Hannah Kasulka doesn’t—or at least didn’t—watch scary movies. Before getting cast as Casey Rance in the new series The Exorcist, she had never seen the 1973 film of the same name. In fact, the Georgia native didn’t watch the cult classic until after she had finished working on the pilot. “I had already gone that long without seeing it. I wanted to do the pilot without being influenced by the movie,” she explains over the phone. “I watched it after we did the pilot, and it’s scary. I’m the biggest baby.”
Last Friday, The Exorcist premiered on Fox. When we first meet Kasulka’s character Casey, she seems to exist merely as a contrast to her older sister Kat. Where Kat (played by Brianne Howey) is moody and disaffected, Casey is polite and considerate, and it is Kat, not Casey, that Mrs. Rance (Geena Davis) is concerned about. Kasulka sells Casey’s goody-two-shoes act so well that what could be an obvious twist—the reveal that it is Casey who has been possessed by an evil force at the end of the pilot—feels entirely shocking. “I get to play so many different things. I’m playing an 18-year-old girl, a 45-year-old man, a 6-year-old boy,” says Kasulka. “It’s all over the place, but it makes it fun. It’s definitely the most challenging and diverse part I’ve ever played.”
Raised in Georgia, Kasulka grew up far-removed from the acting industry. Her mother is a hairdresser, her grandmother a pastor. She moved to Los Angeles after university in Atlanta, and has previously appeared on television shows such as True Blood. “Every script I get for The Exorcist, I’m like, ‘My poor mom,'” she says with a laugh. “When I first booked the show, my mom and my grandmother were happy, but not happy,” she continues. “They were like, ‘Why couldn’t you get Little House on the Prairie or something?'”
HOMETOWN: Macon, Georgia.
“WHEN I WAS LITTLE…” I was kind of a ham I think. I was an only child, so I was just constantly trying to entertain myself. I think that’s where it came from, when I was playing pretend and being a little weirdo by myself. Then I started doing dance classes and plays, but I was too shy to do traditional theater when I was in high school. I liked the idea of being a part of a troupe, like on a dance team, because you’re surrounded by other people, so you’re not in the spotlight. When I was a senior, I was like, “Okay, if this is something I really want to do, I need to just go for it.” That’s when I found an agent and started taking classes and things like that.
DANCING DAYS: I did ballet, pointe, jazz, tap, lyrical, hip-hop. … When I was in middle school, I really wanted to be a Rockette. We all took a trip to New York and I saw the Rockettes and I just thought that that was the coolest thing. Dance is expressive, but I think it’s limiting. Acting you can just connect more and you’re able to express yourself more. Dance is hard. Your career is really short. I mean, as an actress it can be as well, but dance is a lot more competitive and it just takes a toll on your body.
FIRST AGENT: I just Googled, “What agencies are in Atlanta?” [laughs] Pretty basic. I think I emailed them a headshot and a résumé, which just included that I danced in high school and did some plays. They wrote me back and called me in. Atlanta wasn’t as big as it is now in terms of film and TV, it was more commercials and industrials. I think one of my first auditions was for a Chick-fil-A industrial on how to make ice cream, which I did not get. [laughs]
FIRST JOB: My first job was for One Tree Hill. I booked that when I was in Atlanta and it shot in Wilmington. That was when I got my SAG card, and then it was like, “Okay, I can do this.” I had one line on [the show]. I didn’t tell anybody that I was doing it because I was so scared that it was going to get cut and people would be like, “You’re not in that.” There was a girl I knew that I was in school with that said, “I just saw the preview for One Tree Hill next week and there’s a girl that looks just like you in it,” and I was like, “Oh, that’s weird.” [laughs] “That’s me.” That was the only thing that I booked while I was in Atlanta, and then I moved to L.A.
L.A. DREAMING: I guess it’s been five years. It was a little presumptuous for me to move out here. [laughs] I went to school for business, just as a backup plan, or just to try to convince myself and my parents that I could do something else, and then realized it wasn’t for me. When I first moved to L.A., I didn’t know anybody. I was working at a coffee shop, and I met everybody I know, basically, through that coffee shop. A few people I met there were like, “You should do UCB, it’s fun,” and I went to see a show and immediately fell in love with it and started doing classes. I was in some traditional acting classes, like scene study classes, and it was a lot of pretty people—actors who just took themselves too seriously. It’s a little lonely at times. Not to say that every actor is competitive, but in a lot of those classes, especially the ones I was first in, nobody was really nice to each other. It was a little alienating and kind of super competitive, so UCB was the polar opposite of that. I met a lot of friends there and it helped me a lot in terms of acting and comedy—just to be brave and not be afraid to look stupid. PULLING OFF POSSESSION: When I auditioned, we had two scenes, and one of them was not in the pilot, it was just written for the audition and it was the character being possessed. They wanted to see if you could handle it I think, because it was a crazy scene, and I was really dreading it. That’s where the improv helped; I was like, “Well, I’m not going to be afraid to look stupid,” because if you are, then you will. I did some research. I tried to watch some videos and read about it in terms of real—well, real if you believe it—exorcisms. It’s like playing two different characters. In terms of the way I’m approaching it, it’s really a heightened version of her worst self. It’s like all the worst parts of your own personality that you would never let out typically. That’s how it is in the series—the demon takes on personalities from your real life. They’ll bring up things from your past and people in your life that they know will affect you. COMICCON: We did go to ComicCon this year. I had never been, so that was a really overwhelming experience. People warn you that it’s really packed and really hectic, but it was nuts. Walking through the convention hall and signing autographs, I was like, “What is happening? This isn’t real life.” I was signing an autograph next to Geena Davis feeling like feeling like a total hack. I’m like, “Who do I think I am?” [laughs] It was really fun to do.