The team behind Fox's The Exorcist reboot really did their research.
During the development process, the executive producers of the new drama starring Geena Davis reached out to the Catholic church in an effort to hear from real-life exorcists. But it turns out the church wasn't eager to talk with the producers.
"We were kind of met with a stony silence," executive producer and director Rupert Wyatt revealed at a Television Critics Association summer press tour panel Monday.
But word eventually got around that the writers were looking for someone with whom they could consult, and they were contacted by a Catholic priest in Chicago who was willing to meet with them. When they got together in person, the man had an explanation for the church's radio silence.
"He made it clear that it wasn't necessarily a lack of willing[ness] to talk to us … but it really comes down to protecting the exorcists," Wyatt explained. "They don't like to show their faces; they don't like to break their cover, and that comes from the fact that there are many, many potential cases that have nothing to do with what is ostensibly possession."
Wyatt went on to say that there are a lot of people who are actually suffering from alcoholism, schizophrenia and other psychological illnesses whose families mistakenly believe that they are possessed. "But that's not the case," said Wyatt, adding of the reason the exorcists mostly stay under the radar: "They can be really hounded and chased by members of the public, so they keep to themselves."
The priest - who claimed to have never performed an exorcism himself but failed to convince the Exorcist producers ("We kind of thought that wasn't true, because he knew a lot about it," insisted Wyatt) - also told the team that exorcists have proliferated through the United States in recent years. Two decades ago, there was only a small fraction of priests practicing exorcisms, but the man claimed that number has "grown exponentially" in the past few years "for a number of different reasons" - reasons that Wyatt didn't specifically get into during the panel.
Another important tidbit the producers gleaned from the priest? Possessed people are participants in their own possession. "It is based purely on the idea that when you are possessed, you are allowing the demon inside. [It's] when your will has been broken, so you were very much a participant in it," said Wyatt. "People can't just get possessed for no reason. They have to open themselves up to that situation."
Ultimately, the producers walked away having learned that exorcism is very much still a thing. "It goes on, and it's very much a part of the modern Catholic church. It's for a long time been considered a dirty secret of the Catholic church, and they've attempted to bury it and distance themselves from it - something that we explore in the show itself - but it's a community outreach basically," said Wyatt, adding that it was "fascinating" to talk with the priest.
For his part, series creator Jeremy Slater made sure to distinguish the show from the 1973 film on which it's based. He theorized that the greatest problem with the movie's sequels were that they tried too hard to duplicate the beats of the original film. "That was something we were very conscious of when we were creating this. We can't retell the same story. We can't remake the same show that you've seen before," he said, noting that the only way to succeed is by doing something new.
"It's really the best horror movie ever made," added Davis.