William Friedkin Shares ‘Exorcist’ Stories He’s Never Shared Before In Documentary ‘Leap of Faith’

The Exorcist must be one of the most well-documented movies. After the Star Wars original trilogy and maybe The Shining, it’s a movie that has warranted several DVD and Blu-ray releases and standalone behind-the-scenes specials, books and articles. So it must be difficult to find new material to cover in the film, but Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist did just that. 

The Exorcist: Linda Blair
Linda Blair on the set of The Exorcist | Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

The documentary by Alexandre O. Philippe features director Friedkin in his own words discussing what The Exorcist meant to him. By sitting down with Friedkin for an extended interview, Philippe dug into the sort of analysis that won’t come up in a puff piece, and yet there are still behind the scenes stories that feel new to this film.

The Making of ‘The Exorcist’

Friedkin takes Philippe from beginning to end on The Exorcist. Beginning with the opening shot of the black and white sun turning to color, Friedkin reveals that some decisions may not have had as much thought behind them as film scholars hoped. Some of it was just instinct, but others were thematic decisions for which Friedkin fought. 

William Friedkin making The Exorcist
William Friedkin behind the scenes | Sundance Institute

For example, Friedkin had to fightThe Exorcist author William Peter Blatty who wanted to play the role of Father Karras. Blatty even offered to give up his percentage. Other name actors were considered before Friedkin found Jason Miller. Friedkin also got physical with actors and fired a gun off camera, extreme methods that would not fly today.

The Version You’ve Never Seen

In 2000, Warner Brothers re-released The Exorcist as “The Version Yo’ve Never Seen.” It included some scary effects they could finally get right with modern technology and additional deleted scenes. Leap of Faith shows you another version of The Exorcist you’ve never seen. 

Mercedes McCambridge dubbed all of Linda Blair’s possessed dialogue, but Philippe found some audio of Blair performing the lines on set. It does not include Blair saying the most explicit line but it’s quite a contrast to hear. Obviously she had to speak the lines in her 13-year-old voice so they could synchronize McCambridge’s voice.

The Exorcist
Max von Sydow on the set of The Exorcist | Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

The lengths McCambridge went to to create that voice also sound harrowing. Philippe also includes the Alex North score to 2001: A Space Odyssey that Stanley Kubrick threw out during Friedkin’s discussion of fallings out with Bernard Hermann and Lalo Schifrin. Friedkin only mentions the 2000 re-release briefly, as this film is primarily about the 1973 release that became a classic. 

Even William Friedkin questions this scene in ‘The Exorcist’

By the end, Friedkin questions how Karras’s final actions come across on screen. He went with a Blatty suggestion for it but he’s still not sold. He admits there are some scenes in The Exorcist he still doesn’t understand. That’s what makes good art. It’s not about having all the answers. At a certain point you make a choice and let the film speak for itself. 

Max Von Sydow and Linda Blair
Max von Sydow and Linda Blair | Warner Bros/Getty Images

Philippe uses a classic structure with Friedkin’s interview illustrated by film clips. He has fun with it, for example using a clip of Stacy Keach backing away in another movie when he explains that Keach was almost cast in The Exorcist. Overall, Philippe doesn’t intrude. It’s Friedkin’s show. 

The previous Philippe movie documentaries The People Vs. George Lucas, 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene and Memory: The Origin of Alien give you some idea of how deep he’ll go into The Exorcist. Those films involved more than one filmmaker though. Leap of Faith is a unique deep dive exclusively into Friedkin’s thoughts on The Exorcist decades later.