Change in a person’s ambitions and identity is an often necessary and natural part of life, as it allows them to mature and achieve their goals. However, those adjustments in their personality can sometimes not only frighteningly and negatively impact their future, but also the lives of the people they care about. That daunting question of whether you’re intentionally harming those you have bonded with as your life’s changing is enthralling explored in the new independent horror thriller, ‘The Vatican Tapes.’ The film, which will be released in theaters on Friday, and was directed by Mark Neveldine, features actress Olivia Taylor Dudley as the caring and generous protagonist before her personality and motives inexplicably change, and she revels in hurting the people who love her.
‘The Vatican Tapes’ follows Angela Holmes (Dudley), an ordinary 27-year-old who recently moved in with her boyfriend, Pete (John Patrick Amedori), much to the dismay of her morally-driven military father, Roger (Dougray Scott). While on leave from his job, Roger visits his daughter at her home in Los Angeles, in an effort to surprise her for her birthday. While their reunion is only initially tense because of his disapproval of her living with Pete before they’re married, Roger’s concern for Angela soon shifts, as her personality begins to become uncharacteristically aggressive. After she unexpectedly causes a car accident, Angela falls into a coma for 40 days, leading Roger and Pete to bond as they refuse to give up hope on her recovery.
A local priest, Father Lozano (Michael Peña), who served in the military before he began working for the church, bonds with Roger at the hospital over their shared experiences serving their country. The priest advises Roger to take Angela off of life support after she shows no chance of recovering from her coma, and he performs last rites for her. She then miraculously awakens, much to the disbelief of her doctors, the priest, her father and her boyfriend. While Roger and Pete are initially ecstatic over the chance to bring her home, Angela surprisingly begins to exhibit volatile behavior.
When she’s then suspected of causing serious injury and death to people in the hospital, she’s transferred to a psychiatric hospital, where she’s examined by Dr. Richards (Kathleen Robertson). When Angela informs the doctor that she knows intimate and incriminating details about her personal life, and is once again believed to cause mass injuries and deaths amongst the other patients, she’s discharged from the hospital.
With her doctors unable to provide anymore treatment for her, the tapes from one of her sessions with Dr. Richards is sent to Vicar Imani (Djimon Hounsou) and Cardinal Bruun (Peter Andersson) at the Vatican. After watching the tape, the two believe Angela’s possessed by the anti-Christ. The cardinal decides to travel to Los Angeles to work with Father Lozano to exorcise the possession ancient satanic force, which ultimately proves to be more powerful than they ever imagined. With the help of Roger and Pete, the two religious leaders fight to not only save Angela’s soul, but also the safety of the entire world.
Dudley generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘The Vatican Tapes’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actress discussed how she was drawn to play Angela in the horror film, as she’s not only been a fan of exorcism films since she was a child, but she also loved the idea that the protagonist leads a good, normal life before she unexpectedly transforms into the story’s evil antagonist; how she enjoyed working with Neveldine and her co-stars on the movie, particularly in the fact that they had a month’s worth of rehearsal to develop the characters’ relationships and Angela’s transformation; and how she also enjoyed the physical aspects of the role, including the opportunity to perform many of her own stunts, particularly during the exorcism scene.
ShockYa (SY): You play Angela Holmes in the new horror thriller, ‘The Vatican Tapes.’ What was it about the character, as well as the story overall, that convinced you to take on the role?
Olivia Taylor Dudley (OTD): Well, I’ve been a fan of exorcism films since I was little. ‘The Exorcist’ was the first exorcism movie I saw, when I was five, and it really made me want to become an actress. It’s a little strange, but the movie really affected me.
When the script for this film came along, I knew it was about exorcisms, so I jumped on it and read it. I loved it because I got scared. The night I first read it, I didn’t sleep well. So the next day, I called my agents and told them I wanted to do it.
I love the idea of playing a character who starts out so normal. Angela’s so sweet, and has a really good life. Her boyfriend loves her, and she also loves her father. But then out of nowhere, this thing happens. So to play someone who goes from good to evil was a journey I was really excited about doing.
SY: Speaking of that journey, in the beginning of the film, Angela is a relatable young woman with a great life, until she becomes involved in horrifying incidents that no one can explain. As the local priest, Father Lozano, becomes involved in her case, it’s revealed that Angela’s body has been consumed by the anti-Christ. What was the process of showcasing and developing her emotional unraveling while you were filming?
OTD: We had a month of rehearsal with Mark, the director, and the other actors. So I had a lot of time to work on the script. By the time we started shooting, we knew exactly what we wanted to do with Angela, as I had that journey mapped out.
Getting to work with these other actors was fantastic. John Amedori, who plays Angela’s boyfriend Pete in the movie, did an amazing job. In the beginning of the film, he created this grounded reality of their normal life, which was great.
As the film continued, I had a lot of scenes where Angela was isolated, so working alone developed a whole a whole different side of the character. Not being able to work off the other actors really allowed me to go crazy. like in the scenes where she’s in the mental hospital.
The other actors, including Michael Peña, Djimon Hounsou and Peter Andersson, were so amazing. They brought such a gravity to their scenes, and everyone supported each other.
I loved playing Angela, and being able to do something so physical. The role was extremely physically demanding, and I liked that. I also liked being able to do my own stunts, as it helps me get into the character. Learning another language really helped, as well. All of those things combined helped make it a wonderful experience, and made it easy to find Angela throughout the whole movie.
SY: Speaking of working with your co-stars, the film is based on the human emotions the characters feel, which were created by developing the relationships Angela has. How did you develop your working relationships with your co-stars? How did working with them compare and contrast to acting in the scenes where you were alone?
OTD: I think working with them made my portrayal of Angela easy. Working alone allowed me to go farther and deeper into the character, so there was a lot of value in that. Everyone was so amazing, and we had done so many rehearsals, that by the time we got to the set, we just went for it.
We had a 22-day shoot, and a lot to film during that time. We shot the exorcism scene in eight days, and it was a lot to film. The material was really taxing, especially on me. But when we were filming, I just went for it. We didn’t mess around too much, and it was intense, but we did have fun.
SY: Speaking of the physicality of the role, as Angelea’s life and body become more controlled by the anti-Christ, how did you approach that aspect of the film? Did you perform your own stunts while you were shooting the drama?
OTD; I love doing stunts, as it’s a fun part of my job. It doesn’t come around for every job, so I jumped at the idea of doing stunts for this film. It was physically hard, as I was obviously harnessed a lot. I was chained to the wall, and was being flung around the room. I definitely got hurt a few times, but it was nothing bad.
I did get sick by the end of the shoot, because your body can’t really tell why you’re screaming, yelling and crying for six days in a row. It thinks that something’s terribly wrong. But I loved the experience, and I had so much fun, I would do it again in a heartbeat.
SY: What was the process of filming ‘The Vatican Tapes’ independently in only 22 days, particularly since Angela undergoes such an intense physical and emotional journey?
OTD: I thought it was great. I have been in movies that have taken eight months or a year to make, but I like having a short amount of time. I think it helps energetically, and allows everyone to stay in their headspace. I don’t know if I’d want to be shooting an exorcism film for more than a month, as I think it would get a little too intense for me. (laughs)
But I had a wonderful time. Mark, the director, is great, and we got along very well. He also shot some of his previous films, including the ‘Crank’ series, in short periods, and they’re high energy and fast-paced, as there’s a lot going on. That’s similiar to how we shot our movie, even though it’s more of a psychological thriller, and not a high action story. We had a lot to shoot everyday, that’s for sure.
SY: Speaking of the film’s director, Mark, what was the process of collaborating with him on ‘The Vatican Tapes?’
OTD: Mark is one of the best directors I’ve worked with, and he’s fantastic. He did something different with this movie than what he created in the past; it’s nothing like the ‘Crank’ films, or the other movies he directed. I was excited to get to work with him on something that was totally different from his past work.
I met him during the audition process, and we hit it off right away. We had the same ideas about what to do with Angela, and we knew exactly what we wanted going into the movie. We had a great working relationship. There were a lot of days on set where we would just look at each other, and I would just know what he wanted me to change. We didn’t have to talk about it, because we had so much rehearsal time. The whole process was smooth.
SY: As you were developing Angela’s possession, did you do any research to help prepare for the emotional journey she undergoes through the story?
OTD: Yes, there’s so much material online, including endless amounts of YouTube videos about exorcisms, whether they’re real or not. So my imagination was flooded with images from the internet. (laughs)
I’ve been a fan of the genre forever, so I’ve seen most of the movies in it. Besides ‘The Exorcist,’ I’m also a fan of ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ and they’re my two biggest influences.
Mark also had a lot of ideas, and a lot of things I needed to know were in the script. I also had the month of rehearsals and learning the language. I had coaches to learn Aramaic, which really helped me get into character. When you learn an ancient language, you really feel like you’re somebody else. (laughs)
SY: Like you mentioned, you’re a fan of the horror genre, and before portraying Angela in ‘The Vatican Tapes,’ you starred in another horror film, ‘The Chernobyl Diaries.’ What is it about the horror genre that you really enjoy acting in, and watching, it?
OTD: I am a huge fan of horror and genre films, but I also love doing comedies and dramas. I think drama is my favorite place to be, but horror films just keep pulling me back. I think the genre’s exciting, especially with an exorcism film, because the reality of it possibly happening to you keeps pulling people back.
I think the movies that just have a lot of jump scares, and situations that obviously can never happen, aren’t as scary as the psychological ones, and the ones that also pertain to religion. They have a reality in everyone’s life, and the idea of these types of situations actually happening is terrifying. Getting to explore that process is exciting.
SY: While the movie does feature stunts, the story is grounded in reality, like you mentioned, and emphasizes the human element to Angele’s struggles. Instead of including the common visual scares that are usually seen in the horror genre, ‘The Vatican Tapes’ instead demonstrates the slow build and the slow escalation of dread. Do you feel that incorporating that overall human emotion, instead of only emphasizing the visual scares, was an important aspect of the film?
OTD: Yes, I think it was important to Mark to not make this an action or a jump scare movie. We really wanted it to be like a classic ’70s horror film that’s more psychological, and I think we really accomplished that here. I also think the movie’s beautifully shot, and (Gerardo) Mateo (Madrazo), our DP (Director of Photography), knew we wanted the audience to slowly get into Angela’s head. I think his shots really accomplish that.
I love, and am really proud of, this movie. I think audiences will also really love it when they watch it, because it’s not in-your-face scary like a lot of horror films are these days. It’s really nice to see this type of psychologically-driven horror film, because a lot of people aren’t making those types of movies anymore.
SY: Angela is uniquely presented as the lead character, and is both the villain and the victim in the horror thriller. How did you balance her vulnerability with her toughness, and have audiences hope she recovers, despite the evil acts she has committed?
OTD: Yes, that’s what really drew me to Angela. As an actress, getting to play someone who’s on such a journey is the most exciting thing. I was able to map out how I wanted to play that. There wasn’t just one note to the character; there were 50 notes throughout the movie. So I got to go back and forth between these different emotions, which was really fun for me as an actress to exorcise all of those different areas. I think it makes the character of Angela very interesting.
I would love to do another movie and keep playing her. The process of making this film was really fun, and I love doing action. I also playing a badass, and this movie was a good balance between playing a sweet girl and someone’s who clearly dangerous.
SY: Speaking of playing Angela again, the horror thriller’s ending is set up in a way that Angela can be the lead character in another film. Would you be interested in being the lead in a sequel to ‘The Vatican Tapes,’ and seeing where she goes next?
OTD: I would love to do a sequel. It’s not something that’s planned right now, but if this movie does well, hopefully we’ll do another one. I really enjoyed playing Angela, and I think that the story in this movie ended with tons of possibilities. So the next movie would be really exciting. The ending sets up for an interesting sequel, if we get to make one.
SY: Many exorcism horror films focus on priests and doctors doing whatever it takes to save the person who is possessed, particularly when the targeted person is a woman. But in ‘The Vatican Tapes,’ the more they try to save her, the worse she seems to become, and they eventually seem to give up on trying to protect her. Do you feel that aspect of the story is really beneficial in distinguishing this film’s story?
OTD: Yes, and I think the other actors did a great job of showing that aspect in the film. Kathleen Robertson, who played Angela’s therapist, was fantastic. Some of our scenes together were some of my favorites to shoot. Playing two alpha females allowed us both to try to take control of the scenes. They show Angela’s transformation into what she inevitably becomes.
I think it was definitely an important part of the story to show that everyone was giving up on Angela, because it makes her transformation even sadder. You just don’t know what’s going to happen to her.
SY: While Angela’s emotions play an integral part of the development of her character and the story, her overall look was also an important aspect of capturing the film’s themes. How did her look influence your portrayal and her arc? Did you collaborate with the horror thriller’s costume designer and the makeup department at all?
OTD: Yes, I had a ton of wardrobe fittings and makeup tests. I had wonderful makeup artists, Deborah and Don Rutherford, who were amazing. They airbrushed my face for hours everyday, and worked hard to show all the details, including all the little veins. The camera only slightly picks up the makeup, but I think all the layers really show the beautiful job they did, and that really helped the story.
The makeup in many horror films are great, but in this one, it was really natural and believable. To me, it helped the movie become scarier. When I see myself in the film, I don’t see makeup; it looks like Angela is really becoming something otherworldly and possessed.
I think the wardrobe was also great. The white dress Angela wore during the exorcism was something we all talked a lot about, and I’m glad that we settled on it. I think her look came together very nicely.
SY: Besides films, you have also appeared on several television shows throughout your career, including ‘CSI: Miami,’ ‘NCIS,’ ‘Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23’ and ‘The Mindy Project.’ What is it about television that you also enjoy working on, and how does it compare and contrast to starring in films?
OTD: I love working on both television and films. This year, I was on the (comedy television series,) ‘The Comedians,’ and I would love to go back to that. I also have a few other upcoming projects lined up, and I would love to continue working in both mediums. I also love making independent films, because getting to closely collaborate with the filmmakers is the most fun you can have on a project.
Written by: Karen Benardello