Patrick Fabian Gives His Last Exorcism
DC: In fact, the introduction of the brother, Caleb, reminded me a lot of the introduction of The Hitchhiker in Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It was one of those moments like, “Oh, this is severe weirdness and it’s really close!” [laughs]
PF: Yeah! Because before then, we’re all sort of laughing and saying, “Ok, we’re going to go do this thing… nothing to see here! Nothing up my sleeve… nothing to be frightened of.” Then, all of a sudden, you realize, “Wait a second, they are coming down here to investigate something that we haven’t seen yet and we don’t know what is what and we really don’t belong here.”
DC: How long was the production schedule?
PF: We shot it in twenty-four days down in New Orleans. It was hot. We had six-day weeks. It was very tight and it was a low budget film so everybody sort of scrimped and saved and that sort of thing. Also, we wanted a realistic look about it so there was no makeup and hair. We sort of came as we were, and as we got tired, we looked tired… as our suits got a little musty, they continued to be musty. I think it gave a real sense of authenticity that really comes across. The shoot itself was laborious in that I had not worked with Daniel and didn’t realize how many takes he enjoyed doing, which was quite a lot – twenty to thirty takes on some things. I hadn’t worked like that before. I also hadn’t worked where I stared at the camera. You’re very much trained to behave and ignore the camera, and this is the exactly opposite. It took me a little bit to get used to that. The good news was that I was working with Iris Bahr, who was playing the documentary filmmaker, and she literally was there on Camera Left and Camera Right being my scene partner. She doesn’t show up in the film but for about a second, but she certainly was integral to what was going on onscreen. So it became weird. Me, Iris, and Zoltan were like this triumvirate sort of wandering around through the story and we would run into these characters: Louis and Ashley and all those people. We shot it pretty much in sequence so that helped a lot. When we did the exorcism scenes, we sort of already know what we have on our hands.
DC: Was the script fully realized by the time you started shooting? I mean, you knew where you were going and you knew what the ending was, but…
PF: There was debate about some of those things, and as I was saying before, the script was very much a highway that we were driving down, but both the director and the writers and [producer] Eli [Roth] allowed us to go down some off-ramps to explore and see what could be had there. Some of those things we kept and were good and brilliant and other things were just awful and self-indulgent and terrible. [laughs]
DC: So improvising was allowed and actually encouraged.
PF: If something was working, we would go with it… Yeah, absolutely, especially when doing preaching scenes and stuff like that. Since I had written my own sermons, we shot for about two days when I was preaching and I was a little sad because… typical actor… when we go to shoot the film, I was up in the pulpit for two days doing all of this blood and sweat and Christ and all that stuff. I was expecting there would be this moment in the film where, “We will now pause for five minutes while Patrick Fabian delivers a sermon.” [laughs] Of course, nobody wants to see that. That would stop the film dead. Daniel knew that all he needed was a couple of pieces, a couple of slivers, to see me in action so the audience would know this was real and authentic. It’s a back-story we believe for him now. I thought maybe for the DVD release coming up on January 4th that they would have “Patrick’s Ten-Minute Sermon,” but guess what? No, they don’t! [laughs] So either I was not as brilliant as I thought or they just didn’t have the digital space.
DC: A lot of those sermons come off rather authentic. Do you have any kind of background in that stuff or was it just a lot of research?
PF: I did do research, but I kept saying this a lot when we were talking about the film, “The difference between a good preacher and a good actor is a very thin line.” We’re talking about men and women who have no problem standing up in front of people, who have no problem telling you a truth (or what they think is the truth) that they know the way. There’s a bit of ego and hubris involved, and, let’s face it, they also don’t mind a couple of bucks being given along the way. And I believe that. I mean look at Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Baker and Ted Haggard… all these guys. All these modern day charlatans standing up under the eyes of God while building golden houses with money fountains out back. What I love about them is they all seem genuinely surprised when the house comes down, you know what I mean? When they’re crying in front of… I always feel a little bit bad because I’m like, “Oh, you’re really wrecked because you really believed all your bullshit.” And I think what Cotton Marcus is doing here is avoiding that next step to becoming those people. I think this is his “out.” He’s willing to blow up his life, get rid of his career, in order to find a little bit of humanity. He’s lost his faith, basically, and he’s willing to go ahead and say, “I’ll try to do a little bit of good with what power I still have and we’ll see what happens… next in my life.” And I think that’s a GIANT act of faith and the film acts as a grand confessional for him.
DC: Most of those people – and in this character – there’s a little bit of Harold Hill, a little Music Man in there with the sleight of hand…
PF: Everybody has a little Robert Preston in him, that little wink, that little smile… That ability to smile and act like you’re not asking for money and yet ask for money. That is quite a feat, in my mind.
DC: A thing that struck me was The Recipe…
PF: The Banana Bread Recipe.
DC: Yeah, it was like, “I can do this!” And the documentary filmmakers don’t believe him… then he does it and the parishioners buy it. Then you think, “Okay, well now… what else will they buy and what else have they bought?”
PF: Exactly! And that’s the moment in the film… Well, what surprised me was how much humor was in the first part of the film because we’re laughing with them. When I saw the film at the LA Film Festival, I heard a reaction… I mean, people just started laughing and it was a laughter that said, “Oh, ok… I get it!” Because now, I really let them in on the secret, right? Now, I’ve let them in on seeing, “Look how easy this is…” You’re right. At this point, I could ask them for their daughters and they would line up. And I think everybody likes to see behind the curtain when it comes to that.
DC: It’s interesting for me because I spent some time working in the funeral industry and I got to know a lot of clergy sort of behind the scenes. It was always sort of a guarantee that with a certain guy at a certain point in every one of his services he’d get to John 14:2… and you’d hear, “In My Father’s house, there are many rooms” and you’d know he was winding up. It was, in many ways, schtick and, on one hand, here’s this guy doing this “dog and pony show,” but on the other, there were people staring wide-eyed at him and thinking, “You have The Way. You have the ‘Get Out Of Jail Free Card’ to this whole thing.” All of it made for a very interesting dynamic.
PF: Right, and in the end, as I was saying before, if Cotton Marcus’ father had been a plumber, then he’d be a plumber snaking people’s drains and bilking them for more money than they needed to pay. Instead, his father was a preacher so he learned the family business. I mean he knows all of the words. But, somewhere along the line, it’s just that the backing and the faith sort of left. But that magnetism… that ability to stand up there and speak… well, that provides comfort for those who can’t come up with that thought on their own.