Linda Blair: 'Exorcist' fame was like being a Beatle

The screen legend and animal advocate served as a consultant and had a cameo in the horror sequel, "The Exorcist: Believer," premiering Friday on Peacock.

Linda Blair's "The Exorcist: Believer" will premiere on Peacock on Friday. It also is available to rent or buy digitally on Prime Video. Photo by Chris Ameruoso
1 of 5 | Linda Blair's "The Exorcist: Believer" will premiere on Peacock on Friday. It also is available to rent or buy digitally on Prime Video. Photo by Chris Ameruoso

NEW YORK, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- Linda Blair -- who earned an Oscar nomination for playing demonically possessed tween Regan MacNeil in the 1973 horror classic The Exorcist -- says she signed on as a consultant for The Exorcist: Believer because she felt protective of the original film's legacy, as well as of the young actresses starring in the sequel.

Co-starring Leslie Odom, Jr., Lidya Jewett, Jennifer Nettles, Norbert Leo Butz, Ann Dowd, Olivia O'Neill and Ellen Burstyn, Believer follows widower and single father Victor, whose middle-school-aged daughter, Angela, and her best friend, Katherine, disappear for three days after using dark magic to contact Angela's dead mother.


The kids return home with no memories of what happened, demonstrating frightening and violent behavior.

After doctors fail to help the girls, their parents reach out to author Chris MacNeil, who had a similar experience battling the devil for the soul of her own daughter 50 years earlier.


Produced by Jason Blum and directed by David Gordon Green, the movie will begin streaming on Peacock on Friday. It also is available on pay-per-view platforms and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on Dec. 19.

"They said, 'We've created a project and we'd really love to have your blessing,'" Blair told UPI about Blum and Green in a recent phone interview.

"So, I came on board as an adviser to make sure the girls were OK, to make sure the actors were OK and to work on the screenplay with David to make sure it was audience-friendly and be really careful because [fans] are really, really engrossed with Regan," the Golden Globe winner added.

"I said, 'Let's create something that the audience will be happy with.'"

Green then invited Blair to briefly reprise her role of Regan in the film.

"They made it as fast and quick as possible, so I could actually get on a plane, go to the set, be there and surprise and shock the heck out of everybody," she said. "It was fun, it was joyous and it was a gift to the public."

The scene shows Regan reuniting with her estranged mother, Chris, played in both films by Burstyn.


"She and I stay in touch," Blair said. "She's amazing and she's one of my -- and should be one of everybody's -- all-time favorite actresses. ... She's kind and she's so beautiful in person. She'll take your breath away."

Blair said she wanted to ensure the safety of Jewett and O'Neill because her own experience in the first film was emotionally and physically intense, even with director William Friedkin and her parents looking out for her.

"I have gone on record saying, 'Don't ever do it to another child again,'" Blair said.

"Following in my footsteps is not easy and I think [Jewett and O'Neill] did a remarkable job. I have had the pleasure of spending time with them. They are incredible. They are not just talented. They are worldly, they are hardworking, they are amazing.

"They can make a major impact in the world and I will support them all the way."

Wanted to be a veterinarian

Blair didn't start out wanting to be an actress. She actually wanted to be a veterinarian.

"I was born this way. I came out loving all animals," Blair said, recalling how her parents took seriously her dreams of becoming an animal doctor, booking modeling jobs for her in various toys, clothes and food advertisements to help her pay for her college education.


"That was the goal for all of the modeling," she said. "I did over 75 commercials."

When she was 12, she announced once again that she wanted to focus on animals, but then came the call to audition for the lead in the film adaptation of Peter Blatty's book, The Exorcist.

"One thing led to another and -- because I was a professional kid -- I did what I was told to do," she said.

"I really took everybody back because here's this wholesome girl. That's what Billy Friedkin wanted and we know the rest is history. When the movie came out, it changed the world."

The critically acclaimed film become a blockbuster and still is regarded as one of the most terrifying, compelling films to hit the screen.

"Families love sharing it with their kids every year. It does not lack in any way because it was [made by] the best of the best," she said.

"It's meant for people to realize good and evil have always been part of the planet. Right now, we [in real life] are in this chess game where evil is really trying to fight and we have to prevail with good and kindness."


Friedkin -- who had just won an Oscar for directing The French Connection -- set up a long rehearsal period and demanded as close to perfection as possible from everyone involved in making The Exorcist.

"But he also tried to keep an even tone because a child was there. People do forget I was a 13-year-old young girl -- not at all mature like the kids are now," Blair said. "[Friedkin] wanted this really wholesome girl to shock the world with what happened to her."

Despite her stellar performance in the film, Blair said she doesn't watch it if she comes across it on television.

"Usually, I have people say: 'Was it hard? Were you afraid at any time?' And I say, 'No because I'm what you're afraid of.' I can look at it. My favorite scenes are with Ellen. Those are extraordinary," she said.

The movie made Blair a pop-culture icon.

"Warner Bros. sent me around the world to Australia, Japan, England," she said. "I was like one of the Beatles. For a teenage girl, ii was like, 'Wait, what?'"


More roles followed

Roles in Sarah T.: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic and Born Innocent soon followed.

"I'm really proud that I did things that did help others and that changed prime-time television," she said of the edgy 1970s TV movies that addressed important issues such as addiction and sexual abuse.

"I also did entertaining things like Roller Boogie, Hell Night was a classic, Repossessed with Leslie Nielsen."

Over the years, Blair has appeared in numerous movies that pay homage to The Exorcist and status as scream queen, guest-starred on popular TV shows, competed on Hollywood Squares and The Masked Singer, and hosted docu-series like Pit Boss and Scariest Place on Earth.

In recent years, her love and energy have been largely focused on her animal rescue and welfare work -- particularly promoting pet population control by spaying and neutering -- through her Linda Blair Worldheart Foundation.

She also cares for animals displaced by wildfires and other natural disasters, and helps rehome pets whose families returned to work and school after the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns ended.

"I've gotten to work with some of the best actors and actresses of our time. Elizabeth Taylor played my mother. Kirk Douglas has played my father," Blair said.


"I got to be with these people and learn and for that I will be forever grateful, but at the same time, my heart wanted to help animals."

Today, she would like to appear in more film and TV projects, so long as she knows the critters are in good hands.

"I didn't mean to leave my career," Blair said.

"Through the years, I actually was offered some incredible opportunities, but I could not find people to take over my position here as manager and running the foundation, so I had to turn down a lot of amazing work and that broke my heart.

"I would love for more people to step up, and that means I could go back to work."

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