rooms we weren’t using like the extra bedrooms and stuff; it was really scary. Oh, I hope the family doesn’t read this (laughs). It was sweet (laughs).
Q: You shot the interiors there as well?
JC: Yeah. I don’t think there was a lot of set dressing going on.
Q: During my set visit I was really surprised at the lack of sets. It was pretty much the barn and the courtroom.
JC: There was also my bedroom that was built.
Q: I did see part of that they had started taking it apart.
JC: The barn was cool though, wasn’t it?
JC: A couple of times the horses would just jump out of their stalls and that was really cool (laughs).
Q: You obviously wanted this part very bad flying all the way across the world to just audition for it. How excited were you when you got the part?
JC: I had my hand in a box of Cheerios (laughs) and my agent said, “You got it” and I just started screaming. I think he knew I would call him back (laughs). I was excited! I was really excited.
Q: What happened to the Cheerios?
JC: I don’t know; who cares?!!! (Laughs)
I would like to thank Jennifer for her time with us and Kara Silverman at Sony and Screen Gems for their hospitality. The Exorcism of Emily Rose opens in theaters on September 9th, be sure to read our review of it right here!
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