Despite Warner Bros’ The Exorcist franchise racking up close to $590M at the global box office, the only title in the series that really ever worked on a mass level was William Friedkin’s 1973 original, which with re-releases racked up 75% of the series’ entire B.O. The sequels never clicked. Now WBTV is making a go with a TV version of the classic demonic-possession film on Fox in the fall.
Series EPs Jeremy Slater and Rupert Wyatt spoke at TCA today about the big shoes they have to fill and the lessons learned from the installments that didn’t work. Ironically, the fourth Exorcist was shot by Paul Schrader, then pulled by Warner Bros and remade by the series star Geena Davis’ ex-husband Renny Harlin, retitled Exorcist: The Beginning. Schrader’s version would see the light of day as a limited release by the studio as Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist.
“The problem with all the sequels is that they were trying to duplicate the beats of the original film,” said Slater, who gives The Exorcist III a complete pass as a good movie. “We’re conscious of that: We can’t retell the same story. We can only make a show that you haven’t seen before with new characters.”
Said Wyatt, who is directing the pilot: “If you look at the original, Friedkin — by way of his background and the films he was making at this time and coming from documentary filmmaking — approached the subject matter as an agnostic, a non-believer. The subsequent films were more in the style of the genre.”
The new series follows Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera) and Father Marcus Brennan (Ben Daniels), who are tackling the Rance family’s horrifying case of demonic possession and confronting the face of true evil. Alan Ruck plays the family patriarch, Henry, once a successful civil engineer who suffered a traumatic accident that has left him impaired. He finds himself a prisoner inside his own body, frustrated by his lack of progress and his inability to help his family in their time of need. Despite all this, he remains a warm, loving presence and someone who will go to any lengths to protect the ones he loves.
“Evil has grander ambitions than targeting one girl in Georgetown,” added Slater.
Ruck explained that originally his character suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, but the writers believed it was better that his Henry suffer from a traumatic brain injury. “Instead of being poor old Henry in a chair, he wakes up from a nap and realizes the nightmare is real. It’s every parent’s nightmare to think that their kid is going to get hurt, and they [might not be] able to stop it.”