When it come to well-traveled, iconic horror actress Lin Shaye, one thing’s for sure — you can’t get any “further”
from the prototypical, ego-maniacal Hollywood celebrity. This well-adjusted, down-to-Earth, reluctant scream queen will be the first person to tell you this. However, Miss Shaye has not only managed to please the snobbiest fans in the business, she’s also managed to conquer comedy as well. Starring in everything from “Kingpin” and “There’s Something About Mary” to “Big Ass Spider” and “2001 Maniacs,” Shaye has become one of the unlikeliest (and pleasantly surprising) leading ladies working today.
We sat down for a phone interview with her, in which Miss Shaye discussed everything from old school horror filmmaking techniques to how her latest film, “Insidious: Chapter 3,” is definitely the “scariest” of the trio.
Debra Wallace: When you were revisiting the character of Elise were there any specific challenges that you can remember?
Lin Shaye: Well, I love revisiting Elise because I love her (chuckles). That’s the first thing and the fact that Leigh Whanell, the writer, and James (Wan) decided to make this the origin story and tell us the beginnings of Elise. The Elise we meet in (the first) “Insidious,” we don’t really know too much about her other than the fact she comes in to help the Lambert family. They decided to draw a picture of who Elise is and where she comes from. It IS an origin story, which is beautifully written and beautifully rich. We meet Elise at a VERY different place in her life and where you see her in the first film. I was delighted, because the story is much more soulful and richer than I would have come up with just making up a background. I always try to come up with a background story if it’s not given in the material, because it helps me as an actor. When we meet her she’s at a very dark place in her life, but it’s wonderful because she’s given a very beautiful arc. So, I was thrilled because (writer Leigh Whannell has) filled out the character in a loving way.
As for the second part of the question and the challenges — it’s ALWAYS a challenge (laughs). The challenges as an actor are very different than people expect. The scenes never go the way you imagine because you’ve got so many elements involved. It was also a very emotional role for me. To be able to marry my emotions with the technical stuff that you have to go through. This particular film has a lot of sequences of very physical activity. With getting into details, it’s being able to marry your emotional life and the history that we were creating with the physical aspects. I think we were able to do it. The film is TOTALLY scary. It’s the scariest of the three, by far. It’s going to scare people in ways they’re not expecting because of the levels of emotion in the film. People are going to caught off guard in how they feel. It’s really an exciting film.
Krysten Clarke: The film deals with such dark subject matter. Is it ever hard to get yourself out of that headspace when the cameras are off?
LS: Yes it is, because as I like to say, your body doesn’t know you’re pretending. In the beginning of the film we’re in a real house, but most of the film is shot on a stage in this DARK, DANK, GIANT box filled with wires and lights and big guys in heavy boots (chuckling) marching past you in tiny, little corridors. They used a lot of theatrical smoke to create the atmosphere. It was cold you couldn’t see anything, it was dark. To be in that environment, as well as dealing with the emotional curve of the story was… well, you’d go home and be miserable (laughs).
It’s really a mixed bag, like I said, your body doesn’t know you’re pretending. I mean, you put yourself through that for like twelve or seventeen hours during the day then you have to go home, fall asleep (for a few hours) and get there first thing in the morning basically. It’s quite an altered state. It’s fun because you know there’s that part of your brain that’s saying, “This is just pretend and I THINK they’re paying me.” (laughs) Seriously though, you kind of put the reality back into the storyline for yourself, so you can balance it out a little bit, but in the end, it’s just pretend. You’ve got to be able to draw that line for yourself. As an actor, you can’t be out of control. No matter how emotional you get and how CRAZY the character becomes, you still have to have that little, tiny speck of yourself that goes, “I can come back when I need to. I can turn it off on a dime.” Even if you’re STILL in that emotional state. So, it’s a little bit of both. You get lost in the emotionality and the physicality and at the same time you can say, “Hey, there’s my dog,” when you go home. So, it’s all good (laughs).
Sean McAloon: What would you say some of the biggest differences were working with first-time director Leigh Whannell versus working with the previous director of the franchise, James Wan?
LS: The main difference is that they have different styles and Leigh, having never directed before, he took to it
like a duck to water. I think it took him about a day-and-a-half (to get accustomed to it). Both the guys are just so TREMENDOUSLY gifted, but James is more of the cinephile of the two. He’s the visionary. I mean, with James, we never discussed the character very much. When I got cast (in the first film), he trusted me, Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey and Ty Simpkins. However, Ty was just a little boy at the time, so that was a slightly different issue in terms of communication and James dealt with him in his own way. But with us guys, he let us pretty much do our thing. I would say things like, “Hey, I got an idea,” and he loved THAT. One time there was a line I came up with that was really funny and he said, “Hey, that’s a great line, but we can’t use it because I’m cutting to this and I’m building tension here.” (James) really knew EXACTLY how to build the scenes to create tension.
Now, Leigh, who’s not only a director and writer, but a performer as well, is a much more emotional guy. I think on the inside they’re both equally emotional, but you’d see it more with Leigh on the outside because he’s a performer, he’s an actor. So, his approach was more emotional. Sometimes, he would act out stuff for me and that was a little bit hard because I wasn’t used to that and I was so clear about what I wanted. There would be times when I’d say, “Hey, you know the character better than anybody, I mean, you wrote her.” Often times he would give me little pieces of information out of his imagination that I never even thought of, which were FABULOUS, which I would incorporate into the character (of Elise).
Then there were times when it would work AGAINST ME a little bit. Not in a negative way, but it would just surprise me that he’d be discussing certain things about the character before a scene. Ultimately, we became a fabulous team. It took us only a day or two — I mean, literally, about 48 hours — for me to say, “Oh, this is how HE likes to communicate” and for him to say, “Okay, this is what YOU need in order to go where YOU want to go.” Equally, both (James and Leigh) got great performances out of their actors. Again, this is the scariest of the three films, without a doubt. This has a lot to do with Leigh because he wrote it with an emotionality in the story that’s a little bit different than the others.
Entertainment Tell: So, Leigh Whannell and James Wan have almost an old school Wes Craven-esque style with their filmmaking. What are some of the differences between working with some of the newer CGI techniques and the more traditional, practical style of making horror films and what do YOU prefer?
LS: I’m all for the old school (laughs).
As fabulous as CGI is, you always know you’re watching CGI. Just because I AM old school, (the CGI) doesn’t bring me further in, it takes me further out. I know James made a conscious decision, when we were doing the first film, regarding “the further,” which is that “place” we go (within the context of the story). He was pondering on whether to do CGI or not. I mean, I don’t know if we could have afforded it to be honest (chuckles), but he decided, “No.” We’re going to make it a dark space with a lantern, end of story. This let the audience create the demons in their own mind, which I think is part of the success of this series. I mean, there is no CGI. As far as I know, they’re not using it in this one either. These are just practical effects that are achieved with darkness, with lighting, with smoke, with strobe lights, and with acting. Often what you don’t see is scarier by simply watching the characters react to it.
In the first film, the favorite scene of a lot of people is when I look up at the fan in that scene that I see the demon for the very first time. Here’s what’s interesting. So, we shot that second day of shooting and James said, “Okay, so you’re going look up at the fan and you’re going to see something.” (laughs) That was the note. So, I looked up at the fan and what SAW was just a ceiling fan, but I made it all up. I mean, I acted like I could REALLY see what I was looking at. There was no dialogue written, so I kind of started mumbling what I was seeing and what flew into my head was the picture that was on the character of Dalton’s (Ty Simpkins) wall. There was a picture that the character had drawn in school of the “red-faced demon,” so I started describing that. As we were shooting, I heard James say to me, “He has hooves.” And all of this wound up becoming THE SCARIEST moment for people in the first movie and there was no CGI. In fact, it was nothing but the ceiling fan and James Wan mumbling to me (laughs), and me, hopefully, being a good actress. So the terror is on MY face, not on what YOU’RE seeing.
So, I’M definitely old school about all that. I think that what you don’t see is A LOT scarier than what you see. Then, each person, defines what is scary. Between the two, I prefer old school filmmaking, in my opinion.
“Insidious: Chapter 3″ opens Friday, June 5 in wide release. Check back with Entertainment Tell for the review.