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Exploring Father-Daughter Dynamics: Ryan Simpkins Talks THE EXORCISM and Working with Russell Crowe

A group of friends get together for dinner
Ryan Simpkins and Russell Crowe in THE EXORCISM

By Shannon McGrew

In THE EXORCISM, Academy Award-winner Russell Crowe stars as Anthony Miller, a troubled actor who begins to unravel while shooting a supernatural horror film. His estranged daughter, Lee (Ryan Simpkins), wonders if he's slipping back into his past addictions or if there's something more sinister at play.

For the release of THE EXORCISM, Creepy Kingdom's Shannon McGrew spoke with actor Ryan Simpkins (Fear Street: Part Two—1978). During their chat, they discussed everything from playing the headstrong rebel Lee to exploring the themes of betrayal and grief between a father and his daughter.

Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Ryan. What attracted you to the role of Lee?

Ryan Simpkins: I thought Lee was really cool, you know? She's headstrong, sarcastic, and queer. She's a rebel in her world, and seeing this young woman forge her own path in this film space was really exciting.

Lee is the daughter of Anthony (Russell Crowe), a well-known actor in a dark, troubled headspace. What was your experience like working so closely with Russell Crowe?

Ryan Simpkins: It was great; Russell is fantastic. He's really generous, and he really operates as a part of the machine that is making a movie. He wants to make the best movie possible. My happiest place is on a film set; I love movies and want to be a part of them however I can, and I felt like we could connect and relate in that way. He was also really interested in the technical stuff. He wants to know the frame and the lens to serve that frame in the best way possible. He was very giving and would drop little pieces of wisdom, like making sure light hit my eyes in a certain way.

Three people huddle in fear
(L-R) Ryan Simpkins, Russell Crowe, Chloe Bailey in THE EXORCISM

What I love so much about Lee is how complex she is. She's forging her own path, learning about her identity and sexuality while also trying to help her dad the best she can. What was your favorite aspect of exploring Lee?

Ryan Simpkins: Her relationship with her dad is really complicated, obviously, but there's a lot of betrayal there. She's coming from a place of grief; her mother recently passed, and in that passing, her father was completely absent, but she wants this relationship to work. Obviously, she wants her father to be there for her, and she wants to see him succeed. She finds herself parenting the parent and giving him every opportunity to do well for her. Time and time again, it doesn't happen, which is really tragic. However, that tragedy and hope were really fun to dig into.

When it comes to possession movies, there always seems to be a curse attached to them—whether during filming or after. Did anything strange or weird happen to you on set? What was the most challenging aspect of filming?

Ryan Simpkins: Joshua John Miller, who directed the film, lost his mother not too long before the film, which was very much with us in a sweet way. We were very much thinking of that, especially me dealing with [Lee's] grief. There was one moment [while filming] where Russell and I were in a scene, and I had a line of dialogue about my mother. As I said, Mom, this piece of art deck randomly fell to the ground in the middle of the scene. It was less spooky but more heartfelt. Whatever it is, there's a presence with us. It was really sweet.

As far as challenging, it was the long days. I worked every single day except for three days off at the beginning. It was non-stop. I'd close my eyes and could still hear the AD's voice in my ears [Laughs].

Lastly, what are you most excited for horror fans to experience with this film?

Ryan Simpkins: I'm excited for people to see how this movie sets itself apart from previous possession films. It's easy to go. Oh, it's another exorcist movie, but it takes those tropes seen in previous films and flips them on their head. It goes inside out with the gender aspect of it. We normally find a young female victim and a male hero, but in this, it's the man who's in a place where he needs help, and a young woman is trying to help him. I'm excited for people to see that. I'm excited for queer people to see it also.

THE EXORCISM is now in theaters.


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