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August 2005
The Exorcism of Emily Rose: An Interview with Laura Linney

The Exorcism of Emily Rose: An Interview with Laura Linney

By Wilson Morales

Coming from a theater background, Laura probably never expected how far and fast she would get in the film business when she made her film debut in "Congo". After being Oscar nominated and winning many accolades for the indie film, "You Can Count on Me", Laura Linney has moved on to the A list of actresses when it comes to studio films. Recently nominated last year for her performance in "Kinsey", Laura continues to take on challenging roles. In her latest film, "The Exorcism of Emily Rose", Linney plays Erin Bruner, a high profiled defense lawyer who reluctantly agrees to represent the priest who's on trial for performing the exorcism, which led to the girl's death. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Linney talks about taking on this film and what her beliefs are.

There was mention that you didn't want to do this at first and that you were a little bit concerned?

Laura Linney: I was a little concerned. I wanted to make sure that this movie would be balanced; that both sides of the argument would be fully represented. I wanted to make sure it was a movie that was not going to tell people what to think, but just have them think in general.

Is the type of horror film that you like? Religious horror film rather than slasher films?

LL: I tend to go for the scary creature horror films. The alien, the real sort of unknown, what are you doing dealing with; so I would sort of segway into this, but I've never seen a movie that combines these two genres before, and I really didn't know if it was going to work.

Which two genres?

LL: Courtroom drama and supernatural scary exorcism and movie sort of thing.

Are you tight with a script? Do you like to improvise?

LL: I'm the daughter of a playwright, but at the same time, I will add that the more experience I have, I will certainly go to writers and say, "What about this or that and can we tweak this or that?" I don't do it a whole lot. More than anything, I will ask for things to be taken out because it's just too much. You don't have to tell the audience every single second what's going on.

Something to do with your body?

LL: It's just some things that you just don't need. A lot of times, scripts are written to be greenlit. They are not written to be made, and there's a big difference between a script that is going through a studio system and is trying to get funding and an actual working script for us to actually act. A lot of times scripts are not actable.

Did you, on your own, speak to an exorcist?

LL: I didn't. The research that I did was more in lines of what I thought she would do. The more sort of academic; I went to amazon, I went to google. There are tons of books and stuff out there, so I did good ole basic stuff.

Are you playing a real person?

LL: No. I'm fictional. I'm completely a fictionalize character.

So at the end credits, when it says her lawyer took her notes and everything and gave them...

LL: I haven't seen that so I don't know what you're talking about. I saw the movie a while ago, so they might have added something.

In the film, you weren't part of the Emily Rose exorcism, but did those scenes freak you out?

LL: No.

Why not? Did you not read the script?

LL: Yeah. I'm making my role is to freak you guys; for of us who are making it. It's delicious fun.

Personally, how do you feel about the supernatural? Do you believe in it?

LL: I contradict myself all the time. I don't feel confident saying one way or the other. I wish I did and I know that we are living in a time where to be certain is to serve strength, and you know, I think it's okay not to know and not to be sure. I don't know.

Have you ever that if there's a God, there has got to be a devil?

LL: Well, I don't know. Exactly, that's my thinking. I know there is some things I do believe then I know there are things that I've seen a ghost once and I'm a skeptic. I saw a ghost at the Belasco Theatre when I was doing a play called - I don't know if I've spoken about this in the past - and I'm not a ghost believer and it was a really nice experience seeing this ghost. The theatre is notoriously haunted, I heard about the legends of it for years being a theatre person. They usually show up when the play is about to open. Sure enough, we were doing a final run through and I looked up and there in the upper balcony which is a balcony that you can have no access to. It's locked from the street. There was a woman standing at the balcony. At the edge of the balcony which is very, very high up in a very blue satin dress, baby blue satin dress and blonde crimped hair and I saw her and I didn't stop, it didn't scare me, I just saw her there and I just sought of thought hello and then I turned and took a line to Jane Alexander and then I looked up and the ghost was gone and I didn't say anything to anyone about it because it didn't scare me, and it sort of felt sort of special like it was sort of my little invitation and I waited a few days and then I went to the house manager and I said, "You know I think I saw one of the ghosts" and he said, "male or female?" and I said "Female with blue dress, blonde hair" and he was like "Yeah, you did." So there are you know, the Belasco is a famously haunted theatre. The Con Ed guys will not go on in the basement. David Belasco's supposedly shows up, this one woman clearly shows up, so I believe in that or I've experienced that so I don't - the other stuff is harder for me to grasp for some reason.


LL: I can go round and round and round about this. I don't have an answer for it. I think about it and there are times when I think absolutely not and there are times am I open to the possibility of it, maybe I, you know, when you do the research and you hear about these exorcisms and people's heads splitting open in front of people, I mean, what do you do with that information? and then there's also the sort of thing, there's a part of me that at least with the good stuff I know that its either reality or something that my brain chemistry is creating and if it makes me feel better and helps me in my life I don't care if it's real or not.

Do you think the purpose of this belief is to bring a question of spirituality into a world that wants to reject the spiritual intervention? Emily Rose says that my death is because I will give my death to this purpose.

LL: Yeah, and there are people that you know sell grilled cheese sandwiches to Ebay that have the Virgin Mary, you know. I don't know, I just think it's interesting. You know, I'm certainly not. I have no agenda as far as you know, promoting or encourage, as far as the religious aspects of this movie are concerned. I have deep respect for religion in general but I am in no means trying to sway anyone's thinking about one way or the other but just to think.

On the set?

LL: On the set, no, my T.V. at the hotel would go on on its own a lot.

Which was weird.

LL: Not at 3 a.m. I am always asleep at 3 a.m. 4 a.m. is my witching hour. I am going through periods of stress or anything like that, 4 a.m. is when my eyes will always flap open.

In Vancouver?

LL: Vancouver. You know, it didn't bother - it was sort of - it would turn on and I'd just start to laugh, you know, it happened once and I felt like that's weird and then it happened again. It happened like three or four times and Jennifer's stereo kept turning on and it just sort of - and I felt like okay, faulty wiring, maybe its faulty wiring.

Maybe electricity?

LL: You know, who knows.

Somebody said the VCR?

LL: Maybe.

How did your research go that way and in terms of how to deal with -

LL: Well, I pulled out my file and my diaries that I kept when I was making Primal Fear.

Which was the first time you played a lawyer?

LL: Correct.

Was that the last time you played a lawyer?

LL: No, Absolute Power. It was also lawyer driven. Although there were no courtrooms in that. And I remembered you know, all the trials that I sat in on in Chicago when I was making Primal Fear. And then I also watched a lot of trial movies and if you have not seen Inherit the Wind recently? See it. You will do yourself a favor. It is a wonderful, wonderful movie. The courtroom stuff in there is just fantastic because it's hard to do, courtroom stuff is hard to shoot because it can be really boring or it can be so grandstanding that nobody listens, you know, it's a real balance between trying to expose certain character stuff and yet keep the story and the plot and the logic going and all and the strategy of the thought that the two teams are hitting against each other and all that stuff so -

Was Primal Fear was really your first real break? You had a lead in that movie.

LL: I wouldn't estimate Congo.

Yes. That was my favorite.

LL: I wouldn't underestimate the grand power.

But you go from there to do this movie. Did you think back at all of the 10 years in between and how you've changed and what you've learned?

LL: Certainly you do, as you grow you have more experience, you do sort of learn a little bit and you learn how you can be helpful, I mean it's really about how can I help, how can I be helpful and you have a first time director and you have people who and you just realize how you can maybe help them out a little bit and just really try and encourage them to trust that you know we - let us contribute that we contribute and you don't have to do all that sort of stuff, so you know, not so much with the book ends of these two lawyer pieces where I really felt that sensation of time was I did a play called Sight Unseen and I was in the original production of that play 12 years before so -

It was a different role?

LL: Different roles. But that was really where I felt a real parenthesis around that chunk of time, I really, really did.

You've done other horror thrillers as well and is horror movies something that you grab and see to its doing or -

LL: I've done 2 out of 30 films, so. I do like being in them.

Is there a difference?

LL: Of course, sure they are. They are really different because they're technical. You know, you're dealing with suspense, you're dealing with in some case special facts, you're dealing with you know, camera and lighting and timing is all that much more, I think weaves in, in a much stronger way. You know, they're fun. They're fun. That whole sequence of walking down the hallway and the you know, this is fun, it's fun to do, scary, you know.

And when the paper veers on and you're walking -

LL: Right, but of course when you know, when we did it there was no tape recorder; they didn't run sound, so I had to pretend that I was.

You laughed about Congo, are most actors pretty free having your sense of humor about their secrets.

LL: Sure. You have to, you have to, and the thing about Congo is that you know, I learned a lot making that movie. I was out of Julliard, I'd had a few days on movies, but I didn't know anything about making movies, I was scared to death of making movies. That was an opportunity they allowed me for six months to learn about how movies were made and I didn't have to worry about acting and it was not, you know, I was not playing a dame, I knew that I didn't have to reach deep down and read something together, the movie wasn't about that, so I was able to do my job and I hung, I went from department to department for like three weeks, I hung out with the camera guys, figured out what is it that you do, what are you doing, and what is your job, a lot of movie making is figuring out really what is your job. What is your job and then how do you let the people who really know what they're doing in certain areas do their job and not get in their way.

You suggested Jennifer Carpenter for this film. Can you talk about that?

LL: Jennifer and I did the crucible together three years ago.

Who did she play?

LL: She was Mary Warren and I have never been so impressed with anyone in rehearsal as I was with Jennifer regardless of their age. She was poised, she was brave, she would listen, she would connect, she was extraordinary. She was extraordinary and she was extraordinary every single performance of that show and I also love her to bits personally. So then I've seen her in a whole bunch of other stuff, other small productions and things like that. We kept in touch and when I signed on to do this I knew that that's the most critical piece of casting in the entire film is that part. And I knew that they really needed an actress who would attack it from a realistic stand point, who would also attack it - who wouldn't skip steps, because you can just scream, scream, scream and contort and be dramatic and your contorting and you're screaming and it was not rooted to anything and so I threw her name in the pot so that you guys should look at them and that's - and then she did the rest, you know. She's just phenomenal. She's physically capable and she's an athlete really, this girl, I don't know if you have seen her yet. When she comes in you'll see she's very, very thin and very willowy but she's strong and you know, and all that stuff she did on her own and she's also vocally really expert. You cannot scream like that without losing your voice for 14 hours a day. You really have to know what you're doing and you know, I just think she's fantastic and I was thrilled that they would take my suggestions seriously.

What comes first, the character or the story?

LL: It's different. You know, sometimes it could be the character, if the role is fantastic, sometimes it's the director, sometimes it's the script itself, sometimes it's the overall movie, or sometimes it's the location.

Do you prefer a location?

LL: I haven't yet. But I'm lying. I wouldn't rule it out.

Can you just make a decision before taking on the film?

LL: I agonize occasionally but not very often, it's pretty clear and sometimes you'll meet someone and it would be very clear.

How was the Oscar nomination the first time around?

LL: Yeah, it was really nice, they were both really nice. It's a really nice thing to happen. You just sort of giggle your way through it. It's a lot of work.

An Oscar nomination is reaching of the spotlight where its not like a real job of promoting the film but it's a different thing entirely.

LL: It's a little different but you're still promoting your film particularly if it's the ones that I've been nominated for which I must say I'm very proud about. I'm really happy that the two times I've been nominated. They're both for 2 movies that I'm bursting with pride about. I know that those nominations do shed a little more attention on the movie and it's great and it's my responsibility to let the people know that the movie is there, if it happens to be their cup of tea then its there.

How did you feel at that time?

The first one was just about I went took Armistead Maupin as my date and it was just the fun of sitting in front row at the Oscars with Armistead you just giggle, you just can't believe you're there, I mean, I know I was by far the happiest nominee in the room. I know I was. I know I was, I was happy as can be and I was you know, and in both instances I knew I wasn't going to win which makes it much easier I think if there's a sense that oh, my God I might win this thing I think it's a whole other creepy weird thing, what does it mean, what will it do, all the embarrassment, so I can see people who are - it's fun watching the other nominees and see where they all are.

Anything coming up?

LL: I made four films this past year.

So you've had no life this past year?

LL: Correct. That's correct. The Squid and the Whale, which was at Sundance was about a divorce. I haven't seen it yet, I'm seeing it tomorrow night for the first time and I'm very exited to see it, that's one of those movies like Kinsey that took four years to get made.


LL: Where you just wait and hope and you know, it changes and it's going to happen and its not going to happen -

You've got other than those two coming up?

LL: It's called Jindabyne which is Dr. Tagline for it. I don't quite understand that, Tagline but that's what Tagline is.

What's it about?

LL: It's based on a Raymond Carver short story called So Much Water Too Close to Home and they've taken it and placed it in Australia. And Ray Lawrence, the director of Lantana is doing that. It's a large ensemble cast with me and Gabriel Byrne sort of heading it up. I had a very good - we were in the middle of our back for two months doing that. And I did a film called Driving Lessons which is with Rupert Brent and Julie Walters but is written and directed by Jeremy Brock who wrote Mrs. Brown and that I had fun. So it's been a very, very good year.

It's the ones and not the ghost, I mean, is that just misleading you?

LL: I can't really comment on that, I don't know what they're doing, I'm not sure, I mean it is a ghost story, but its not your typical ghost story. It's a ghost story as far as hauntings and different more subtle ways.

Do you believe the best is yet to come with your life? You wake up every day -

LL: Yes, yeah, yeah. With actors' careers you never know, there's no guaranty about anything. I know I'm happier now than I've every been and that's for sure.

Would that be because of the work, because you've reached that part of your life?

LL: I think it's a combination of those things. I've worked with amazing people this past year. I've had five amazing jobs back to back. Amazing. Going even further back, Kinsey, Sight Unseen, The Squid and the Whale, The Exorcism, Jindabyne, Gender Bind, Driving Lessons, it's you know, nominations of the wazoo and so work has been more fulfilling beyond my wildest dreams. And the people have been fantastic and then you know I think you know you get older and you know, worry about certain things, you're okay about other things and don't abandon your own opinions and people tell you one thing, you got to do this and you go no I don't and you know you're right and you are just sort of more comfortable in your own skin and less afraid.

What don't you worry about anymore?

LL: I'm just easier with it. And there's one thing about this, is they don't tell you about, like in order to be successful in it you also have to have the disposition to deal with it and fortunately for me I think I've always been pretty good about that, I can get really hot under the collar about certain things. And I think you just learn to let go and when it's not that important and you know, some things you know, like an Oscar nomination. It can mean absolutely everything and it can mean absolutely nothing at all. And you've just got to enjoy it. You know, it's a really nice thing and you sort of have to take every experience like that. I don't really live anywhere at the moment, I sort of really am the gypsy, the actress, actress/gypsy queen.

Like Russell Crow?

LL: Ha, ha. I hear a lot of stories about actors who have famous fits and there's bad behavior and some of that bad behavior is honest to God just bad behavior and then there's some of it where I go well, of course they do. Of course they flipped out then. Of course they stormed off and locked themselves in their trailer. Of course they did. You know, some things you know, I remember the great big story about Kim Bassinger, who I do not know. I've never had a conversation with her; I don't know anything about her. The whole story about how she insisted on having Evian water to wash her hair and they made this huge thing to embarrass her about that. Well, as someone who's been blonde and every other color in the world you know, and you're in a remote location, they've dyed your hair blonde for the 15th time because some producer wants you to look a certain way, you go there, you wash your hair and your hair turns green because of the minerals in the water. So probably she just wanted clean water to wash her hair so it doesn't turn green. Someone got a hold of this and then embarrassed her beyond belief. So I'm much easier when I hear about people who are tired, and tired.

Description: Check out some clips of the film

Clip 1 - 3 AM
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Clip 2 - Classroom Spirit
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Clip 3 - Even the Serpents
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