January 31, 2011

Colin O'Donoghue, an Exorcist-Apprentice in "The Rite" (Opens Feb 2)


New Line Cinema's supernatural thriller “The Rite” explores the mysteries of exorcism through the eyes of an expert and a novice. Mirroring that relationship, new actor Colin O’Donoghue makes his feature film debut as exorcist-in-training Michael Kovak, opposite the veteran Anthony Hopkins.

Inspired by true events, “The Rite” follows seminary student Michael Kovak (O’Donoghue), who is sent to study exorcism at the Vatican in spite of his own doubts about the controversial practice and even his own faith. Wearing his deep skepticism like armor, Michael challenges his superiors to look to psychiatry, rather than demons, in treating the possessed.


Only when he’s sent to apprentice with the unorthodox Father Lucas (Hopkins)—a legendary priest who has performed thousands of exorcisms—does Michael’s armor begin to fall. As he is drawn into a troubling case that seems to transcend even Father Lucas’s skill, he begins to glimpse a phenomenon science can’t explain or control…and an evil so violent and terrifying that it forces him to question everything he believes.

O'Donoghue did not have any feature film 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,” director Mikael Håfström 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,” Anthony Hopkins remarks. “It was wonderful to work with him. He’s an exceptional actor, not to mention a very nice person.”

In preparation for the exorcism sequences, O’Donoghue witnessed several exorcisms—listening just outside the door out of respect. “What I thought was especially remarkable about it was that to the exorcists, it was all very matter-of-fact. It’s what they face all the time. But to us it was an extraordinary thing to experience.”

Opening across the Philippines on Feb. 2, New Line Cinema’s “The Rite” will be distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

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