Linda Blair will forever be tied to her head-spinning, pea-soup-spewing, possessed character in The Exorcist, one she filmed when she was 13 years of age. She’s using that to her advantage now, as that iconic, Oscar-nominated portrayal has given Blair more if a chance to get the word out for her animal rescue organization, the Linda Blair WorldHeart Foundation. Amid giving homes to dogs and bettering people’s lives with loving pets, Blair, 51, took part in a new behind-the-scenes documentary for The Exorcist: Extended Director’s Cut Blu-ray in stores this week. She also checked in with us to talk about memories from The Exorcist and working with director William Friedkin, and her philanthropic work that keeps her busy nowadays. Read below for the interview, and check out this clip from The Exorcist, one of Blair’s creepier scenes as the demonically filled Regan opposite Jason Miller’s Father Karras. (Plus, we’re giving out Exorcist DVDs to 10 lucky Twitter followers today, so be sure to tweet your scariest movie moments with the #usawscares hashtag!)
Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment
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What is it like for you to see the movie now in high definition?
All I was interested in was to see the documentary. It floored even me. For the first time, the audience will get to see everything that they have been curious about through their lifetime: how did we spin the head, how did the mechanics work, all of the special effects. I think it will finally breathe a new life into something where they realize, if you apply yourself no matter what it is, and you just work as hard as you can and be the best that you can, that it can withstand the test of time like this film has.
Did you remember all the things that are shown in the documentary?
I remember everything, and to see it from the camera’s point of view, even the hospital scene that has disturbed people for so long, will show people the technical side that went into it. I know that is part of the film that has always upset people, the needle in the neck and blood. It’s not real. For me, I had forgotten how much the behind-the-scenes camera was there, and I am now delighted that it was there to show in fact everything that I’ve talked about for so many years. It isn’t real, and this is one of the greatest special effects film ever made, before we had the CGI. William Peter Blatty wrote a novel that is something that unearthed so many people, and because it’s about religion – and to this day of course we’re at war over religion – it is something that people question. You won’t have the answers until we pass away into whatever is the next life.
That must have been quite an experience as a teenager.
I had been working in commercials and the fashion houses, I had done a soap opera and two small films. I was an East Coast working actor, and you leave your job there at the set. You go home and you live life. That’s all I knew. I had asked my mom about quitting the business. I wanted to really apply myself to my studies because I wanted to be a veterinarian. It was really a short period of time, like two or three weeks, the interview came up for the film and you’re always excited, as anybody is. Of course, we know I did end up getting the job, and it changed my life and the world forever. I’ve just gone back to what my dream was. I never forgot what I wanted, which was to help animals. The Exorcist gives me a platform to talk to people. I’m a curiosity, and I did turn out to be OK and not one of the young actors who struggled so hard. They tried to make it seem way back when that I was in “trouble,” so to speak, but I wasn’t. I’ve always been the person I’ve said I was, and I thank my mother, who is no longer with us, and my father, who passed away this year, for the foundation they gave me to always apply myself, try as hard as you can, and work harder, and at the same time, be kind to others. America knows I’m a trustworthy person, and my goal is to change America to make it better for both animals and people.
I asked William Friedkin about your rapport on set. How key was he in creating a world where you could act in this movie but also be shielded from a lot of the adult subject matter?
It’s a very, very important question. The controversy and the myths were really stronger than the truth. I was constantly, constantly battling and saying, “No, I was just a kid. This is a job, this is a profession.” See, I was raised Protestant, not Catholic, so for me the devil was fictitious. It was no different than the Mummy or Frankenstein or the Swamp Thing. It wasn’t real. What Billy Friedkin did was he made sure I was mentally stable. When we were doing all the rehearsals and try-outs and so on, he would have me do things and he would talk to me for hours and hours on end. It was three months before they cast me, and that’s what a lot of people don’t realize. He wanted to make sure I was mentally stable, which I so appreciate. That’s No. 1. No. 2, he wanted a normal child, not a sickly child, and that’s where a lot of the casting misconceptions came in. People thought Regan was supposed to be sickly and she wasn’t. She was supposed to be very normal. Some of the footage of Ellen Burstyn and I roaming around the Washington Monument, when you see it now in the behind the scenes footage, it’ll bring a whole different thought process to the viewer, realizing I was just a kid and that this thing happens. I asked Bill Blatty about it years ago and I said, “Well, why me? Why did Regan’s character get possessed?” He just looked at me with this cat-ate-the-mouse smile and said, “It had to be someone.” Friedkin did the best that he could to keep things as normal around me. In the contract, I wasn’t supposed to ride my horses, and he made sure that that happened. Without that, I don’t think it’s possible to ask a child to go through that type of situation.
How long have you been involved with animal rescue?
I’ve been doing animal welfare since I was 24. My dog had been stolen and then I got involved with a volunteering group. I just felt that we could do better in America, and that’s why Linda Blair World Heart Foundation was born in 2003 and why I work so hard t make the world better for the animals and for people. I was an environmentalist first, then animal welfare, and then animal rescue. After Hurricane Katrina, I found it extremely necessary to have a property where we actually could shelter and do the proper work. I rehabilitate the animals emotionally, physically first so I can get them over whatever, if they’re sick, and then emotionally, because many of them are scarred from being abandoned or abused. It can take anywhere from three months to three years to rehabilitate an animal, depending on the circumstances. I still have Katrina dogs. It’d be nice if they had homes, but we’re in an American crisis and I’m very proud of the work we do. I encourage people – they can join me in my efforts. They can volunteer, they can donate, they can help support. I will never stop trying to make a difference.