It’s not much of an exaggeration to call Eli Roth the busiest man in horror these days- while currently in post-production on his cannibal flick The Green Inferno in Chile, he’s also kept busy promoting and wrapping up a few other upcoming projects including The Last Exorcism Part II.
Dread Central recently hopped on the phone with Roth to talk about what fans can expect from this latest chapter in the tragic and terrifying life of Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell), who’s back once again to battle demonic forces, but this time for co-writer and director Ed Gass-Donnelly, who has taken over the directorial helm for The Last Exorcism Part II. We also spoke with Roth about his thoughts on reteaming with Bell for another chapter and heard more on the lengths the actress was willing to go for her (literally) back-breaking role this time around. Roth also discussed bringing on Gass-Donnelly for The Last Exorcism Part II and briefly chatted about his latest directorial effort, The Green Inferno, as well.
Check out the highlights from our exclusive interview with Roth below, and look for The Last Exorcism Part II in theaters everywhere this Friday, March 1st.
Dread Central: Thanks so much for taking time to chat today- it doesn’t seem like you get a whole lot of free time these days.
Eli Roth: (Laughs) No, not really. I’m actually talking to you from Chile while editing The Green Inferno. There’s always going to be work, but I’m glad to take some time to talk about Last Exorcism.
Dread Central: Wow- let’s talk about The Last Exorcism Part II then. Now that we’ve seen the trailer, it’s safe to assume you guys are going for a more traditional narrative here rather than using found footage. Can you talk about what made you decide to switch things up for the sequel?
Eli Roth: Well, after the first one came out, everyone started asking us about a sequel, and we thought we only want to do one if we can really tell a great story again and make it a worthy successor to that first film so we spent a year working on the script just so we could get it right. Then when we were ready to move forward, we decided to go the straight narrative route but set it within this world where the events of the first movie exist as a viral video on the Internet.
Going that route gave us all sorts of possibilities with this story and with the character Nell; she has no memory of what happened to her whatsoever so imagine that everyone else has seen these horrible things happening to you but it’s something you’ve never watched. She has no idea, and that’s kind of terrifying in some ways where everyone else knows something except you.
Dread Central: Do you feel like opening the world up like this also opens up the character of Nell? Do we get more of a sense of who she is then as she deals with all of these horrible things that have happened to her?
Eli Roth: Oh absolutely. And that was part of it, too- for the sequel we wanted to give Ashley so much more to do because we knew she could. We saw who she was as part of this sheltered family and just imagine what can happen with this fractured character when she’s placed in a halfway house- bad things are bound to happen. So we really wanted to explore what would happen if she was in society and still forced to deal with what was happening to her without having her family there. It’s an interesting dynamic, and Ashley really gave 150 percent on this.
Dread Central: Ashley is quickly becoming one of my favorite young actresses- what do you think it is about her as a performer that really nails these physically grueling roles that also have a lot of emotion and depth to them?
Eli Roth: It’s hard to sum it up really, but she’s just so fearless and willing to push herself on so many levels to get her performance just perfect. She’s just so giving as an actress and there’s really no one else like Ashley out there working today. She put herself through so much for this movie- physically, mentally and emotionally.
I mean, look what Ashley did for the poster; that sequel poster isn’t Photoshopped at all- it’s actually Ashley in a backbend, and she ended up posing for so long that she ended up straining a bunch of her vertebrae and had to go into physical therapy after even. But that’s Ashley- she will literally bend over backwards for her work. What other actor do you know that would or could do these sorts of things and just be willing to go there? Not many, if any at all.
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Dread Central: Talk a bit about Ed (Gass-Donnelly) and what he brought to the table for The Last Exorcism Part II.
Eli Roth: Well, Daniel Stamm, who directed the first movie, got very busy right after the first Last Exorcism came out so we knew when we started on the sequel he wouldn’t be able to come back unfortunately. Daniel was great about it, though- he said he wanted the sequel to be an opportunity for another talented filmmaker who needed their shot (like he got his on the original) so eventually we met Ed and realized he was going to approach this with a lot of style and sophistication but still wanted to terrify audiences, too. There’s a lot of this movie that really feels like a Polanski film at times, and that’s all due to Ed; he really made a beautiful looking horror movie. We needed a guy like Daniel for the first movie, and for this Part II we needed a guy like Ed to bring in a completely different approach, and so the two movies feel very different but still feel like they’re both part of this same world.
Dread Central: How hard is it to create a satisfying follow-up when you have a movie that finds the kind of success that The Last Exorcism did? Is there more pressure on you for a movie like this than, say, something original you’re working on?
Eli Roth: In some ways, absolutely. The greatest challenge with a sequel is balancing the expectations that the fans have but also giving them the unexpected without alienating them at all. Even though Part II is its own story, it still has to hit a lot of those notes from the original that you go in expecting so we had to find a way to hit those notes but give them a bit of a twist so that you’re still getting something new in the sequel. You don’t want to end up making Jaws 2 (laughs) or anything.
Dread Central: Not that you don’t already have enough projects on your plate, but have you guys considered a third Last Exorcism at all yet, or do you just want to focus on Part II for now?
Eli Roth: Right now I’m just focusing on making this one as great as possible and getting it out there, and if it’s a hit, we do have a great idea for the third one already set to go but no script. We took our time making a sequel to the first movie – three years in fact – so we’d probably take our time again if we get to make another one in the future.
Dread Central: Since this is my last question, I wanted to ask about The Green Inferno– I know you went down and filmed with real cannibals, which is just insane to me. What can you tell us about the project so far?
Eli Roth: I really think this is going to be a terrifying film. It follows this group of students who just think they’re smarter than everyone else who head off into this jungle and of course, bad things happen. Very, very bad things. It was just incredible to go from modern civilization to this untouched place each and every day to shoot. It was hard, too- we drove four hours to set every day to this small village that didn’t have running water or electricity. They had no idea what movies were so we showed them Cannibal Holocaust, which they all thought was really funny.
But making Green Inferno was an incredible life experience; we dealt with over 100-degree days, driving for hours on these tiny dirt paths, going up the Amazon and just losing our minds. It was incredible- you can’t fake that kind of stuff, and I think it’s going to make for a great movie.
Ed Gass-Donnelly directs The Last Exorcism Part II from a screenplay by Gass-Donnelly and Damien Chazelle. Ashley Bell stars. Look for The Last Exorcism Part II in US theaters on March 1st and in the UK on March 15th.
Continuing where the first film left off, Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) is found terrified and alone in rural Louisiana. Back in the relative safety of New Orleans, Nell realizes that she can’t remember entire portions of the previous months only that she is the last surviving member of her family. Just as Nell begins the difficult process of starting a new life, the evil force that once possessed her is back with other, unimaginably horrific plans that mean her last exorcism was just the beginning.
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