Thanks to William Friedkin’s seminal 1973 thriller The Exorcist, expunging cinematic demons has been a favorite Hollywood horror pastime for decades.
While exorcism movies typically traffic in fiction, several have claimed to be based on true stories. When it comes to real-deal exorcising, there’s no one more authoritative than Father Gabriele Amorth, the Italian priest and author portrayed by Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe in the new scare-fest The Pope’s Exorcist. Amorth was the official exorcist of the Diocese of Rome (thus the film’s title) and performed somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000 exorcisms, depending on various sources, the man himself included.
“I was really surprised, when I first started reading things, that there was actually a job called the chief exorcist for the Vatican,” Crowe, 59, tells Yahoo Entertainment in a new interview. “I had no idea that that role existed. So it was all sort of very fresh information to me.”
Crowe was fascinated “finding out that this man who’d fulfilled that role for 36 years was also a journalist and had written hundreds of articles and [dozens of] books documenting his experience.”
But does Crowe believe all of the stories of Amorth’s exorcisms?
“I'm neither cynical nor necessarily a believer,” he says. “You know, I have a sort of objective perspective that I utilize in my job. But I'm not really quite sure I have to be truthful where I stand with the supernatural in that regard.”
The film certainly makes the argument that Amorth’s dealings with satanic forces were legit. Written by Michael Petroni and Evan Spiliotopoulos and directed by Julius Avery, the film claims to be “inspired by the actual files” of the priest. It follows Amorth to rural Spain where a young American boy, whose family is rehabbing a centuries-old estate, is possessed by the most powerful demon the exorcist has ever encountered.
“I didn’t grow up in a religious family, so I don’t have that in my background,” the Australia-born, New Zealand-raised actor says of the film’s religious themes. “So like I say, I have an objective perspective on organized religion and what it means in the world. But I certainly believe in faith.
“And one of the things that really impressed me about Gabriele was that his greatest protection, his greatest armor, was the purity of his faith.”
Crowe speaks Italian in the film, which calls to mind one of his most famous screen characters: Roman warrior Maximus Decimus Meridius, his Oscar-winning role in Ridley Scott’s 2000 sandal-and-swords epic Gladiator.
That movie has been in the news of late as Scott has been at work prepping a sequel, which will star recently minted Oscar nominee Paul Mescal (Aftersun) as a grown-up version of Lucius, the young son of Maximus’s love interest Lucilla (Connie Nielsen). The young man idolized Maximus, who died a hero’s death at the end of the first film, and follows in the general’s footsteps. Denzel Washington and Barry Keoghan will reportedly costar in Gladiator 2.
Not that Crowe is keeping up with the casting news.
“No, it’s got nothing to do with me,” Crowe says. “It’s not related to my character. The story, as far as I know, picks up 30 years or something further along the track.
“I imagine that everybody involved in that is extremely excited. You know, it’s Ridley Scott. He’s got a huge budget, and no doubt they’ll make something fascinating. But people keep asking me about it. They seem to forget that Maximus didn’t do so well at the end of the movie.”
The Pope’s Exorcist opens Friday, April 14 in theaters.
Watch the trailer: