By JOSHUA “PROMETHEUS” SCAFIDI
THE PARISH is an upcoming demonic possession/exorcism film released by Uncork’d Entertainment, starring Angela DiMarco and Bill Oberst Jr. Want to know a secret? According to Bill, it’s not even an exorcism film! Bill is, of course, 100% right. On the surface, sure, that’s what the film is about, but when you delve a little deeper, it becomes something else entirely. THE PARISH, written by Todd Downing and directed by Angela’s husband, David S. Hogan, is about grief. Plain and simple. We had the chance to chat with two of the main stars of the film, Angela DiMarco (Z Nation, Grimm), and Bill Oberst Jr. (Circus of the Dead, The Good Things Devils Do) ahead of its release.
What can you tell us about THE PARISH without spoiling too much, Angela?
AD: Oh… You’re putting it on me? Okay. I would say THE PARISH is a slow burn exorcism. Bill and I both like to call it that because it really is. It’s more than just guts and blood, and whatnot. It’s a story about humanity and grief. I think people will be able to relate to someone. Whether it’s my character Liz, who has lost a spouse, or Bill’s character Father Felix, who is connected to his faith but is also a veteran, or sister Beatrice, who – no spoilers – had quite a horrific upbringing, which ultimately made her become a sister, and what came of that.
It’s a slow burn exorcism which also has a gritty story to it.
How did you get involved in the project?
AD: This is something my friend Todd Downing wrote, and, years ago, we gathered at his house and did a reading. He’s an amazing writer and my husband and I have produced many short films with him. I knew I wanted to produce it then, this had to be over six years ago. We circled back and told him we would love to produce it and David would love to direct it.
He had done some finessing already because it had been years, and this story came from his own grief. He lost his wife when he wrote the screenplay. My character, Liz uproots her teenage daughter after losing her husband and leaves the city and takes her to a small town to escape. She’s diving into the bottle almost every day. What I was intrigued by is how we all deal with grief differently. A teenager is going to deal with grief differently than a parent or spouse. Someone like Father Felix or Sister Beatrice, they have their own grief and the demons that come with that. So, I was intrigued and I wanted to produce it. I love producing work that has strong, leading female roles. So, Todd made my character really strong and we did some edits and added some more women into the script, which I thought was really important. We also beefed up the Father Felix role a bit, knowing we were going to approach Bill. We wanted him to be a major and essential part of Liz’s story. As soon as we had Bill, it was a no-brainer for me. I was all in from the get-go, but getting Bill was the cherry on top!
Bill, you play a priest in the film. Father Felix. That’s a different type of role for you! What was that like? How did you prepare?
BOJ: I’ve wanted to play a priest for a long time. I performed in churches for almost two decades and met a lot of ministers, Josh. Men and women. The thing that I found about all these ministers, the good ones, the ones really doing work in the community, was that they all have this mix of weariness and hope. They’re worn down because it’s an impossible job, but they’re also hopeful because of this essential belief that there’s something good out there. I wanted to see if I could mix those two things together. Like, he’s seen a lot of stuff, and he has his own demons, but he’s also hopeful; that’s a challenge as an actor.
That’s interesting. So, was it the priest aspect that attracted you to the film?
BOJ: Yeah, it was. I prayed about this a couple of years ago. I was like “I really want to play a priest in an exorcism film.” It was just gnawing at me. A little while after that, I got a call to be in a movie, Hell’s Kitty with Doug Jones, and we played priests doing an exorcism on a possessed cat.
How did I miss that?
BOJ: I was like “Okay God, you have a sense of humor!” It was fun and Doug was great. A few years later, I get this call to do a legitimate movie involving that topic from Dave and Angela. So, I was really grateful. The answer is, yeah, I wanted to play a priest for a long time. People who try to lead flocks, pastors, and ministers, it’s really easy to caricature them and make a joke out of them. But they’re people like all of us, and they’re trying to do an impossible job and they’re supposed to be certain about things that no human can be certain about at all. So, they have to hide their doubt. They don’t feel like they can share it with anybody. As a stranger coming into their church, I had broader conversations with a lot of them. They were like “people want certainty from me, and I don’t have certainty. All I have are ways to navigate your doubt.”
AD: What was also great with that, too was Bill – you brought that to the table from day one, and I remember as David, Bill, and I were just getting to know each other more on set we stayed at one of the house locations. We gave Bill his space. Of course, if he was in a common area I was like “hey,” and he was awesome. We would work on the script or whatever we would be doing the next day, but I remember you sharing a lot of that with me, Bill. I really feel like that’s the core of what’s going on with Liz in the film. She wants certainty.
She knows her husband was at war, and like many of us who have veterans in our family, especially those who lost someone, there is that uncertainty. You weren’t there, you don’t know exactly how they left this world, right? It’s also her dealing and battling with her faith. Am I really seeing him? Is he really coming to me? Will I see him again? She’s just so uncertain about everything and when she meets Father Felix, what Bill brought was this great energy and this great intention to what Todd had written as Father Felix. He’s kind of one of those priests who’s like, “Hey, I’m not going to lie to you. Life is uncertain.” He’s not one of those, “Life is going to be fine child…” types. Father Felix tells it like it is, and so much of Bill as a human being is that way, so it was such a blessing. I felt like half the time it was Angela and Bill in these situations, not Liz and Father Felix.
One thing I have noticed about you, Bill, is that when it comes to a role, you like to delve into what makes the character tick.
BOJ: What else matters? What else is interesting? Gore is not that interesting. Sex is only minimally interesting on screen, so what else is there? To me, that’s what the horror genre is all about. It’s all in the mind.
With the way you get into roles, if you say that you spent time with priests and picked it apart, I believe it.
BOJ: Well, I figured if I could play a necrophiliac clown, I could play a priest.
Fair enough. Angela, what would you say sets this film apart from other demonic possession films?
AD: It really is what Bill was speaking to and why I wanted to produce and be in the film. We’re not just doing thrills and chills. It’s not just a blood, guts, and sex horror film. Those are great, and they have a place, but this is that genre, but with story. You’re going to get characters you can relate to. I think you’re going to take more away from it than it just being a really cool exorcism film. You’re going to also, possibly, realize that it taps you somewhere. Especially those of us who have been on the planet a bit longer. We all have suffered grief in some way. That can take us down a pretty dark rabbit hole, and this film puts it in your face. It’s in a way that I feel is safe, yet it’s going to make you think. I think that makes it stand out.
Bill, what would you say sets it apart from other exorcism films?
BOJ: It’s not an exorcism film. If I did the key art, I wouldn’t put a scary note on there. It’s a move about grief, and death, that has a component of faith and exorcism. It’s really a movie about loss, and how you deal with the fact that when somebody dies, they’re just gone. That’s it. There’s an absence, a hole. Ray Bradbury said it’s the place in the back of your mouth where a tooth used to be, and all you can do is run your tongue back there and feel where it used to be, but there’s no more tooth – and there never will be. How do you deal with that? That’s what the movie is about.
Then, part of the manifestation of that grief is through faith and what this other supernatural character has gone through with their own grief. See, this is why I don’t do key art. My key art would great for philosophy students, but people would be like, “What the hell is this about?”
The film was directed by David S. Hogan. What was it like working with him, Bill?
BOJ: You know that David is Angela’s husband, right?
I do! I have a re-worded version of the question for her after!
BOJ: The great thing was watching them work. I’m from a retail family. My mother and father worked together for years, and it can be tough. They respected each other and they could be husband and wife, obviously very much in love, but at the same time, David gave Angela the space she needed. She gave him the respect he needed, and they never crossed over each other’s lines. It was really amazing. They’re both acting coaches! So, they’re really intuitive.
I love working with David because he would just say “Hey, what do you think about this scene?” Then he’d say, “Hmm.” He wasn’t being a smartass, he was really thinking about what you said, and then he’d offer something of his own. It was a great collaboration.
To re-word that for you, Angela… What’s it like working so closely with your husband?
AD: I love it! We’ve been in many films together. It’s one of the reasons we even started our company. For anyone who’s reading this, we know as artists it’s always the waiting game. You can take whatever gig comes your way, but as I get older, I pick and choose what roles I want to dive into. It makes sense that over a decade ago we began producing because we wanted to produce the work that we wanted to be a part of. I still love when people hire me, trust me, but that was where it started.
This was our first time with him directing and me being an actor, versus being two actors in a film together, and it was great. It was like Bill said: David gave me the space that I needed, he was able to get me where I needed to be if I wasn’t, and he worked with me. This was a huge role, there were a lot of emotional scenes to dive into and I also had to have my producer hat on. So, at night on some of our longer days, we would go back to the location house and he and I would keep working. I just wanted to know that I was supported, and he did that. Same with the cast and crew. We had been working with the same crew for many years. Even on short films. We also had a lot of our students in the film this time. They had to audition, they had to earn the role, and they did. It was just a love fest, I’m telling you, Josh. It was a blessing.
Now I’m going to put you both on the spot because I can. What was it like working together?
BOJ: It was great! It was great because we’re not married. I’ll tell you what I like about Angela, Josh. She gives you her eyes. It’s a simple thing, but when you’re acting in a scene with somebody, the words alone aren’t enough. The lighting isn’t enough. There’s this little extra thing that has to happen for it to be any good. It’s a human component, and it’s all about eyes. The camera sees eyes. So, it really helps if you’re working with an actor that will give you their eyes. That means that you can look at some people’s eyes and just see that they’re closed. You know? Like they’re doing the job, but they’re not opening to you. She would look at me and be completely open. That’s what I loved about working with Angela.
Angela, what was it like working with Bill?
AD: Ugh! No, I’m kidding! I appreciate you so much, Bill! For those who know in the community out here in the midwest, they call me mama DiMarco. The reason for that is I’m a very caring person. Right out of the gate in our classes, I immediately give out my phone number. So, I have students all over the world who still text me to this day! When I work with people on my sets, I hope I can be that same natural person. I was bullied a lot as a kid, and I was acting at a young age. Then in my twenties having people [tried] to change me. Now, as I’m older, I try and be brutally honest. That goes for who I work with, too. I’ve worked with plenty of actors. Established, amazing actors, but some of them are pay to play. What I mean is, they want a check. They could care less, and they’ll see you in their trailer.
Bill is not that kind of artist, he’s not that kind of human. So, I immediately started sharing a bunch of stuff about myself, he was sharing stuff about himself. It was like a speed friendship, like speed dating, but for friendship. We just hit it off, so when we got into the scenes, everything that Bill just said, I could say the same. He was so present. It was like an extension of our relationship off-set. It was amazing to work with him. He let me feel safe to be this vulnerable woman who was falling apart. He was incredible.
If you had to sell me the film in one sentence, what would it be?
AD: I love what Uncork’d put on the poster, which is, “Some secrets are worth killing for…”
BOJ – No one gets out alive. Does that mean everybody dies in the film? No. It’s a metaphor for life. Again, the reason I don’t do key art or slogans.
Future projects… anything you want to talk about?
BOJ: The next movie I have coming out is called Pain Killer. Mark Savage is the director. It’s a sequel to Stressed to Kill. It’s about the opioid epidemic, and it’s kind of like a Charles Bronson revenge picture. Michael Pare is in it. It’s a really dark thriller. The second season of Age of the Living Dead is coming to Amazon Prime It’s a British series, vampires versus humans, and they upgraded role for season two. I’m the vampire leader now.
AD: We have our third feature film that David and I, Mighty Tripod Productions, are producing called Mr. Bleachers. We’re both just actors in this so that was great. David is the title role, Mr. Bleachers. Literally a head-to-toe albino um…entity for lack of a better word. The story is about a little boy that got bullied. You can tell that I shared with the writer a lot of my own story. We did a lot of collaborating. Tim Carpenter, amazing writer/director. It’s all about how Mr. Bleachers comes to help this boy make things right. Of course, that is by brutally slaughtering anyone that gets in Billy’s way. Again, it’s also a story. It deals with racism, and it deals with classism. Mr. Bleachers.
I really appreciate both of your time!
BOJ: Josh, thank you, brother.
Anytime, always a pleasure!
THE PARISH is available now on DVD and VOD from Uncork’d Entertainment.