FORMER child star Linda Blair frightened the wits out of a generation of moviegoers as the possessed pre-teen with a penchant for projectile vomiting in iconic horror movie The Exorcist.
But four decades on, you get the feeling she’d be happy never to answer another question about her 1973 portrayal of the demonic Regan MacNeil, a role that will always define her.
AFP caught up with Blair at the red carpet opening of Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights festival in Southern California, where she had been invited ostensibly to promote a new Exorcist-themed haunted house.
But the 57-year-old is a hard woman to keep on topic, and every question about arguably the best-known horror film in history returns her to her much bigger passion – her animal welfare work.
The verbal backflips she performs to bring the conversation back to her activism are as impressive as her famous character’s 360-degree head spin.
“This is a party for me, for the film, for my animals, because everything as far as merchandise goes to the Linda Blair Worldheart Foundation on my percentage,” she tells AFP.
“So this is a celebration to make their lives better while everybody else can appreciate and enjoy this amazing opportunity.”
Blair has 68 acting credits to her name, although the only one you could be confident of the average filmgoer knowing is The Exorcist.
She grew up in rural Connecticut, where she inherited a deep love of nature and animals from her parents, and had been modelling in New York and appearing in commercials when the audition for The Exorcist came up.
The film went stratospheric, grossing an eventual US$440 million, and Blair was thrust before the world’s media on a punishing promotional tour and expected to field questions on Heaven, Hell, God and the Devil at the tender age of 14.
She was Oscar-nominated, won a Golden Globe and appeared in a succession of films over the coming years, including disaster movie Airport 1975 and an unloved Exorcist sequel.
Arrested for conspiracy to possess cocaine at 18, her promising career hit the skids and she was restricted mainly to appearances in B-movies as the critical acclaim was replaced with “Golden Raspberry” awards for bad acting.
Her last appearance of note was an uncredited cameo in Wes Craven’s Scream 20 years ago, although she has appeared sporadically on TV, often as herself.
Blair stoically accepts that journalists are interested in her biggest role rather than her animal shelter, answering questions about the film with good grace, but her frustration sometimes gets the better of her.
“What’s very discouraging at times is the inability (of the media) to look at what I’m trying to do,” she said in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.
“On the Morning Show, they didn’t ask me one question of interest. I’m sad, but I’m not mad at them.”
AFP and the rest of the red carpet press pack caught up with Blair again as she exited The Exorcist horror maze, part of a lavish, seven-week festival which Universal stages around every Halloween.
‘Put up or shut up’
“I always have a different experience, I can’t be afraid of myself,” she says when asked what it was like to come face to face with live actors who look exactly as she did in the movie.
But soon enough we’re playing fast and loose with the conventions of sentence structure again as she shoehorns the abandoned animals back in.
“It’s really an homage to the fans who love this film so much and I hope that they understand that by joining me on Linda Blair Worldheart and by making a donation to what my heart is, what I always asked for and, like I said, the merchandise, a proportion of the proceeds will go to the foundation,” she says.
An Exorcist TV series made by Fox premieres on Friday, the latest in a raft of small screen adaptations of horror movies, but Blair reveals she has not been approached to take part.
“They keep saying ‘Linda Blair, Linda Blair’ and I’m like ‘stop teasing – put up or shut up.’ They have not contacted me at all. They have not reached out at all,” Blair complains.