Deliver Us From Evil is a first for, well, seemingly everyone involved except director Scott Derrickson: It marks the horror-movie debuts of stars Eric Bana, Olivia Munn and Edgar Ramirez, as well as producer Jerry Bruckheimer. But according to the actors, its basis in true events gives them a unique introduction to the genre, as they’re approaching it in roughly the same way as the people whom they’re portraying – namely, as disbelievers, confronted by something they can’t explain.
Co-written by Derrickson (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose), who was propelled into the spotlight this week with confirmation that he’ll direct Marvel’s Doctor Strange, the film tells the true story of Ralph Sarchie (Bana) a Bronx cop who’s pulled into a case that a renegade priest (Ramirez) convinces him involves possession by evil spirits.
Before their panel at Wondercon Anaheim, Bana, Munn and Ramirez spoke with SPINOFF ONLINE about their genre debut with Deliver Us From Evil. Bana reflected on his ongoing focus on serious fare despite his pedigree as a comedian, while Ramirez offered insights into his fearless approach to trying new opportunities. Munn, meanwhile, explored the difficulties of making the movie work while challenging herself as an actress, and offered her one complaint of Amy Schumer’s recent parody of The Newsroom – namely, that there’s no character in it who’s making fun of her.
Eric, you’ve talked before about how your American projects have with few exceptions tapped into your comedic side. It seems like you just kind of keep going further and further away from that stuff. What about this prompted you to sort of take it even more serious than we’ve seen in the past?
Eric Bana: I don’t know. Actually, when you see the film there’s some stuff that Joel [McHale] and I have together that’s a lot of fun that’s probably not in the clips. But I just respond to the stuff that I like. And if something funny came along and I liked it I’d do it tomorrow. So there’s no hard-and-fast rule. Obviously, my dramatic pile is a lot higher than my comedy pile on my desk. So I never say never. You know, if something came along again like Funny People, I’d jump at the chance.
How does the sort of nonbeliever aspect of this, the fact that the movie is very clearly thinking about the fact that like this shouldn’t exist, sort of afford you an entrée into a genre which you hadn’t explored before?
Bana: I respond to things that attracted me to the characters. You know you’re dealing with a guy who’s tough as nails, a Bronx detective who’s dealing only in the real world, dealing in a violent world, who’s forced to acknowledge that something else might be at play. And from an actor’s point of view it’s a great trajectory because as a skeptic yourself, it’s, like, cool, I’ve got an entry point here. This guy starts out looking at it from the outside and he’s slowly, slowly lured in through Edgar’s character, Priest Mendoza. So it gave the character in the story real trajectory and I think it’s a good hook for the audience as well.
Olivia Munn: Well, I love horror movies, but I actually only love horror movies that are based on true stories. It’s kind of like once you do films and stuff, and especially I think most of the audience, now we know how things are made. It’s kind of like knowing how the sausage is made. You don’t really get excited about it anymore. But if it’s based on something true, it gets very exciting and it’s very scary. And so this movie was just – like that was the biggest reason is that it’s based on true accounts of an NYPD officer.
Edgar Ramirez: I think one of the most interesting and appealing aspects of this story is the fact that it really deals with real conflicts. And these characters are dealing with real conflicts, and their motivations are real and they’re truthful. So regardless of how realistic or unrealistic the display of these conflicts are, their motivations were truthful. And I think that is an amazing combination that Scott Derrickson, the director/writer was able to accomplish. Because you really care about these characters, and that is something that you see very seldom in this kind of genre. I mean, I think that the scary factor of the movie comes from the fact that you don’t want those characters to be at risk. You don’t want those characters to in danger because you care about them. And that is a unique aspect that I hadn’t seen in a very long time in these type of movies.
Was that immediately apparent to you when you sort of got this?
Ramirez: I read the script and I really loved it. I have been a huge fan of Scott’s work, you know, since the Exorcism of Emily Rose. I think that he accomplished an amazing job in that movie. It was one of the few horror movies that had the ability to really scare me and had me up for nights like sleeping with the lights on, for at least a week. And then the minute I got this script and I knew that he was involved I was completely delighted to be part of it.
How hard is it for you to be as fearless as you seem to be? I mean, every time we see you in a movie, it’s something people never would have expected you to end up in.
Ramirez: I’ve been very lucky, too, to have great filmmakers approach me with amazing projects and ideas. I think that as I did with this movie I walked into this movie and I walked into this career with a very open mind. And that’s what I tried to do. I love to explore the range of the human condition, and I think that horror and fear is a huge part of the range of the human condition and inspired my explorations. So I tried to keep an open mind and just I mean one day I’m flying through the sky, you know, wearing a skirt and being a Greek god, and today I’m being a priest. I just love to explore. I’m very curious. And that’s how I try to maintain. That’s the attitude I try to keep.
This is a pretty rich ensemble. How difficult is it to make sure that your character is not sort of the damsel in distress?
Munn: That’s a good point. As the one female in the cast, I was not going to be the one screaming. And Scott, thankfully — the director — is amazing and he doesn’t like anything cliché like that. And it was really important for us to create a great family, a core base so that when things were happening to Eric Bana’s character you knew what he had to lose. And it’s also I didn’t want to be a naggy wife. But this story is based on a Ralph Sarchie, who was a real NYPD officer, and it’s important that this is his story. And for every actor, I think the most important thing is not to think about just yourself, you’re thinking about the story. And so my job was to create a great structure and a foundation for Eric and for his character, so that when the audience was watching they knew what he had to lose. And that’s kind of how you approach it. And just don’t do anything to make it silly, like screaming.
I guess then how personally do you make sure that that you’re doing your absolute best to support like an entire project, and that you’re still challenged or stimulated in a role?
Munn: Because you pick the right role. No matter what level you’re at where you get, work begets work and you get a little bit more opportunities as you go. And so more opportunities come, and a lot of them aren’t that great. And so somebody said to me once the people who are the most discerning in their careers last longest. And I know how lucky I am. I started on G4, and that was everything for me and it was a huge platform for me. And so I don’t want this to be temporary, so I have to be very discerning. And then you pick the right roles and the right script. It’s a Bruckheimer movie. I believe it’s the first thriller he’s done – the first horror movie. And also I know that even if somebody tried to push me one way, it’s really hard to push me to do something that I don’t really want to do.
Gotcha. By the way, have you seen the Amy Schumer’s parody of Aaron Sorkin?
Munn: Yeah, I just saw that. I love Amy Schumer. I love, love, love her.
What do you think about that, after having gone through seasons of the show and feeling like they’ve condensed all these different sort of tropes into a four-minute thing about a fast food place?
Munn: I was just excited that Amy Schumer might have watched The Newsroom. I love her show. I watch her show. I love her standup. I think she’s – I remember her when she was doing the roasts. I just thought she was so clever and so funny. I hadn’t seen anybody with her style and sense of humor before. And so when I heard that I just got very excited. One of our cast members, Tom Sadoski, was like, did you guys see this thing that they did? And my take on it was like, Amy Schumer? She might watch The Newsroom? And then I was very excited. I was waiting for the Asian girl to pop up in there and I was like, “Damn it. Maybe she doesn’t watch. Or maybe she fast-forwards through my part.”
Deliver Us From Evil opens July 2.