'Last Exorcism' star says contortionist poses were real
Ashley Bell in Lionsgate's 'The Last Exorcism'
TORONTO - "The Last Exorcism" star Ashley Bell bent over backwards for the role. Literally.
The 24-year-old Santa Monica, Calif., native says there was no trickery involved when she contorted her body into painful-looking positions to appear possessed by a demon in the horror film that hits theatres Friday.
"I've done a lot of ballet my whole life and I've just naturally been really flexible," Bell said in a recent interview.
"I'm double-jointed. It's a party trick," she added with a giggle.
Patrick Fabian, who plays a preacher in the film, vouched for her ability to bend backwards and practically fold her body in half while standing up, as is depicted in the creepy promotional posters.
"Everything that Ashley does in this film, Ashley does in the film," he said proudly as he sat beside her during an interview.
"There's no CGI with her. Yeah, how 'bout that!"
Directed in docu-style by Daniel Stamm and written by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, "The Last Exorcism" follows Cotton Marcus (Fabian), a slick Louisiana evangelical preacher who doesn't believe in demons or possession and wants "to expose exorcisms for the fraud they are."
He gets his chance when he receives a letter from the father of Nell Sweetzer (Bell), a sugary-sweet teen whose recent sleepwalking antics on their rundown rural farm have her dad convinced she's possessed.
Suspecting a mental disorder, the preacher heads out to the property with a camera crew to provide video proof that exorcisms and possession are a sham and that those who undergo them only feel better because they think they're healed.
After meeting Nell and her fundamentalist father, he secretly sets up his exorcism theatrics that include a cross that spews out smoke and a hidden stereo system with 800 different "demon sounds."
Of course, this being a horror film -- one produced by genre filmmaker Eli Roth, no less -- his plan doesn't go quite according to plan.
"The set itself was very eerie," said Fabian, 58, a Pittsburgh native who's been on dozens of series including "Big Love," where he's had the recurring role of Ted Price for two seasons.
"We were shooting in the Lower Ninth Ward (of New Orleans) which was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and not recovered and we were in an old house from the 1860s.
"It's sort of steamy, sexy, murky and we're out in the swamp in the bayou so there's a thousand bugs, and alligators walked on set."
The film is Bell's feature breakthrough after a recurring role on TV's "United States of Tara" and smaller parts on a few other series.
To land the part, she had to pretend to undergo an exorcism in a callback audition.
"There I was, lying in a casting office in the middle of West Hollywood lying on the carpet, having this man summon this thing out of me and I was contorting," she recalled, looking chic in high heels, skinny jeans and cream blouse -- a far cry from the dowdy white nightgown her character wears.
"And I just thought: 'My parents would be so proud."
Before filming, Bell did research on hysterias and manias and post-traumatic stress disorders. She also went to extremist churches, and perused YouTube to view the plethora of videos supposedly showing real-life exorcisms.
One tape in particular sent chills up her spine.
"I was listening to this tape and you hear screams and you hear noises and you go: 'Oh, that could be real, that could be made,"' she said.
"Then there comes this noise that is neither masculine or feminine or animal or human and you just go, 'What is that?' And you just wish you weren't doing your research at one in the morning when your imagination is totally at its peak."