Geena, you have for a long time had a very strong voice about the role and the portrayal of women, so in choosing this project, you must have liked what you saw. Can you talk about how you came to it, and why you think this is an important piece of work?
Geena Davis: Because I got to play some really cool parts for women early on, I became really fussy. You know, you get to be the president, then you’re like, “Now what am I supposed to do?” So I have been very picky waiting for stuff that I feel is worth it, and this definitely caught my attention right away.
How I picked really is just reading something, and saying, “Oh, I want to do that, oh, wow, yeah, I want to say that line.” So that was definitely it: a brilliant writer, who created fantastic characters for all of us. All the characters are very complicated, and multi-layered.
That’s really what I go by: am I going to have enough interesting stuff to do, or am I the girlfriend of the person having the interesting stuff, or the mother… I got to play a baseball phenomenon, I wasn’t the girlfriend of the baseball phenomenon, and so you get spoiled. I get a lot to do in the pilot, and I’m going to get a hell of a lot to do as the series goes on, because I know some things about what’s going to happen.
Jeremy Slater: I’m going to put her through some paces, yeah.
GD: No, I mean I’ve done every genre in movies, including horror, and I love every genre, and I love, love, love horror movies. Exorcist was my absolute scariest experience, scarred as a child for life, like everybody.
But no, and the other question would be, are we worried at all because the movie is so revered, and couldn’t improve upon it, and the answer is no. [laughs] But, to me, one of the super coolest things about it is that it’s the same world where that did take place, so we acknowledge in the pilot that that did happen, but it’s now decades ago, but uh-oh, maybe it’s happening again.
They say this is a golden age of television; what do you think about that?
GD: Oh, TV is just getting better and better and better. People are freaking out that there’s so many channels, but I love it, I think it’s fantastic. There’s so many shows, I can’t even watch them all – it’s too much. But people will have time for this one.
It’s a great medium. I think there’s pretty much zero stigma now attached to it; I can’t think of any star who wouldn’t do TV if the part was good enough. And especially because you can do things that are short now. So particularly for women it’s a great place to be.
Can we expect you in Beetlejuice 2?
GD: You know, I keep reading about it, nobody has talked to me in person about it. I’m worried that if they do make it I won’t be in it, because maybe ghosts don’t age. Maybe they’re stuck at the age they were, and between Alec and I, one of us has aged quite a bit.
JS: But does America want to see a Beetlejuice without Geena Davis? I vote no.
GD: I think no.
JS: You heard it here, America. No Beetlejuice without Geena Davis. We’re putting our foot down.
JS: Geena is familiar with my geekness, she’s seen the geek on display.
GD: Which I embrace and adore. But I fell in love with his writing first. This was a fantastic pilot. Obviously I’ve read some things over the years, and been offered some things, but I was like, “Oh, hell yeah, I want to do this.”
JS: In terms of creative freedom, kind of we had no rules put on us. I mean there’s natural limitations of doing a show on network TV of what you can say and what you can show, but that really just forces you to be clever, and makes you a better writer. Because you can’t rely on easy shock, gore, or profanity, you have to find new ways to unsettle people. But in terms of telling the story that we wanted to tell and taking the characters on the journey that we want to go on, Fox has been so unbelievably supportive in every step of the way. We came in saying we were making a cable show in every respect, we want to make something that stands alongside the best shows on television, and they’ve been enthusiastic and supportive of that from the beginning.
So has the pacing of doing this for television helped you in being able to expand that narrative then, as opposed to doing a two-hour movie?
JS: It’s great, because the one thing you can do on television that you can’t do in film is spend ten hours with these characters. Hopefully by the time we get to the end of this season, you’re going to be emotionally invested in the story of what’s happening to this American family, and the two priests who are brought in to save them.
It’s so much easier to break someone’s heart on TV with characters that you’ve spent so much time with and invited to your home and made them a part of your life versus someone you see for 90 minutes in a dark theater and then walk out the door.
How much forward have you gone with the script, and how much do you know so far?
GD: I’ve read ahead two episodes, but he knows the whole deal.
JS: We have an incredible writer’s room full of artsy-fartsy theatre playwrights for the most part.
GD: And half women.
JS: And half women. I am by far the worst writer on the staff, so it’s only going to get better from here. It’s pretty impressive, the stuff that they’re coming up with in that room.
Right now [early August 2016] we’re in the process of breaking episode eight out of ten, so we’re getting into our endgame.
The goal is to tell something very propulsive that moves like a freight train, but also can slow down to give you these wonderful character moments, because we have tremendous actors who can handle anything you throw at them.
JS: It’s ongoing, but the first season is designed as a self-contained story, with a beginning, middle, and an end.
Will it be anthology style then?
JS: No, because we’ve got great actors, so the ones that survive, you’re going to want to see them again next season. We’re definitely not going to be recasting with a brand new group every single year. But every season will be designed as its own self-contained story.
How much reference is there to the 1973 movie?
JS: There are some hat tips in there, there’s some homages to some of the classic things. We actually have a moment in the pilot where you see someone researching, you see the Georgetown steps, and that’s our way of letting fans know that the original movie still happened, and we’re not kind of retconning, or rebooting it out of existence, or saying the story you love never took place. This is just a brand-new story with brand-new characters that takes place 40 years later in the same universe. There will definitely be nods for the fans.
Geena, out of so many characters, who do fans ask you about most?
GD: Weirdly, a thing happens to me quite often, where someone will say, “Oh, I love your movie.” And I’m like… [laughs] “Okay, well, for you I made one movie, I wonder which one.” But if people stop me, there’s a lot of Thelma and Louise, and a lot of Long Kiss Goodnight. Maybe the most is Beetlejuice, which is interesting because it was so long ago, but people still really associate me.
A lot of horror fans consider you as a Scream Queen, and not just for The Fly and Beetlejuice. What do you love the most about horror films?
GD: I love being scared, I love scary movies very much, and it’s been super fun to be in some, and that’s what was very attractive about doing this show. I loved The Fly, that was a great experience. I don’t know, I mean people just like to be scared, I’m definitely one of them.
The Exorcist begins on Wednesday 19th October at 9pm on Syfy.
Thanks to Mark Pitchford for help in arranging this interview.