Patrick Fabian Gives His Last Exorcism
DC: I saw the film’s stance as, on one hand, supportive of what the church can do but also kind of critical of how that same entity can – and sometimes does – take advantage of people who are unable to think for themselves.
PF: The irony is that the only person who gets the whole thing right is Louis (Louis Herthum), who is the father and is a man who is convinced and is a man of God. He’s the one who says, “It is the Devil’s work and I believe that only God can help” and all of those things and it turns out he seems to be the one who has his fingers on the pulse of exactly what is going on better than anybody else. People of faith have seen the film - because every time you do an exorcism movie, people love to go and see what the “God vs. the Devil battleground” is going to look like according to Hollywood and movies and television – and the response that we got was, “Oh, good… that’s exactly right. The people who are lying and abusing the Lord’s name get what’s coming to them.” How can you really see it like that? Well, because you can… there is an argument to be made. That’s part of the thing like, “Yes, I’m making fun” or “Am I treating these people like rubes or degrading religion?” But, in the end, like I say, it’s a grand confessional. It is the act of contrition… by throwing myself under the bus, I am willing to be born again. Now, born again unto what? I do not know. There’s also people who think it’s all a big hoax and it’s one more way for me to rebrand myself as well.
DC: It’s interesting because you start to get a sense that your character is having almost a conversion where he’s saying, “Wait a second… this stuff IS real” and then the reveal comes and we find out it’s not really, but the truth is shown and he ultimately pays the price for his hubris. It’s really fascinating stuff.
PF: Oh, yeah… absolutely. I mean, you’re saying it and saying it and saying it and then it finally shows up and you say, “Ooh, wait a second… I didn’t think this was really going to happen! [laughs] Did I invoke this? Wait… let me check my book!”
DC: Were these kinds of things being discussed on set?
PF: You know, Daniel wanted to get into it and explore it and, as we would do stuff… If we would ever go over the lines with things… For instance, if I went over treating Louis or any of the locals a little too harshly, he would come in and go, “You know, on this pass, let’s be bemused as opposed to ‘holier than thou.’” And that’s also a fine line to do, to be able to enjoy somebody and their story… I’m thinking in particular the situations where people would be telling us their own personal demon stories and their own UFO stories and these people believed in them. I think everybody has a ghost story where they go, “No, I was house-sitting, man, and you wouldn’t believe it…” and they truly believe it and there is nothing that is going to dissuade them from that and I don’t think it’s my job to do that. There is a way to listen to that and comment on it that doesn’t make fun of them, and I think that was what I was trying to do.
DC: Did you find that people – either during production or when you started showing the film – came up to you saying, “I know that was fiction, but let me tell you what happened to me”…?
PF: Yeah, absolutely. There were people who were in the church and what not and they were playing a part of the congregation and we would talk in between takes. Just church-goin’ folks showing me how to be a Baptist minister, basically. But then, all of a sudden, one would say, “Well, you know… I did see a demon once. My brother was possessed by a demon” and I’m like, “Oh, REALLY!?!? Tell me about THAT!” You know, we had a real exorcist on the set. That was what he did and he did it like he was a plumber. He said, “Oh, I believe in this. Absolutely. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen stuff come out of people. I’ve seen the Devil in people and I’ve gotten rid of them”. It makes me – a man of science – sort of go, “Oh, c’mon, man…” But the conviction with which he’s saying it, who am I to say? I mean, I wasn’t there. But at one point he said to me, “You got more than a little preacher in you” which I took as a very big compliment. I said right back at him, “And you have a little more actor in you than you think.” We both had a nice little knowing chuckle.
DC: There’s a great bit of dialogue in the film where you say something about even if it’s all bullshit and the benefit is only in the mind of the subject and the end result is that you still “cured” them, isn’t that still doing good?
PF: It’s the whole idea of “if you think you’re sick and I come to you and you think I’m a doctor and I touch you or say something and you suddenly feel better, does that make me a doctor?” Not necessarily, but does that make me wrong? No. If I take a couple of bucks and you still end up feeling better, where’s the harm? And that’s more of a moralistic slippery slope. There’s the vortex, right? There are people who would definitely say, “Yes, that is wrong.”
DC: Even if it is a “theological placebo,” if it works, it works.
PF: Ahhh… I wish you would have been on set. That’s a nice little phrase.
DC: Thank you. [laughs] The thing I find interesting about preachers – and, like I say, I’ve been around a lot of them – is that there comes a point in a lot of their lives (or in a lot of their teaching) where they become almost a conduit for “the power of the Word” and it’s easy to get a little drunk on the power that inherently gives them. And that is how you get the Swaggarts and the Haggards of the world.
PF: Definitely. Like you said, people are looking at you and believing in you and then you start monkeying with the Scriptures a little bit to fit your point or your own personal beliefs. You know, when I went in for the sermon for this audition, even though I was raised Catholic, I’m not someone who can really quote the Bible and I don’t have a working knowledge of it. So I was trying to come up with some quotes that would help support the sermon I was writing and finally I thought, “Well, it’s a movie. It’s not a documentary. I can just make up a quote.” So, I was like, “In the Book of Ephestes…” whatever THAT is. [laughs] “The Book of Cestes…” I just made up the quote that I needed and I think that’s on the DVD, in the audition thing. I remember… I got so excited, so I wrote like ten quotes out of the Bible. Just made them up and nobody’s questioned me on them so far. No one has said anything.
DC: “Yeah, they’re in the Apocrypha…” [laughs]
PF: Either that or HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS. [laughs]
DC: That’s funny… But I think it goes back to what we were saying previously about how you can tell a lie or a fairytale with enough conviction and people will believe it to be true. And isn’t that what Dianetics is… [laughs]
PF: Right, exactly. “Would you like to take a free personality test?” [laughs]
DC: I’m also interested in the idea – and you touched on it earlier – that the father, Louis, was right all along… and not in the way he probably thought he was, but the Devil was definitely at work there. I’m also interested in the precognitive aspect of Nell’s drawings. She did these drawings and they seemed sort of ludicrous and even though the crew got sort of worked up about them, no one knew what they meant. In fact, there were more or less dismissed, but the events replicated them quite literally.
PF: Well, what I like about the film the most is that there’s a sense of humor that’s maintained. When they start showing those drawings, the audience laughs without fail over these rudimentary kid drawings of people’s heads being chopped off. It’s funny. But it’s also funny because it’s a little creepy. You’re like, “What is that?” The audience is sort of unnerved at that point. As far as it being precognitive… There are some mystical aspects about the film that I don’t think are satisfactorily explained and I also like the film because of that. There are things that might not quite fit or they do fit if you allow yourself to go around the bend into magical thinking.
DC: But I think it informs a little bit of Nell’s character with the idea that here she is someone who is a little older, but her drawings and her representations of what she is “seeing” or experiencing are so child-like.
PF: Right. There is a real sympathy that Ashley Bell brings to the project and brings to her characterization of Nell that makes us want her to be “whole” again. No matter what her ailment is, we don’t want to see this girl in distress the way she is. They might have it on the DVD or Blu-Ray, but… Nell’s room was basically intact when we got there, but we added some art props that we felt Nell would probably do on her own there at the farm. One of them was this elaborate 3D diorama of… well, she’d inserted herself into the Nativity scene holding hands with Jesus. It was like some backwood, perverse sort of scene of her sitting hand-in-hand with Jesus. When the prop gal showed it to me, she was showing me around the room, and I said, “Wow, that’s great.” She then says, “Want to see it turn on?” I’m like, “What do you mean?” She hits the switch and it’s got Christmas lights stuck all through it and the whole thing lit up. It was this gaudy, wonderful carnival ride kind of thing. [laughs] I was really hoping that was going to stay in the film, but there were too many good pieces like that that unfortunately had to be dropped out.
DC: And isn’t that the way it would play out, that kind of attention to detail on her part? It really is a representation, in her mind anyway, of something that happened to her, something that makes her very special.
PF: Exactly. I mean, she’s chosen, right? So in that mindset of “I am chosen, things are good,” then you become fixated on stuff and, whether it’s good or bad, you must deserve it, right?
DC: Were there any discussions about her actually knowing what was going on? I mean, she sort of “gives up” a certain character’s identity and “role,” but… even that doesn’t work out for the best.
PF: We were talking about how that was a very kid thing to do, to throw people off or to try to save them. I mean, she’s basically giving us an out to go away at that point, to get away, to save ourselves. Because if those drawings are precognitive and she senses what our fates are, then the story she tells about that certain character is to get us away, to send us to safety. It’s us who decide to go back. “Those nosy kids…” [laughs] My eighteen-year-old nephew saw the film with some friends and he said, when we turn the van around, his friends said, “Noooo… keep driving!”
DC: But isn’t that the cornerstone of the "Hero’s Journey" where… you’re out, you’re safe, but you decide for whatever reason – courage, obligation, honor – to go back?
DC: So, in the end, were you all pleased by the way the film was received?
PF: We were over the moon. I mean, we were shooting this little horror film down in New Orleans and we were hoping for the best, but you never know what you’ve got. We liked what we did, but we also knew it was low budget and I’m not Johnny Depp and all that kind of stuff. But then, when Daniel edited it together and Lionsgate saw it, they said, “Wow, this is good and we know how to market a film like this.” We also happened to catch a couple of breaks. All the right doors opened and some films moved their release dates away from us and we had the perfect slot for people to say, “Let’s get creeped out before we get back to school!” It was a smart film with a horrific ending and it got people saying, “Yeah, this is a cool film regardless of the subject matter.”
DC: So, according to the always reliable IMDB, you have a couple of new films coming out. Land Of The Astronauts…
PF: LAND OF THE ASTRONAUTS is a film I did with David Arquette, Bijou Phillips, and Viveca A. Fox which is in post-production and is a sort of mystical, quasi-“what is real?” type of film. I also did a thing called PIG which is a sci-fi thriller directed and written by Henry Barrial. I use MEMENTO as a touchstone because it’s about a man who doesn’t know who he is or where he’s at, so… It’s a real cool script that’s shot really well. Then, in a completely opposite direction, I just wrapped twelve episodes of a sitcom called WORKING CLASS and that will be premiering January 28th on Country Music Television and it stars Melissa Peterman who is the tall, stunning blonde from REBA, the Reba McEntire show, and also Ed Asner. I play Melissa’s love interest and it’s been loads of fun.
Our thanks to Patrick for taking some time to speak with us. Order yourself a copy of The Last Exorcism below!
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