Watch Out, Satan!

By Dave Kehr - November 1, 2002

Paul Schrader, the director ("Affliction"), screenwriter ("Taxi Driver") and irrepressible raconteur, seemed trapped between two worlds when a reporter caught up with him at the Midtown Manhattan offices of Sony Pictures Classics. Mr. Schrader has a new film,"Auto Focus," about the sex life and murder of the sitcom star Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear), which is his biggest critical and commercial success in a while. (Sony is expanding it into national markets today.)

At the same time, he's deep into preproduction on"Exorcist: The Beginning," a prequel to the celebrated horror film of 1973, which Mr. Schrader inherited when the new film's original director, John Frankenheimer, died earlier this year."The Beginning" will star Stellan Skarsgard as a young version of Max von Sydow's exorcising priest, who has his first encounter with the devil while a missionary in postwar Africa.

"It's the first time that I've cast a leading lady that I've never met," Mr. Schrader said."And tonight I'll meet her. Because I was traveling, and somebody we had cast turned out to have a conflict, we came up with somebody new, but I've only seen her on video now three times."

"This new girl is named Clara Bellar," Mr. Schrader said."She's a French girl who lives in L.A. now. She played the android nanny in 'A. I.'"

"Exorcist: The Beginning" (if, indeed, that is what the final title turns out to be) will be Mr. Schrader's first studio picture as a director since"Light of Day" in 1987. He's been working the less-well-financed but infinitely freer world of independent production since then.

What is it like to be back in the studio world?"Well, I don't quite know," Mr. Schrader said."I'm going to find out, I think. I know that the obligations of a $50 million film are different from the obligations of a $7.5 million film. And I'm determined to do right by those obligations, and make a film that can open in a few thousand theaters. But that doesn't mean it has to be dumb."

"Friedkin's film was smart," Mr. Schrader said, referring to the original 1973 "Exorcist," directed by William Friedkin."I hope my movie can be as smart."

Published: 11 - 01 - 2002 , Late Edition - Final , Section E , Column 1 , Page 27

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