It’s been over 40 years since William Friedkin directed William Peter Blatty’s adaptation of his own novel, The Exorcist, and the film that shocked the world (almost literally) to death continues to be a topic of conversation with scientists, theologians, and film scholars for its depiction of an innocent young girl who is possessed by a demon and only the power of Christ can compel it. The young girl in question was 13 year old Linda Blair, who was in no way prepared for the amount of questions she’d have to field about whether or not she was actually possessed and the accuracy of the fantasy-horror film. Ms. Blair was in San Diego last week as a special guest for the Science Channel’s panel for The Unexplained Files discussing her experiences with the movie over the last four decades, and she was nice enough to sit down with us a little bit before the panel to talk about the very same thing.
NERDIST: It’s been forty years since The Exorcist, but famously there’s been a lot of I guess strange occurrences tied to the making of the film. What sort of unexplained things did you remember from the shoot?
LINDA BLAIR: To be part of a film that lasts forty years, that stands up, that has people showing their kids, showing their grandkids, everybody talking; and it doesn’t matter where I go in the world, now they realize it’s just one of the greatest movies ever made. I have nothing to do with that part as far as filmmaking. That’s the art of special effects, the art of a great screenplay, a great director, great actors and so on, which is what, of course, we’re celebrating here at Comic-Con, is these great big movies that bring together fictional characters that they grew up with. It’s the fantasy. The Exorcist is a fantasy.
For those that don’t know or remember, [people] had never seen anything like this. Who could spin their head around? People that were Catholic, this was the last kept hidden secret. I heard somebody the other day on The View say “I did not know if I was going to be possessed, it scared me that bad.” That is what everybody’s opinion was around the world. When they would see me, they instantly would think something bad had happened; oh, my God, I’d better do some more Hail Marys. I wasn’t raised Catholic. I was raised Protestant. We didn’t talk about the Devil. We talked about being good to others, which is truly if you look at my life’s work I’ve never changed. Religion is a strong sounding board of who you become as an adult.
N: Did you have any sense when you were making the movie that, because you were so young and it was this big movie, but did you have any sense that it was going to be either as huge and popular as it became or as kind of shocking as it was at the time?
LB: I was thirteen years old and I wanted to be a veterinarian. I had been working since I was seven because my mother told me if I saved my money doing modeling commercials that I could go to school and be whatever I wanted; an astronaut. So I was quitting and we got the interview. I went in to meet Billy Friedkin, the director, and this went on for a very long time. I at this point went you know what? This thing is never going to finish. What the heck are we doing here?
We started filming and it goes on and on and on. When it’s done we wait another few months. Now they put it out in New York and it received a standing ovation and all of a sudden … we didn’t have the electronic media that we have now, so they could get the word-of-mouth; oh, my God, and this happened and then this person fainted and this woman was pregnant and she had a baby in the aisles; whatever these stories were; and it gained momentum.
I still think like we have the science of the unknown. We are all curious about what we don’t know, and there’s a lot of things we won’t know until we’re dead, and then we’re dead so we really can’t talk about it. That’s kind of my perspective on things. We did not know the film would even make it past the first week.
N: How difficult was it for you to get back to your normal life after the movie was done? You ended up having to be kind of a spokesperson for the movie because you were the face they saw.
LB: I thought I was going back to work, I was going to school, getting back to my riding, my horses and so on. It changed my life immediately and I didn’t know what was going to become the next forty years and make such an impact and have to travel the world and say, “well, this is religion, this is what I know, and this is how the movie impacted me or not.” It was just a really hard job; a lot of patience.
People asked me questions about do you think that; did you believe in the film and about exorcism. I was a kid. I didn’t have an interest. I wasn’t raised Catholic, so for me it was like, when am I going to get back to my animals and my horses? When am I going to get back to my dreams? I don’t let negativity and darkness in my life. I don’t; and I recommend others do the same.
N: And the media was not kind to you at all, from what I understand.
LB: When the interviews and newspaper headlines started coming out Linda Blair Possessed; Linda Blair in Mental Institute; Linda Blair this and that; it was not positive. Warner Bros. realized they had made a mistake in the PR. The only way they knew to catch up; to fix it was to send me out around the world.
It’s a little exhausting to a young person. You’re being asked about questions that to this day cannot be answered. Think of what they asked me forty years ago and what they’re still asking today. I’m in front of; at that time you had 500 reporters in a room, not one-on-one; that didn’t exist. You had microphones and each one would ask questions and it was always the same; and their eyes; they truly were asking about good and evil and possession and how did it happen. There was so much fear, and I knew and sensed it and I really tried as a young person to pull out any answer that I thought was the right message to give and say it’s okay. You’re not going to be possessed. It is a movie. I didn’t have a sense of humor because I didn’t know how I was; it was really hard.
Then other factors; a lot of the Southern Baptists, a lot of; the South wanted to pretty much hang me; put me up on the cross and burn me because they thought that I was that, not realizing I was just a child and it was job and I really didn’t take it to heart as far as what the whole subject matter was, so it was very, very difficult.
I hope that this many years later I’ve given some people a little more calm, but there’s some people that still have the same questions, and that’s fine. I’m down with it.
N: How has your involvement in talking about The Exorcist over the years given you opportunities that working on any other movie might not have?
LB: I wanted to be a veterinarian. I go back to that because it’s pretty simple minded. You go to school, you’re a doctor to the animals. That was how simple life was when I was young. You made a decision; I’m going to be a fireman, I’m going to be a school teacher, I’m going to be a chemist, whatever.
For me, I feel a great responsibility. I believe that it’s a gift to have been a part of this to hopefully change people’s live, to hopefully maybe cause some positive impact, which of course I do with the work with the Linda Blair Worldheart Foundation. I feel seventeen years into becoming a charity, I’m only in my infancy and I would really like to have more powerful people around me; America around me. We can change this country. It is the power of the people, and that’s what I believe; we the people.
If I had done a Disney movie nobody would care. They would not care. You may say oh, I grew up and I loved that movie, that was really super, but you wouldn’t care. People really will stop and talk to me about deeper issues, which I am excited to participate in.
The Unexplained Files Tuesdays at 10pm on the Science Channel.