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Patrick Fabian Interview: 'Big Love' Actor Stars in Eli Roth's 'The Last Exorcism'

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Patrick Fabian

During a career spanning the last 18 years, veteran actor Patrick Fabian has appeared in numerous television shows including Murder She Wrote, Friends, Crossing Jordan, Just Shoot Me, Pushing Daisies, Ugly Betty, Veronica Mars, 24, Joan of Arcadia, The Mentalist, According to Jim, Boston Legal, Las Vegas, and Burn Notice.

Fabian will next star in Gigantic, an upcoming television series for the TeenNick TV channel, in which he plays the movie star father of Grace Gummer (Meryl Streep’s daughter). He is best known for his recurring role as Ted Price on the last two seasons of Big Love and his iconic role as Professor Jeremiah Lasky on Saved By the Bell: The College Years.

“Honestly, the first time I said, ‘Can I get a hallelujah?’ this wall of sound came back and hollered, ‘Hallelujah!’ So we had a great time.”

The 45-year-old Pennsylvania native has the lead in Eli Roth’s new movie, The Last Exorcism. Fabian plays Reverend Cotton Marcus, a disillusioned evangelical minister who agrees to let his last exorcism be filmed by a documentary crew. The horror film, to be released on August 27, 2010, co-stars Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, and Ashley Bell.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Patrick, tell me about your character, Reverend Cotton Marcus, in The Last Exorcism.

Patrick Fabian

Patrick Fabian (Photo by Mackel Vaughn)

Patrick Fabian: Well, I’m in the family business. I was a child prodigy as a preacher. My daddy was a preacher so I grew up in that world. I was very good at it and had been very good at it for a long time. But, the exorcisms I had been performing, for the most part, had been like a PT Barnum sideshow. I was just basically taking people’s money.

I’m in a crisis of conscience about midway through my life and decide to hire a film crew to document and expose exorcisms as a bunch of hocus pocus. It is a way of me making amends and hanging up my cross at the same time. We get down to the Sweetzer farm and meet Nell (played by Ashley Bell) where things are not what they seem and I find myself ill equipped to deal with it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Since the film takes place in Louisiana, was it shot there on location?

Patrick Fabian: Yeah, on my first night down in New Orleans we were shooting down in Lower 9th Ward. We went past the 17th Street Canal Levee that had given way and the destruction from Hurricane Katrina was very much in sight. It was my first time there and everything everybody had said about it was exactly true. It’s unlike any city in America. It’s got that weird feel of all those cultures coming together right there in the heat.

We went about 45 minutes outside of the heart of New Orleans, and just kept going, taking lefts and rights, until it was the last farmhouse on the right. It was like a plantation of the 1860s. The house was in somewhat disrepair, but it certainly has history and ghosts of its own.

We were down there with swamp rats, mosquitoes, alligators, and the heat. It’s the heat where you put on a linen suit and you go out and just sweat from the early morning to the end of the night. I got used to the heat, though, and that really bled into the film, you know? When we get to the farm and see the family you get a sense that they don’t have too much contact with the outside world which also gave a creepy value to the film.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m sure you prepared for the role with research on exorcisms and demons. Did this whole experience creep you out?

Patrick Fabian: Oh yeah, sure. The director, Daniel Stamm, gave me a bunch of great books to read that were about the history of exorcisms in the church from a priest’s first person account. Those books were dry and clinical because they’re literally documenting the experience for the church. They’re not writing it down for sensationalism or to sell books. That’s when I really got creeped out because you’re reading what an older man wrote and he’s not trying to flower it up to sell anything.

I also went to Pentecostal and Baptist churches in Los Angeles and in New Orleans. These were the real fire and brimstone, hands to the ceiling in the spirit type of churches. I’m a nice Catholic boy who grew up in central Pennsylvania and we didn’t pray like that. But it was fantastic to go because, whether you believe in God or not, I certainly believed that these people believed in those churches.

There’s something going on there with the singing and the clapping and it was great to witness that. I was able to use that when we did the preaching in the movie as well because we spent about two days in a Baptist church. The background artists there, for the most part, were good church going folk, so when I started working with them I said, “Look, I’m an actor, not a preacher, so I’m going to make mistakes. Can you help me out and let me know what’s going on?”

Honestly, the first time I said, “Can I get a hallelujah?” this wall of sound came back and hollered, “Hallelujah!” So we had a great time. These ladies who were all dressed up in their Sunday hats were just terrific. The best compliment I got was when one of them said, “You know what? You’ve got a little preacher in you!” My retort to her was, “Well, I think preachers have a little acting in them as well.”

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I read that Ashley Bell performed many of her own stunts.

Patrick Fabian: Yeah, you asked me if I was creeped out … absolutely, and that was because Ashley Bell is such a pro and so good in her role. When you see the film you’ll know what I’m talking about.

There’s no CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery), no film trickery with her. What makes it nice and creepy is that Ashley did all of her own things. So when I went to work and we’d be doing exorcism or interview scenes, I was genuinely creeped out. I was genuinely scared. I’m a good actor, but without her being as good as she was … all I had to do was react.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That had to have been wild.

Patrick Fabian: It was wild. It’s my first time in New Orleans, we’re out past the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, we’re in this old place that has a ghostly feel to it, we’re doing night shots in barns … just creepy. I talk to the lens a lot because we’re filming the documentary.

I’m actually talking to the documentarian and the cameraman who don’t make it into the film a great deal physically, but their presence is felt because the three of us experience this creepiness together … and by extension, the audience feels it, too. The film tells a tale and invites the audience in at the beginning, they get comfortable, we strap them in, and then when the car turns upside down in the third act, the audience wants to get out but they can’t. I think that’s what really makes the film successful.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It’s a movie within a movie.

Patrick Fabian: It is. But I think it takes you out of that. It’s not trying to be conscious of the fact that, “Hey, you’re watching us film this.” Unlike other films that do handheld stuff, he’s very steady with it.

Patrick Fabian

Patrick Fabian (Photo by Mackel Vaughn)

I think Zoltan (Honti), the cinematographer, is steady enough that when we have to run or whatever, the audience is so with him at that point. He does it really well so that you’re looking around the edge of the frame trying to find out what’s down that hallway. It’s really a great sensation.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That’s definitely the difference between this film and The Exorcist (1973).

Patrick Fabian: Oh yes. The Exorcist is the granddaddy of them all, a great first time genuine scare the first time you see it. But, Daniel Stamm, our director, wasn’t looking to make “Exorcist 2” or worrying about comparisons because he’s telling a completely different tale in a completely different way.

It’s 35 years later and things have changed. Daniel has a great way of using old-fashioned filmmaking techniques; using shadow and light, sounds, and he ratchets up the anxiety without a body count. There’s a reason it’s PG-13. It’s not hack and slash, but still thrillingly scary. There are at least 5 or 6 “jump out of your seats” scares and that’s what you want from a creepy movie.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sure, so no green pea soup in this film?

Patrick Fabian: Ah, I’m not going to say anything about that (laughs). It’s hard to talk about the movie and not talk about it at the same time, you know? But, I watched it for the first time at the LA Film Festival and was pleased to see the reaction of the audience. There’s humor in the film that was unexpected. I knew the scary parts and still got scared.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The film also premiered at the last Comic-Con.

Patrick Fabian: They had two screenings there but I did not go. If Eli (Roth), our wonderful producer, had not seen the script written by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, the film would not have gotten made. This is definitely a Daniel Stamm directed film, but it’s got Eli’s prints all over it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You have an upcoming TV series for the TeenNick channel called Gigantic.

Patrick Fabian: Yes, an actress who plays my daughter is Grace Gummer, the daughter of Meryl Streep, and another girl in the show, Gia Mantegna, is the daughter of actor Joe Mantegna. I get to play a movie star. My wife (played by Helen Slater) and I are movie stars, which is great because you get very nice clothes and the best home to live in (laughs). I go to work, change out of my jeans and t-shirt and put on these nice Donna Karan shirts.

I loved working with Helen and the kids. I had played a dad before on guest spots, but not during an entire season of a show. You know, you’re forever young in LA. You’re 24 until someone reminds you that you’re not (laughs). All it takes is somebody who is 18 or 19 to look at you and call you sir and mean it, then all of your illusions are quickly shattered.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I know what you mean. Are you still a recurring character on Big Love?

Patrick Fabian: I recurred on Seasons 3 and 4 and I think they’re about halfway through Season 5. They’re pretty tight about the scripts and where their storylines are so I usually get a call two weeks before they need me. So I don’t have an answer for that, but I’m hoping for the best.

Bill Paxton and Jeanne Tripplehorn are so much fun to work with. They are real pros and I admire and respect them very much. They’re exactly the kind of actors I hope to be if I ever get the chance to anchor a show.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you completed filming The Land of the Astronauts?

Patrick Fabian: That is done. It’s an independent film with David Arquette. David and I have a couple of fun scenes. It’s a sort of trippy, hallucinatory film.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): No release date yet?

Patrick Fabian: Not as far as I know.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Patrick, congratulations on becoming a dad for the first time!

Patrick Fabian: Oh yeah, I got this movie coming out and then my daughter’s coming out about three weeks later so whether the movie’s good or bad she’s not going to care (laughs). I couldn’t be happier.

It’s a girl and I’m open and excited about the adventure. Many people here have waited until later to have kids so we have a nice village in LA of kids who are two and under and we get a lot of advice from friends. What’s even better is we are getting hand-me-downs. They tell me that they go through clothes so quickly you need to take a photo because she’s only going to wear it once.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will you have any time off to enjoy the baby?

Patrick Fabian: Well, you know, I guess that all depends on how successful the film is. My wife knew I was an actor when she married me and that you have to strike while the iron is hot and you work when you are offered a job. I’m sure it will be hectic, but we’ll be able to adapt to whatever comes our way.

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