As the demon Drexel, Alex Barima has brought a uniquely expressive comedic delivery to Hell in the long-running series “Supernatural.” When not serving as the lapdog to Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino), the Montreal native is facing off with a different kind of demonic evil in FOX’s “The Exorcist,” playing the in-story role of the canary in a coal mine who senses that something very wrong is happening beneath the surface.
We recently sat down with Barima to discuss how “The Exorcist” has already become a game changer for his career, why he had a hard time sleeping for a week, and where he’s most comfortable when it comes to performance.
TrunkSpace: There was such great buzz and word-of-mouth surrounding season 1 of “The Exorcist.” Was it exciting coming into a series that had that energy already swirling around it?
Barima: 100 percent. When I got the part, I then went and watched the whole first season, and that really solidified my excitement for the show. I was like, “I get to be a part of something pretty cool.” We’re definitely really happy with the way everything’s gone so far, and we’re excited to show everybody.
TrunkSpace: For a long time, horror never really seemed to work in television. It was always better suited for film, but tonally, “The Exorcist” is bringing that cinematic feel to the TV side of genre with its telling of the story.
Barima: Yeah. The stories really unfold kind of like a film in a way where off the top, there’s not so much action going on. It’s more of a lot of leading up, a lot of introducing characters, and then slowly but surely things go south. By the end, when you’re in the heart of the plot, stuff hits the fan pretty hard.
TrunkSpace: As they should always do in horror!
Barima: (Laughter) Exactly.
TrunkSpace: Can you set the stage in terms of where your character Shelby falls into things?
Barima: So the leads from the first season had to leave Chicago, which was the setting of the first season. Now they join us, and we’re in Seattle. My character Shelby, he lives with his foster family on this island that’s just off the coast. There’s just a few kids in the house, and we’re all from these pretty rough backgrounds. Shelby himself, he’s from a broken family – a family broken up by drugs and crime and things like that. Growing up he had a very hard time, so he found religion. That’s what saved his life. Getting into the foster system is probably the best thing that ever happened. He found a family; he found a purpose. Now with all this stuff going on, he has very good perception. He’s a pretty smart kid, so he sees a lot of stuff. When something’s out of place, he notices almost immediately. He starts to kind of freak out before anyone else in the show.
I kind of like that. It’s always the character that I look to when I’m watching horror and stuff like that – the first character to really feel that something’s not right. I’m like, “Listen to that guy! Listen to him!”
TrunkSpace: It’s a rough turn for your character. Here he is, finding this silver lining, and then it all gets taken away.
Barima: Absolutely. It’s a living hell.
TrunkSpace: Does the creepy factor of the show ever spill out of the work? Do you have to remind yourself that none of it is real every now and then?
Barima: I definitely have had to shoot a few things where I’m freaking out. Shelby, he takes a few risks during the show because obviously he’s the red herring and trying to let everybody know that something’s not right. But of course, it’s hard to believe. He’ll take a few chances himself. I haven’t been too frightened shooting the actual show, but sometimes when we’re on location, and you’ve got a moment to yourself and you’re upstairs in the greenroom by yourself or anything like that, things kind of quiet down a little bit and then you maybe have a little too much time to think about things.
TrunkSpace: The imagination is a powerful force. It’s like when you’re driving at night and you know there is nobody in your backseat, but you convince yourself that if you look in the rear-view mirror you’ll see somebody there.
Barima: Yeah, exactly. After watching the first season, I had a very hard time sleeping for at least a week. This time around, I think watching it will be a bit easier because I was a part of it.
TrunkSpace: As an actor, how do you tap into fear within a scene?
Barima: It’s not easy because I’m quite technical when it comes to performance. I can’t count on my emotions because they’re not reliable. Typically, I’ll just try to understand what’s written on the page and then do my best to emulate that.
With this type of stuff, with fear, you need to realize that when you’re afraid, you don’t care about how you look. You’re just scared. Whatever happens to your body and your face and all that, it all comes immediately and you don’t have much control. I think a lot of it is about letting go. It’s not worrying about how you’re gonna look and just really, really, trying to convince yourself that you’re scared – channel that energy into your body and then your body will kind of drive itself. Hopefully people will believe that you’re terrified.
The music and the lighting helps, as well. I think in the end, it’s a little tricky, but it’s fun. I’ve never gotten to play scared before, like truly scared for my life. I’m excited to see how that turns out.
TrunkSpace: Was there a particular moment where you felt you got to really stretch yourself as an actor?
Barima: We’re only halfway through shooting the season, so I’m sure all of the toughest stuff is yet to come. But so far, I think the fear stuff has been very new for me. It’s been very new for me to be out there and act like my life is in danger and stuff like that.
In Vancouver, we do a lot of science fiction, so it’s usually either very action-oriented or very light. But with this stuff it’s like, “Okay, damn, you gotta dig deep, and really gotta be on point!” I think that’s been the newest thing for me. It’s the constant tension that’s in almost every moment.
TrunkSpace: Do you feel like your role in “The Exorcist” has the potential to be a game changer in your career?
Barima: It already has been a game changer, to be honest. Yeah, I think that me and my team, we kind of knew that once we got this, we were like, “Okay, this is a big deal.”
It’s been a pretty good year so far, but I’ve never really worked on anything of this scale. I’ve never had so many days on a project. We definitely know that this is gonna be something pretty big for me. I’m from a comedy background myself. That’s more my focus, but in this town we don’t have a lot of comedy. So, I haven’t gotten to do very much until, actually, this year. I did one film last December that just premiered in Toronto at the International Film Fest called “Public School” with Judy Greer.
After that I got on “Supernatural” where I got to do a little comedy, as well. So I was like, “Okay, I’m finally falling into my element here.” And then with “The Exorcist” it was like this super dramatic audition. I was like, “Okay, well I don’t know how this is gonna go” and they were like, “Oh, you got it. You’re in.” I was like, “Really?” (Laughter)
So this is amazing because I get to do this super heavy stuff on Fox with this project, and then I’ve got these other comedy things going at the same time. Whichever picks up is fine with me, but ultimately, I always feel more comfortable doing comedy.
TrunkSpace: You mentioned a magic word around here, “Supernatural.” We’re big fans of the show. You have had some great scenes opposite Mark Pellegrino, who has some amazingly unique delivery in everything that he does with the character of Lucifer. What has that experience been like?
Barima: Mark has been my favorite person to work with in a long time. I obviously joined the show very late, season 12. Mark is just so fun. We talked a lot between scenes, and we get along quite well. And then whenever it came to shooting, it was just so fun. It was just so fun to see him drop into this character so quickly – this character he knows so well, and he’s just doing this dialogue, and I’m trying to keep a straight face. It was quite hilarious.
But I’ve gotta say that “Supernatural,” that crew, it’s probably one of the best sets in the whole city. The way they run the show, the way everyone is so comfortable at work, you can really tell that they’ve been doing it for a long time, and you can tell why they’ve been so successful. It’s such a well-oiled machine, that show. Really fun to work on.
“Supernatural” airs Thursdays on The CW.
“The Exorcist” airs Fridays on FOX.