Interview: Elsie Fisher on Being a Teenaged Horror Star in Horror-Comedy My Best Friend’s Exorcism

Before breaking out in 2018’s Eighth Grade, 19-year-old Elsie Fisher was probably best known for voicing one of Gru’s daughters in the Despicable Me movies. Although she’s acted in quite a number of series, shorts and films before Eighth Grade, writer/director Bo Burnham’s story of socially awkward Kayla put Fisher on the map and opened up opportunities for her to work alongside some of her heroes. She’s appeared as part of some impressive ensembles, including the Stephen King-inspired “Castle Rock” and earlier this year, in the Zoom-shot dramedy Family Squares (check the cast lists on either to see what good company Fisher was keeping).

In fact, 2022 has been a solid year for Fisher overall with her appearance in the ultra-gory Netflix horror entry Texas Chainsaw Massacre and in a strong supporting role alongside Bill Hader in several episodes of HBO’s “Barry.” Her latest work is the horror-comedy My Best Friend’s Exorcism, in which she stars as Abby, whose best friend Gretchen (Amiah Miller) is possessed by a demon, and Abby must use any means at her disposal (which isn’t much) to help free her friend from this torment. Director Damon Thomas is primarily known for episodes of series like “Killing Eve” and “Penny Dreadful,” but with My Best Friend’s Exorcism (now streaming on Prime Video), he leans into the comedy while also delivering on the gross-out effects (lots of blood and vomit in this one, folks).

I had the chance to chat with Fisher recently about her affiliation with and affection for the horror genre, working with director Thomas, and adjusting to just how physical a role Abby turned out to be. Please enjoy…

The thing I couldn’t help thinking as I was watching this film was that you get kicked and punched so much. I figured Amiah would have a very physical experience playing a possessed person, but I was not expecting you to get wailed on as much as you do. Do you realize when you signed on that things were going to get quite that physical for you?

Oh, totally. That’s what I kind of loved because I think teenage girls—whether in real life or movies—are portrayed as very fragile. And it’s like, no. I ask people to punch me all the time; it’s really fun to be able to do that in the context of a film.

I know your director’s work from television—I think this is his first feature. What was it about his vision for this film that made you feel good about the way he was approaching this material?

First of all, he has a lovely British accent; that elevates everything he says [laughs]. But yes, I was familiar with “Killing Eve,” which I think is different but tonally is what I imagined for this movie. So that was very exciting. He was someone who actually did grow up in the 1980s, so he had that perspective too. He wanted to make sure everything felt very realistic. In culture right now, the ’80s is sensationalized, and we were trying to steer away from that, even if we still had fun with it. But he also really treated all the characters like people and the relationships as real and big as they are instead of playing it down because it’s about teenagers.

I assume this was made with COVID protocols in place, but did you still have opportunities with the other girls to find time to bond and sell that friendship angle?

Definitely on set, for sure. You spend so much time with people, even just waiting in rooms. It’s impossible not to become closer together. We were all staying in the same apartment complex in Atlanta, and everyone was very conscious of COVID, but at the same time, with the cat specifically, you are going to be spending a lot of time together with your masks off, so you form this bubble either way. So we were all very aware of that. We went to the aquarium a couple times and were very safe about that, and that was really lovely. And we spend a lot of time watching movies together; it was great.

Speaking of watching movies, you’ve been in a couple horror things of late. I think the last film I saw you in was the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so you’d dabbled in horror before this. Are you a horror person? Do you have favorites?

Yes, anything by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, I really love.

I really like John Carpenter’s The Thing. I’ve been meaning to go back and watch Signs because I remember that really messed me up when I was younger. I was horrified, so I’d love to feel that again.

Japanese horror opened my brain in so many ways years back; that’s an excellent answer. Going back to how you first got involved in this, when you first read the character of Abby, was there something about her that hooked you and made you think you could do something with that character? And did you make any changes to her to make her a little more like you?

I don’t think I made any changes because I wanted to stay as faithful to the book as possible. But also, I think Damon and Jenna Lamia, our writer, really gave me a lot of freedom to do what I felt was right. Honestly, one of the things I loved about Abby is that she’s not always a great person. I think she truly believes she’s trying to do the right thing always, but she’s kind of messy and doesn’t do the right thing, and I think that’s such an interesting quality for a character, especially one of her demographic. You take that very real thing and drop it in this world of supernatural crap, and that’s a recipe for fun.

I think horror-comedies are one of the hardest things to get right, but I think you all handled it really well here. Was that something you were conscious of while you were filming—not to get too jokey or too scary?

I think it was almost the opposite of what you’re saying. Without going overboard, I think people wanted to push the funny moments and make sure that they really hit and were worth it and weren’t a half-attempt. You can’t really half-ass either of those things; you have to full-ass them both. We wanted to make sure the funny moments were funny and the scary moments felt truly, deeply scary. And hopefully, it keeps you engaged without having to think too much about how you’re feeling.

One of the projects you have coming up is a film called Memory, which Jessica Harper is in, and she’s the star of one of the greatest movies of all time, Suspiria. Did you get to meet or work with her?

I didn’t shoot any scenes with her. I may have met her in passing, but I did shoot a couple scenes with Jessica Chastain, but I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say about that one. Memory was a very cool film to shoot, and I’m very excited to see it come out.

So what do you have coming up that you can talk about?

Yeah, totally. In sort of a different direction than anything I’ve been doing in the past four years, I’m on Season 2 of this show “The Summer I Turned Pretty.” I’m in the middle of shooting it right now, and it’s a total blast and really refreshing too because I’m used to being covered in blood or getting in fights with my parents, and now I’m in a cute teen rom-com.

I was so excited to see you on “Barry” this season; that was bad-ass.

Dude, thank you. That was a career high for me, for sure. Bill is so fantastic; it was the best.

Elsie, thank you so much. Best of luck with this, and hopefully we’ll get to talk again down the line.

Yeah, I’d love that. Thanks a lot.

Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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