Interview: Patrick Fabian of The Last Exorcism

Disc Dish chatted with actor Patrick Fabian about the horror/thriller movie The Last Exorcism (DVD, Blu-ray; Lionsgate; released on Jan. 4, 2011), in which he stars. (Read our DVD review.)

In the film, Fabian portrays Cotton Marcus, a dynamic second-generation preacher who has been scamming the religious folk of the rural South for years by performing “exorcisms.” But the wearying Marcus has decided to expose that his act is as a fraud (as are those of other con artist preachers) by bringing along a film crew to document his final exorcism. But wouldn’t you know that this last act of evangelical salvation might just be for real.

A 20-year acting veteran who’s  recognizable from his countless guest spots and recurring roles on television (most notable in Gigantic, Big Love, Joan of Arcadia and Veronica Mars), Fabian was all too affable and enthusiastic when he spoke to us about The Last Exorcism. And we’re hoping that Fabian’s fine performance in the film wangles him some more high-profile big-screen work.

Disc Dish: What was it that initially attracted you to The Last Exorcism?

Patrick Fabian: The role of Cotton Marcus was such a larger-than-life character — an evangelical preacher! — that I had to take it. As an actor, anytime you’re given a role that is automatically a larger than life character, who is a man of words and theatrics, anybody worth his salt would want to take that role on. I think of Burt Lancaster in Elmer Gantry and all the great over-the-top performances you can get away with when you play a character like that. And Cotton is at the end of his rope, and he’s finally growing a conscience. That was an interesting facet to explore, as well.

DD: You were so right-on as Marcus, particularly in the exorcism scenes. Are you a fan of all those other “devil” movies going back to The Exorcist?

PF: Oh yeah, I’ve so many over the years and like a good number of them. The Sentinel, Rosemary’s Baby, The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, Race With the Devil… [Last Exorcism director] Daniel [Stamm] actually wanted us to watch all the other exorcism movies and then not to do what we saw.

DD: Your scenes with Ashley Bell (TV’s United States of Tara) often get quite physical, particularly in the second half of the film. How was it fighting on screen with 100-pound, 24-year-old woman?

PF: Let’s put it this way, if you’re betting on us in a bar fight, put your money on her. I’ve done this kind of fighting stuff before, so I could handle it, but Ashley was pretty new to it. But she sure knew what she was doing! We had a safe word in case anything got out of control or went wrong, but nothing ever did.

DD: The film has a documentary-within-a-documentary format. With you extensive TV background, was that kind of shooting experience a challenge for you?

PF: It’s funny, on television, you’re trying to pretend the camera’s not there — you’re looking anywhere but at the camera. But it was 180 degrees about for The Last Exorcism — I had to look at the camera all the time. It was so weird.

Preacher Patrick Fabian goes to work on a possessed Ashley Bell in The Last Exorcism.

DD: How was the experience of filming in New Orleans?

PF: Great, just great. It was a low budget feature, and our art director did an outstanding job. But I have to say that New Orleans did a lot for us just by being New Orleans. Driving around various parts — from downtown out to the surrounding areas and plantations — was like driving back in time. The house that we used was built in the 1860s and was just perfect. It was filled with antique furniture and gun racks, and the water had come in there from the hurricane, which that also added to it.

DD: Overall, the entire movie sounds like it was a real charge for you, not to mention a change of pace.

PF: I’ve been working for about 20 years, and I can honestly say that The Last Exorcism was the most unique project I’ve ever been involved with.

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.