Opening in theaters this weekend is James Wan’s Insidious: Chapter 2. The follow-up to the 2011 surprise hit picks up exactly where the first left off with the Lambert family thrust into a world of psychics, demons and ghosts. Insidious put an entirely original spin on the haunted house subgenre with its unique third act, and Chapter 2 digs deeper into that universe traveling further into the, well, Further and answering any last lingering fan questions. Insidious: Chapter 2 stars Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, and Ty Simpkins.
A few weeks ago at a Los Angeles press day I got to sit down with Leigh Whannell for an exclusive interview. He talked about the working dynamic between him and James Wan, the freedom of writing a sequel, and creating a story around the first film. He also talked about his plans to direct, why he loves making horror, and his upcoming film The Mule. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
LEIGH WHANNELL: You know what’s funny is that it’s pretty much exactly the same as it was back when we were in film school. Nothing’s really changed. We do have a very clear division with me writing, and James is very trusting with me writing, and then with him directing, and I’m on set, I’m very trusting of him. I really have a lot of respect for James. I’m kind of a fan of James. I feel like if I’d never met him and I didn’t know him I’d be a fan of his work. I really like the way he makes films so there’s a lot of trust there. I think the only thing that maybe has changed over the years is that as James has gotten more and more confident as a filmmaker he has a lot more fun. It doesn’t stress him out as much. He has a lot more fun on set. He’s willing to include me- and I think he sees that I really want to direct one day. He’ll bring me over to the monitor and sort of be like, “Here’s why I’m doing this.” It’s almost like he’s giving me his own personal film school.
WHANNELL: Yeah, it’s good. It’s great, because I do want to direct one day and I feel like who better to learn from than him? You know, I’m spending so much time with him. Definitely on Insidious 2 he was often calling me over and explaining why he was doing some things. It was great.
When the time comes that you do direct your first film do you think it will be a horror movie?
WHANNELL: Oh man, that’s the million dollar question. I’ll tell you, a horror film, if you get it right, and that’s obviously a big “if” because that’s a hard thing to do, but if you manage to get it right there’s no greater joy than standing in the back of a theater listening to an audience watch your horror film. I mean, some of the best memories of my life have been standing in the back of a theater watching an audience watch one of James and I’s films; especially the first Insidious. Saw got a great reaction, but my god- I don’t know if you saw that film Hitchcock.
WHANNELL: Do you remember the scene where they finally got Psycho made and it was having its first big screening to the public and he was standing out in the lobby and he was sort of conducting the screams? It was like he had the audience on a string. That scene in that film really resonated for me because that’s what it feels like when an audience is screaming exactly when you want them to. The only feeling I could think of that would come close would be a comedy director standing in the back of a theater listening to an audience laugh exactly where he wants them to laugh. It’s just great. So in answer to your question, the lure of that is strong. I would love to have that feeling. I think with things like thrillers it is more nebulous. You don’t get that instant gut reaction of the vocal scream. So I think a horror film would be pretty great to make, yeah.
WHANNELL: Yeah, very freeing. It was interesting with the first film the reaction to it was kind of polarizing. That seems to be par for the course with James and I. If you look at Saw and Insidious, whenever we get together we like to do this weird stuff. We’re always trying to do stuff that’s unique and hasn’t been seen before, but I think the danger in aiming for that is that there’s a certain section of the audience you’ll alienate. So I do feel like there was a contingent of people with the first film who didn’t like where the third act went. It went into this craziness. With the sequel everybody already knows the world and the set up so it was very freeing to be able to just get right to that stuff and not have to worry. Even the people who maybe weren’t as keen on these outlandish concepts like the further, this sort of purgatory afterworld where these ghosts run around, if they were to go and sit down to watch Insidious 2 they know they’re going to get that. So it was very freeing.
In this film we learn a lot about Josh’s backstory, we learn a lot about the old woman, we learn a lot of things about a lot of things and revisit some of the backstories from the first film in greater detail. How much of what we learned in this film did you know when you wrote the first?
WHANNELL: We only knew what we built into the first film. Patrick’s character, Josh, as you said we built some of his backstory into the first film as a story point, but we didn’t think about it beyond that. We’re far too superstitious and pessimistic to think about sequels. We just never do. Because I think by its very definition a discussion about a sequel before the first film has even been released is an assumption of success. It’s like buying a lottery ticket and then going online to shop for a yacht before the numbers have been called. You’re really assuming that it’s going to do well. So we didn’t even have a conversation about a sequel to Insidious until the first one had come out, it had done well and then a couple of months after it came out the producers mentioned the idea of a sequel. I went and hung out with James and we talked about it and there were so many different options we thought about. We thought about making a prequel. We thought that might be interesting. So the stuff that you’re thinking about in the sequel that maybe seemed pre-planned, it wasn’t.
It works out pretty well.
WHANNELL: [Laughs] Oh, good. I guess that’s the illusion you’re trying to pull off. You’re trying to make it look- I feel like if the producer was sitting here he would rather me say, “Oh yeah, it was all worked out.” He would much rather me lie to you and say, “Oh yeah, we had it all written down on paper.” Because I guess I’m admitting to you that James and I sort of shoe-horned this story on top, but I’d rather just be honest and say, no we didn’t have anything planned. But I’m glad that when you watched it that it felt natural to you and like it always existed.
Yeah, it felt cohesive. There wasn’t anything that I was like, “Oh well that’s ridiculous.”
WHANNELL: [Laughs] Yeah, nice.
Since you brought back the same cast did the actors have any requests of things they wanted to do in the sequel or things they didn’t want to do again?
WHANNELL: Sure, I think Rose had to cry so much in the first film that she was probably like, “Do I have to keep crying.” Her character spends both films in a state of extreme terror, which would have to be exhausting. I think Patrick was so happy that his role, without giving anything away to your readers, he was excited by the range of different things. He’s essentially playing three characters and he definitely had fun with that. But god, I acted in it and I wrote it. Here’s a request: Can my character not be such a wus? I get knocked out- I remember saying to James, “Can I at least get a few punches in during this fight scene.” “No.” Not only that but Angus, my friend, falls on top of me. Just ridiculous. I’m writing a Bourne Identity film where I’m kicking ass against everyone I meet.
[Laughs] Nice, I’ll watch that for sure. I’m intrigued by this film The Mule that you made with Angus. What can you tell me about that?
WHANNELL: The Mule is a film that I just wrapped shooting a few weeks ago in Australia. We shot a little in Bangkok as well. This is a film I wrote with Angus Sampson and we’ve been writing it over the last few years. It’s a crime thriller/black comedy about a drug mule who gets caught at Melbourne airport in 1983. So technology for catching drug mules isn’t like it is today, it’s in its very early stages. The police take him in and while he’s custody this guy, who’s a pretty naïve guy, he’s not an experienced drug mule, he’s like this hapless guy, he decides he’s going to deal with this situation by keeping the drugs in his stomach for as long as he can – basically not going to the toilet. And so the tickling clock of the film becomes when is this guy going to let these drugs out? [Laughs] How long can he hold on? Literally and figuratively. And the longer it goes on, this standoff, the more everyone around him is kind of dragged into it – his family, the criminals who own the drugs in his stomach, the police. I’m really excited about it.