Last Exorcism, actress revisit Louisiana

In The Last Exorcism Part II, Nell Sweetzer, the young woman who was terrorized by a demon in the 2010 horror hit, The Last Exorcism, leaves the rural Louisiana community where she was raised and moves to New Orleans.

But demons are not restricted by geography. Evil follows poor Nell to the city and the horror begins anew.

The first Last Exorcism was shot at Creedmore Plantation in St. Bernard Parish. The sequel is set in the naturally atmospheric city of New Orleans.

“There’s no other city for this film other than New Orleans,” the film’s Nell, Ashley Bell, said last month during a Carnival season visit to the city. “The feeling in the air is so different here. There’s energy and surprise. There’s always some trouble to get into. That’s what Nell experiences in the film.”

Nell’s fundamentalist widower father, played by Baton Rouge native Louis Herthum, kept his daughter Nell severely sheltered in the first film. He even pulled her out of Sunday school because it wasn’t medieval enough for him.

But Nell gets thrust into wicked old New Orleans in The Last Exorcism Part II, opening in theaters Friday.

“She’s thrown into Mardi Gras,” Bell said. “There’s temptation everywhere and she has to choose between good and evil.”

The film’s director and co-writer, Ed Gass-Donnelly, makes the most out of the story’s locale, Bell said, especially the city’s long association with voodoo.

“He brought in a lot of voodoo experts to talk about the voodoo exorcism,” she said. “He got voodoo items and tried to immerse the film in the voodoo culture.”

The Los Angeles-born daughter of voice-over actor Michael Bell (Rugrats, Cars, Tangled, G.I. Joe, Smurfs) and actress Victoria Carroll (a charter member of L.A. improvisation and comedy theater The Groundlings), Bell said she might have experienced culture shock in Louisiana if the state’s residents weren’t so charming.

“I love the Southern hospitality,” she said.

Herthum, a co-star in The Last Exorcism and its sequel, helped the actress play her Southern belle character.

“Nell speaks in such a special way that,” Bell said. “I learned that from working with Louis. And there’s no ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ It’s always, ‘Yes, ma’am,’ and ‘No, sir.’ ”

Bell’s The Last Exorcism role got her an Independent Spirit Award nomination for best supporting actress and an MTV Movie Award nomination. The film’s success also opened many doors. She’s been busy in a diverse array of projects, including the post-apocalyptic The Day, romantic drama Chasing Shakespeare and romantic comedy The Bouceback.

“That’s what I love most about acting, the chance to play a bunch of different characters in a bunch of different genres,” she said. “But I love the horror fans. It’s been incredible to be embraced by them and fun for me to test my limits as an actress in the horror genre.

“I really am grateful every day to be an actress and to have the chance to play such demanding roles. It’s sounds cheesy, but it’s really a dream come true for me. It allows me to step into so many skins.”