With the upcoming release of The Conjuring 2, James Wan has taken the record-breaking franchise across the ocean to London for the long-awaited follow-up. There, he cast Frances O’Connor (Steven Speilberg’s A.I.) in the role of Peggy Hodgson, a single-mother struggling to protect her daughters from the evil assaulting their home.
New to the horror genre, O’Connor sat down to talk about the challenges of portraying a real-life victim of the supernatural.
What can you tell us about this character?
Frances O’Connor: Peggy Hodgson is based on a real person. In the story, she’s a single mom who’s got four kids. Her husband left her for another woman. It’s quite a stressful situation. She really has just given up everything to keep her kids happy and keep it all on the rails in this suburban London place. She’s got quite a tough life.
Did the house have some history before she and the family moved in?
Frances O’Connor: It actually was a counsel house in real life, which they were basically assigned to. They’re very poor, so when there’s activity, they can’t afford to move. They just have to make the most of it.
Did you see The Conjuring?
Frances O’Connor: I did, yeah. I don’t like a lot of horror films, but a friend of mine said, “No, I think you’ll enjoy this one.” I think it’s a really well made film. James is just a fantastic filmmaker. He just loves film, many kinds of genres. He knows what he wants in a scene, how he’s going to edit it. When I worked with Steven Spielberg, he had that same thing: editing in his head while he’s going. James has a lot of enthusiasm and excitement for what he’s doing, and that’s a nice environment to be around. He’s great with actors, too, in terms of getting great performances.
We were talking to the producers about the child actors and what it takes them to be genuinely terrified. What’s it like as an adult to work with that?
Frances O’Connor: I think they actually enjoy the bits that are super scary. I think they enjoy being scared in those sections. James is really good at talking them through those things, at getting them to that point of what would it be like if this was real. There is this scene where the cupboard goes crazy. They’d rigged it to slam across the room and into the door… It was the first time I got the feeling of this is what it would be like if this was really happening. That kind of stuff is great to react off of and the kids really liked it. But they all giggled after the takes.
Stepping into a role where there’s so much folklore around it, how did you, as an actress, kind of feel your way around that?
Frances O’Connor: For me, I always found it a terrifying case. When you look at some of the images of the kids levitating…They have documented pictures, whether you believe them or not is another matter. It’s slightly daunting, playing a real person, but playing a real person involved in something so scary also makes it terrifying…Before I came out here from London, I actually went up to Enfield and went to have a look at that house and that neighborhood. It was good to be there, to be on the actual street and stand next to the house and look up and think, “Wow, this is real. This existed.”
Reprising their roles, Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga (Up In the Air, Bates Motel) and Patrick Wilson (Insidious, Fargo), star as Lorraine and Ed Warren, who, in one of their most terrifying paranormal investigations, travel to north London to help a single mother raising four children alone in a house plagued by malicious spirits.
The Conjuring 2 opens in theaters June 10, 2016.