Interview : Scott Derrikson

Clint talks to the “Emily Rose” director


Are you a disillusioned screenwriter that seems destined to be doctoring forever? A filmmaker who’s wonky Nikon seems intent on only filming low-budget studio dribble? Book yourself an hour or so with writer/director Scott Derrikson – he’ll hit you up with a nice hypodermic of enthuse and have you back dreaming big.

Derrikson, who learnt his craft at USC, has gone from unknown studio penner on such forgettable gems as Urban Legends (“One of the many writers on that”, he says) and “Hellraiser : Inferno”, to having the number one movie in the United States – all in the space of five years. He tells CLINT MORRIS how “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” has put him on the map.

“I worked in the horror genre for a while as a screenwriter, I also directed one of the Hellraiser sequels and I’d done screenplays that hadn’t been made into movies…but I think I had just grown. I got tired of seeing the sequels and the unoriginality of it all – and was interested in doing a film that was going to bring some freshness and originality to the genre, as well as some style and intelligence. I wanted to do a film that respected the audience, more people like horror films than we think. They don’t have to be formulaic, and they don’t have to be silly”.

“The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is anything but formulaic and silly. One of the best written and most exquisite looking films of the year, it’s loosely based on the true story of the true story of Anneliese Michel, a young German woman who suffered the same fate as the fictional teenager here, in the 1970s.

“There’s plenty of fictionalising in the movie – I’ve changed all the characters names and so on, but the basic bones or structure of the movie is quite accurate to the real case. There really was a girl who was officially recognized by the Catholic Church as being possessed, and they authorised her exorcism. After the exorcism, the girl died and the priest was put on trial for negligent homicide. He was ultimately convicted, but let go”, he says. “That is the synopsis of our movie, and the true story”.

The film took Derrikson one-and-a-half years to write, and that was before it was even a go picture. “We worked on the screenplay outside of the studio system. Then we brought it to the cinemas – and they bought it. It didn’t go through the usual studio process of development, and I think that’s one of the reasons why it turned out solid.”

Equally as solid is the film’s cast, including Laura Linney, Campbell Scott and Tom Wilkinson.

Linney, who plays “the completely fictionalised character of the attorney” assigned to defend the priest on trial, was a blessing for the movie, says Derrikson. Not only was she tremendous in the film – but also she inadvertently helped him cast it. It was Linney who bought youthful scene-stealer Jessica Carpenter to his attention.

Derrikson had done a nationwide casting call to find the possessed titular teenager of his film, but it was Carpenter, known mainly for her Broadway work and a small role in the comedy “White Chicks”, who impressed him far more than anyone else.

“When Laura came onboard, she was the one who recommended Jennifer Carpenter to me. Laura had done Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible on Broadway with Jennifer and Laura said to me that Jennifer was the best young actress that she had ever seen, which was quite an impressive thing to hear from such a great actress. I auditioned her, and when she came back to her callback – I was just blown away. She’s spectacular. She also helped me rethink the movie. Suddenly, I realised that with her great performance, I didn’t have to have a lot of special effects – she’s so scary by herself”.

Campbell Scott has one of the meatiest roles he’s ever had here, playing lawyer Ethan Thomas. “He’s very picky about what he does and I think part of that has to do with being George C.Scott’s son. He would’ve grown up with all the fame and glory that would’ve surrounded an Academy Award Winning actor [like his Dad], and seems very unimpressed by it. I think all he cares about is how good the movie will be. I also don’t think he would’ve done this movie if it wasn’t for Laura – he’s good friends with her, and she was really helpful in getting him onboard too”.

Tom Wilkinson, best known for his roles in the films “The Full Monty” and “Shakespeare in Love”, was one of Derrikson’s first choices for the role of Father Moore. “He just read the script – he hadn’t even talked to me or met me – and loved it, and said he’d do it”.

Derrikson, whose currently doing a rewrite on a big action/adventure movie for Universal, says the success of “Emily Rose” has allowed him to be able to sit back for a while and wait till something “that wows him” comes along instead of jumping onboard anything that’ll pay.

The success has also been quite lovely to his wallet, he’s glad to admit. “I got some bonus money when the movie did so well, so that helps – having two young kids. I’ll take the money!” he laughs.

Meantime, is the studio clandestinely planning to follow up their No.1 smash hit with a series of “Emily Rose” movies? Derrikson hopes not. “I don’t know how they could. ‘Resurrection of Emily Rose’? I can tell you one thing – I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. If they did it, they’re going to certainly do it without me. [But] it’s such a huge success, that I’m sure they’re going to try and capitalise on it somehow”.

THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE commences Thursday around Australia