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Released in 1973, The Exorcist was met with mixed reactions from audiences and critics alike, as the film detailed the possession of a young girl by a demonic spirit in some of the scariest and most graphic ways yet to be seen on the screen.
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.
The role of Father Damien Karras was first given to Stacy Keach. "I was cast on a Friday night after a long audition, which went very well. But my agent at the time thought I could get more money," Keach said. Before a deal was made Friedkin and screenwriter William Peter Blatty saw Jason Miller in the Pulitzer-Prize-winning play, That Championship Season. They decided that Miller was a better fit, especially due to his unknown status. Miller also received an Academy Award nomination. Others considered for the role were Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, and Jack Nicholson and Roy Scheider were interested in the part.
3. Adults and children were considered for Regan's role.
Anissa Jones ("Buffy" from Family Affair) auditioned for the role, but she was turned down. Dana Plato ("Kimberly" from Diff'rent Strokes) was offered the role, but her mother made her turn it down. Linda Blair was interested in the part, but her management wouldn't set up an audition. So Blair's mother took her personally to try out for the role. Since 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 makeup chair for two hours to look possessed and 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. She was pleased with her performance, especially since the voice was able to conjure up such deep-seated emotions in viewers. “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.