In Exorcist: The Beginning, Clara Bellar plays Rachel, a doctor who has come to Kenya to work with the Turkana who is also a Holocaust survivor. She took the time to speak with us press types and this is what she had to say, first giving us the lowdown on her character.
"My character's name is Rachel," Bellar began. "She's a Jewish woman who is from Europe and who survived a concentration camp or actually, a killing camp during the second world war. Now she's in Kenya in a small village working for the Red Cross. She's devoted her life to saving people's lives and she's the only doctor." As for what Clara saw in the role that made her take it, she replied, "She's a strong woman and you don't get a lot of strong woman parts. I couldn't believe it when I read the script, because this was undoubtedly the strongest character in the movie and I've spoken to Stellan about it and I've spoken to Paul about it and I said, 'This was written by men.' It's so rare that men write those roles for women. She's a survivor. She inspires others. She didn't lose her faith for some reason. She probably had less faith before the war than she does now and Stellan's character lost his faith and she helps him. He didn't lose it completely - it's somewhere inside of him deep down. She helps him to find it and helps everybody in the story one way or the other, whether it's physically as a doctor or whether it's psychologically. She's very smart, she's very strong, she's very tough. She's an amazingly beautiful woman."
Naturally, the first question asked was about how she was able to hold onto that faith. "Well, it's not really explained in the story, but of course I have my [take]," Bellar replied. "Coincidentally, I read a book - a diary of a Dutch woman, a contemporary of Anne Frank, she was ten years older and she also died in a camp. I read that diary a year before I got this script to The Exorcist and it's a very similar situation. It's a young girl's diary, she was very ambitious, she would write about her boyfriends and she wanted to be a writer. All of a sudden, when things started to get really, really bad, she finds this faith that she didn't really know she had in her and when I read that book I thought, 'Is that really possible?' If this was a fiction, if this wasn't a diary of a real person, I would've believed maybe that it's not possible. So, I had the opportunity to think about that coincidentally very similar question."
Like the others, Bellar spent much of the shoot in Morocco, so that question came up next. "For some reason, the producers chose Morocco in November and December," Bellar joked. "That's the wintertime, obviously, and it rains a lot, so it was a little bit difficult. Every day we had to have the weather cover in case it rained and even when I wasn't filming, I was on hold. Apart from that little problem of the rain, it was amazing. They found a fantastic location in the middle of nowhere and it was really great."
Though the rain was certainly one horror, Bellar was asked what other horrors she believed we'd see in Exorcist: The Beginning. "See, the problem is, I don't think I can talk about that," she demured. As for being Father Merrin's love interest, Bellar wasn't so guarded, but didn't seem sure. "Um...it would've happened, I'm sure, if the second person in the couple wasn't a priest," she replied.
What quality about her got herself cast in the movie was the next question that came up. "It would be very pretentious for me to answer, but...my soul," suggested Bellar. "That's really a question for Paul, but I auditioned for the part and it was very unusual because I didn't meet Paul before he offered me the part. He saw a tape and then he asked me to do a second scene. He called me - I was in L.A., he was in New York and also in Morocco, he was everywhere - but he called me and asked me to do a second scene and he said to go back and do it with an actor so it wasn't just a cold reading with a casting director. Since he wasn't going to be able to meet me before he made a decision, he asked me to give him many different colors and said it's always interesting to see an actor make choices. Then they flew me to New York to have dinner with him, but that was after he had made his decision, so I was really grateful for that because not a lot of directors have that kind of faith and trust. I think he said when he met me at dinner that he needed the soul."
As for working with Paul, Bellar added, "We were really lucky to have two weeks in Morocco for rehearsals. That was amazing. It was supposed to be one week and the second week for fittings, but of course, we ended up working through it all. We all love to explore - Stellan, Paul, all of us - and that enabled us to create relationships and the first way Paul helped was that he made it very clear that he's very supportive, that he's very happy in his cast and that's a given and you can never put that in question. He supports you whatever happens. But then he also made it clear that he likes you to explore and he's created a safe environment for you to take risks, offer ideas, and sometimes even changes that you might not have dared otherwise." Example? "Well, it would be very revealing," replied Bellar. "At the beginning, we realized he wasn't the kind of writer that asks you to say the exact word that he wrote. No, he says he really trusts the actors' instincts. He's funny. He said he always trusts the actors' instincts except when they're wrong. He does trust the actors' instincts and once you realize that he's open to changes and that 80% of the time, he's going to use your ideas and even if he doesn't, he's never going to make you feel like, 'Why did I open my mouth?' It was always a lot of respect for your courage. That was amazing. The fact that Stellan was the same and there was never judgment and it was always a collaboration and trying to bring your input and go to unexpected places, that was really fantastic."
When asked about the nationality of her character, Rachel, Bellar replied that she wasn't necessarily French, though Paul had gone after her as a French actress. "In the script it didn't say where she's from," Bellar admitted. "We had the option to do something specific, but since people always say they can never tell where I'm from, it could be anywhere in Europe. I thought and Paul agreed that it would be interesting to leave it open. She went to a camp, which means she could be from Italy, France, Poland, Germany - so it's more universal if you just leave it. I tried not to sound 'anything.'"
Now, the question of whether or not this was a horror movie came up, of course, and Bellar toed the company line. "I think, as an actor, I really don't have much experience on this because it's the first time for me, but I would say that while you're working on it, you can't think, 'Oh, I'm doing a horror film,'" Bellar explained. "You just have to make yourself believe the circumstances and let them affect you the way they do or don't. But, you can't really think, 'Okay, so this is the scene where I hope to scare people,' because I think that would be disrupting and I don't think that would help with the process. But, then with an external eye, I hope that, yes, it's a horror film that will please the audience for a horror film, but at the same time, the thing that I'm sure of is that it's not just that. It's also a film that makes you think and challenges you and talks about real issues. It should please two kinds of audiences if they do a good job with it."