In 2010, producer Eli Roth gave the world a new kind of exorcism movie.
Presented in documentary “found footage” format, “The Last Exorcism” followed a faithless reverend named Cotton Marcus as he exposed the tricks of self-proclaimed exorcists and investigated the supposed possession of a young Louisiana farm girl named Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell).
The movie questioned faith, challenged mental health care, explored the balance of good and evil, and ultimately baits the audience with one simple question: Is Nell really possessed?
Three years after horror fans were blindsided by the film’s bizarre twist ending, in which Nell’s possession appeared indefinite, “The Last Exorcism Part II,” which is now available with XFINITY On Demand, chronicles the fiery redheads’ attempt to assimilate to normal society.
I caught up with the devil herself, Ashley Bell, for a poignant and professional chat about Doc Martens, vegetarian vomit, high school girls, Disney cartoons and her famous father.
David Onda: Would you agree that your previous film should have been called “The Next-to-Last Exorcism”?
Ashley Bell: Well, I would normally agree you, but there is never a last exorcism for the devil. I think the first film was Cotton Marcus’ last exorcism, but evil has no boundaries, and that’s the fun of it.
Onda: Despite initial ambiguity, the ending of the original film strongly inferred that Nell was, indeed, possessed and pregnant with a demon baby. Does this film carry on with that idea?
Bell: It does very much. This film begins where the last film ended and Nell is – we don’t know what state Nell is in. We don’t know if she’s hostile, we don’t know if she’s safe to be around, we don’t know if she’s experiencing post-traumatic shock or how much shock she’s experiencing. And it picks up in a very raw, vulnerable place. You see this character that’s never even seen an iPod before get thrown into the middle of New Orleans, she’s thrown into the middle of Mardi Gras and you see how this character learns to live. She finds love, she finds her first boyfriend and music and lipstick and her friends. And, then, very carefully, each one of those is taken away from her and we don’t know by whom. Is it by the devil? Why are things happening? And as they’re taken away, she begins to doubt herself and she begins to question the world around her and she begins to see things and hear things, and she has to choose between good and evil.
Onda: And that has to be a difficult character evolution for you to play, to put yourself in the shoes of someone seeing the world for the first time.
Bell: Yes, but so much fun. To imagine somebody that hasn’t heard rock music before because it was forbidden. To be on set and live that moment for the first time was incredible. She’s a very raw character to play, and she does have that childlike quality where everything is new, everything is completely experienced for the first time. It was a lot of fun to step back into. I got the chance to wear those Doc Martens for the first film, and what was great about coming back for the sequel was to get back inside those Doc Martens.
Onda: Did they at least give you a new pair of Doc Martens?
Bell: [laughs] They did! Yes, they did. I had to break them in. I love those shoes.
Onda: For the first film, you were told to watch past exorcism films and avoid all of the things those “possessed” actors did.
Bell: [laughs] Yes, that’s absolutely true.
Onda: Were you allowed to let loose in this sequel?
Bell: I think it remained the same, because, what my job is as an actress, is to remain true to Nell, the character I’m playing, and to rebuild that character from where she’s last seen. Here you have this girl that’s shattered, and in trying to put her back together I’m finding the pieces of the character, but then some pieces are missing, and in the missing pieces, that’s where the devil comes in. That’s where the devil slips in to haunt and to scare. And I think there are some really big twists and turns a lot of people won’t see coming.
Onda: And she won’t be vomiting the pea soup.
Bell: Right. There’s no projectile vomiting in this one. Though, I have a really funny vomit story. For the first film, I got a call from the director Daniel Stamm. And he said, “Are you a vegetarian? Do you have any food allergies? Do you eat meat?” And I said, “Well, yeah, I am a vegetarian – why?” And he goes, “Well, we’re customizing your vomit and we wanna know if we can add dairy in, or if we should use oatmeal or if you’re OK with soy milk or real milk.” So I had vegetarian vomit.
Onda: That’s when you know you’re a star.
Bell: Custom made, vegetarian vomit, yes.
Onda: I heard you can do that crazy, contorted backbend on your own without special effects.
Bell: Yes. I am apparently “hyper-mobile.” That’s my word. I can hyperextend way back in my back. In doing the first film, I was looking into exorcisms and researching, and I watched a lot of videos and saw people contort. And I said to myself, “I wonder if I can do that? Let me try, let me experiment.” And I showed Daniel Stamm, and I had no clue that was then gonna become the iconic image for both posters. And it was really important for me to continue to do my own stunts and all my own physicality myself for the second one as well.
Onda: To play this part, you really have to leave some of your vanity at the door, don’t you?
Bell: Very much so, yeah. I admire Nell’s fashion sense. [laughs] In playing a character like this, you do have to abandon a lot of things. She’s riddled with anxiety; she’s tormented as a character. That comes with a look, it comes with a very different look and I wanted to achieve that. I lost weight for the role, I lost a lot of weight, I worked out very hard, I did a lot of ballet to really create that frail, lean frame with this kind of grit that she has. I think I achieved a very different look for her and I’m really proud that the character had the space for me to go there.
Onda: The original movie created spiritual conflict with audiences about god, the devil, good and evil. Did being in this film change your perspective on the subjects?
Bell: Oh, goodness. I will tell you a funny story. In one theater, actually, in the South, a bunch of people got down and began praying after the film. It’s a very touchy subject for many people and, living through 8th grade as a girl, I am convinced that the devil does exist. [laughs]
Onda: What are some of the little things you love about this movie?
Bell: Well, the devil lies in the details, so look close. There are so many twists and turns to this film and the devil tempts Nell and he teases her and he lures her and you can see clues of that all over this film.
Onda: Do you have an entire list of devil puns?
Bell: I know! I know! Shame on me. I actually have those two. You got me. I have no more puns left.
Onda: I was shocked to find out that your dad, Michael Bell, is the voice of Grouchy Smurf, Grandpa Pickles on “Rugrats” and so many others.
Bell: Oh, thank you. I know, I had the best bedtime stories in the world growing up.
Onda: And Quackerjack from “Darkwing Duck”…
Bell: I love Quackerjack! Oh my god, thank you so much for bringing that up. That was my favorite of my dad’s voices! “Darkwing Duck” was so legit, when that show went off the air, I cried.
Onda: It was a dark day.
Bell: After school, my mom would pick me up and I would just go to visit my dad in the recording studio, and I would see him working with Mark Hamill or hear him doing the Transformers or a G.I. Joe or the Rugrats. My dad had such a cool job. When you’re a voiceover actor, it’s a whole different skill – you’re brining these huge, larger than life monsters and characters to life. And, also, you have to learn accents. My dad knows every single accent from being an old Yiddish grandpa to being Indian or Jamaican. It was very cool to grow up with that.
“The Last Exorcism Part II” is now available with XFINITY On Demand. Click here to begin the ordering process.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.