Chatting about THE EXORCIST with Alex Barima

Alex Barima photographed by Malcolm Tweedy

THE EXORCIST is one of those shows that surprises me – not just because I never know what’s coming, but because I never expected to be such a fan of something I need to watch with all of the lights on, at the brightest part of the day, in order to sleep at night.  The show, airing on FOX Fridays at 9/8c, has taken it on the road in Season 2, with former-Father Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels) and Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera) on a search to find things going bump in the night. 

Their trail will eventually lead them to Andrew Kim (John Cho) and his foster children in Seattle, after Alex Barima’s Shelby starts ringing the bell that something is amiss. In advance of the third episode, airing on Friday the 13th, I spent time talking with Alex about joining the show, acting terrified, and what might be coming next!

So THE EXORCIST! I was surprised how thrilling and scary this show can get away with being on a broadcast network.
It’s true, isn’t it?

It blows my mind and I think that that is why the show stands out for me because they’re doing something different. Do you feel that way?
Yeah I definitely do. I watched the first season before I started working on season 2, and I was like, this is on TV? Anybody can watch this? It was really scary, especially when you’re not involved in it, just watching it, you’re just like OK they are really pushing boundaries with this. So it’s pretty cool to watch.

Had you seen the movie?
I can’t watch that!

I can’t either, no, I know!! Ok, maybe the show is not as terrifying as the worst scary movie, but it gets you thinking and it’s bad enough!
It’s bad enough, exactly! [laughs] I had to watch it, obviously, I was by myself; I got through it. I made sure to watch it in broad daylight, every time. I got through it, but even then, thank god it was so interesting to watch and the story was really cool and everything, so I kept going, like, I wanted to know what happened! I remember seeing maybe one or two scenes from the original film, and to this day, I can’t unsee those things!

It’s really crazy how a movie from back then got away with so much more than I think some movies these days get away with. They were able to do some really creepy stuff!

So Season Two! Obviously is probably a little different, I would imagine, being involved in it because you’re seeing behind the scenes and you’re reading the scripts first. So how different is it being on set, being a part of season two and actually getting your hands dirty in that versus just watching it?
I got to say it’s like so much fun. I’ve never been involved in like serious horror like this. It’s really cool because so far you know obviously the plotlines haven’t quite converged yet, so Marcus and Tomas are out doing their own game while we’re kind of just setting up the Kim family and what’s going on there. So with them in the premiere we saw they are already like you have an exorcism, things are already hitting the fan. And with us, it’s slowly, slowly getting more and more disturbing.

THE EXORCIST: L-R: John Cho and Alex Barima in the “Unclean” episode of THE EXORCIST airing Sunday, Oct. 13 (9:01-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2017 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Sergei Bachlakov/FOX

So it’s nice to go and watch the episodes because obviously we weren’t there when Marcus and Tomas shot their parts, so seeing all of the parts come off the page and come to life is really crazy to see. We get to see the special effects and the horror stuff. With our stuff, it’s only just beginning. I love that contrast that we’ve seen so far!

So tell me about your character. Obviously, he’s religious; he believes what he believes, but he also seems open to what other people believe. So talk about Shelby and kind of who he is and why you like this character that you get to play?
Absolutely. So when I first got the audition, I read the breakdown for the character and it said, he’s religious, but he’s open. I am kind of the same way. I grew up Christian, very Christian on my mom’s side, but it was never about spreading the religion so much as using it for yourself in your own life and how it can help you. That’s exactly how she’ll be. So right off the bat, he was very relatable. But whenever I watch horror, I always take the side of a character who’s kind of ringing the alarm and to say oh there’s some weird stuff going on. And that’s exactly who Shelby is. He has this intuition that something something’s not right, something is coming for his family and no one believes him, obviously. He sounds like he’s fricking crazy. So I was like oh this is exactly the guy that I would cheer for! Everybody needs to listen to him [laughs]. I just love being in his shoes and it’s been so much fun to work on so far; I’m really excited to show it to everyone.

I think it’s interesting too it’s a different family dynamic than maybe we’ve even seen in season one where it’s a foster family and they’re all coming from different kind of worlds What’s that like being a cast and playing this kind of different family than we see?
It’s so cool because you know I don’t think it’s not something that you get to do very often. You know it’s like they actually got to pick and choose who they want in this family and it didn’t have to be based on any physical traits. It’s like, ok, we want this character, we want this character, and we’re just kind of throw them all together and like we have got like really close the cast over the last couple months that we’ve been shooting. Everyday, we go in, and it’s easy to play these relationships, whether it’s brother and sister or us with Andy and it feels very real when we’re when we’re in the house together. We actually feel like a real family. So it’s been quite exceptional.

What can you tease obviously without giving much away about what we will see in the next few episodes roll out here?
Shelby [was] scared silly in [episode two]. [laughs] After that, it kind of changes his whole approach abit through the rest of the series. It’s all converging towards a fateful meeting and it all blows up from there. As we’ve been progressing through the series, every script we get, we all read it with wide eyes! It’s a lot of fun!

What it’s like to have to play scared? Do you feel that real fright?
It’s a freaky place to go to. There have been a couple of times where I’ve had to go to a couple of different places mentally, dredge up some scary stuff, stuff that actually scares me in real life, to convey that on the screen. A lot of the time, it’s more technical, and I’m trying to just look scared. Other times, I think I need to reach more, to actually sell this, I have to put myself in a position to look like I’m actually terrified for my life. It’s a lot of fun. It’s easily one of the more challenging things I’ve had to do on screen so far, but I wouldn’t change any of that. I really am having the time of my life.

Alex Barima photographed by Malcolm Tweedy

You said this is a little bit different from what you’ve been doing? Why was it that you wanted to go after this? Why did you want to head towards this genre?
For me honestly as a working actor in Vancouver, we take what we can, when we can. I have a lot of friends who are in the same business and we know how hard it is to get work. I remember getting this audition and I just knew. When I read the breakdown, I read the sides, I just knew that I understood the character inside and out immediately. And so when I had my audition, I did my second audition in front of one of my executive producers, Jason Ensler, and after I did the audition with him, I just had this feeling. I know I can do this, this is a part I really wanted to play. I never thought, because I’m from a comedic background, I did a lot of improv and stuff, that’s what I always wanted to do with my life. I just had such a good feeling about the character and I thought that I could play, and it was a really awesome opportunity and it turns out I was correct [laughs].

What do you think this is a show that people could be watching? What is it about THE EXORCIST that you’re saying to people, “Here’s why you should watch?”
I have a lot of friends who just started watching it since the beginning, since it’s only just come to Netflix in Canada in the past [few weeks], and a few of my friends started watching it and I told people when I watched it two months ago, like you’d actually be surprised by the show. First of all the performances in last season (and this season), are just so, so good. Everybody from the leads down to the guest stars and day players, all of the characters are so well designed, so well-crafter, the intentions are so clear. It’s really powerful stuff. Secondly, the show is just so beautiful. You barely even know it’s a network show. The quality of the photography and everything else is just top notch. Everyone who gives the show a chance, will be surprised by how into it you are, because it’s so interesting!!

I think that’s a good point. I have to watch it Saturday morning because I have to watch it with the lights on.
Of course! [laughs]

Like, the “scariest” movie I watch is Scream. And I’m watching this show! I don’t hear many people who are watching it and then not watching again.
Exactly! You need to binge the first season! I watched it all in two days. I was like, no, I need to know, I need to know everything!! [laughs]

So what else do you have going on besides THE EXORCIST right now?
Recently traveled to Toronto for the International Film Fest out there, because I shot a movie in Vancouver last winter called PUBLIC SCHOOL and that was starring Judy Greer and Daniel Doheny and we just had our premiere at TIFF, and we just had a showing at VIFF last week. Like I said, I only wanted to comedy, and that was the first bit of serious comedy that I got to do since I moved to Vancouver. It was such a blast and the movie turned out just as good, if not better, as I was hoping! So I’m really excited to show that to everybody. THE EXORCIST has taken a lot of time in the last couple of months and just kind of riding that wave! I’m also up for a UBCP award actually, for best actor for a short film I did earlier in the winter, called CYPHER. That was more dramatic, touched on some racial tensions between Koreans and African-Americans in the late 90s in California and that was also something that was kind of a really special project to me. I’m excited to show that as well. That played at the Edmonton International Film Fest.

It sounds like you’re really trying to explore everything available – the comedy, drama, you name it, because there are so many creative things to try!
Exactly. I mean for me, it’s all happening kind of at once. I’ve been in this city for 6 years now, and it’s been a slow grind and now this year, everything is sort of all happening at the same time! But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel really good so I’m just hoping that lasts and we can go onto even better things in the near future.

THE EXORCIST: L-R: Alex Barima, Hunter Dillon, Brianna Hildebrand and Cyrus Arnold in the “One For Sorrow” episode of THE EXORCIST airing Friday, Oct. 20 (9:01-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2017 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Sergei Bachlakov/FOX

Right!! You never want to be that actor who’s like “stop I have too much to do,” because you never know.
[laughs] I know!!! Like, I’m drowning in stuff right now! I’m in the middle of a tape right now that I just got a couple of days ago, that I have to do and send off to LA casting and stuff. I was eating with a friend earlier. It was like, you know, this is it. This is what I always wanted my life to be like, so I’m not going to start complaining now [laughs].

Do you have a chance to watch other TV shows?
Oh I’m a huge anime guy, so I always try to keep up on my Japanese cartoons. I just caught up on the last season of GAME OF THRONES and that was a lot of fun.

And now you have about 17 years until the next season comes out!
[laughs] Exactly! I was happy that I didn’t watch it while it was coming out because then I got to watch all the episodes at once, just one after the other! Other than that, I always keep up on what’s popular, sort of, or what’s new. I give everything a chance if people are talking about it. I’m a big Netflix fan, as well, so when they have some cool stuff coming out, I always try to keep an eye out for that!

THE EXORCIST airs Fridays at 9/8c on FOX.