One of the things that most impresses me about Blumhouse Productions it’s the smart way they’re making movies. Through clever budgeting and location Blumhouse consistently manages to secure impressive talent for their projects, both in front and behind the camera, endowing their films with a credibility and quality that is unusual on the low-budget horror circuit. Insidious was one of the films that helped set this trend for the company, and one of the most exciting things about the sequel is that they’re bringing back the whole bunch for round two. Back in March I got to visit the set of Insidious: Chapter 2 and see firsthand the chemistry between the cast and crew, their enthusiasm to be working together again, and how thoughtful they all are about the work they’re doing.
During a break in filming, I sat down with a few other journalists for a press conference with Director James Wan, Writer Leigh Whannell, Producer Jason Blum, and actors Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, and Barbara Hershey. They talked about the higher stakes of the sequel, what makes Chapter 2 unique, exploring the world established in the first film, what we’ll see in the Further, shooting at Linda Vista Hospital, and a lot more. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
[Note: James Wan was finishing up some work for the first part of the interview and wasn’t able to join us until about halfway through.]
Leigh Whannell: For me it’s surreal, just to see everyone, because this is a sequel that brings back literally everyone from the first film. A lot of sequels you see will maybe keep a couple characters and change the rest around, but everyone’s back so it just feels surreal. They’re also wearing the same clothes.
Patrick Wilson: I’m stuck in the Further. You better take the right clothes.
Whannell: [Laughs] That’s the exact same outfit you were wearing, so that part of it is especially trippy, just looking around and being like, “Patrick’s here, and he’s dressed the same.”
Barbara Hershey: It’s three years later.
Whannell: Exactly, so that part is really surreal, but it’s also great getting the band back together, so many of the people on the crew are the same, so it’s really like we’re back, everybody’s back.
Wilson: How did the story come about?
Whannell: Well the first film made some money and you [Jason] said “I want a sequel”.
Jason Blum: That’s not how it happened.
Whannell: The usual answer, you know, it’s hard to go into what’s different without ruining anything…which is probably not the answer you wanted. I think what’s different about it is, it’s a continuation of the first film. So it’s not like a lot of sequels you might see that pick up years later. This film, I think I can say this, pretty much picks up from where the other film left off. So it’s almost like the second half of the first film. I guess that’s one thing that makes it different is that we’re sort of continuing the first film.
There’s a Godfather II aspect in that you’re going into the past.
Whannell: Yeah, in the first film there was just the single driving thing that they were trying to fix, their son’s in a coma, in this film it’s kind of bigger than that.
Lin Shaye: It’s a bit of a murder-mystery as well. That’s something I thought when I read it was a wonderful addition to the story, it’s not all supernatural, it’s really trying to solve this crime.
Wilson: Yeah I think because we established the rules, and you have to assume not everybody in the theater has seen the first one, so you’ve got those little nods of, “This is what this is called, this is where we go, and that’s what happens.” For me, just selfishly, it was exciting because I knew at the end of it he either gets cured, or they come to find him, or he’s fighting his way back, or any of those things that you’ll see, but clearly there’s the duality of what happens to the Josh here. So that was exciting. And the same sort of thread that we had going with the first one, which to me always felt like this adult drama gone wrong with this supernatural element. I think there’s even more of it, because with the presence Barbara even more so in this one we have not only this clashing of the husband and wife, but of the son and the mother. And of course with all the kids back too, it’s the father and his kids too, which doesn’t all fit right. So that’s been exciting to play and explore. I think we just get the language and get the world that we’re in. It’s interesting, there was no way we could really do it without all of us back. We all feel like we know the rules and it enables us to just hit the ground running.
Does this film answer any questions you had about your characters from the first one?
Shaye: It opened up a whole bunch of new questions. Can Elise go shopping in the further? [Laughs] There was something that James and I touched on, which we haven’t completely solved, and I’m not sure that we will, but – is there anything different about Elise when she’s in the further than when she’s in the real world? I’ve been thinking about that and investigating in my own way, and actually tonight we film the scene when you first see me back, it’s the first time you see me, so I’m wondering what moments there might be between me and Patrick. What has freed Elise? And I have an idea which I don’t know if I should really talk about because I haven’t talked to James about it yet. [Laughs] But I do have a thought about what might have happened that makes her a little bit different. It’s a very freeing universe in a way too, because there are no real rules yet that have been set up so it’s kind of up to us to define it. It’s really exciting. I love the character and I’m thrilled that people have also embraced her. I’m very happy to be here. Thank you, Jason.
Whannell: One of the interesting things about the first film was the reaction from people. The first half of the film kind of sets up fairly traditionally, it’s a haunted house film and it’s really well done and paced. James did such a good job with it, and then its starts to go into the Further and these more outlandish concepts, and James and I noticed that in some ways the film was kind of polarizing. You get a lot of these – “Well the film was great up until this point.” We always said when we were doing press for the first one, “Yeah, but that’s what we wanted to do.” We kind of want to throw in everything but the kitchen sink; we want to have these crazy moments. So I don’t know if we could have made a film- we couldn’t have made the first half of the film for the whole movie, we kind of liked that it descended into chaos. What’s interesting about the sequel is that now everyone knows that about the first movie, so things like the Further and these kind of crazy ideas that maybe some people had trouble with in the first one, now that’s already established, you don’t have to worry about it.
Whannell: [Laughs] Yeah, some people we’re like, “The movie was great until the Ghost Busters showed up.”
Blum: That was me. I was wrong.
Whannell: Yeah, exactly, that wasn’t just bloggers. That was mostly Jason.
Blum: That was mostly me. I was like, “Leigh, the movie’s great, but you have to cut yourself out.”
Whannell: But with the sequel we’re starting with that. All that stuff from the very start- my character and Angus [Sampson], the Further, and all these crazy ideas; as Patrick said the world has been set and we’re continuing in that world.
Blum: I have to tell this story a little bit better in order to properly give Leigh credit. I saw the movie first at James’s house and I really did say, “I love it, it’s so scary,” and I really did say to Leigh, “There’s just too much Specs and Tucker.” It was a very uncomfortable conversation and Leigh was a huge sport about it. He and James cut it down a little bit, and then we to test screenings.
Whannell: I believe what he actually said to me, the true Hollywood producer, he said, “You know what the problem is Leigh? You’re too good.” [Laughs] “This is the problem, you are too funny and you’re upsetting the balance of the movie.”
Blum: You’re upsetting the tone!
Whannell: With my brilliant comedic timing.
Blum: Yeah, you’re too funny.
Whannell: I was like, “Really?” “I’ve never seen comedic timing like that and I’ve worked with Jim Carrey.”
Blum: The first time we screened it for an audience was a test screening it screened really well and actually some of the best parts, the biggest reaction we got, was Specs and Tucker. So I was 1000% wrong. I went to James and Leigh and I said, “I’m completely wrong, please replace all of that. My one note, please don’t do it.”
Wilson: So we’re announcing a spin off.
Whannell: [Laughs] Exactly.
Whannell: It’s hard to say without ruining it. I would say it spends a little more time. [In the first film] In the end we just follow Patrick’s character in there. I think this film is starting from a point where you have knowledge of that place. As we’ve been shooting it with these guys, even just watching what these guys are doing, I feel like everybody’s trying to live in this world and treat it very seriously. Nobody’s trying to turn it in the camp and go, “Let’s have this crazy thing happen.” Constantly the actors are like, “How can we make this more real?” So hopefully this second film, even though it does include these kinds of crazy ideas like the Further and stuff, we’re trying to keep it firmly based in reality. So it still has that through line of reality that the first one had thanks to these guys.
Barbara, when you found out that there were going to be flashbacks and there was going to be a younger version of yourself played by Jocelin [Donahue], did you work with Jocelin at all about trying to help her find her character?
Hershey: Yeah, we had a little conversation. I don’t think I really had to tell her much, the script is really good so I think that gave her everything and I just supplemented it.
Wilson: She just sent her a DVD of the first one.
Hershey: [Laughs] “Copy me exactly.” She was great though.
Shaye: There’s something about that. It was interesting for me, when it was discussed that a younger actress was going to play us young, the idea of me being objectified. Because as an actor I spend a great deal of effort to never objectify myself, because I can’t act like that. I mean I can’t look at myself. And to all the sudden hear James say, “We need somebody who’s kind of quirky like Lin.” I was like, “Oh my god. What do I do?”
Whannell: We need someone as crazy as Lin is.
Shaye: It was weird to have that element be introduced and discussed and it made it easier for me, I can’t speak for Barbara exactly, but the fact that they’re really young [laughs]. You want to say, “I can play me. I can play both.” No, no matter how much soft focus they use. I think both actors seem to be really good at embodying a feeling of who we both are, and I’m assuming those scenes will be very successful. They did a great job, the two young women who played the roles.
One of the things I think people responded to the most about the first movie was all the crazy kind of high-tech, kind of low-tech gadgetry in the movie, are we going to see more of that, or is this going in a different direction?
Whannell: Yeah, we do see a little bit. A little bit of those characters go a long way so they’re still supporting characters in the story, but you do see a bit of those gadgets. It’s interesting with the sequel it’s a really great chance to examine the first film. Step back from it and go, “Okay, I haven’t watched the film in a year,” and you watch it again, and you look at what really worked and maybe what didn’t work. James, Jason, and I were like, “We want to really improve on the first film.” I guess everyone who sets out to make a sequel says that, but we really want to take what was super strong about the film and build on it. So there will be hints of all that stuff that people liked.
Wilson: You also already had the moment with this crazy gas mask, you can’t do that again. You can’t have a different crazy gas mask. You’ve already done that. You’ve already done the crazy séance, that’s done. And because we’re continuing on it’s not a new family who’s discovering the gas mask, it’s the same story, so we have to look at what we did in the first one as part of this…week, really, or however many days it is from the first movie. What I love, just for a second with Specs and Tucker, because it was always such a different world from Josh and Renai, was that no matter how dramatic we got – and in this movie I think it even gets more so, it’s a much more visceral response from everybody, we all have a lot more meat in there, the moments they come on are still great moments of levity.
Hershey: We start at a level – we start where Elise has just died; we start at a high point, really. Elise’s death is like the elephant in the room in every scene, it permeates this film. So we’re already starting on edge, there’s no build up to that.
Whannell: That’s an interesting point because further to what they’re saying is that one of the challenges of this is that it’s the same family. One of the great things about a haunted house movie, as you guys all know, is watching unsuspecting people slowly uncover that something’s wrong. So it starts off with a dish falling on the ground, or the chairs stacked weirdly, and it builds and builds. That’s one of the great structural traditions of haunted house movies, people slowly uncovering that something’s wrong. With this we’re using the same family, so James and I, at the start we’re like, “Wow we’re missing that. We don’t have that lack of knowledge that you have in a haunted house movie.” We’re not changing to a different family. So we needed to come up with something that would be just as scary given that these guys aren’t going to see someone looking around the corner and be like, “What’s that?” They know exactly what it is.
Whannell: [Laughs] Exactly. It’s happening again. But I think, given that, we came up with something that could scare the family anew, something that could turn it around. Obviously, I can’t talk about it, but I think it’s a different angle. Without spoiling anything, it almost takes it into a different genre, this film, a slightly different genre.
Wilson: Country western.
Whannell: [Laughs] So that was awesome, to come up with a different angle and watching these guys respond to it and be able to do something different. And set-piece scare scenes, that’s something I think we did well in the first film. I feel like James and I exhausted every set-piece scare scene that we had. We had this huge trunk that we built up over years and years of telling stories – we used them all. In that scene with Renai sitting in the room with the guy walking across, we’ve been waiting for years to shoot that and when we came to the sequel we were like, “I got nothing left.” [James walks in] Holy shit, look at this! I was just telling these fine ladies and gentlemen that we used up all our good scares in the first Insidious.
Blum: And he called the movie a country western.
Wan: We had to come up with entirely new scares. It’s not easy, but it’s what we do, right?
Whannell: I definitely think there’s a couple of set-pieces involving these guys, and Barbara too, I think they’re up there with the first film.
Hershey: They better be.
Wan: You guys all look so pretty, wow.
Wilson: It’s my costume. You’ve seen it before.
James, your first movie [Saw] obviously spawned a lucrative franchise, but this is the first time you’ve come back to direct a sequel, what made you decide to do that?
Wan: I had such a fun time working with these guys on the first one and I felt like – Leigh and I always joke that with the first Saw film when we shut the door with Jigsaw that was the end of that film. But with this one we had other plans and ideas on this, even though we didn’t really push it all the way. We thought, “We’ll play with it and see how the first Insidious goes, and there’s maybe a potential second storyline,” and sure enough when it did well, we could actually go back and pull out the second story line. Also when Jigsaw shut that door, turns out it wasn’t the end.
Wan: They opened the door back up again.
Whannell: Literally they opened the door in the sequels.
Wan: [Laughs] Exactly.
How much of Chapter 2 was entirely in those thoughts you had back on the first one?
Wan: Leigh and I had some ideas that we battered back and forth…it’s a tricky one to talk about without giving anything away.
Wilson: We should tell him what we’ve already said.
Wan: What did you say? He talked about Specs didn’t he? It was all about specs.
Whannell: I said it was a continuation of the first film, it picks up at the end of the first film.
Wan: Right, that’s reason why we didn’t want to call it Part 2, or add a roman numeral, it’s literally Chapter 2. That was one of the things for us, we loved the idea that it was like a book with chapters and we just thought it was a cool title, a cool sequel title for it. There are things that we’re doing, without giving too much away, where the second movie visits the first movie, and that’s all I’ll say.
Rose, you do a lot of different kind of work with television, comedy and all that, what is it like for you bouncing in and out of horror. Is it jarring for you at all?
Rose Byrne: It’s weird actually, coming back to do this is very much like coming back to do another season of a TV show in a way, because here it’s all the same people and the same characters. I was initially nervous and then I was like, “Oh it’s just like coming back and doing Damages where the people come back together.” Renai, this one has been very much just hitting the ground running, like Barbara said. We all start right on the edge, whereas with the other one we had the lead up of normalcy and kind of domestic drama. This time it’s just intense. It creeps up on you; you realize the stakes are so high.
Whannell: Not really having a good year, the Lambert family.
Wilson: Lots of house hunting.
Whannell: At least the market is on the up.
Wilson: Yeah, we’re just going to rent. We’re totally under water.
Wan: The second house that you guys moved into, that was a rental.
Wilson: Oh yeah, that’s right. We did rent.
Byrne: One of my concerns was Ty [Simpkins], the boy who plays Dalton in the movie, because children look so different, you know? My first question was, “What’s going to happen with Ty?” I thought we’d have to recast.
Whannell: Yeah, that was difficult. The fact that the story picks up directly from the first one, but it’s two years actually since we last shot.
Hershey: He looks very similar.
Byrne: Yeah when I saw him I was like, “Wow.”
Wilson: You just maybe add a couple inches on the pajamas, same with Andrew.
Hershey: I was shocked.
Byrne: So was I.
Is this a tighter production than the first one? You’re shooting it in just 25 days.
Blum: This is like Transformers compared to the first movie. We have a little bit more leeway. The first movie was just 19 or 21, yeah 21. So this movie we have a little bit more resources, but not many. I have a very firm belief, which most people know, that the more money you take the more you give up creative control and I really feel like the reason the first movie is special is because 100% of everyone on this stage, because these guys made the movie and these guys acted in the movie. It was a very single voice, you know James and Leigh pushing it forward without any interference or creative compromises, and that’s my theory of why the movie – I personally like the movie, and this movie is very similar. Because if you start to, I’m kidding about Transformers, but if you really say, “We’re going to make a sequel, we want 20 million to make the movie,” you have to make a lot of creative compromises, which I did not want James and Leigh to make.
Wan: Yeah, it’s definitely made with that same indie spirit as the first film.
Wan: I think keeping it in line with the first one is the right spirit with this one.
James and Leigh, what keeps your creative partnership fresh? Why do you guys keep collaborating?
Wan: I try to get away from him but he keeps coming back.
Blum: He keeps creeping into his house.
Whannell: I don’t know I guess there’s just certain people when you work with them if you have enough similarities or the same stories excite you then it’s really easy to work together. We’re pretty in sync that way, especially when it comes to the horror stuff. As I said we spent years telling all these ghost stories and basically making a film like Insidious–
Wilson: Just sittin’ around telling ghost stories.
Whannell: Yeah, we did.
Wan: That’s what we did. You joke about it, that’s what we did. We used to try to scare the crap out of each other and we would go, “We should put this in a movie.” That’s literally what we did in the first Insidious. We took all the scares and great ghost stories that we’ve heard about-
Wilson: Sharing those lonely nights together.
Whannell: [Laughs] We took fishing trips.
Wan: Camping trips.
Whannell: That part of its easy, because film is a collaborative medium so you’re going to end up working with a huge amount of people anyway, even if you see yourself as this singular auteur. Even Stanley Kubrick was surrounded by hundreds of people. In his mind he was just doing it himself. I think, for me anyway, it’s been really great to work with James to have someone to…
Wan: Bounce ideas.
Whannell: Yeah, just bouncing ideas…and all these clichés about Hollywood being this sort of shark tank, it’s kind of true. It’s just good to do things in a team so you don’t feel like it’s you against the world or you against the studio people, or whatever.
Shaye: You are also both very good listeners as well as talkers and I think that’s part of a great partnership too. It’s that sparring thing where you fly off of each other. That’s fun and I see that in you guys whenever you’re together, and I think that’s what part of what makes a great partnership, and a great creative partnership, because you keep sparking each other to new places and every time somebody else gets an idea, you get an idea. It’s like great tennis or ping pong.
Hershey: I’ve also seen trust between them. They trust each other.
Shaye: Yeah, a lot of trust. That’s a good point.
Wilson: But it is strictly platonic.
Blum: Six days a week, it’s non-sexual six days a week. I have to say sometimes before the movie starts, when everybody’s a little nervous, I do get the phone calls from both of them, “Can you please tell Leigh…?” “Can you please tell James…?”
What’s it like shooting in Linda Vista. I’ve been here before for other films, but I’ve never seen people build sets inside of it, how much are you building and how much are you utilizing the natural building?
Wan: I’ve never shot in Linda Vista. It’s kind of funny because I only get to shoot in LA when my budget’s a lot smaller.
Blum: That’s another reason we make movies for not very much money.
Wan: So we can actually do it in L.A. So the chance – Leigh and I have always heard about Linda Vista so much. For research these guys [Leigh and Angus] came to Linda vista to do a bit of ghost hunting for the first film. So I think a lot of that inspired us when we needed a hospital set. We thought, “Let’s go to Linda Vista and use it for what it is instead of trying to turn it into something else, lets actually use it as a hospital set.” Since were here were putting other stuff in here as well. One of the sets that we’re building here is actually one of the set pieces from the first movie.
Have you had any ghostly encounters being here?
Wan: Not yet.
Whannell: I’ve been here twice after midnight with ghost hunters. I came here once with Angus, we found these guys on the internet, they’re like these amateur ghost hunter guys, and we were like, “This is perfect.” We kind of had dinner with them and then we’re like lets go and they took is to Linda Vista, I didn’t know Linda Vista existed, but I was saying to them, “Take us somewhere super haunted in L.A.” So they take us here, it’s like midnight, there’s one security guard here, he lets us in. We walk into this ostensibly abandoned hospital where all the equipment and files have just been left as they were the day it closed down. There’s no light in there so we’ve got these flashlights. We just walked around the building and quickly found out that ghost hunting mostly consists of just sitting in a dark room going, “Is anyone there?” For an hour. After an hour of someone going, “Is there anyone there?” I was like, “There’s no one there.” But they were very serious about it, at one stage we heard this scratching in this overhead air conditioning vents and they wrote it down like, “Scratching, 3:34.” Then it was found to be a squirrel and then it was like, “Possible squirrel.”
Wilson: Not sure it was a squirrel.
Whannell: [Laughs] Yeah, exactly. I said, “Maybe it was a ghost squirrel.” They weren’t happy. They were like, “Bad joke, 3:44.” Then I came back with my wife and the same guys, went through Linda Vista, and we sat in the surgical room, which is supposedly the most haunted room according to these guys. There’s nothing left in it just a big empty room and they’re like, [whispering] “This is where all the surgeries were.” So we sit in the dark for an hour going, “Is anyone there?” Lo and behold no one says, “Yes, I’m here”. And we leave and my wife is like, “Oh, that was such a bummer I was wanting to see a ghost.” She said she was sitting there so excited to see a ghost that she closed her eyes and said to herself, “If there’s a ghost in here, show yourself right now, possess me, do whatever you have to do.” Nothing happens, then about a few months later her friend bought her a voucher to go see this psychic, he’s like a psychic life coach. So she goes and see him, he’s turning to her and he kept coming back to this hospital, “Have you been to this place recently?” She said, “Well, we went on this ghost hunt at this abandoned hospital.” The guy was like, “You can never go there again. You came this close to taking something home with you.” He said to her, “Did you see any blue lights?” And she said, “Yeah I remember looking up in this pitch black room and seeing these little blue pin lights.” She thought it was like when you can’t see anything you see all these shapes and colors. He said, “That was your aunt and your step-brother holding them back.” The blue light was them holding back these spirits and he said, “You can never go back to that building again.” So she hasn’t been able to visit the set. It was just creepy to have that-
Did he say you’d be okay?
Whannell: [Laughs] I don’t know. I just suddenly vomit pea soup all over. It’s fun, you should come here after midnight sometime.
James you made one of my favorite action movies of the last ten years, Death Sentence, and obviously there’s a business component of this, but what keeps you coming back to horror as a genre, for his and The Conjuring, and are there other genres you’re looking to get into?
Wan: Yeah, I guess I’ve just had a lot of success in this particular genre, but I didn’t really ask for it I just sort of fell into it. Just because my first film out of the gate was financially so successful that I guess, being in Hollywood, you get kind of put into a certain box. I definitely do want to do something different and…I think this could be my last horror film.
Blum: [Gasps] James! James…sorry, sorry, wait.
Wan: Maybe, but I definitely want to do something different.
Blum: No I’m just kidding I think James can do anything, I’m psyched for him. He can do anything.
Does that statement mean you’re closing things off to Chapter 3?
Blum: We can’t think that far. We’re not even done with Chapter 2 yet.