It’s impossible to talk about horror as a genre without mentioning The Exorcist. The 1973 film scared a generation with its head-spinning tale of demonic possession. And now, 43 years later, Fox has spun it in a different direction, custom-made for our televisions.
Although Fox’s The Exorcist has been largely under the radar for most of its first season, it’s gained a solid and dedicated following. The show chronicles the Rance family—led by Geena Davis and Alan Ruck—as they navigate the demonic presence that completely devastates their family dynamic. And at the center of this story is actress Hannah Kasulka who plays Casey Rance, a 19-year old girl who falls victim to demonic possession.
Throughout the season, Kasulka’s Casey is pulled in all kinds of directions, both by her Christian faith and by the demon that possess her. And Kasulka does a beautiful job of bringing that narrative to life.
The first season finale of The Exorcist aired this past Friday and just ahead of its premiere, I had the opportunity to speak with Kasulka about her journey on the show this season:
TARA MARTINEZ: How did this role come to you? What was your audition process like?
HANNAH KASULKA: Well, it was pilot season which is always pretty crazy for an actor. You get like a bunch of appointments a week, but you’ll have three a day sometimes and you’re driving around like crazy. I’d had a really busy week and I got this appointment on like a Thursday night, and I didn’t think I was going to have any auditions on Friday and I was like, ‘Phew! I don’t have any auditions tomorrow’ and then I got this appointment and it said The Exorcist. And I was like, ‘Oh no, this is going to be bad.’ [laughs] And then I read the sides and the script and was wrong. I was like, ‘Oh no, this is actually really good.’ All the stuff that I had gone out for, especially this season, was not great. I mean, I just think it’s difficult for women in general to have complex parts and this was a fun and challenging role and so, I was immediately like, ‘Okay, this is exciting. I’m excited. I want to go in for this.’ So, I just prepped for the audition, went in on Friday, and they called me late that night to say that I was testing on Monday which means you read for the network and everybody that has to approve you. And then like a few days later, I got the call that I booked it. So, it happened pretty quick.
TM: Did you do any research before you started filming? Did you research the films or exorcisms?
HK: I hadn’t seen the film because, well, I was raised in Georgia by a Christian household. My nana’s a pastor. I wasn’t allowed to watch scary movies at all, so it was kind of funny that I got this part and I had to, kind of, begrudgingly tell my mom and my nana [laughs] what I was going to be doing. So, I had never seen the film and I thought like, ‘Well, I’ve waited this long to see it. I should just do the pilot without seeing it.’ I didn’t want to do a watered down version of the original movie or try to emulate it. I just wanted to do something new, so I think—but also, I think growing up in Georgia and not having watched scary movies, that helped me because I wasn’t copycatting anybody else and I kind of understood the background of it just from Bible stories and Sunday school; I kind of got the gist of the devil. [laughs]
TM: So, in light of all that, how does your family feel about it now? Have they seen it? Are they on board with it?
HK: Yeah, now they’re on board. Up until the show started airing, my mom was like, ‘Well, maybe when you get there, everybody will decide to do Little House on the Prairie again.’ [laughs] It was like praying and praying, any kind of thing to change. But then, I don’t know what episode it was, maybe it was six—I mean, every week she was texting me excited about the show and she’d watch it and was excited about it, but then one week she was like, ‘Well, there’s only a few more episodes left and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m going to miss watching it!’ [laughs] She hates scary stuff. Like she’s really a big baby, too, so that was funny to hear. And my nana watches it and loves it. And the pastor at her church and his wife watch it and they love it, so I mean that’s just a testament to Jeremy [Slater] and the rest of the writers and how good of a job they did. And they kept it really grounded. I think that’s why people responded well to it because it’s not just jump-scares. It’s about relationships and you really care for these characters and root for them. If my nana can watch it in Macon, Georgia, then anybody can. [laughs]
TM: Casey is possessed for a good chunk of the season. Aside from what’s provided for you in the script, how do you go about developing or layering a character who’s not always herself?
HK: I think that was the challenge. The challenge for this was you’re kind of playing two people at all times. And sometimes, you know, it’s more Casey than it is the demon and sometimes it’s more the demon. But there’s still elements of her personality there or just the movements. I really wanted to make it a blend of the two, especially in the later episodes where she’s fully possessed and he kind of has full control over her; I wanted to emulate the actor that played The Salesman. I wanted to emulate his body movements and physicality and make a really distinct change there. But yeah, it was challenging for me. It’s more about commitment. Like, you don’t—I don’t know, I think anytime I would be nervous or scared about something, I kind of just had to go for it. And luckily, I was surrounded by a lot of great people and really talented people, so that helps. And you don’t really have time to think. You’re doing an hour of TV in eight days, so you kind of just have to do it and trust that everybody else will make you look good. [laughs]
TM: Casey goes through a number of physical transformations as the possession becomes more intense. What was the makeup process like for that?
HK: It was intense. I mean, our makeup artist and the whole team was just incredible. And Tami Lane was the special effects makeup artist and she’s just, I mean, I was blown away by her talent. Everything was in stages, so they had this whole thing planned out and every episode, they were kind of the ones that were guiding this whole character. Like, directors would come in and be like, ‘Can we put more goo on her face or another bruise?’ or whatever, and they’re like, ‘No. We have something in mind of where we have to take her,’ and everything was so well thought out. They’re true artists, so that was really cool to watch. I was with them, well Tami, the most. We’d have to come in before everybody else—and my dog—were in hair and makeup, and then everybody else comes and starts their day. That was probably the biggest challenge, just waking up earlier than everybody else. [laughs] I like to get my sleep in. That was the worst part. [laughs]
TM: How early did you know Casey’s arc? Because initially it seems like she’s the normal one and then we find out that she’s not.
HK: I knew as soon as I booked it what it was, but I had the script for the pilot so I knew the twist. When I tested for it, they gave me the pilot. But when I first auditioned for it, I didn’t have the script, but I did have sides and it was ‘A Kid Possessed’ and I was like, ‘Oh no, how am I going to do this?’ It was actually the scene between Marcus and Gabriel, the little boy in Mexico City. They had us do that scene for the audition and it was much longer, too. It had to be trimmed down for the pilot. But I was like, barking like a dog [laughs] and yelling and being insane, so I had a pretty good idea then. But I didn’t know what the journey was. I mean, I didn’t know if she died. At Comic Con, I think I asked Jeremy a hundred times like, ‘Do I die? I just want to know. I can’t take it.’ So, yeah, we didn’t really—they told me snippets of things, but I didn’t really know fully where she’d end up. It was cool to find—I mean, I was finding out week by week, basically, what was happening.
TM: A lot of your scenes are really physical. Are those heavily choreographed?
HK: No, that’s just all me winging it, basically. [laughs] You would think—again, we didn’t have that much time. I mean, all the stunts are obviously very well thought out and rehearsed, and the double comes in and does all the rehearsals for the director. And then I watch the video and if it’s something I can do or think I can do or say I want to try, I try to do all the stunts that I could. There’s a few, like when she’s hitting the walls in episode five, she’s actually hitting the walls and they’re boards, no padding. So, that was my stunt girl Kelly. There was another in episode two, I think, where she’s playing lacrosse and she flips over that girl’s head. That was not me, that was Kelly again. [laughs] All the brutal beatings Kelly took for me. But all the back-bending stuff and levitating things I tried to do just because you have this character that’s so physical and I had something in mind of what I wanted it to look like, and I’m sort of OCD about being in control of it. [laughs]
One of our directors Tinge [Krishnan] from 106—I was starting to get tapped out. I was like, ‘Okay, I’ve kind of done all the things I think I could do.’ She got the idea for—especially because Casey is like the weakest she is; she’s strong but she goes to like very, very weak and very close to integration, so I wanted that to be a different level, you know, that wasn’t five. This was actually episode seven, I’m getting it all mixed up. But she showed me videos of meth addicts and how they’re sort of fighting with themselves within their own bodies and it was cool thing to watch, and I did that and sort of emulated that. So, when they take me into the nunnery and I’m sort of scratching and thrashing, I wanted it to feel like she’s on fire from the inside basically because that’s sort of what it is. And parts of it are nice and then it turns to fighting it again, so that was helpful that I got to study that for a little bit and play with that.
TM: The cast of this show is so good. What’s it been like working with them?
HK: I just tried to absorb anything I could. I mean, when you work with people who’ve been in the business for a really long time like Geena [Davis] who’s just an icon, I just tried to see if anything would rub off. [laughs] And Alan is so great and seasoned, and Ben [Daniels] and Alfonso [Herrera] are both super talented. So, I just tried to be a sponge around them as much as possible and learn as much as I could because that’s the real—that was the best thing about working on the show, just having those amazing people around you. It made it feel—I mean, all my scenes felt easier with somebody like that because you trust like, ‘Oh, this can’t go bad because they’re here.’ [laughs]
TM: What’s been your favorite scene to film so far?
HK: Oh man, that’s tough! The train scene was really, really fun in three because it was like the first time, I think, we get to have fun with being possessed. It wasn’t so torturous; it was like, ‘Okay, I get to kick this jerk’s butt for being a creep.’ And we worked on a real train. It felt really crazy, so that was probably the most fun. And then anything with Ben and Alfonso was super fun and Geena. I mean, I didn’t have a ton of scenes with Geena and the family, it was mostly me locked in the bedroom with Ben and Alfonso. But they’re just both so sweet and funny, so we had the most fun on set, I think.
Be sure to check out Hannah Kasulka in The Exorcist and follow her on Twitter at @hkasulka.
Tara Martinez is a New York-based writer with a passion for pop culture and a penchant for analysis. She frequently covers film, television, and representations of women in the media.