In the supernatural thriller/horror movie, “Deliver Us From Evil” (directed and co-written by Scott Derrickson), New York City police officer Ralph Sarchie (played by Eric Bana), struggling with his own personal issues, begins investigating a series of disturbing and inexplicable crimes. He joins forces with an unconventional priest named Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez), schooled in the rituals of exorcism, to combat the frightening and demonic possessions that are terrorizing their city. “Deliver Us From Evil” is inspired by Sarchie’s book “Beware the Night,” which details Sarchie’s bone-chilling real-life cases.
At the 2014 WonderCon convention in Anaheim, California, several members of the “Deliver Us From Evil” team gathered for a panel discussion: Bana, Ramírez, Derrickson, Joel McHale (who plays Sarchie’s cop partner Jimmy Butler), Olivia Munn (who plays Sarchie’s wife Jen) and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Here is what they said on the panel.
Scott, what can you say about “Deliver Us From Evil”?
Derrickson: It’s based on a real character, Ralph Sarchie, who is a police sergeant in the Bronx, in the 46 Precinct, which the FBI called “the most dangerous square mile in America,” with the highest crime rate and the highest arrest rate of any precinct in the country. This guy, who was an undercover police sergeant dealing with violent crimes, with a team of men underneath him, began to get involved in the investigation of a few paranormal cases, and ultimately became an assistant to an exorcist. True story. Real guy. A larger-than-life character. And it’s really that character that drove the movie into existence.
Jerry, how did you come into the “Deliver Us From Evil” project?
Bruckheimer: We found it about 10 years ago. It’s based on a true story about Ralph Sarchie’s life in the Bronx as a detective. We love bringing verisimilitude to audiences, hopefully having experiences you’ll never have, but Ralph had them.
Scott Derrickson wrote the first draft of the adaptation. He went on to do other projects and did some successful movies and came back to it. We’re very fortunate that he got the movie made with this wonderful cast.
What was it about the horror genre that you wanted to tackle?
Bruckheimer: We love procedurals. We made a lot of procedurals for television. This is part-procedural. It has a paranormal element, which I’ve never done before. Scott is the expert on that, based on his previous work. And we really relied on him to bring something that’s extraordinary and scary and true to the screen.
Eric, how did you get involved with “Deliver Us From Evil”?
Bana: The first point of entry was the script. I read it and absolutely loved it. I would’ve been happy to play Ralph Sarchie in any genre. And it just so happened that he was in a horror movie. I met Scott, and we had a really, really great chat. I loved Scott’s previous movies. It was a very, very easy decision.
Were you freaked out by filming the movie? Did it expand any beliefs you had?
Bana: I was coming from a skeptical place, which I guess was, on the one hand, handy, from a survival point of view — that was the character — but also as an actor, you’ve got to be open. [Scott Derrickson] scared the bejeezus out of me in pre-production. He had access to some materials, along with Ralph Sarchie, the real guy, that they shared with me, which clearly I had not seen and clearly not having a week-and-a-half of not being able to sleep correctly.
Derrickson: That’s what I do.
Bana: I appreciate that. I was just really open. I just realized that learning a lot through Ralph and Scott, there are varying shades of grey. It’s not as simple as “Someone is not possessed” and “Someone is fully possessed.” There’s a million steps in between, as you can see out here.
What if someone is mentally ill or has a drug problem and is not possessed by the devil?
Bana: There’s also a point when it really doesn’t matter. If you’re Ralph Sarchie and you’re investigating these crimes or possession cases, he conducts these investigations like a police officer. And some of the source materials we saw were fascinating. It was literally a cop interviewing someone who is in a house where there may or may not be an instance of possession. It’s a very analytical or procedural point of view which was grounded in reality, which scared the hell out of me. And I hope it grounds it for the audience as well.
Édgar, who is the Mendoza character based on in real life?
Ramírez: It is based on two characters: a Catholic bishop and a Catholic priest who accompanied Ralph Sarchie throughout the solving of the cases that are reflected in the movie.
What was your perspective of “Deliver Us From Evil”?
Ramírez: I was raised Catholic, so I was pretty much familiar with the symbolisms in the movie. And I watched, by accident, “The Exorcist” when I was 6 years old. I couldn’t sleep alone or with the lights off for the following two years.
Halfway through the process of this movie [“Deliver Us From Evil”], I realized, “Why did I take on this movie?” My lights were on again, and they were on for three months of preparation and throughout the whole shoot. And also my TV set [was on], so I had to put this thing on my eyes to block the light and fall asleep. I think it had a lot to do with confronting those childhood fears.
And, of course, I walked into it with an open mind. I cannot really deny or claim the existence of something I do not fully understand. So I kept and open mind, and I walked out with an even broader open mind. So I think now, I’m not afraid of anything.
Olivia, can you describe your Jen Sarchie character?
Munn: My character is [Ralph Sarchie’s] wife. That’s the only reason why I did this movie. I didn’t really approach it as a believing or disbelieving thing. That wasn’t as important to me.
The most important thing in a movie like this, when you’re telling someone’s true story and their true accounts, is that I help create a great home base for him, so when the audience is watching, we really know what Sarchie has to lose when all this stuff has to happen. So that was really the most important thing to me.
When you’re filming a horror movie like “Deliver Us From Evil,” is the mood on set serious or comical in between takes?
Munn: We have a lot of comedic actors in this movie … A lot of people in America don’t know this, but Eric has a comedic background. There was a lot of joking around. I think you have to keep it light and fun and have fun in between.
To me, it got serious when Eric told me he had seen the actual exorcism footage from the NYPD, and he couldn’t sleep for three weeks. And he wasn’t a believer, but he couldn’t sleep for three weeks? What was so scary, big Australian man?
So I asked to see them [the exorcism videos]. And he heard that I asked to see them … and he said, “Olivia can’t see these because she won’t sleep.” And that’s when it got real for me. And I said, “If I can’t see them, then I have to see them.” And I watched them. And he was right.
Bana: You watched them? Oh no!
Munn: I watched half of one, and I cried. And then I kept the lights on. And they’re still on. With all the research Scott Derrickson has done, this is stuff you won’t find on YouTube. You can’t Google it. This is stuff that is personal …
All that stuff they put into the movie. Before I got into this movie, I did not believe anything, because I’m in Hollywood, and people make fun of you if you believe in anything.
Joel, what can say about your Jimmy Butler character?
McHale: I am very good friends with Scott, and he took pity on me, and wrote this role with me in mind. In my own life, I have a large knife collection, and my character loves knives.
Scott and I have been friends for a long time. I remember him telling me about Ralph Sarchie and riding around with him. And then all of a sudden, it became a real thing.
And Jerry allowed me to be in the movie as well. So my character is Eric’s police partner. And I’m not a very nice man.
Munn: Joel learned how to fight with …
McHale: A Filipino knife-fighting style.
Munn: The way a boxer would fight, but holding knives.
McHale: It’s a form of murder. It’s not really an art. I was shown how I could kill people.
Munn: It was awesome. Now you know how. Any volunteers?
McHale: I work at the E! building. It comes in handy.
For more info: “Deliver Us From Evil” website