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THE RITE

The Story and Characters
The interesting thing about skeptics is that we're always looking for proof. The question is what on Earth would we do if we found it? Father Lucas

Anthony Hopkins plays Father Lucas, a controversial exorcist known for pushing the darkest edges of his spirituality in the service of God. "Father Lucas is somewhat infamous among the clergy,” describes Vinson. "He has performed thousands of exorcisms and is the one priest who has been in the trenches fighting the Devil for many, many years. This is not your average priest. There's a sense of ambiguity and danger about him. To some, he seems crazy, but at the same time, he has genuine warmth and kindness. Anthony Hopkins plays that duality brilliantly.”

"What intrigued me about Father Lucas was wondering what his own position is in the world of theology,” comments Hopkins. "He's a Jesuit, but he's multidimensional. When Michael meets him, he doesn't know what to make of him because the older priest is just an irascible and impatient man. And when this young man challenges his beliefs, Father Lucas says, ‘Relish your doubts. Nurture them. Be friends with your doubts because those are the things that will drive you on.' Father Lucas holds doubts of his own, until terrifying things begin to happen to him.”

As Father Lucas, Hopkins provided a tremendous center of gravity for the story and its characters. "Obviously, he brings a lot,” Håfström confirms. "He's the heart and soul of this movie. This character of Father Lucas is fascinating in that we don't really know who he is and what his beliefs are; if he's just a simple magician or if he is the real thing. There are so many sides to him, and Anthony captured them all in a very compelling way. To get the opportunity to work with a great actor like him was fantastic.”

Though Michael is sent to Father Lucas's rectory to better understand the dark side of his faith, the seminary student seems to have more faith in psychiatry than the power of exorcism. "To be an effective exorcist requires absolute certainty that you're going into battle with an awesome force behind you,” says Vinson. "It's not something you can take on alone. So, as Michael follows Father Lucas into the world of exorcism, he is confronted with some very scary and evil things that push him to look within and reconcile what he really believes.”

"The Rite” explores the mysteries of exorcism through the eyes of an expert and a novice. Mirroring that relationship, Colin O'Donoghue makes his feature film debut as Michael Kovak, opposite the veteran Hopkins.

The young actor from Drogheda, Ireland, did not have any feature experience but sent an audition tape to the filmmakers. "I did a self-taping in my best friend's back garden, but I didn't know if anyone would ever watch it. Thank God they did,” he says with a smile. "It was a dream come true for me because I really felt a connection with Michael Kovak. Whether or not you believe in God or a higher power, whether you believe that your life is predestined or that you are in control of absolutely everything— these are all questions that Michael ponders.”

"I think Colin is somebody that you just innately trust and, therefore, he serves as a very good guide into this world,” the director notes.

Recognizing those qualities in O'Donoghue—his depth beyond his years and his introspective nature—led the filmmakers to fly him to Los Angeles to screen-test with Hopkins. His chemistry with the accomplished actor sealed the deal. "This is Colin's first movie, and he is in virtually every scene, much of the time opposite the great Anthony Hopkins, so he was understandably nervous that first day,” Håfström remembers. "But Anthony was—as a person and as an actor—generous to Colin and helped him in many ways. They became good friends, which was essential because, in a certain aspect, this is a buddy movie between the younger priest and the older priest.

There's also a father and son dynamic that plays out between them. At the same time, it was important to create a situation where we could feel disharmony in the relationship. I think both these actors created that tension in a great way.”

"I think Colin is extraordinary,” Hopkins remarks. "It was wonderful to work with him. He's an exceptional actor, not to mention a very nice person.”

Father Lucas is not the only person Michael is drawn to while in Rome. On his first day of exorcism school, he catches the eye of another visitor, Angeline, a reporter investigating the Vatican's new initiative. "Michael is very compelling to Angeline because, as a journalist, she's trained to look at things objectively,” Vinson says. "She's not necessarily someone of faith who's going to accept everything she hears, so when she sees Michael questioning these things, she knows he's a kindred spirit and can maybe help her with her work.”

For this role, the filmmakers cast Brazilian actress Alice Braga, who was captivated by the script, though she admits it kept her up at night. "After I read it, I couldn't sleep,” she says. "It's a fictional film, but the phenomenon is real, and the characters get deeper and deeper into it as they try to figure out what it is. Everyone fears the idea of possession, even if they don't agree on what to call it. I fell in love with my character, Angeline, because she is this strong, straightforward woman who has an agenda, which you begin to discover as it becomes clear why she's looking for answers in an exorcism course.”

"Alice had done a lot of films, but her breakout was in the independent ‘City of God,' and it's a performance that never left me,” Flynn reveals. "This film required her to create intimacy with Colin without romantic connotations, and Alice has so much complexity and warmth to her that she was able to communicate that in an amazing way. She's a very talented actor.”

Like Michael, Angeline too is pushed to confront her own doubts and fears by what she sees with her own eyes. "She discovers herself through this journey in many of the same ways that Michael discovers himself,” Braga says. "It's a really interesting way to talk about religion because you're seeing it from the perspective of different human beings.”

Michael's self-reflection takes him back to his childhood with his father, Istvan, a Hungarian immigrant who is a constant source of complex emotions. The role is played by Rutger Hauer, who observes, "The father works hard; he's very religious, a bit strict. He's an undertaker who wants his son to take over the family business. Of course, his son is dying to get out, literally. Theirs is a strong relationship, although it's difficult. Perhaps the son hates his father a little.”

The figure of Istvan Kovak looms in his son's psyche throughout his experiences in Rome, largely, says Håfström, because of Hauer's performance. "Rutger has tremendous presence, which gave the character great impact in a limited amount of screen time.”

At seminary school, Michael finds a mentor in Father Matthew, played by Toby Jones. A contemporary priest dealing with the dropping numbers of clergy, he sees uncommon potential in his student. "Father Matthew knows that Michael is struggling with his ideas and what he believes in, but he senses something greater inside him…maybe even that he's touched by God,” Flynn says. "But Michael doesn't see that in himself, so Father Matthew is basically trying to hold up a mirror to show Michael that he is actually blessed. Toby was able to convey all that in a really humane, intelligent manner.”

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