The Unholy: Jeffrey Dean Morgan Exorcises His Character's Inner Demons
Supernatural alum Jeffrey Dean Morgan has resumed his paranormal investigations in The Unholy, but his character is no John Winchester. In the horror flick, Morgan plays Gerry Fenn, a disgraced journalist who isn't above creating a little drama to get a good article. However, he scares up the wrong story when he travels to Banfeild, Massachusetts, where he encounters an otherworldly being who comes in the guise of the Virgin Mary -- but her intentions are far from divine.
Speaking to CBR, Morgan explained how Gerry's emotional arc drew him to the character. He linked Gerry to John Winchester in their shared penchant for sarcasm, but added that Gerry's true enemies were the demons inside himself. He discussed how the practical effects for Mary helped enhance his performance, as well as how actor-contortionist Marina Mazepa managed to keep him on his toes. He also addressed the impact COVID had on the film, compared filming during the pandemic to a scene from E.T. and more.
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CBR: As I was watching this film, I couldn't help but get some Supernatural vibes. What would you want fans of the show to know about The Unholy?
Jeffrey Dean Morgan: Well, I mean, demonic possession, right? So that's right up the old Supernatural fans' wheelhouse! And, you know, John Winchester; there's the John Winchester factor, I guess. This character, more than anyone, I think, reminded me of John Winchester, just in how he dressed, and his kind of smartass-y behavior was a little bit John Winchester-y, now that I'm thinking about it! But yeah, I think that's kind of where it ends, right? I mean, Gerry Fenn doesn't fight demons for a living and they didn't get his wife. I think Gerry Fenn's worst enemy is Gerry Fenn, whereas Supernatural's John Winchester, his worst enemy was -- Ezekiel, or whoever the heck it was.
Which aspect of Gerry Fenn do you relate to the most and why?
I liked that, when we meet him, he's kind of this fucked up asshole, to not mince words, and then through the course of this film, through his relationship, especially with Cricket [Brown]'s character [Alice], you see him get his morals back and get his groove back on and you find out that he's a decent human being.
I've always been attracted to roles, I think, that have a little bit of an arc that you can play, that either they start out good and bad or vice versa, but I think it's very important in the course of an hour-and-a-half film that we can follow a character that has somewhere to go. It just makes it more interesting as a viewer. I thought that Evan [Spiliotopoulos] did a great job of bringing Gerry Fenn to life on the page, and then also, in doing that, left a lot of room for me to interpret what I thought and throw in some humor and some charm that hopefully works.
What is something about your experience with this film that shocked or surprised you?
Well, I mean, I think the biggest thing is that we had to get through the COVID of it all. We were in the middle of shooting when it hit, and we were literally the last movie, I think, to stop filming in all of the United States.
Frankly, people were scared, me being one of them. We didn't know what was going on. Then I know when we finally did pull up the stakes and say, "We're gonna stop," we kept everything right there like we were going to be back. I mean, the word was, "We'll see you in three or four weeks, and we'll pick up where we ended." Of course, it ended up being eight months later or whatever it was. So I think that really the hardest part was dealing with the COVID of it all and the nervousness that goes along with that.
Then, beyond that, in the world of my job, it was, "Can I do a decent job acting if I'm just stressed out about COVID, and can I come back eight months after we were shooting and pick up where we left off?" That was a little bit trickier, I think, than I had anticipated. But we did it! We did it, and it was a crazy time.
Now I feel like I've been working under these conditions for a year and you kind of get used to doing the testing every day and the social distancing, but when we came back, we'd be in little individual tents and the testing -- it was all very E.T., you know? So we were just very nervous for a long time.
I'm amazed we were able to finish the movie! When we had to finish the film, Cary [Elwes] wasn't around and Diogo [Morgado] was in Spain -- he couldn't get back -- and so we had to shoot scenes and then kind of glue them together in the post-production process. I'm amazed; I mean, it's seamless in the film. You can't see it at all. But it was crazy. That was the hard part, was just dealing with what's going on in the world -- that everyone is dealing with, by the way, not just Jeff in this movie.
A lot of Mary's creature effects looked practical. What was that experience like for you to act opposite of that?
Marina [Mazepa] was this actress that we got who is also a contortionist. So she could do this weird crap that would blow your mind. She would show up on set and I'd be like, "Can you do a backwards crawl with your head twisted?" And she could, and it was just crazy! She was discovered on, I don't know, America's Got Talent or something. You probably know more about it than I do!
But it was amazing, and so great having her there because I hate acting to a piece of tape on a green wall. It's just impossible and you feel like you have egg on your face the whole time and you're pretty sure that you're horrible. So having her there and being able to do all this super weird stuff, you could at least get some kind of genuine reaction -- if I didn't just drop my chin in awe or giggle because it was just awesome to watch. But yeah, she was spectacular, and I think that that shows on screen that she's a heck of a villain.
Written and directed by Evan Spiliotopoulos and produced by Sam Raimi, The Unholy stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Cricket Brown, Katie Aselton, William Sadler, Diogo Morgado and Cary Elwes. It will be released in theaters on Friday, April 2.
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