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Released in 1973, The Exorcist was met with a mixed reaction from audiences and critics alike, as the film explored some of the scariest and graphic scenes involved with a young girl’s possession by a demonic spirit.
Perhaps making matters worse, the publicity for the film intentionally called out the supposed “cursed” production. While filming, several actors experienced family deaths or injuries, and a fire destroyed much of the set, except for the bedroom where the possession scenes were filmed.
Either way, the movie was a box-office success and was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning Best Sound and Best Writing.
1. A comedienne was the first choice for the lead.
Carol Burnett was considered for the role of the mother. However, director William Friedkin changed his mind because he was unsure if the audience would accept her in a purely dramatic role. The studio suggested Jane Fonda, Shirley MacLaine, and even Audrey Hepburn, but Friedkin convinced them that Ellen Burstyn was the only fit. Burstyn was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance.
2. It was Jason Miller’s film debut.
But the role of Father Damien Karras was first given to Stacy Keach. Jack Nicholson and Roy Scheider were also interested, and Marlon Brando and Al Pacino were considered. In the end, Miller, known for his Pulitzer Prize winning play That Championship Season, was cast due to his unknown status as an actor. He also received an Academy Award nomination.
3. Adults and children were considered for Regan's role.
Anissa Jones ("Buffy" from Family Affair) auditioned for the role, but was turned down. Dana Plato was offered the role, but her mother made her turn it down. When Linda Blair’s management wouldn’t set up an audition, Blair’s mother took her personally to see the director. Because the role was intense and demanding, the director made sure that Blair was stable before and during filming. Blair, however, wasn’t a fan of sitting in the make-up chair for two hours to look possessed or having to “vomit” pea soup.
4. Another actress did the voice.
Mercedes McCambridge, known for All the King’s Men and Giant, voiced the possessed Linda Blair and likened her performance to her days in radio. The demon’s raspy-breath was inspired by having bronchitis as a child. “All you do is hear me, and yet through the vocal apparatus, I made people throw up and pass out and faint and all that silly stuff,” McCambridge said.