Director James Wan’s (Insidious) horror film The Conjuring opens this weekend. The film is based on the story of the Perron family who inhabited a haunted Rhode Island farmhouse in the 1970s. Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston play the Perrons, and Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson play paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren, who encounter the most horrifying case of their career. I found the movie to be extremely well done, and I’d definitely recommend checking it out. For more on the film, watch some clips.
At the recent San Francisco press day, I participated in a roundtable interview with Farmiga and Lorraine Warren. They talked about their relationship, making the movie, plans to bring more of the Warrens’ stories to the big screen, the nature of evil, and a lot more. Hit the jump for what they had to say.
VERA FARMIGA: Lifetimes.
LORRAINE WARREN: Right, I feel that way.
Who got in touch with who?
FARMIGA: I think Hollywood got in touch with both of us.
WARREN: Yeah. It was really like we knew each other from way back. It was never just a new person, no.
FARMIGA: We spent all of maybe three days together. Patrick [Wilson] and I visited Lorraine’s house in Connecticut. We live in the tristate area, so we met up at a mall close to your [Warren’s] house. And I had just read the part of the demonologist where there’s a scene in one of your cases, where there’s a truck. I can’t remember which case it was and what the detail was but in the truck, you and Ed [Warren] were driving late at night and something off this truck was flying. There was some strange truck or something that appeared on a highway — I forget what the details of that story are — but Patrick has scars on his hands still to this day. On the way over to your house, we had met up in the parking lot but he had some strange experience on the highway where some suitcase on a truck in front of him came out from the car and kind of attacked his car. The whole fender kind of fell off on the top of his car.
FARMIGA: This is on the way to your house.
WARREN: I didn’t know that! Oh my god.
FARMIGA: We were just so wowed by you, we just forgot that harrowing experience. Anyway, we met together and I wasn’t sure if I’d go down into the Museum of the Occult and ultimately opted to stay with Lorraine.
FARMIGA: Patrick sort of had a very pragmatic, practical, Ed-like approach and went down to see.
WARREN: I guess Tony went down with him, yes, my son-in-law.
FARMIGA: We had that wonderful experience together that afternoon that we spent. I listened more than I asked. There’s a lot of information online, so many Youtube videos, countless interviews with all those obvious questions that were all answered for me. I just wanted to absorb her essence. I wanted to see the details, she has such mad style. I just wanted to see — the way she communicates with her hands, these gestures, her smile, how she moves through space. To me representing clairvoyance, how was I going to achieve that, how I was going to capture that? For me, it all became about her gaze and the way she takes you in. It’s a rhythmic thing and a stillness thing to consider but these are little details, little nuances. We were invited to the sanctity of her home and there were roosters running around and she’s screaming, “Jackie, be quiet!” Even though she’s in the middle of the thing. And these are the details that we wanted to incorporate into our story.
WARREN: That’s me.
You guys borrowed some of Ed and Lorraine’s real things for the movie, correct?
FARMIGA: Yes. We never know this, there was a line, we were kind of shy about asking. [To Warren] Ed’s painting are all over your house, beautiful paintings of houses. This is how you discovered your vocation. They were both artists. And you would hear about a haunting in the way Ed would trade his paintings, isn’t that right?
FAMIGA: For you to be able to explore the house. Those paintings were everywhere and we kind of whispered, “Should we ask them?” And sure enough, Patrick asked if we could borrow some of those paintings and put them in our house. It’s just those little details that you gather. But it was that one time and then you came on set, and you spent a couple days on set and here we are. The thing is, you meet Lorraine and you can go deep right away. Her curiosity about you is like–
WARREN: Thank you.
FARMIGA: I love her.
WARREN: I love you too.
There’s something I always found fascinating about those times, when I grew up, and we had the horror movies and particularly the possession movies became popular. There seems to be an interesting correlation between the turbulence of the times and that occurring at the same time.
WARREN: Yes, that’s very true. That is very, very true. I think things are kind of calming down now more so than they were. There were times when we would go into these homes, there was whole families, children, nobody in the house is baptized. Now, I’m Roman Catholic, and for me that’s like, “My God.” Not having a child baptized or not having religion , that’s scary to me. That’s very, very, very scary. I’m not a religious fanatic, I’m Roman Catholic and I go to church. In fact, I have a Catholic priest that is living on my property and I have mass every day. So I have really a lot of protection. He, right now, is taking care of my roosters, my hens, my dog and all of my cats.
Are there plans to bring any more of your stories to the big screen?
WARREN: I think so. I do think it’s happening, yes.
WARREN: Yeah, definitely.
FARMIGA: I’ll verify.
All that information you’ve drawn, as an actress is that good? Or do you sometimes think, “Oh my gosh, it takes away my ability”?
FARMIGA: No. I bring myself innately to it, yeah. I bring those details as much as I — what I don’t obsess over is, there are certain ways I might’ve pushed it even a little more. For example, [to Warren] your accent. I know Warner Bros. at one point came in. I don’t know, until you came to set, I know I wore that long tartan skirt and the ruffled blouse for that.
WARREN: Yes, yes.
FARMIGA: It’s such a measure of your solidarity with Ed, that when you would give lectures, he would be wearing a tartan tie that matched. And I demanded that outfit, I thought it was so punk — her long skirt, she looked like a Scottish queen, so regal. Whenever I wore it there were some questions whether the outfit was just too over the top. I’m like, “Do you know who you’re dealing with here, and her eccentricities, her style, her flair?” These little things were sometimes those — I love it. I love having a real-life model. But I also do flush it out with my own personal experiences and my own essence, and hopefully they mesh together.
WARREN: What you always have to realize, that you have to come down to earth with your life, and I do. I don’t walk around all, “Oh, I don’t like that aura.” No, I don’t do that.
You [Vera] have your own energy level, it’s very different. It carries over from movie to movie.
FARMIGA: The energy differs from movie to movie?
No, your energy.
Yes, you have a style, a rhythm to you.
WARREN: Yeah, you can stay with me.
But it’s interesting to take on a real-life character and add all that flavor.
FARMIGA: The different tempos and yeah, it’s cadence. It’s the way she moves through space, it’s gestures.
You never know, when you do a project, how it’s going to turn out. What was your reaction to seeing the finished film for the first time, for both of you?
WARREN: I was really pleased.
FARMIGA: What were you looking for? What’s the first thing you were looking for, what concerned you?
WARREN: What concerned me is, I didn’t want them to go way out of the way trying to make something that wasn’t really solved. I wanted it to be brought to the screen the way it really was. There was a lot of things you couldn’t do though, of course — anything that pertained to religion or things like that. You weren’t able to do that, sad, but you weren’t able to do it. But I think they did very well.
FARMIGA: For me, my preoccupation with the first viewing was, “Did I capture authentically your essence?”
WARREN: Yes, and you did.
FARMIGA: I’ll get some tips after this. But I think for me, why I was drawn to the piece is, at the core of the story, it’s a love story to me — between Ed and Lorraine, between these two families who are asking for help and us who are in the business of giving help. I just wanted to make sure that yes, that those horror — they worked as a genre. To me, I just wanted to be touched by the film in the way that I saw plausible. Which is the story about compassion — giving and receiving it in those desperate times of need. I just want to make sure that the thing that I see in it initially, that I think it can be, is not just going to be a horror film and reduced to a jump here and a scream there. But that you can take something away from it.
The extra mother-daughter theme is very powerful too. It all comes down to that, these two mothers and their daughters.
FARMIGA: Absolutely. It’s thematic in my career, if you look at most of my choices. It is some level of exploration of maternal angst and maternal heroism.
Lorraine, in your opinion, what do you think of all your cases would make the best follow-up?
WARREN: Wow, that’s a hard one. I have pondered over that many, many times. Because with research in all countries, I think maybe something from England would be very, very good.
FARMIGA: Anything in like Hawaii or Tahiti?
WARREN: No, no, no but — I guess it’s because I’m psychic but when we were in Japan and we were investigating hauntings, my husband’s health was very bad. I really didn’t know how bad it was until we got home. He would stay in the hotel and I would go with these Japanese people to these hauntings that were going on and — don’t ask me how I do it because I don’t know, I don’t have the answers — I could communicate. I don’t speak the language.
Did you have a translator?
WARREN: No, I don’t know. No, I did not have anybody. Even Ed would say to me, “I don’t know how you were able to do that.” And, “Oh yes, I know how you were able to do it.” Then, he’d say something like that.
Lorraine, do you consider your gift a curse or a blessing?
WARREN: Well, I was afraid of it. You have to realize how young I was when it started to happen. I couldn’t talk to anybody about it. You don’t think I could talk to my parents, you don’t think I could talk to these nuns about it. And I just started and I would keep it to myself. It kept me grounded, I wasn’t really that torn by it. But when I began to see auras around people, that is beautiful. Because, you can look at people but I can look further, and I love that. I love to be able to do it. I don’t want to invade people’s privacy though. I can see people and think, “Wow. What a beautiful person that is.” And the person might not be beautiful or handsome but they are.
FARMIGA: Yeah, I think it’s like any God-given gift. You writers have the gift of perception. If you don’t use it, you’re going to lose it. And it’s the same thing with you [Lorraine], it’s God-given.
WARREN: I couldn’t talk to anybody about it, I really could not talk to anybody. Then, I meet my husband, my dear husband, and he said, “What are you talking about?” I’ll shut up, I’ll shut up–
FARMIGA: They were young, when they met.
WARREN: Yeah, we were very young when we met.
But you could talk to him about it right away, when you met him?
WARREN: I tried, I tried but I didn’t feel I was understood. But I knew when I met him that day — he was in the colonial theatre on the Boston Post Road in Bridgeport — and he was dressed so well, he smelled so good.
FARMIGA: What did he smell like?
WARREN: He smelled like sea water.
FARMIGA: Sea water because of the ocean.
FARMIGA: I’ll make Patrick — I’ll buy him some sort of salty cologne.
Vera, between this movie and the TV series, do you have any new thoughts about the nature of evil?
FARMIGA: The nature of evil–
WARREN: That’s deep, that’s very deep.
FARMIGA: That’s a good question. The nature of evil, the nature of it, it exists. It exists and I think within us we have the tools. If we have the will, we can combat it. I think the power is within us and it lies in our own conceptualization of God and positivity and compassion and love.
WARREN: It does, it does. That is very good, honey.
Thank you very much.
FARMIGA: Thank you.
WARREN: Thank you, guys.