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. Josh (Patrick Wilson) has returned from the Further feeling not quite himself, and when Renai (Rose Byrne) begins seeing familiar signs of the paranormal the Lambert family is thrust once more into a world of psychics, demons and ghosts. Insidious: Chapter 2 also stars Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, and Ty Simpkins.
During a recent New York press day for the film I hopped on the phone for an interview with Shaye. She talked about if she was surprised Elise was in the second film, the enthusiastic audience response to her character, building the character of Elise, the best acting advice she ever got, what’s up next and more. Hit the jump to see what she had to say.
LIN SHAYE: Actually James and I had a little discussion when we were doing the first one. Leigh Whannell was saying this morning you never make the first one anticipating it being anything other than the best movie you can make. But James did say when they were determining my fate, pardon my expression, in the first one whether he should actually follow that road or not because in case there was a second one he said, “I won’t really be able to bring you back.” And then we both kind of looked at each other and I said, “Well, wait a minute. This is a ghost story.” Anything can happen in the Further is kind of what we both came to, so he fulfilled what he had originally wanted to do in the first and it did so well. Everybody was so excited about it. And it was kind of buzzed around that maybe there would be another one, maybe there would be another one, but a little bit of time went by and nothing was for sure really. And no one really knew what road the script was going to actually take.
When I found out that they were definitely doing the second one James called and he said, “It might not be as big as the first part. We don’t know what we’re doing 100%, but we definitely want to make you part of it.” So I was completely thrilled, obviously, on all levels. I wanted to work with them again, I wanted to be a part of the story again and I was hoping for the success of a second one. Then as the story evolved and I found out that Elise was indeed coming back in a particular kind of role it was really exciting. I haven’t seen the finished film yet, but James said that people cheer when I come on screen [laughs]. So that’s made my year, just to know that without even seeing it. I’m excited to see the film.
Oh, you really do have this great entrance. Sort of along those lines I think that Elise is one of the most loveable characters and one of those characters that could turn into an iconic figure in the genre. I just love her. I’m curious your approach to sort of crafting that character and how much you worked with James and Leigh to figure out exactly who she is, what she does, and how she does it.
SHAYE: When James sent me the first script the first thing I saw was there’s a lot of talking [laughs]. I had my little yellow marker out and I was like, “Wow she’s got a lot to say here, doesn’t she?” And then read the script and was completely captivated by the story and was scared out of my wits after I read it. I didn’t want it near my bedside. What I knew what was going to be important was to make- I didn’t really discuss it with James in the beginning, I just started learning my material. The thing that was clear to me was that Leigh had written a very well-crafted character in the sense that her explanation was very specific, words were very specific. It wasn’t one of those roles where you could throw in a “the” or “you know”. I had to learn it word for word like learning a piece of poetry almost. So I worked really hard on that aspect of it, just learning the material.
And then really just kind of my old acting exercise stuff where you really go, “I need to know – what are the stakes? Why is this so important for me to tell them? Why do I do what I do? All those questions that Uta Hagen would tell me you have to ask yourself as an actress when you’re creating a character [laughs]. So I worked very hard on kind of her history. On what she had and had lost in her past and what made her the perfect messenger and kind of savior for these people. Why it was so important for her to get this right. I tried to make the stakes very high for myself. It wasn’t just an ordinary case. There was nothing ordinary about it. It had resonance for me as a young woman of what that all was. I really built a pretty strong story for myself.
And then Angus and Leigh, this was right before we started shooting, Leigh called and he said, “Come over and we’ll have some dinner. Let’s talk about the relationships.” He really wanted to do the actors work. So we did. We had dinner and we spent the whole evening discussing our histories and how we met each other. We kind of made up a whole story for ourselves. James wasn’t really a part of that part of it. He really orchestrated the material as we did it. He wasn’t as much a part of the formative part of it, but he knew here I needed to be really dark. He would give you direction like that. Or the comedy, there are moments of comedy which had to come at exactly the right part and not be too much or too little, for the guys and even Elise. There were things that he took out because they were too funny at the wrong time that the three of us had come up with together. In general he kept us in the right tonality. And I feel all the homework we did was the resonance that made people fall in love with the character. So I’m very proud of the work on that level. Doing your homework really pays off, because people really do seem to love her and care for her. So that’s exciting.
Definitely. When you then brought that character back in the second film, having been through what she’d been through and now being in the Further, did you approach her differently?
SHAYE: That’s a really great question because part of what- when I found out what the role was going to be in the second. James and I, when I first got there, which was kind of difficult because I didn’t come in until the third week the film was shooting. So I kind of missed out on- even though I knew everybody, it wasn’t like I was coming in cold, but at the same time there’s already a rhythm established that you haven’t become a part of yet. Part of our conversation, and James didn’t know the answer for sure, was “What’s different about Elise here? What’s different about her in this world that wasn’t in our world?” And we never came up with one exact answer. We sort of approached it scene by scene. How emotional would she be here? How unemotional would she be here? How physically? Do I look at people when I address them? Do I not look at people? Do I hear things other people don’t here? Where am I just coming from? What was the chaos I just walked out of or am going to be walking into? I have a whole universe there that they don’t know anything about. So having not seen the picture I don’t know if any of that translates. If you feel there’s something different or if you feel it’s her in a different world, but the same exact person. I still don’t know the answers 100% but we did talk about that and I’m hoping the details we managed to put in read and that the atmosphere’s different, you feel something is different.
I think the best advice I ever got about acting was from my dad [laughs], which was, “If they don’t by the fish on the first toss throw it back in the wagon and go to the second house.” Which is like an old Jewish fishmongers story about how you become a successful fish monger [laughs]. But I’m serious because you can’t dwell on all the jobs you don’t get. You can’t worry about it. I think that’s one of the pitfalls and dilemmas of, especially young actors, who take it all personally and I did to. You go in and you think “I’m going to get this.” And you don’t get it. So you got to throw the fish back into the wagon, go home, and get ready to take it to the next house. Certainly don’t let rejection be personal ever, because it never ever, ever is. Even if you do a shitty job it doesn’t matter. It’s still not going to be about why you didn’t get the job. I swear to you it has nothing to do with that. I’ve gotten jobs that I think I‘ve done the worst audition I ever did and I got the job. I’ve done the best audition I’ve ever done in my entire life and I haven’t gotten the job. I think the first thing is don’t give up. If you love the craft. If you love being a detective and discovering who a character is and the detail of how they walk and what kind of shoes they wear and what did they do yesterday and what’s important to them. I definitely advise actors to learn about the craft.
Having been in so many films and having seen so many directors at work, is there anything you noticed about the way James works that sets him apart?
SHAYE: James is one of the most honest, most guileless people I’ve ever met. He is an extraordinary visionary, I think, in terms of literally looking at the world through a lens. And he’s a great storyteller. Working with him often he will know he doesn’t want you to do it this way because he’s already knows what he’s editing in his mind. He already knows what he needs in that moment to make the scene before it and the scene after it work. He’s basically a wonderful storyteller and he’s becoming an excellent communicator with his actors. Sometimes I would feel free with James, and I’ve never said this to another director, “If you want to give me a line reading,” because he knows exactly the tone he needs for a certain thing, I said, “Give it to me.” I’m not going to say it the way he said it, but what I get from that is exactly the tone he needs for what he wants so I can then manifest that in my own way and make it work. I trust him 1000% because he really knows the movie he’s making and yet is open to all your suggestions. I think the guy’s going to just have a great career. He already has a great career.
What’s coming up next for you that you’re excited about?
SHAYE: I just finished two films. One’s with Laurence Fishburne called The Signal, which is a science fiction film. We finished. I don’t know what’s coming next, that I don’t know. But this movie called The Signal I think is going to be a very exciting film. And another film I did called Grace, which is also about demons and it’s about bad things in the church [laughs]. So I think it’s going to be very successful. I don’t know, who knows what the next moments bring? But I’m very excited about the opening of Insidious 2 and I hope everyone enjoys it too and gets some good thrill rides out of it, and it makes them think about things in a new and different way, whatever that means to each of us personally.