I’m so happy I got the opportunity to speak with actor Bruce Davison regarding his latest film role, Reverend Michael, in the indie-exorcism-horror film, ALONG CAME THE DEVIL. I have long been a fan of Bruce’s and believe he’s one of the United States’ best character actors. I still get nervous whenever I have to interview someone, and this time was no exception, but I’m happy to report that Bruce is incredibly nice and funny.
ALONG CAME THE DEVIL is a homage to all the teen-girl exorcism dramas that have come before it, except that in Jason and Heather Devan’s film, maybe The Church isn’t as powerful as it seems to be.
Another thing that I really enjoyed about this movie is that it is shot North of Atlanta in the towns of Buford and Flowery Branch, and on Lake Lanier. These were all places I went to when I was growing up and can wholeheartedly relate to the experience of growing up in sort of the middle of nowhere, with the church as a strong backbone of any sort of community one has while living there.
ALONG CAME THE DEVIL premiered at the Atlanta Film and Video Festival on April 2018 and comes out in limited release and VOD formats August 10th.
Here’s the interview, yall:
Nightmarish Conjurings: This isn’t the first time you’ve played a religious leader (Pope Sebastian in the FOX show The Exorcist, Pastor Ezekiel in Fishes ‘n Loaves: Heaven Sent, just to name a couple in a long line of roles) in a movie or TV show, so what attracts you to these roles?
Bruce Davison: Oh it depends, you know, it’s always just the one script to the next, the one character to the next. I started playing comedy priests early on in TV shows like Designing Women. I played a priest in a movie called Camp Hell, which was Camp Hope originally when we did it, and that was my first Catholic Latin-learning priest and I played the pope on The Exorcist series. I just keep going along, you know, Doctors, Lawyers, Indian Chiefs. It’s another, Doctors, Lawyers, Indian Popes.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Whenever you’ve done these Clergymen roles, did you ever speak to any reverends or anything like that beforehand or how do you prepare?
BD: A very close friend of mine is the Bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church in New York. I’ve known him for 40 years. His name is Bishop Jerome Shaw and he’s always been a great friend and a real touchstone for me over the years and I just sort of watch what he has to say and what he has to do. You know, he’s a horror fan himself, and an exorcism fan, so I’ve always enjoyed what he’s had to say.
Nightmarish Conjurings: That’s Incredible!
BD: I always look to him for guidance.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Has he ever told you, or do you know if he’s ever performed an exorcism himself? I know that that’s pretty rare.
BD: (laughs) No. No he hasn’t, but he has a great vivid imagination for horror films and horror genre and this (ALONG CAME THE DEVIL) is an updated re-imagination and anything that questions religious beliefs always has an intrigue for me in it. You know, is this real? Is this mental illness? What’s real about it? And it’s a real interesting fun-house to go into, when they turn on the lights. What’s real? How much is really there that we don’t know?
Nightmarish Conjurings: This might be kind of personal, but you can answer it however you want to, do you have any, even a little inkling of a belief, that Demonic possession is a possibility in reality?
BD: I have a lot of strong feelings about spirituality. For me, it’s always the unknown territory, I’m never sure what really exists out there. There have been times in my life when I’ve felt really touched by goodness and loved ones. I really don’t know, as far as evil goes on the other side, what’s out there and how much we want to blame the unknown for our own failings or our own sense of darkness or our own sense of evil. It’s always an interesting question but for me that’s what great about those films, they take you into that fun-house and turn all the lights out on you.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Absolutely! With films such as this and The Exorcist, what are your thoughts in regards to demonic possession that have the backdrop of a coming-to-age narrative and how they explain away the turmoils of growing up by using the theme of demonic possession?
BD: Well, I think it’s a dark scary place; it certainly was for me growing up.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Oh my God, me too.
BD: Whether or not you want to give it another name, or blame it on something else, that depends on one’s own personal journey, but as far as this this film goes, this is just an updated re-imagination of an old time horror story. You know, in the shadows, you can put whatever you want in life. Whether it’s real or not, that all depends on one’s own beliefs.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Exactly! Now that we got all that heavy stuff out of the way, I noticed that the shooting location was primarily in Atlanta, though not Atlanta proper. Having grown up a little North of Atlanta, everything looked familiar. Do you know which town or towns, specifically, the film was shot in?
BD: You got me! I really don’t know. It could be Peachtree? I just sort of go where I’m kicked. They flew me in to the airport, took me to a little town, put me in a hotel and picked me up and threw me in a house, threw me in a basement, threw me in a church. I don’t know, there’s train-tracks close by.
I know it’s in the DeVan’s hometown, it’s where Jason grew up, and it was a real Mom & Pop family affair, you know. Mom made the catering for lunch, the son was holding the lights and helped the gaffers-
Nightmarish Conjurings: That’s adorable.
Note: I actually found out after messaging the DeVan’s on Facebook that the shooting location was indeed right around the town that I grew up in. The lake scenes were at Lake Lanier, where all families take their kids on the weekends, and a lot of the old basement and church scenes were shot approximately 2.5 minutes away from where my mom lived in Flowery Branch, Georgia until she recently moved.
BD: It was a real mom and pop production and I love those most of all. They end up being the most creative ones. The ones that aren’t corporate structured. Somebody gets to tell their own story and to me that’s the best filmmaking that there is.
Nightmarish Conjurings: What’s the biggest difference in shooting a film in a place like Atlanta as opposed to LA or New York City?
BD: Well, I get to be in a hotel room, or I get to come home. I’ve shot a lot of independent films here [in Los Angeles] too and they’ve been great experiences. When I’m not far from home, that’s always better, but my life has been a lot of Ramada Inns and a lot of on-the-roads, a lot of coffees at 4 in the morning.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Yeah, and the Continental Breakfasts?
BD: Yes, the old Continental Breakfast where you stuff a couple of croissants in your jacket on the way out the door.
Nightmarish Conjurings: I really did appreciate the role of the priest who suffers with doubt because that’s something that goes in a lot of movies and stories about possession.
BD: Right, it’s a story as old as time.
Nightmarish Conjurings: I was gonna say with Matt Dallas’ character of the younger priest, he has this hopeful disposition towards everything. Do you think there’s any sort of symbolic indication about aging in general in that storyline?
BD: Oh well, I don’t think aging has that much to do with it, except some people as they age get more doubtful and other people when they age find a deeper faith. It’s just the journey of two people going through it.
Now, the system of an updated re-imagination of the original Exorcist shows an older priest who has seen it, knows it’s real and a younger priest who doesn’t know. There is that back-and-forth that has that built in dynamic to it, as far as one character is older or younger. It has a lot to do with experience in the exorcism movies. The old guy has the experience and he knows how to go in but he could be doubtful at the same time, you know? That’s a whole mixed bowl there.
Nightmarish Conjurings: With this re-imagining, it’s almost as if you got to experience what it was like to be in Max Von Sydow’s shoes!
BD: (laughs) I wouldn’t want to step in Max Von Sydow’s shoes, but he created the prototype. He created a whole new genre just like John Wayne and the cowboy. So, I would never try to fill his shoes. Unfortunately I have white hair like him, (starts talking in Von Sydow accent) but I don’t have the accent. I worked with Max Von Sydow in the 70’s, though. I did a movie with him called The Brass Target. We had a wonderful meal together in Munich. He said, “Give my regards to Paul Kroner”.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Since we are nearing the end of our time, I just have a few more questions for you. What would you say is your favorite horror movie that you are not in?
BD: Favorite horror movie that I’m not in…. THEM. When I was a kid, I was with my brother and we were in a movie theater in Minnesota and we had no idea what we were about to watch. They didn’t tell us what “Them” was or anything. We went in there, and I was totally freaked. It did make an impression on me and my stepbrother would come in and scare the hell out of me. He’d come in and go “dweet dweet dweet dweet dweet” and it freaked me out.
NC: Oh my God, that’s great. That’s so good. I really appreciate having the time to talk to you today, and I enjoyed your performance in ALONG CAME THE DEVIL a lot. My last question for you is what are you working on next, if you can say anything about it.
BD: I’m doing a play called Native Gardens with Francis Fisher that Jason Alexander’s directing at the Pasadena Playhouse. I start rehearsal next week, so be on the lookout for that!