We at ASSIGNMENT X know that absolutely nothing fictional can match this year’s election cycle for sheer horror. However, we’ve done our best to find an interview about a reasonably scary show to fit the national mood.
In Fox Network’s Friday-night series THE EXORCIST, Alan Ruck plays Henry Rance. Henry sustained brain damage in a car accident, but he’s got much bigger problems. Casey (Hannah Kasulka), one of Henry’s two teenaged daughters, is demonically possessed. Meanwhile, Henry’s devoted and devout wife Angela (Geena Davis) turns out to have been keeping quite a secret. In other words, Henry is coping with a lot these days.
Ruck made a lasting impression with audiences in his costarring turn in the 1986 comedy FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF. He’s since been in many films and TV series, including as a regular on SPIN CITY.
ASSIGNMENT X: There’s a very grounded tone to Henry and his family in THE EXORCIST. Do you think that helps make it scarier when the horror element enters?
ALAN RUCK: Yeah. What Geena says is absolutely true, that you have to play it – we have the relationship, whatever it is, and we play that. We’re husband and wife, and we have a problem with our daughter. It just happens to be that this problem is supernatural. But it has to be. Otherwise, it’s too easy to run away from it. Groucho Marx used to say that anybody that dressed up in a clown suit, the audience was immediately resistant to that person. It’s like, “Go ahead, be funny. I dare you to make me laugh.” When [Marx] came out just in a suit, it was unexpected. So I think in our own way, we’re doing the same thing. We try to keep it sort of real, although that word is overused, as we can, and then all hell breaks loose.
AX: How do you feel about the pacing in THE EXORCIST, of keeping it scary, but not wearing out the scares?
RUCK: It goes up and down. And it goes up and it goes up, and it goes up and down, and then in the middle of this run of ten episodes, there are horrifying things. So I think it is like a rollercoaster, in that you get a big scare, and then you think that’s it, and maybe that’s not true, maybe you’re just going to have the pants scared off of you later on.
AX: How long does it take Henry to believe that something supernatural may be going on, given that he’s got quite an array of actual medical issues that manifest as strange behavior?
RUCK: It doesn’t take too long, because of course Geena’s character Angela, she’s onto something first. I come to it later than she does, but I definitely come into agreement with her that this is real.
AX: You’ve had a wide variety of roles over the years. Is that by design?
RUCK: I’ve done a lot of stuff that maybe wasn’t so memorable over thirty years. But I’ve always wanted to do these different things. Years ago, I did a Western. I’m like, “Oh, well, I had that experience – if I ever do it again, that’ll be fine, but I’ve had that experience.” I’ve always wanted to do a horror show, and now it just so happens that I’m involved with a very classy one. So I’m very lucky – I’ve always been lucky.
AX: FERRIS BUELLER is still pretty memorable for a lot of people …
RUCK: It’s funny. I’m so happy to have been part of something that people love and that people continue to revisit, and that kids seem to discover, that young people seem to discover for themselves. When I did it, I knew it was a good part, and John [Hughes] was a really popular director, and [costar] Matthew [Broderick was a] friend. It was just a real happy job. But early on, maybe the first couple, five years after that show, I kind of wished it would go away [laughs], because there was a time when I couldn’t get any work, and people kept bringing up FERRIS BUELLER, and I thought maybe I was a one-trick pony, and I thought maybe everybody had seen the trick. And now I’m just, for whatever reason, whatever it is that people love about it, I’m happy to have been part of it.
AX: Was one of the attractions of THE EXORCIST that you were going to be playing Geena Davis’ husband?
RUCK: Yes, absolutely. One of the funny things is, my wife [actress Mireille Enos] is scared to death of this genre. She won’t watch these movies, she doesn’t really want to talk about them. And so when this audition came along, she said, “You can’t bring that energy into this house!” Because there are so many things that happen in the [original film]. And I said, “Okay, okay.” So I auditioned for these guys and they asked me to do it, and I said, “I’m going to have to talk to my wife, because I have to make sure that she’s okay with this whole journey.” And my manager said, “Well, you might want to tell her that Geena Davis just signed on.” And so I went home and I told Mireille and she said, “Well, now you have to do it.”
AX: In real life, you had a health crisis awhile ago. Are you bringing any of that experience to the way Henry is dealing with his own health issue, or is this completely different?
RUCK: Well, no. Everything that happens to you in your life, probably you’re able to use one way or another in your work. When I got sick fifteen years ago, the last thing I knew, it was a couple of days before Christmas, and then when I sort of woke up, people were counting down to the New Year. I woke up in a hospital. And I’d been out of it for nine days, and I kind of didn’t know what the hell had happened to me. So that sort of frustration and anger and fear – you wake up and you don’t know where you are, I think that Henry has got a lot of that going on back and forth, and there are moments when he really wishes he would be more present, and he’s just unable.
AX: And how is it playing a dad to two teenage daughters?
RUCK: It’s fine. I actually have four kids. I was married once before, so I have big kids. I have a twenty-eight-year-old daughter, and twenty-two-year-old son, and an almost-six-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son. So I’ve gone through the teenage thing once, so I remember some of the attitude. But I get some of that from my six-year-old. She’s a sassy six-year-old.
AX: How old are your children going to have to be to watch THE EXORCIST?
RUCK: Teenage. My little girl’s not going to watch this for ten years.
AX: There have been some stories about strange goings-on with the original film. Has anything odd happened on this set, or everything’s been quiet?
RUCK: Nothing has happened so far. I know that we all have our own secret little talismans and magic mojos and stuff, so we’re hedging our bets. I think some of that is just being open and forthright, just trying to have your life sort of clear and in order. On the first film, [director William] Friedkin is a brilliant director, but he was doing some sneaky stuff to people. And I always wonder if that invited in some negative energy.
AX: How was it working with Rupert Wyatt, who directed THE EXORCIST pilot?
RUCK: He was fabulous. As soon as you’re in the presence of somebody who knows exactly what they’re doing, be it a director, or another actor, you relax. There’s some part of you that just relaxes. And then you’re capable of doing your best work. Rupert is so smart, and he knows exactly what he’s doing. And then also, it’s very collaborative, because things will change on the spot. So people would do something different, and Rupert would say, “You know what? I was going to do it like this, but let’s not – let’s go with what you had.” So it’s really satisfying that way.
AX: You’re originally from Ohio, but you’ve spent a lot of time in Chicago. Were you looking to work in Chicago, or was that just kind of a fun coincidence with THE EXORCIST?
RUCK: Happy accident. Really happy accident. And I still have friends there, obviously. And I love that city, it’s where I got started, and it’s not a bad commute to L.A.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about THE EXORCIST?
RUCK: I don’t know. I think they’ll just have to watch it and make up their own minds.
This interview was conducted during Fox Network’s portion of the summer 2016 Television Critics Association press tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
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Article: Exclusive Interview with THE EXORCIST actor Alan Ruck on the new Fox horror series