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A Spirited Q & A with “The Last Exorcism” Actress Ashley Bell

A Spirited Q & A with “The Last Exorcism” Actress Ashley Bell (photo)

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As a way of celebrating this year’s nominees for the Spirit Awards in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, we reached out to as many as we could in an effort to better understand what went into their films, what they’ve gotten out of the experience, and where they’ve found their inspiration, both in regards to their work and other works of art that might’ve inspired them from the past year. Their answers will be published on a daily basis throughout February.

You’re not supposed to know Ashley Bell was acting. And until she got a much-deserved, yet nonetheless pesky Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Female, there was reason to believe she might never be found out. Sure, she had appeared in other roles before and it’s every actor’s job to make you forget what you’re watching is fiction. But in the case of “The Last Exorcism,” Bell had the entire credibility of the film’s found-footage premise resting on her dainty shoulders as Nell Sweetzer, the painfully shy and sheltered teen girl whose fragile mental state might just be a byproduct of demonic possession.

Nell is hardly the first girl to have her sweetness thought to be corrupted by Satan on screen, but Bell makes the act of writhing around in a battle for her soul is an experience as complex emotionally as it is physically since the role calls for contortions of all kinds. Amidst the backbends and overextended fingers, Bell is able to project an air of mystery and vulnerability as Nell, the endearing 15-year-old we meet who serenades the Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) and the camera crew he brings to her family’s farm with a rendition of “Greensleeves” on her recorder and treats a cameraperson’s gift of boots like someone’s given her the gift of life – of course, shortly before her feet make a tub of water bubble.

Caught between the cynical pastor brought to cure her and a defiant family, Nell wrestles with much more than just spiritual matters and to do so, Bell faced the challenge of bringing several different personas to the screen, yet remaining a consistent force in each to keep the audience invested. While horror isn’t a genre usually acknowledged for its subtlety or the demands it places on its actors, Bell’s high-wire act in “The Last Exorcism” is undeniably worthy of applause, if of course, you don’t faint from the frights first.

Why did you want to make this film?

The chance to play a character with a split personality is an actor’s dream. Add to that the possibility that Nell may be possessed made it even more of a challenge. I had to ask the question as to whether she was truly possessed, or emotionally disturbed. I love researching for a role, and to be faithful to the character I read accounts of exorcisms, interviewed people who were present at exorcisms, went to extremist churches, as well as looked into possible psychological aspects of her behavior such as hysterical mania, and post traumatic stress disorder.

What was the best piece of advice you received that applied to the making of this film?

Once I got the role Daniel Stamm, the director, gave me the clue to Nell’s character. He suggested I preserve the hope that she is not possessed, and that she could be going through a psychological breakdown.

What was the toughest thing to overcome, whether it applies to a particular scene, or the film as a whole?



Despite being attacked by fire ants, having an alligator wander onto set and swallowing a moth, the toughest part was knowing that this would all end with the last day of shooting. I would honestly have to say that everyday was a welcome challenge. Daniel Stamm provided me the freedom to explore the character. As an example, the night before the second exorcism was filmed, I was asked if I had any ideas. I said I’d been working on a backbend and other possible physical manifestations predicated on my research. Daniel said to do it, and it was incorporated into the film.

What’s been the most memorable moment while you’ve traveled with the film, either at a festival or otherwise? 



The most memorable experience was an adrenalin producing evening, sitting under the stars, in the Ford Amphitheatre at the L.A. Film Festival, seeing the movie for the first time with an audience, hearing them laugh nervously, then gasp and scream. It was a ride, and we were all together on it.

What’s your favorite thing about your film that’s been largely uncommented upon?

I can’t recall anyone commenting on my brilliant rendition of “Greensleeves” on the recorder. I was hoping to go on tour, or at least an iTunes single.

What’s been the most gratifying thing to come out of this film for you personally?

The fact that I was in an independent film that was seen and accepted by both a national and international audience is hugely gratifying. For my performance to be singled out and awarded an Independent Spirit Award Nomination is an incredible honor.

What’s been your favorite film, book or album from the past year?

It’s a tie between F. Scott Fitzgerald ‘s “The Beautiful and Damned,” and “Everyone Poops.”

“The Last Exorcism.” is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Spirit Awards will air on IFC on February 26th.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.