This weekend director James Wan (Saw) unleashes his latest vision of horror, Insidious, in theaters across the nation (read our review HERE). The film tells the tale of a family who moves into a new home in the hopes of a fresh start, only to discover that forces beyond their comprehension are conspiring to take their son and destroy their peace.
With an all star cast that includes, Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, and Lin Shaye, Wan hopes to repeat the success of his earlier horror franchise, Saw, with a film that explores a world in which the nightmares of childhood become a manifested reality.
Earlier this week we were able to speak with actress Lin Shaye (There’s Something About Mary) about several topics, including her role in the film, working with James Wan, and her personal experiences with the unknown. Shaye plays Elise Rainier in the film, a medium who is the Lambert family’s only hope to save their son – a role not unlike ones that Beatrice Straight and Zelda Rubinstein (respectively) played in the Poltergeist films.
In preparation for her role, Shaye worked on the details of her character’s history from the broad strokes of her life experience to the minute details of the shoes she would wear and scents she would favor. As far as comparisons to similar horror archetypes, the actress feels they are a distraction. “Iconography and likenesses I don’t even think about,” she explained, “because it has nothing to do with me, really, unless that is something prescribed by the director — that ‘I want you to resonate like this person.'”
As far as what Wan wanted to see from Elise in this film, Shaye was given a directive to “keep it real and simple,” from the director. It was important to him that she was a relatable character and “not a fortune teller or a caricature,” but rather “a woman who happens to have a talent.”
As far Wan’s directorial style is concerned, Shaye tells us that, “on set it was very supportive, often about finding the spine of the scene and often about a visual detail for him because that’s the kind of filmmaker he is. He is an extremely visual guy, but also really in tune with his actors in the sense that if something didn’t feel real to him, then he would speak up.” The work became very detailed in that Elise functions (among other things) as the storyteller; she is the person who delivers the information to the other characters and the audience about what is happening, and what the stakes are.
Screenwriter Leigh Whannell created speeches for Shaye that were so detailed and intricate that the actress felt that each word was crucial, and that if even one was off, then the rhythm of the scene would be altered. So, Wan would guide and correct her in a “nuts and bolts” manner that Shaye tells us was ultimately “all in service of supporting the choices I had made for my character.”
As to how she found her character, Shaye confessed that the gentlemen who play her assistants in the film, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), went to a paranormalist, but that she refused to go, as she had had experiences with the preternatural realms, and was frightened and hesitant to open those doorways again.
When asked what those experiences were, Shaye told us she had seen and experienced presences “one time it was a woman at the bottom of my bed,” the actress elaborated.
It wasn’t hostile though. I think more you get a feeling of whether its scary, or not scary, and this was not a hostile presence. It was a woman, she was sitting, she was wearing along dressing gown, her hair was pulled back. I mean I could draw a picture of her — and yet it’s nobody I’ve ever seen. I’ve never met this person. I’ve also had one very, very horrifying dream actually, that was like…this gives me goosepimples when I talk about it.
It was like there had been an atomic explosion and the light was so bright, in my sleep I couldn’t close my eyes against it, and I was afraid I was going to loose my vision, and there was a parade of images. They were real people, passing in front of my eyes, in different kinds of attire, from different ages. There were children, people in uniform..it was like souls were passing in front of my eyes. It was really scary. Yeah — that’s one I will never forget, and I was so happy to wake up, it was like one of those dreams where I was trying to wake myself up. So, I don’t know, where those ghosts, were they souls…was it imagination? You don’t know for sure, but I honestly feel that those were real people. Those were real people who had lived that I had never met before.
Having those experiences made Shaye feel particularly equipped to do this film, a film that deals with the unearthly realms and the entities that dwell there, yet it also makes her “careful,” she tells us.
I’m careful of what I open myself up to because I know I am a receiver. I feel like there are different kinds of energy around us all the time and that people are susceptible in different ways, and to open yourself up to…Like I’m not a person that will go to a psychic or a fortune teller, I’m not interested, because, I feel like I am too vulnerable to do that. It’s not not good for me. I’m just careful what I let in, I try to surround myself with good things.
When asked if seeing a film like Insidious may in some ways open a doorway for other people who are similarly vulnerable, Shaye responded:
That’s a good question, a great question…It’s a movie, like we say, it’s just pretend, but what’s not pretend is what it opens up in people. You know, it scared me more than I thought it would (because I know all the shots) but it’s the kind of film where you step onto a ride and once your on it and you give into the ride — it can be very scary. Because it deals with very primitive and unconscious fears in people.
You know there is a difference between being scared, and being frightened. Something can make frighten you, make you jump, but that’s different than being really scared of something. And I think this sort of penetrates into dark corridors of our minds and our fears. So, it definitely plays into some of those really childlike fears, and dreams. Like endless corridors, what’s around the corner, being locked in, being locked out…those are all very universal, human fears. So I think it does play on some of those…if you let them in — does it open people up to paranormal activity? I think it depends, it depends on who’s watching it.
Insidious opens in theaters today.