In Evan Spiliotopoulos‘s debut film, THE UNHOLY, based on James Herbert’s best-selling book Shrine, a young hearing-impaired girl is visited by the Virgin Mary and suddenly finds herself hearing, speaking, and healing the sick. As people from near and far flock to witness her miracles, a disgraced journalist (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) hoping to revive his career visits a small New England town to investigate. As terrifying events begin to happen all around him, he starts questioning if these miracles are the works of the Virgin Mary or something much more sinister.
For the home release of THE UNHOLY, Nightmarish Conjurings spoke with William Sadler, where we discussed what initially drew him to the role of Father Hagan, how his former background in religion aided him in the role, and what it is about horror he loves.
Thank you so much for speaking with me today, William! To kick things off, what drew you to the role of Father Hagan?
William Sadler: He’s a good man. He’s a decent man who loves his niece very much and believes in the teachings of the church, he always has, that’s been his whole life. And when he starts to see miracles or what appear to be genuine miracles, he is blown away by it. I mean, this is like proof that his faith was well placed, but he’s also terrified that she’s going to end up like the little girls who saw the Virgin Mary or Fátima, that the same fate will befall her. I found [Father Hagan] a fascinating and complicated character to play. He also happens to be quite ill. He’s been smoking his whole life and so he’s facing that as well. It’s fun to tell stories that you can sink your teeth into. There’s stuff you can get excited about, and it just makes your job easier as an actor.
Was there anything in particular you did to prepare for the headspace of Father Hagan?
William Sadler: I was raised Episcopalian. My mom made sure that I went to church until I was 13 or 14, whenever I took my communion, and then I sort of drifted away. But what I love about movies like The Exorcist and THE UNHOLY is that if you have a grounding in all of that Christian religion, you already believe in ghosts, people rising from the dead, people who perform miracles, it’s all part of…you believe it already, or you’re supposed to believe it already. I was a fallen Episcopalian as I drifted away from the flock (laughs), but all of it came racing back when playing this Catholic priest who, when he sees the miracles that are being performed right before his eyes, is overwhelming but was really fun to play. I guess that’s a long way of saying what I brought to it was my own background.
I’m originally from the East Coast, specifically Massachusetts, so I was happily surprised to see this film take place. How was it filming in and around the Boston area?
William Sadler: There were these beautiful 18th-century locations that we filmed in. They found colonial houses and churches and so on which added to the resonance, the look of the place, you know? The ancient graveyards and so on. It’s good when you’re telling a ghost story [laughs].
Cricket Brown plays your niece, Alice, who ends up being able to perform miracles. How was it working so closely with her, especially considering this was her first film.
William Sadler: Oh, she was a bitch. Oh my god, she would whine and complain and say, I’ll be in my trailer, I’m not talking to anybody today [laughs]. No, she was absolutely lovely and it was the easiest thing in the world to play someone who’s protective of her, who loves her, and you know, is trying to watch out for her from these forces that are around. She was just a delight to work with and made my job easier. If she’d been a real pill, it would have been hard, but she was just a delight.
I can’t end this interview without talking about your career, especially within the horror genre. What is it about working within this genre that you enjoy?
William Sadler: I’m not sure what it is about the genre. They tend to be people in extreme situations which is always fun to play. I try to approach them the way I would approach any role. I don’t play the people differently because it’s a horror story, I try to play the character in the most believable way I can so that people watching the film will just go along with the story. They’re just along for the ride but the ride happens to be a really scary one and it’s fun to scare the daylights out of folks.
For more on THE UNHOLY, check out our review here. THE UNHOLY is now available to own on Blu-ray/DVD and is also available on Digital.
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