A talented actress in and out of the genre, Eileen Dietz will forever be attached to one of the most influential and beloved horror films of all time.
Not many actors can boast about having portrayed one of the most iconic and terrifying characters in all of horror, but Eileen Dietz certainly can. Her unforgettable portrayal of ‘Captain Howdy’ in “The Exorcist” is forever ingrained in the minds and hearts of horror fans everywhere. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her impressive acting resume.
Every time I conduct an interview, the very last question that I always ask is, “What is your favorite scary movie?” And 9 times out of 10, the answer is The Exorcist. And if you’ve seen The Exorcist, then you’ve seen Eileen Dietz in an uncredited role of the face of the demon Pazuzu. More recently, Eileen can be found on the indie scene. We talked about her career, women in horror, The Exorcist and of course, horror movies.
INTERVIEW WITH EILEEN DIETZ
Morbidly Beautiful: What intrigued you about the role of the demon in The Exorcist, and what made you want to do it?
Eileen Dietz: Oh my God, so many things intrigued me about. First, I had done a lot of work on smaller projects and television shows in NYC, where I lived but this was the biggest feature I was ever asked to be in. And when I did the audition, they asked me to read the book. And of course the book was amazing. And anybody that likes The Exorcist should read the book. Thankfully, it just sounded like a whole lot of fun, plus work, plus money plus everything else. Of course, none of us knew that it was going to be the scariest movie of all time.
MB: The movie still scares me to this day.
ED: I would say they should have gone with the ending from the book, but they went with the easiest scare technique, going out the window. And there was no question that she was possessed. You know from the book, you’re still really not sure. Is it a psychological problem, or was she was indeed possessed? Obviously, the movie works. Bill Blatty, may he rest his soul (he passed on last year) was the screenwriter. He said, he and Billy Friedkin did not get along, and said if Mr Friedkin had listened to him, then we had an amazing film here, but if he’d listened to him, we’d have had a masterpiece.
MB: I see you popping up on the convention circuit. What’s it like meeting all of your fans?
ED: Oh, it’s amazing. I mean really. It’s funny. The first time I really did that, it was different when I was on General Hospital, and it was totally different of course because we didn’t charge the fans.There weren’t any cons, you’d just run into people on the street or functions or something like that. When I do cons, it’s extremely tiring, which people don’t really get. You’re really on for eight, nine, ten hours meeting your fans.
Everyone is so excited and happy to meet me, like it made their day or their lives or something like that. I find that extremely satisfying and nice — and kind of overwhelming sometimes. Like, “Wow, look at this!” There’s a line and people want to buy stuff. And talking of course. The questions are all the same, primarily the same, but it’s new for them. What I always like is, “Oh my God, you have no idea how much you scared me,” or “You entered my nightmares” (of course referring to Captain Howdy).
MB: In 2013, your book “Exorcising My Demons” was released. I have read amazing reviews, and it’s been very well received. What made you want to write a book about your experiences?
ED: Well, first I wasn’t going to write about The Exorcist until I had done a body of work so it didn’t look like I just wanted to make money off that film. So I didn’t write it until after I did Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2. So I could kind of bookend it. My manager wanted me to write the book, as we’d been thinking about it for awhile. The man who actually wrote it, Dan, is an amazing writer. The book will make you laugh, and it will make you cry — while you’re finding out everything you ever wanted to know about backstage at The Exorcist, my audition and how I became an actress. Stuff like that. So if anyone wants to find out about that, tell them to DM me on Facebook.
MB: I see that you’ve been doing a lot of independent films, which I think is amazing. I saw that you recently did Clownado. What has drawn you to the many independent projects that you’ve been doing?
ED: I just like to work, haha. I love to work. Obviously the money matters, but taking the money aside, I just like to work. I like to be in front of a camera. The nice thing about doing indie films are the roles are much, much better. And bigger, and much more fun for me. Obviously I get lots of scripts just sent to me directly and not to my manager — and some of them are just, sorry guys, but some are just awful. There are a group of people out there now, who think they can just write a script with a bunch of blood and a lot of gore and a lot of sex, which is really the difference between a thriller and horror. Gratuitous sex and gratuitous blood, but no plot and no real characters.
To me, if you don’t have a script that people can identify with, with characters either bad or good — that you can love or hate as long as you feel something about them, what’s the point? Getting back to The Exorcist, that’s what I truly believe made it the classic it is now is. That and the amazing work of Dick Smith, the makeup artist. That is the most amazing thing on the film, I think, is they made it so you can identify with what is going on and therefore get so scared. A lot of films from today, as I was saying, have no plot, they have no characters. They don’t have a beginning, middle and end, no arc. It’s all gore.
MB: What does having a Women in Horror Month mean to you?
Two things, actually. Number one, I’m a true believer that women need to be recognized in this field as much as in any other field, but especially in the horror field. There are fabulous female directors out there that just need a chance to get a film made. And producers. I’ve worked with some of them that are wonderful. Women in Horror Month is also just really cool because of all the great horror actresses in the genre — from Dee Wallace to Tiffany Shepis, Adrienne Barbeau and Lynn Lowery. There are just so many amazing female horror actresses out there, and it’s hard to be recognized. At least Kathy Bates won an Oscar for Misery. Besides that, it really doesn’t happen.
MB: What has been your favorite role, and why was it your favorite?
ED: You know what the clever answer to that is? The last one. It’s really hard, as far as past roles are concerned. I loved doing Helter Skelter. I loved playing one of the Manson girls. And right now Manson, since his death, we’re talking about doing a movie called Charlie Lives, which is about Manson’s son putting together a cult. This guy in Florida claims he’s Manson’s son. It’s a wonderful, wonderful script.
Besides Helter Skelter, I loved playing Sarah on General Hospital, who was in a mental hospital. It was actually my favorite for a couple years for a lot of reasons. One being you get a lot of mail from people saying thinks like, “Oh, we love you! You don’t wear a lot of makeup and so we can identify with you.” And, “Were you really in a mental hospital? Because you play it so well.” I thought that was funny. I loved that character. The writers just wrote her absolutely great. General Hospital, at the time, was really innovative and getting away from images of what soap operas were like.
I also loved doing Happy Days. Really, I love everything that I do. I loved shooting Clownado. The answer to that question is, I just enjoy working. I really don’t have a favorite.
MB: You just love what you do. My last question is what is your favorite scary movie?
ED: Actually, there were two. Maybe three. Night of the Living Dead is the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. George Romero’s movie. I saw it in NYC with some people, and I remember walking home alone. I thought there were zombies jumping out of every parking meter, or every tree, every building. I thought there were zombies coming. And Jaws. I was born in NYC, but my family moved out to Long Island — which isn’t far, it’s the same coast line as Jaws. I thought Jaws was the scariest thing I ever saw. Just the music. And probably Psycho.
MB: The answer I get the most is The Exorcist.
ED: They say it’s the scariest movie ever made. I was very blessed to be a part of that movie. It shaped my life for the last 45 years.
John O’Hara wrote:
This interview is very well done. Eileen is an absolute icon. Thank you.