The debut episode of Outcast, the new supernatural drama from Robert Kirkman (creator of The Walking Dead, if you’re not already familiar), aired last night, so audiences have now had a chance to soak in one of the most visceral and physically brutal exorcism scenes in recent memory. The A.V. Club asked the director of the episode, Adam Wingard, and series star Patrick Fugit what it was like creating such a harrowing moment of televised intensity. Here’s what they had to say.
AVC: Exorcisms have been done to death onscreen. Once you realized that you’d be filming one, what went through your head in terms of, “How do I make my exorcism different from what’s come before?”
AW: I was pretty terrified, because a lot of times, when exorcisms are done wrong, they just seem really silly and almost unintentionally funny. For me, it was scary because I wanted to do something that felt different, but also I wanted it to be satisfying and scary and all that stuff. But having a conversation with Robert about what the rules are really helped, because I knew what I couldn’t do with the characters. Then, it was just a matter of making that work.
On the page, what I thought was going to be the hardest thing ended up being easy because the actor was great. Robert was very adamant from the beginning that he didn’t want this to be Linda Blair with a demon voice kind of thing. He wanted this little boy in the pilot to be possessed, but he wanted it to feel like an innocent child that is talking to them, but he’s just saying things a child wouldn’t say. When you think about that, it could be scary, but it could also just be a little kid sitting there and being cute. Those things were kind of scary going into it. You work through that as you go; you start getting a feel for what’s going to work and what’s not. You just kind of get into it.
I actually didn’t have any drive to do an exorcism story, you know? It’s one of those things—I feel like they’re always just an advertisement for Catholicism. They always follow the same set of rules. That just wasn’t interesting to me at all. The reason I wanted to do this in the first place is because it’s a different approach to it altogether, and it’s a southern story. I like that it’s these southern exorcisms, a southern preacher, all that kind of stuff. I haven’t really had a chance—as somebody from Alabama—nothing I’ve done really has been set in the south before. The closest has been Missouri, you know? This was kind of a fun chance for me to do an interesting southern story.
AVC: Patrick, that’s an intense area for you, working with a young kid where you basically have to kick his ass. Just emotionally, but also the technical challenge. There’s so many effects going on with it. There’s something unique about that set of circumstances.
PF: A lot of it has to do with the tension we build over the first episode, so it’s not going to make sense for my character to interact with Joshua’s physically in that manner unless there’s some high stakes and it makes sense emotionally. I think, obviously, it’s not a great decision for Kyle to make. But it at least makes sense. It’s a lot of things that haven’t made sense to him that have ruined his young life, basically stolen his childhood and his young adolescence. That sort of thing. His marriage is broken up. It’s all sort of been taken away from him, and he finds this outlet or facade that contains exactly what has been doing this to him his whole life. I think that’s a very frustrating…because he’s been hurt pretty badly by it. He finally has something to focus on and ends up…[Laughs.] I mean, to be fair, the demon also goads it out of him.
AW: There’s an interesting thing about the fact that even when Kyle is being violent in the first episode, even though it is disproportionately towards a kid, it comes from a place of vulnerability because he’s lashing out not at what’s in front of him; it’s from his whole background. It’s weird how even though what is going on onscreen is really fucked up, you’re still on Kyle’s side the whole time, because you know that he’s not doing it for any other reason other than the fact he’s just at his limit. He’s kind of backed into a corner, and he doesn’t really have a choice, you know?
AVC: It’s not really until the last shot where Kyle is standing outside his home and does his little, “Come and get me,” when you think, “Oh, that’s the hero moment.” You suddenly realize he’s the hero of the story. Up until then, you’re kind of like, “Is he the bad guy?”
PF: Yeah, absolutely. I think that part of Kyle isolating himself is obviously because he feels like he’s a stain, you know? He’s creating these circumstances for people around him to be hurt badly. That’s where we meet him. He’s a shut-in. He’s sort of taking on his role as the outsider and the antihero.