Interview: ‘The Exorcist’ TV Series Creator Jeremy Slater Explains Why He Decided to Take On a Classic
Posted on Thursday, June 23rd, 2016 by Fred Topel
The Exorcist is the latest classic movie getting the TV treatment. Executive producer Jeremy Slater, who already experienced a different sort of franchise in 2015’s Fantastic Four, got out ahead of the fall premiere on Twitter. He tweeted that one reason he took on The Exorcist was so no one else would remake it. He also shared Deadline’s report that Alan Ruck had been bumped up to series regular.
Last week, Fox screened the pilot for The Exorcist to press. The show takes place in present day, though Google searches show that the Father Merrin exorcism still happened. Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera) is helping the Rance family in his church. Angela Rance (Geena Davis) thinks there’s more than just a degenerative head trauma plaguing her husband (Ruck), and her daughters are manifesting symptoms too. Ortega has vivid dreams of another exorcist, Father Marcus Lang (Ben Daniels), and the pilot features some new twists on classic Exorcist images.
We had a chance to speak with Slater during the reception for the pilot screening. Some spoilers follow, but most likely things that will be hyped up in the trailers for the show anyway.
I saw your tweets that the reason you took the job was you didn’t want anybody else to remake The Exorcist, and I know every project is different and has different levels of scrutiny. Was this any more or less scrutinized than your experience on Fantastic Four?
A different kind of scrutiny. Fantastic Four I didn’t feel the same pressure because I really believed that the right version of Fantastic Four hadn’t been done before. The Tim Story movies have their fans but that wasn’t the Fantastic Four that I grew up reading and loving. They weren’t the characters I was excited to write about, where Exorcist is a perfect film. I still think it’s the scariest movie ever made so it’s really big shoes to fill. When they brought up the idea trying to pitch me over the phone, at the time it was a 10-episode miniseries, I said, “That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard because you’re never going to be better than the original film. You’re just going to be longer than the original film. So I shouldn’t do it and you shouldn’t do it either.” Then I hung up the phone and sat down. I’m like, “It’s too bad that they’re dead set on remaking the original film because there would be a great story if you set it in modern day and you did this and you did this.” I thought about it for about half an hour and I called them up and said, “Let me just see if I can go in and pitch another take and see if they’ll change their mind.” I really kind of pitched it, this is like three or four years ago so Fargo didn’t exist at the time, but I pitched it a lot like the TV show Fargo. Let’s tell a story that exists in the same universe, it exists 40 years later so you’re not rebooting or remaking the original. You’re not saying it didn’t exist. You’re just telling a different story with different characters in the same universe but you’re hopefully trying to recapture the tone and the complexity of the original.
We’ve seen both approaches. Limitless is also in the world of the film. Bates Motel is a retelling. Does each franchise just require a different take?
I think so, yeah. I don’t think The Exorcist would lend itself to a prequel the way something like Bates Motel does. The idea of trying to do a sequel with the same characters didn’t hold a lot of appeal. You don’t want to follow up Exorcist II: The Heretic and say, “Here’s the next one of those.”
Come on, Exorcist III: Legion!
Look, I am a big fan of Legion. I think there’s amazing stuff in that movie. The nurse scare, I’ll go down on record, that’s one of if not the best jump scare in movie history. I saw that thing at New Beverly with a crowd full of jaded horror fans who had seen that thing 100 times before. They still screamed when that nurse came out. Yeah, the appeal was really: Can we tell something new, something that has more legs and something that’s going to surprise audiences? I don’t think there’s any surprise to saying we’re going to remake the original story and it’s going to be Regan MacNeil with her head spinning around and the first eight hours of the season are spooky shit is going wrong in the walls and weird sounds in the attic. Then you get to the exorcism in the last two episodes and everyone goes home. There’s not a show there. There’s nothing that would get me excited as a viewer. The challenge here was to take the shows that I love of Breaking Bad and Lost and all my favorite shows, and can I do the horror version of those? Can I do something with a rich mythology that can for hopefully years to come and characters you maybe haven’t seen on TV before and big questions about faith and moral complexity that you may not see on your average procedural I guess? That’s really what drew me to the project.