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Throughout the long history of legends surrounding demonic possessions, there have always been those in every religion and culture who undertake to cast out whatever evil might infest the human soul. Ole Bornedal’s new movie ‘The Possession’ is no exception.
Urgently needing help and with nowhere to turn, Jeffery Dean Morgan’s character Clyde Brenek engages the services of Tzadok, the street-smart but spiritual son of a Hasidic rabbi who knows the merciless ways that a Dibbuk can devour a human – and despite his community’s paralyzing fears, dares to help. To cast this unusual role, the filmmakers took an unusual route and recruited a non-actor: the Hasidic rap and reggae star who is known around the world by his Hebrew name Matisyahu.
Ole Bornedal says he saw something organic and real in Matisyahu that made him think he could embody Tzadok despite having zero screen experience. “Sometimes casting has to do with intuition,” he explains. “When I met Matis, it was clear that he was a very authentically religious young man. He didn’t having the timing or the training yet of an actor, but he had so much charisma. There is a strong presence that he brings. He’s a little bit off but Tzadok should be a little bit off, because he’s essentially from another world outside the family’s experience.”
Immediately, Sam Raimi became a big supporter of casting Matisyahu, despite the potential risks. “He’s not just an unusual choice for shock value, I think he’s really right for the film and I fought for that choice,” says the producer. “Ole wanted to update the traditional view of the wise, old rabbi; and Matisyahu goes against all those expectations, and yet you believe in his faith. His performance was so true and original, he made the idea of an exorcist new to me.”
Matisyahu couldn’t put the script down. “It was a page turner and I felt this was a part I wanted to do justice to,” he says. “Tzadok is a Rabbi’s son but he is also a little on the fringe in his community; he’s more worldly, and I could relate to him on that level. It’s a role that gives me the ability to do what I do – which is to sort of connect my heritage with popular culture.”
The research the writers did on the Dibbuk and the little-known rites of Jewish exorcism impressed him. “The script was pretty on the money,” he comments. “The Torah does speak of different types of demons and ghosts that can attach themselves to people.”
He was also intrigued by the fact that Tzadok decides to battle this relentless demon knowing he is up against near impossible odds. “Tzadok is this family’s last hope, but at the same time, he really has no clue what he is doing,” he explains. “All he knows is that he has to somehow channel this Dibbuk out of this little girl.”
Robert Tapert, producer, was taken aback by the freshness of Matisyahu’s performance. “He’s so sympathetic and likeable as a guy who chooses to the right thing even though he knows things could turn out very badly,” he observes.
Tzadok’s attempted exorcism leads to one of the most menacing scenes in the film. “That scene was crazy, crazy, crazy,” recalls Jeffrey Dean Morgan. “It was me, Kyra, Matisyahu, Natasha and Madison and at a certain point, it was like we were all just taken over by whatever was happening. It was weird, intense, very emotional – and I walked away from it a little bit freaked out. Something weird happened, but weird is good for this film.”
Image Courtesy of The Possession