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Why Julia From The Pope's Exorcist Looks So Familiar

In "The Pope's Exorcist," Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe), the titular personal exorcist of the pope, is assigned to visit a possessed 12-year-old boy named Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney), who lives in Spain. When he goes to meet the boy, he also meets the boy's mother, Julia, portrayed by Alex Essoe, a widow who is left to raise her two kids, Henry and rebellious teen Amy (Laurel Marsden), by herself after her husband died in a car crash.

Julia may not be at the center of the plot, which means that she doesn't have as much screen time as, say, Father Amorth, but she is certainly on screen enough for some viewers to wonder what other projects they've seen her in before. And as it turns out, Essoe is no stranger to the horror genre.

So, for those curious, here's a rundown of some of Essoe's most notable projects — in other words, here's why Julia from "The Pope's Exorcist" looks so familiar.

Essoe starred in neo-noir thriller Midnighters

Alex Essoe has been acting on screen since 2008, but it took some time for her to start landing leading or more prominent roles. One of her first leading roles came in 2017 with the neo-noir thriller, "Midnighters." Directed by Julius Ramsay, the film follows couple Lindsey (Essoe) and Jeff (Dylan McTee), who accidentally hit and kill a man with their car on the way home from a New Year's Eve party. As they decide to cover up the crime and mysteries surrounding the incident arise, their already-strained marriage is put to the test. 

In an interview with Nightmarish Conjurings, Essoe discussed working on the intense thriller, including why she was drawn to the challenge of playing Lindsey. "Lindsey was a challenge because a lot of the things that are going on with her she doesn't wear on her sleeve, she internalizes everything which is why she is kind of a doormat and why she doesn't really have strong connections to anyone in her life," said Essoe. The actress added that she liked that, at one point, Lindsey realizes that she can really only trust herself. Essoe added, "That's a very tough lesson for her to learn."

Essoe took over an iconic character in Doctor Sleep

Mike Flanagan's 2019 horror film, "Doctor Sleep," has big shoes to fill, seeing as it is the sequel to what is widely considered one of the best horror films of all time: 1980's "The Shining," directed by Stanley Kubrick. Further, Essoe, with her role in the film, also had big shoes to fill, as she took over the role of Wendy Torrance, the iconic character played by Shelley Duvall in the original film. The film takes place decades after the events of "The Shining," focusing on an adult Danny (Ewan McGregor), so Essoe only appears in a flashback scene at the beginning, as well as a scene later on in the film in which Danny has a vision of his younger self being comforted by Wendy. In the flashback scene, Wendy pleads with Danny to speak, which he hasn't done since they escaped the Overlook Hotel.

In an interview with MovieWeb, Essoe discussed what it was like to take on such an iconic role, especially considering how well-regarded Duvall's performance in "The Shining" is. Essoe said, "I thought Shelley Duvall was absolutely perfect as Wendy. I thought she played that role with so much bravery and honesty. In that regard, that was intimidating because I can't just do an impression of her. I have to know the things that she knew when she was doing this." Essoe continued by explaining that she made it a priority to not just copy what Duvall did in "The Shining," but make it into something organic of her own.

"It's challenging but at the same time, one of the most fulfilling experiences I've ever had. 'The Shining' is one of my favorite movies. I'm beside myself with joy," Essoe continued.

Essoe continued the horror trend with Death of Me

The following year, Essoe took on another horror film role with "Death of Me," directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. The film centers on Christine (Maggie Q) and Neil (Luke Hemsworth), an American couple on vacation in Thailand, who wake up one morning without any recollection of what happened the night before. Making the situation even stranger, the only clue they have is a disturbing video of Neil seemingly killing Christine and burying her body. Essoe plays Samantha, an American expatriate who owns the Airbnb the couple is staying in. Samantha claims she had cancer before coming to Thailand and that rituals there saved her life.

In an interview with Nightmarish Conjurings, Essoe described her character as the person who is seemingly there to support Christine but actually has very different intentions. Discussing the two-sided role, she said, "My approach to this was just to really downplay everything. To act as if I was sincere ... It was really important to kind of tap into that sociopathy, that kind of antisocial — Almost as if I'm biding my time, almost reptilian, where I'm just being completely still on the rock until it's time."

Essoe had a recurring role in The Haunting of Bly Manor

The Netflix horror show, "The Haunting of Bly Manor," which premiered in 2020, follows Danielle "Dani" Clayton (Victoria Pedretti), a young woman who takes on the job as an au pair for two kids, Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) at an isolated country house. While there, she begins seeing mysterious apparitions and experiencing strange occurrences. Essoe plays Charlotte Wingrave, the late mother of Flora and Miles, who appears in flashbacks throughout the nine-episode season.

"The Haunting of Bly Manor" marked Essoe's second time working with "Doctor Sleep" director Mike Flanagan, who created the Netflix series. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Essoe explained what working with Flanagan is like, including the ways in which he pushes her acting skills, such as with Charlotte in "The Haunting of Bly Manor." Essoe said, "Mike always gives me something challenging to do. He always gives me something outside of my comfort zone and something that I haven't explored before."

Essoe co-starred in Midnight Mass

In yet another collaboration with Mike Flanagan, Essoe appeared in "Midnight Mass," the 2021 miniseries created and directed by Flanagan. The series follows the mysterious events that occur in an isolated town when a new, enigmatic priest, Father Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater), arrives. Essoe plays Mildred Gunning, the aging mother of the local doctor, Sarah (Annabeth Gish). Mildred has dementia, which mysteriously improves greatly with visits from Father Hill. While it may seem odd that Essoe, a young actress, portrays an elderly character, the reasoning soon becomes apparent as the show develops because Mildred eventually begins aging backward.

During an interview with Pop Culture with Pat, the interviewer tells Essoe that he didn't realize it was her at first while she was in old age makeup — it was only when her character started to de-age that he recognized her (to which Essoe said was the best compliment she could have received). The actress then discussed playing a character who regains her youth, saying, "It was really scary, really scary ... I'm only my actual age for one episode, so the rest of the time I have to play this person with life experience that I don't have." She went on to explain that she had to put in a lot of work to give a genuine performance of being elderly, including working with a bodywork specialist.