For nearly 35 years, Geena Davis has been a Hollywood fixture, and she’s about to be paired with a horror franchise that has an even more formidable history: “The Exorcist.”
Davis, of course, has been a familiar on-screen face since her small but memorable early roles in eventual classics like “Tootsie” and “Fletch,” continuing through star turns in enduring iconic films including “Beetlejuice,” “The Fly,” “A League of Their Own,” “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” “Stuart Little” and career high points like her Oscar-nominated turn in “Thelma & Louise” and her Oscar-winning performance in “The Accidental Tourist.”
“The Exorcist” has enjoyed even greater longevity in the Industry, from the still-chilling 1973 original film adapted from William Peter Blatty’s book and directed by William Friedkin to the many sequels and prequels of varying quality that have ensured over the past 43 years. And now Davis headlines the latest incarnation of the genre classic, a TV reimagining that casts her as the mother of the young girl in the grip of a horrific demonic possession.
“I love horror movies - love scary movies!” says Davis. “'The Exorcist' curled my hair. Like most people, I saw it when I was a teenager and was scarred for life. It's really the best horror movie ever made…I do also happen to think that this is a really spooky, scary topic, that you could be possessed or that there could be supernatural things happening that impact your very ordinary life. I think it's a great area always for scares.”
Davis recently gathered with a group of journalists at the Television Critics Associations’ fall press tour to reveal her own personal fear factor, reflect on some of those memorable career moments and reveal what her studies and activism regarding gender in media have revealed to her about Hollywood.
How easy of a scare are you, as far as a horror genre audience member?
Geena Davis: Oh yeah, I get scared!
What makes you want to watch a good horror story?
I guess I want to be scared! I guess I'm just one of those people that enjoys being terrified. When I saw "Jaws" I actually ripped the arm off of the theatre seat – you know, when the shark jumps up? I just like it.
Will there be any head-spinning or green goo in line with the original “Exorcist” film? What can we expect?
We will pay honor to the original…There was kind of some head-spinning.
It’s a different era for parenting then the original movie, with helicopter parents not wanting to let their kids out of their sight. Does that add an extra layer for a mother in this particular situation?
That's an excellent point, and I think my character is probably very controlling: I have an important job. One daughter had an accident, my husband has brain damage, my other daughter is getting possessed. I'm like “I’ve got to control this, somehow!”
Will you let your kids watch the show?
They watched the pilot. They loved it. They're not scared of stuff, by the way. You can't scare them!
Do they try to scare you around the house?
You know, they're terrible at it. They want to jump out and say boo and stuff. They're horrible at hiding. They're just not really good at it.
Where are your own personal beliefs when it comes to the supernatural?
I’m a little skeptical. When I kid: 100,000%! My dolls were going to talk at any minute, I was terrified of even posters on the wall that were gonna start talking, and monsters under the bed – all that stuff was an enormous part of my life. And I think the relief I felt as an adult to leave all that behind has really stuck with me.
It's been 30 years since "The Fly" and you're kind of coming full circle.
It's not some plan or anything, really. If other horror movies would have come along for me that had great buzz I would have done them as well. I wish one had more control over their career trajectory.
At the age you were when you made "The Fly" what was it like to make a full-on horror movie like that?
It was great fun. I thought it was fabulous. I loved the script. I thought David Cronenberg was a genius and to make that kind of operatic horror story out of what was a pretty goofy movie originally, I thought it was quite an achievement.
And you got to make a geuninely goofy horror film with "Beetlejuice".
Do you think you guys will get together to do another one?
I hope so! I keep hearing about it or reading about it, but I haven't heard anything directly
We’re also celebrating the 25th anniversary of "Thelma and Louise" this year. You both got to have some fun hanging out recently and paying tribute to the film. What was fun about that reunion with Susan?
It's great. We remained really close friends and whenever we're in each other's city we see each other, but it was great to just really celebrate the movie.
What's fun in New York, I notice, is because you walk around in New York I have a certain level of people recognizing me. I usually get [shouts in a thick New York accent] "Hey, Geena!” And she does too, but when we're together walking down the sidewalk it's a whole other thing that we're together. And we survived. It's a lot of fun.
Since we've been going down career memory lane, talk about "Tootsie."
"Tootsie" was my first movie, the first thing I auditioned for, and I couldn't believe that I got the part. It was astounding that I got the part. What an introduction! I would have done anything and here I am with Dustin Hoffman on my first day of work, with Sydney Pollack as the director. Absolutely crazy!
But the funniest part was when it came out all the people in my little hometown were going crazy and “Oh, I can't believe it!’ My mom was talking to the neighbor and I was there. The neighbor was saying they couldn't believe it and it was so unbelievable and my mom says, ‘Well, she studied acting in college. [Laughs]. Of course it's happening.”
Fox is doing “Pitch, the first show about a female professional pitcher to break the gender barrier in Major League Baseball. As someone who starred in “A League of Their Own” and who is such an advocate for women both on screen and off, what do you think of the show?
I haven't seen the show but I'm so excited! I met the star today and we both had a moment like, "Woah - we both play baseball!" I'm very excited about it…I love the idea of this show. I think things like this have happened: there's been a woman that played professional football. I think it could happen, but it would still be a singular event. It would be a very singular, specific skill that a woman would have to have.
Are you still in contact with any of the members from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League?
Yes! Yes, absolutely. And also the woman from the movie. At my film festival this May, we had a sort of reunion. We played softball instead, but six of the characters from the movie were there.
I'm sure they'd be thrilled [about “Pitch”]! A lot of them are still around. Really excited, because also, the whole focus became at some point women and softball. But women can play baseball, and did, so I think it's great to show.
Just how prescient are you, because when you did the show “Commander in Chief,” you played the first female president!
See!! I'm just setting things up and people can carry them.
Several of the writers on the show are women. Can you talk a little about your championing of women in the entertainment industry?
Davis: It’s gotten to the point where more and more people are very aware of what I do in Hollywood, because part of my pitch for change is you just have to make conscious effort. You just have to stop and think before you cast it: “Could anybody here become female that we haven’t thought of?” Talk to the extras casting person and tell them “We want 50/50 [male/female ratio] every day,” whatever it is.
So on this production, they were already aware of all of those kinds of things that I talk about and are already incredibly interested in gender and diversity in front of an behind the camera, so my work was already done for me! I think it added a little extra push for them to know that I might judge, that I’ll be very aware of what they’re doing.
It’s all about making a conscious effort, because it’s so unconscious, absolutely. If I’ve learned anything in the last ten years, it’s that it’s unconscious gender bias. It’s not a deliberate plot against women, and when you point it out people go “Right – why, of course! I didn’t even think of that!”
Are we making progress? Is there significant change that’s happened?
We haven’t been able to measure it yet, but from the anecdotal evidence that we have, I think that at least on screen – I’m not saying behind the scenes – I think the ratio will improve dramatically even within the next five to seven years, because once people are aware, they’re like “Why are we doing that?” Especially if you talk about things aimed at kids. What possible reason would you have for showing kids that boys are more important than girls?
Can you talk about your personal journey as an Olympic archer?
It was wild! I took up archery at 41 just on a whim, and I became obsessed with it – I take everything too far. Trained and trained like crazy and two and a half years later I was a semi-finalist for the Olympic trials! [Laughs] And it was the most out of body experience that I’ve ever had, that I’m at the Olympic trials in my forties! For something I just took up! It was fabulous – I’ll never forget it.
I was so nervous – because nobody watched you shoot archery – it’s not a good spectator sport – but there were like 50 news crews at the Olympic trials, all standing behind me. Every time I touched the bow, they’d be like [makes flashbulb noises]. Every shot I took, they’d whip-pan to the target to see if I hit it, and I was like “Ugggh.”
Do you still do it?
I have a very funny video on Funny Or Die of me doing archery tricks. I’m not competing currently... but, y’know, there’s always 2020 in Tokyo!