The Exorcist TV series “is like a religious James Bond”

Pilot episode director and producer Rupert Wyatt talks us through The Exorcist

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After the success of Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, Rupert Wyatt has made the move to the small screen to reimagine another classic. Created and written by Jeremy Slater, The Exorcist is set 40 years after the events of William Friedkin’s film, and exists in the same universe. We spoke to the director about his approach to the pilot episode and his fascination with real-life exorcisms…

Why do you think people are still so fascinated with the story told in William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel?
Like all great stories, it’s a great reflection of us as a species, and also us as a society. We’re telling a story which is very much of the now, about a city that has a very rich and varied history.

When Friedkin made the original film, the United States was going through various financial crises, and it was the early days of Vietnam, so it wasn’t a totally different world. It’s always interesting to me when the world is in a place, especially economically or politically, where there are world events that play into the notions of evil as becoming more pervasive in our society. What inevitably happens is that entertainment as an art form mirrors that.

Why did you set the TV show in Chicago?
I was a big driver of setting the [show] in Chicago. I thought it was a historically vibrant American city that has a big Catholic community. The church is very powerful there, but it’s dealing with modern controversies and scandals. It’s not the great institution that it once was.

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Geena Davis and Ben Daniels star in The Exorcist.

On political levels there are aspects of corruption in Chicago – there has been all the way back to Al Capone. It’s a city where if you were to say the Devil were to infiltrate our world and look to proliferate on a pandemic level, Chicago would be it for me.

Was it important to you to give the show a cinematic feel?
I didn’t want a varnished look. TV can sometimes have a gloss to it, but with the case of The Exorcist I wanted to find something that was really unvarnished and light it in that way so Chicago in February was perfect for that. We looked to a lot of films specifically shot in Chicago in the winter like Road To Perdition.

Is there one particular character as a storyteller you latched on to?
The exorcists themselves I thought were incredibly fascinating. We researched it in as grounded way as possible. We talked to priests who wanted to remain nameless. They are recruited individuals. They are trained to carry out these actions and a lot of people who do this job are very secretive people. They keep themselves to themselves and they don’t advertise what they do. It’s a bit like working for the secret service in some ways. We approached it a little like a religious James Bond.

The Exorcist will air on Fox from 20 October 2016. Read our full interview with Rupert Wyatt in issue 125 of SciFiNow, on sale now.