Robert Kojder chats with My Best Friend’s Exorcist star Elsie Fisher…
Having done voice acting in Despicable Me, Elsie Fisher broke out in Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade, a tremendously beautiful and moving film about insecurities and modern-day school. The film turned out to be relatable beyond teenagers (it was my favorite movie of 2018), and Elsie Fisher won numerous deserved Promising Performer awards (including one from the Chicago Film Critics Association, which I am a part of).
Since then, she has done some more voiceover work and smaller movies (I highly suggest checking out Family Squares, a pandemic film where she is one of the voices of reason inside a dysfunctional family, primarily through Zoom). However, in 2022 Elsie Fisher has arrived as a capable horror star, having already taken on Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Here, she’s in an exorcism film with a refreshing spin centering on friendship and high school experiences, this time set in the 1980s. It was a pleasure to speak with Elsie Fisher for My Best Friend’s Exorcism, which you can read below:
Robert Kojder: You’ve gone from modern-day eighth grade to 1980s high school, so keeping that in mind, what stays the same and changes in your approach to playing a teenager, but now decades before you were born?
Elsie Fisher: While sort of being conscious of the era, you want to keep it human. With approaching a teenager in both films, I never approach it with the guise that I’m playing a teenager. I’m playing a person. And the writing does half the work for you. All you have to do is sort of treat it with as much emotional respect as possible.
Were you able to make character changes to the novel to mold Abby more after yourself?
Staying true to the book was very important to me because people love it so much, and I greatly respect Grady Hendrix’s work. But at the same time, Damon Thomas and Jenna Lamia [the director and writer] really gave me free rein to do what I felt was right.
Is there anything specific about the 1980s you learned while making this movie that you now love or are drawn to?
I revisited a lot of the music, which I love. What I learned is that the 80s is sort of very sensationalized in our culture today, but going back and actually sort of being in it, Damon felt it was very important that everything felt very realistic, aside from the supernatural stuff. It’s also not immensely different from what it’s like today, and I was able to draw those comparisons. I’m also able to bond with my dad more, who actually grew up in the 80s.
What compels me greatly about this movie is that the demon is not killing people. It’s causing Gretchen (Amiah Miller) to prey on their insecurities and ruin their lives. So it gives much more depth and humanity to the victims who are sometimes disposable in the horror genre. Is that something that drew you to this project?
Yeah! And that’s such a great point, but I totally think there is a lot of homages and definitely going to be a lot of comparisons drawn with our film to The Exorcist. Although that’s something I definitely enjoyed because we get gross and wacky in our movie, but it really is deeply about these humans, bonds, and relationships with each other, and it’s kind of not just a horror movie, it’s a dramedy too.
You’re right, and part of the reason the movie is successful is that we do buy into and care deeply about the friendship between you and Gretchen. So can you talk about finding that chemistry with you and Amiah Miller?
Amiah is so wonderful. That friendship was definitely something I was very conscious of and maybe even a little scared of in preparation for the project before I had met her or before she was cast. But as soon as we met, it was there, and I think we’re very similar people. She’s very easy to get along with, lovely, and really funny, and we ended up spending so much time together too, either on or off-set, so everything just came naturally.
That’s awesome. What kind of things did you do off-set?
EF: We watched a lot of movies, funny stuff too. We went back and watched Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies and went to the aquarium a couple of times which was really fun. We had a couple of board game nights, too, with the cast members, and that was really great.
Were you given any movies to watch to prepare for this?
Damon threw out a couple of suggestions that I had watched, and I went back and re-watched Heathers since I felt that was one of the biggest inspirations. Then I went back and watched The Exorcist, but my process since shooting this film changed significantly. Especially with how sort of genre the film can get, I wanted to be really conscious of not making anything cliche and feeling like we could sort of invent our own thing versus trying to reference a lot of other works.
Also, Abby and Gretchen are comfortable showing their insecurities around one another, which seems like one of the best characteristics you could have in a friend. So for you, what’s the most important aspect of a friendship?
That! Being able to really be vulnerable with someone. I found that with meeting people and bonding, there are always stages of a friendship where you’re nice to one another, and then you start joking with one another, and then you start really joking with one another, and then it sort of comes full circle where you hit this point at some point where you’re really close, and you can finally sort of genuine again. Then all the walls drop, and I think that’s just a really beautiful thing.
Earlier this year, you got to be badass against Leatherface, but here you’re acting across a CGI demon. So can you compare and contrast those different experiences, and is one more of a challenge than the other?
Acting to CGI would be more challenging, certainly because with Leatherface, at least a 6-something hulking guy; that’s pretty easy to get a little freaked out by. So hopefully, not too much imagination has to be involved. I also think there’s something about acting to a metal orb or whatever they have as the stand-in for the CGI creature is, after a couple of takes, you really start to get in it, and you really tune into this childhood imagination where you can almost see the thing. I feel like both practical and CGI have their benefits.
Also, are we sure the demon in this movie is not actually Evil Paddington (Elsie Fisher’s all-in-good-fun nefarious Twitter alter ego that appears every once in a while)
That was my thought while watching the movie the whole time!
I mean, we don’t know. We’ve technically never seen Evil Paddington, so it is completely possible!
That is true! Also, will the Elsie Awards return this year?
Absolutely! They come around Oscar season, so technically, it’ll be next year. This year I gave myself a pass and just did a list, but they’re coming back full force baby!
Nice! Also, Eighth Grade is one of my favorite movies. So I’m curious if there’s like anything you learned from that movie or advice from Bo Burnham that you just take with you into all of your future acting projects?
Thank you very much, I really appreciate the kind words about the film. But yeah, shooting Eighth Grade and the whole process around it, from casting to promoting as much as we did, was a very formative process for me as an artist and a person. Honestly, what I learned from that is that I can act, which is not something I really knew before. I think my whole career since, has been being able to look back and say, “oh, I can do things!” So believe in yourself and just try to be good!
Well, you are a terrific actor, and this movie is great too. Thank you for being here and for your time.
Thank you. I really appreciate it man. It was so lovely to meet you.
Wonderful meeting you too! Take care.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime. Read our review here.
Many thanks to Elsie Fisher for taking the time for this interview.
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Checkherefor new reviews, follow myTwitterorLetterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com