EXORCISM: LIVE! INTERVIEW WITH JODI TOVAY AND CHIP COFFEY
Interview conducted by Karin Crighton
In 1949, a young boy known only as “Roland Doe” began to exhibit bizarre and terrifying behavior after his favorite aunt’s death. Hoping a change in scenery would cure the boy, his family left Maryland for St. Louis. There his symptoms compounded until it was clear grief was not the cause. It was demonic possession. Roland Doe was exorcised by Father William Halloran nearly 30 times over the coming months until he was rid of the tormenting presence. His story inspired the novel (and future film) The Exorcist. On October 30th, Devil’s Night, Ghost Aslyum host Chris Smith, paranormal investigator Nick Groff, and renowned medium Chip Coffey will enter the famed St. Louis house where Roland Doe lived after fleeing Maryland to find what, if anything, lingers there.
Exorcism: Live! came to New York Comic Con and sat down with a roundtable of reporters to talk to us about what they might encounter and what they have seen in their work.
Part II: Exorcism: Live! producer Jodi Tovay and psychic Chip Coffee. You can read Part I with Chris Smith and Nick Groff here.
Karin Crighton: What will be the differences in cleansing a house versus a person?
Jodi Tovay: I think the film has been a blueprint for human possession, so what you’ve seen in The Exorcist is the most extreme case of possession.
Chip Coffey: But not uncommon, in the most extreme.
JT: So what we’re doing in the show is a minor right of Exorcism; major being on a person, minor being an object or a thing. The process is totally different, the prayers are different, relics are totally different. The interesting thing is that in the same way when a person is possessed, you see physical manifestations of it, you see the same thing with a house. The house we believe is a living, breathing thing too and we're going to see things when we cleanse the house if we’re successful.
Reporter: Have you seen something yourself in an exorcism?
JT: I feel like somebody led you on! Yes, I witnessed an exorcism when I was 15. I’ve always been obsessed with the real story of the exorcist boy, that is part of my motivation for doing the show.
Reporter: How, at 15, did you get involved with an exorcism?
JT: Not on purpose. Definitely on accident. I was with my church, we were on a mission trip in Monterey, Mexico, and the person who was afflicted was one of our chaperones. Such a nice guy; great family, good church man, salt of the earth. He became possessed during a prayer service. Obviously we were not anticipating this; it just happened. So I got to witness someone who has been possessed.
Reporter: For that experience, how did the symptoms manifest?
JT: This sounds dumb, but it’s the look in their eyes. The way I can look at everyone here and know they’re of cogent mind (ish), it’s completely different. It looks like you’ve been taken over. The way his body was moving was completely different, it was very contortionist-looking, and very angry. It’s all manifested in the body. You can look at someone and know right away.
CC: It’s that vacant, they’ve checked out. Any time I’ve seen someone under possession or oppression, they tend to be very stiff or rigid. And the look in their face; they don’t blink a lot.
Reporter: What makes someone susceptible to demon possession?
CC: I don’t know if there’s a definitive answer for that. Everyone says you’ve got to open a door but I don’t know if there’s a real answer. I think that as a Catholic I always heard about angels and demons, but i was never thinking much or had contact with the demonic. But I sort of got baptized by fire into this whole paranormal-demon thing, I learned that demons their whole reason for existing is that they want to bring down human beings, to destroy us, to unravel us. And who knows? Maybe there is something that opens the door or there may not.
JT: I think what you’re getting to with your questions is that it can happen to anyone, which I think is so terrifying about it. Our modern life is about control, we control our time, we control our cars, we order our groceries, we schedule our lives and when someone is possessed, you’re so out on control. It’s totally primal and fundamental and you’re so exposed. People are fascinated, outside of the faith who don’t believe still want to see and are curious.
CC: Some people believe that an Ouija board can open up a portal. I don’t know if I believe that. Remember the Haunting in Connecticut case? They lived in a funeral home and one of the people that worked in the funeral home was known to do not-nice things to the bodies. That’s a really heinous, horrible thing. Can that open a door? Or things like alcohol, drugs. If you set out a dysfunction buffet for negative energy, they will come and eat. But who’s to know? They will come at your most vulnerable point.
Reporter: How do you know, mentally and physically, that you’re possessed? Do you just think you’re possessed?
JT: Our bishop, Bishop James Long, who couldn’t be here today because he’s working an exorcism case right now, works on these cases all over the world. He’s the best you’re going to find. He says there’s checkboxes you have to mark. You have to first look for mental illness; we’re certainly not going to exorcise anyone who is mentally ill, or someone with physical infirmities. And when they do a Roman Catholic exorcism they check to make sure there aren't any of those obvious physical problems. You want to make sure that’s all out of the way. After that, you really leave it up to the exorcist. It’s up to their discretion because they’ve seen so much of this. Bishop Long said to me the other day, Thursday, he said on the phone, “I have 1200 emails since Sunday of people asking for exorcisms. In my entire life, I have only successfully performed 27, because those were real cases.” There are a lot of things that may contribute to something feel like possession that are not.
CC: And you’ll hear about those because it’s titillating, people like hearing about this stuff. We’re curious! I mean, we like the Kardashians and the Housewives. We like things that are controversial and a little spooky and scary. Most of us grew up watching horror movies. Those things grab our attention. It’s become – and this is sad to me - a bit of a pop culture thing. One of my reasons I do this is to educate the public that this is serious stuff – and it’s real.
JT: I’ve been always fascinated, due to my personal story, but The Exorcist is one of the greatest American supernatural stories, and I’ve always been fascinated with it. We’ve been working on this at the network level for a year-and-a-half. We wanted to do this last year on the 65th anniversary, but I didn’t believe we had the right team in place. Chip was busy, the Ghost Asylum guys weren’t available and I didn’t want to bring people into something dangerous that they weren’t ready for.
CC: Well, you did it on the 66th...
JT: Yeah, we got lucky there! I feel like we have the right team in place, we have medics, we’re safe.
CC: I have my bling [shows his silver medallion] around my neck!
Reporter: A couple years ago, there was an actual exorcism hotline set up by the Vatican, accepting calls by people who thought they needed an exorcism. They weren’t accepting any kind of money; they were just going to people’s houses who felt they needed it.
CC: As a Catholic, I feel like that would all the crazies calling into SVU saying, “I’ve got a lead for you.” You’d be working your fanny off weeding out the people who really needed help on a spiritual level. I think the Vatican must have had an off-day mentally.
Reporter: Speaking of negative energies, but we constantly wear skulls and bones, representing negative energy. It’s not horses and rainbows! Is that promoting negative energy?
CC: I believe it’s your mindset and intent. I believe if you go through life with two objectives: I’m going to do no intentional harm to myself or others, and I’m going to get happy, and if I live my life like that I don’t give a rat’s rump what you’re wearing. If you try to live a decent life, I don’t think it matters. Not every pentagram is a satanic pentagram.
Reporter: So what channel and when can we watch Exorcism: Live!?
JT: Destination America, October 30th, 9pm Eastern/Standard – Devil’s Night! If you want to be scared, we’ll deliver like Dominos.
Reporter: It won’t be like that snake thing, where the guy was supposed be eaten?
JT: That snake thing ruined us, didn’t it? What you’re seizing on it that it’s going to be live. Everyone hear at ComicCon craves authenticity in the genres that we love. With a live event we can’t go back and edit it, we’re not going to be pumping in sound, we can’t fake it.
CC: You can’t predict a demon.
JT: You can’t predict poltergeist activity. What you’re watching is authentic and raw.
Reporter: Are you hoping for something to happen?
JT: I’m in the TV business, I’m hoping people will watch! Our goal is to cleanse the house. I want to see a corporeal manifestation of the ghost personally, but I want to cleanse the house.
CC: You’re going in the house with me, right?
[Jodi shakes her head vigorously]
CC: She told me, “I’ll be waiting for you in the van.” I’m going to skip into the house with her.
Reporter: Is there anything that can make you dart out of there?
CC: I don’t get scared, but this is the biggest thing I’ve ever worked on in this genre. I’ve stopped and asked myself, “What the hell are you doing?” I’m laying on extra precautions, doing my good Catholic boy stuff. I’m suggesting to the whole group that’s going to be there, whatever your faith, protect yourself.
Many thanks to Chip Coffey, Nick Groff, Chris Smith, and Jodi Tovay for their time at New York Comic Con!
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