Actress Ashley Bell Talks To Us About The Last Exorcism: Part II

During The wizard world Comicon In Portland Liz Putney spoke with Actress Ashley Bell abouot her upcoming movie “The Last Exorcism Part II”. The movie opens this Friday and you can read what the talented actress has to say below.

Liz: Can you tell us about your character, for those who have not seen the first film?

Ashley Bell: Part 2 can be a standalone film, which is one of the things I think is really awesome about it. I play Nell Sweetzer, who is a very sheltered character. She comes from a strict religious background (no music, no makeup) and she hasn’t really left the home where she grew up- and she is possessed by a true devil. Part 2 begins where Part 1 left off. We’re seeing Nell raw; she’s shell-shocked and doesn’t remember what happened to her. She’s thrown into New Orleans and Mardi Gras, where there’s temptation everywhere. And she has to choose between good and evil.

Liz: What kind of research did you do for your role?

Ashley Bell: Physically, I did take a lot of ballet to prep for it. If you take a dance class to prepare for doing your own stunts, you are less likely to get hurt. Unless you just break in two (in the panel she discussed how she fractured her lower back during a backbend stunt in the movie). The ballet also helped with that levitating backbend I did. Nell’s been through a traumatic event- she’s anxiety riddled so I also did a lot of ballet because I wanted that very gaunt look that she had.
I love doing research because it allows me to tie into another character. I read every single book on exorcism that I could find. I watched exorcism videos. I listened to a lot of audio, because some of those rooms were too dangerous to bring in a video camera or the footage would get messed up or the equipment wouldn’t record. I talked with a lot of people about the religious part of it. They would begin to talk about an exorcism and then stop because they were so scared it would come back or whatever room they saw someone become possessed in they wouldn’t return there. That religious fear is so real and that was what Nell was raised in so I need to be true to that.

Liz: What is different about working on a horror set versus other genres?

Ashley Bell: The amount of blood! (laughs)

Liz: What was the most memorable part of the film for you?

Ashley Bell: Definitely that levitating backbend. That alone a full day. I taught myself how to levitate (laughs). In doing that backbend there was a whole stunt team on set. They said I could do it 8 times and I think I did it about 20 times. Each time something more and more got added to it and Ed (the director) was kind of conducting it like a swell of a musical piece. It was incredible and at the end of the day I got to say “I flew! That’s what I did for my job today.”

Liz: What kind of direction does the director give you for scenes like that? What sort of things does he say?

Ashley Bell: I saw the film for the first time a couple of weeks ago and I scared myself! I gave myself nightmares! I was jumping! It’s PG-13 so it very much has that fun scare and I actually saw it with a bunch of girls. We were all jumping onto each other and they were grabbing each other- but loving getting scared. In watching it, what was scary is the sounds and the music. So many of those scenes are me and Ed (the director) is talking off camera, leading me through what’s going to be added in during post. So what kind of noises are going to be happening or what music is going to be playing or if something tips over suddenly. Many times I’ve had to react to tape on the wall. They are like “This wall is going to come at you.” and I’m like “Ok? Cool!” So then to actually see it happen on screen I’m like “Oh my god! That’s horrifying!”
Liz: Reacting to something that’s not really there must be really challenging.

Ashley Bell: That’s why I’m so grateful for my training at NYU and Cambridge and the Groundlings for improv training. Having that in my background is so helpful.

Liz: What was it like working with Eli Roth?

Ashley Bell: Incredible! Eli is a master of horror. He’s a horror magician! I think what’s so impressive about him is that he knows the genre so well and he’s so versed. Like a painter, he knows all the rules and then he can break them- and break them in a cool way. He can completely innovate and find something that hasn’t been seen before and that’s the whole love story with the devil in this film.

Liz: What was the most challenging part of being in this film?

Ashley Bell: I always say that the most challenging part of a film is after they yell “cut” at the end of that last scene. For me working is like a vacation and it’s the time in between that’s challenging as an actor. Being on set is just awesome.

Liz: Do you like watching horror movies?

Ashley Bell: I love horror movies! My summers were spent watching horror movies with my dad. Like Suspiria, Pumpkin Head, Poltergeist, Aliens, and Predator. I love those movies!

Liz: How did working on this film differ from working on the first one?

Ashley Bell: That would be working with the camera. This film was not found footage which was a tremendous shock to people. I think it’s telling for the shocks that the audience will see when they see this one and the turn at the end that’s trademark Eli Roth. For the first one the camera was a character- you could play to the camera to hint at something or intentionally tell a lie, or be quiet too long or share a smile with the camera that wouldn’t be caught by anyone else. That
was fun to break the 4th wall and break the rules we’re taught as actors to forget that there are hundreds of people watching you- to be intimate and personal.

Liz: What is one thing about acting in horror movies that surprises people when you tell them?

Ashley Bell: It’s where the whole horror genre is right now. What was so great about part one was the characters and the great story. That’s what made Nell such a compelling character. When I first read her I was like “I will do whatever I need to do to get this role!”. It’s an experimental genre now and it’s really gone above and beyond because it keeps on surpassing itself. It forces you so far outside of your comfort zone as an actress both mentally and physically. They compete against each other so much to be groundbreaking. When you are that far out of your zone- that’s really where the fun happens for both the audience and the actors.

Liz: What other project do you have going on that we can look forward to?

Ashley Bell: “The Marine 3” which is out March 5th on DVD is a straight action, cars blowing up, Mike (The Miz) is going through windows and I’m going through windows (with no glass so I don’t get hurt). I also have a romantic comedy called “The Bounceback” and a romantic epic called “Chasing Shakespeare” coming out on South by Southwest. My movie “Sparks” based on the graphic comic which will be premiering at the Cinequest Film Festival.

Liz: In your panel, you discussed your chance to be on the other side of the camera when you filmed your documentary. Can you tell us a little bit more about that experience?

Ashley Bell: A very close friend of mine runs the Cambodian Wildlife Sanctuary. They’ve been trying to rescue elephants to bring there for over 10 years. When I finally got the email that they succeeded I said

“This has to be filmed because the story is so exquisite.” I’m working with Change for Balance productions to film it. We were there in January filming and it’s called “Love and Bananas”. There’s a hard fast rule that no bullhooks are used on the sanctuary, but you can guide an elephant with love and bananas.

Liz: Did you get to be around elephants?

Ashley Bell: Yes two! If you check out it talks about the issues and our goal for this documentary. Also there’s a trailer there and a bunch of photos of me with the elephants.