No, Linda Blair 'Didn't Like' Making The Exorcist — But Turned That Experience Into 'Something Positive' (Exclusive)

The former child star opens up about her complicated relationship with the horror franchise, her emotional return in The Exorcist: Believer and how fans can truly help her Worldheart Foundation benefiting animals.

This month marks 50 years since Linda Blair first scared the hell out of audiences as a possessed teenage girl in The Exorcist … and her relationship with the horror franchise continues to evolve five decades later.

Blair was just 13 when she was cast as Regan MacNeil in William Friedkin’s film adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s novel. The film was a massive hit, becoming the first horror flick to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, while Blair herself was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe for her work in the movie.

She’d reprise her role for a less well-received sequel in 1977, before stepping away from the franchise for another 46 years. While she did return as Regan in this year’s The Exorcist: Believer — on Peacock now — her appearance wasn’t always in the cards.

“I had become aware many years ago that the project was being developed, and it was very clear with all of us, Blumhouse, [director] David Gordon Green and so on, that I was not a part of the project,” Blair, now 64, told TooFab in an interview this week. “And that was fine with me because I have been up here on the mountain with the dogs and trying to make change. And it was not easy for me to leave.”

She explained that, because of her work with her own Worldheart Foundation benefiting animals, she wasn’t sure whether she “would want to be part” of the new film, since it was something over which she wouldn’t have control. As Green and company continued pre-production on the movie, Blair says they continued to have conversations and became friendly — so much so, that when Ellen Burstyn’s return to the series was announced and met with some backlash from fans who wondered why Blair wasn’t returning as well, she released a statement defending the movie.

“So that seemed to make everybody happy for a moment. And then, it kind of reared its ugly head again. People were like, ‘Well, if Linda’s not in it…,’ ‘We want Regan.’ So the one thing I agreed to was that I wanted to protect the girls,” she said, referring to the movie’s young stars, Lidya Jewett and Olivia O’Neill (pictured below), and her role as advisor on the movie.

“I said, ‘I’ve gone on record saying, don’t ever do it to a child again and you have made me very concerned,'” she continued. “So they said, ‘We would like you to be an advisor. Can you help us to make the journey okay, we don’t wanna do anything wrong? And that’s how I got involved with the project, help rewrite some of the background, Reagan’s character, Ellen Burstyn. I didn’t touch anything to do with what they did with the girls or that storyline.”

Then, “very much out of the blue,” Blair said Green asked whether there was any way to convince her to make a small cameo at the end of the film.

“And I said, ‘Huh, now you’re ask, now you’re asking something. I wasn’t prepared for,'” she admitted. “It took a lot of people to make the decision, and we’ve felt that the fans would be grateful, surprised, know that I blessed the project. And I think we did accomplish that with everyone realizing at the end that I am alive and well, and that I endorsed the project. And I think that it really did help.”

SPOILER ALERT: Skip the next three paragraphs if you haven’t seen Believer yet and don’t want the ending ruined.

In the film, Regan’s mother Chris returns to help after two young girls are possessed by a malevolent force. She reveals a falling out with her daughter, but after Chris is gravely injured during an exorcism, Regan returns in the last moments, comforting her mom in the hospital. It was an emotional moment for viewers — as well as everyone on set.

“It was kept so quiet. Even on set, I had a different name. Nobody knew I was there. No one, except wardrobe and makeup. They kept me very hidden,” recalled Blair. “And I walked onto the set — which was in kind of an old hospital building — and one by one, you should have seen people’s faces. They were like, ‘Oh my God, she’s here?!’ That was very touching.”

“Ellen and I, as actors, we knew that this would make a great impact on people and so we delivered what we felt people needed and wanted,” she added. “And that’s what we did. And that’s what, you know, actors are supposed to do.”

Over the past fifty years, Blair’s feelings about the franchise have been somewhat complicated. While she didn’t have an enjoyable time making the movie, she’s very grateful for how its success acted as a springboard for her to focus on other passions — namely, the welfare of animals.

“I always felt that it gave me a platform to carry my message. That was the good for me that came out of it. I’m not an egotistical person. I’m not a materialistic person. I am an empath. I’m a different type of doctor to the animals. I can read animals and I can read people. But that’s also an actor. We study people. People don’t realize how much we’re studying them all the time. It’s a different form of psychology. But a lot of this, you know, I learned a lot from the movie,” she explained to TooFab.

“With doing the film. I did what I was told to do, and which is why Billy Friedkin and everyone couldn’t believe I didn’t complain. I did not complain,” she continued. “I didn’t like it. Wasn’t happy, wasn’t comfortable, didn’t like the makeup. Everything was very … it was zero degrees on the set in the morning. So to take all of that and say, ‘but if I can take that difficulty and turn it into something positive and it could give me a platform to help the animals …'”

She explained her focus on animal welfare really took hold in the late eighties and early nineties, at a time when companion animal laws were being stripped. At that point, she pivoted her attention toward advocacy and hasn’t looked back, as her fight continues to rage on.

“We’ve protested on puppy mills. We’ve explained what those are to people, but a lot of the public turns a blind eye. They’re like, ‘I don’t wanna know.’ Support the rescues, support those that are fighting for animal welfare and let us do our job,” she explained. “Every single rescue is suffering right now. And Giving Tuesday was yesterday. I don’t know how others did, but I know a lot of other organizations were on TV, they get millions of dollars. The animal rescues, I think we made $3,000 yesterday. That’s not okay.”

Because of her around the clock work with her rescue foundation, any talk of a larger role in a potential followup to Believer — two other films were initially announced as part of a trilogy — would have to take a backseat to the animals.

“If it’s a 24 hour job, how do I go back to [acting], when we’ve asked for more volunteers?” she said.

Speaking passionately about the needs of her foundation and other rescues, she said most of them were “never meant for anything other than maybe 50 animals combined,” leaving shelters and rescue groups “completely overwhelmed.” Blair also pointed to the end of the pandemic as being something that heavily affected shelters, with volunteers returning to their pre-COVID lives and more pets being abandoned.

Blair also wanted to stress that many areas — including Los Angeles — provide vouchers for food, medical, grooming and housing for animals to help anyone with a pet who has fallen on hard times. “We ask people to ask for help before surrendering,” she urged, noting there are resources available for aid before placing another animal in a shelter.

When asked what fans can do to help right now, she urged them to “adopt, not shop, this holiday season” and reach out whenever they see an animal in crisis. “If you see any animal in need, do something, say something and help support the rescue community,” she added, while also warning pet owners to make sure they’re up to date on vaccinations — especially as a mysterious illness continues to affect dogs around the country.

While her future with Exorcist remains up in the air, Blair confirmed she’s currently shopping a competition series involving animals which she’s been working on for two years and believes “will really help make a difference.” Comparing it to America’s Got Talent, she said it was “a little different,” “quite fun and quite loving” — adding, “I believe that would bring notice and would bring the attention that is so needed” for the animals, as well as some much-needed positivity for human viewers.

For more information, please visit the website for Blair’s Worldheart Foundation. The Exorcist: Believer is streaming now on Peacock.

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