IN CONVERSATION WITH LIN SHAYE
“Leigh Whannell is this very gifted storyteller who has totally informed the way I was able to envision the character” says actress Lin Shaye of Elise Rainier, whose back story is revealed in INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY. Ahead of the film’s return to cinemas on April 20, in conversation with FrightFest, Shaye spoke of film as dream, her thoughts on the three directors of the franchise, and the relationship between spirituality and technology.
In THE HERO, Sam Elliott describes a film as another persons dream. Would you agree or is this a romantic idea of the cinema?
I think that's a beautiful sentiment and in some ways it is. There are so many stages of a film; there’s the written page and then there's the visual of bringing it to life on screen, which is sort of turning the words into a more dreamlike experience for the viewer. And it is a dream if you are making up a story that can be filled with your own inner one, which you are maybe not allowed to tell in real life. It gives you a pretend place to tell the truth, which is how I feel as an actress, in that I am in a story that someone else has written, and yet I am given the joy to express my truest feelings in a safe environment. Dreams are interesting and sometimes people don't want to talk about what they really dream about. But if you put it into a film, then it is more acceptable and you have a vehicle with which to express yourself. That’s a great sentiment; I really love that and so I think I do agree.
Looking back what was the initial appeal of the character and story when you first read the script for INSIDIOUS? Also with the time spent on the franchise, did the initial interest in the character and the story undergo an evolution across the four films?
Tremendously, and especially with INSIDIOUS and the way the franchise has unfolded, where the first film has become the end of the story, rather than the beginning. When we began I was just given a script and Elise seemed like a lovely woman who had this ability. She was a giver who did this because she liked helping people, but had this talent she was born with. When I thought about her past, and as an actress it is fun to build the past of your character, which can inform the present, I always saw her as a loner, probably an only child who spent lots of time alone. And in spending that time alone is when the ability found her and unfolded so to speak because she was an open book. But as the INSIDIOUS franchise grew, what we discovered, and in INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY more so, is that our writer Leigh Whannell created this fabulous back story of her life, which was quite horrific. In a way it imbued the character with much more strength than what I would have come up with because here's a young girl who we see has come through some horrendous family traumas. Her father was a horrible man and she saw something horrible happen to her mother; she was basically an abused child and yet she still grew into this giving woman. Also I never thought I had a brother, then Bruce Davidson showed up [laughs]. It was like: Oh my God, not only did I have problems as a kid, but I've got a brother who I am estranged from. So this last chapter has almost provided us with more information for the first movie, when you see who she became because when this ends we are really back at the first film. It has been a wonderful evolution and something I would never have imagined. Leigh is this very gifted storyteller, to use that word again, who has totally informed the way I was able to envision the character.
Reflecting on the franchise, are you able to see in the films touches that are specifically attributable to one of the three filmmakers?
James [Wan] is a true cinephile, that’s the way I see him. He’s an actors-director and pretty much left me alone, and I don’t think I had very many notes from James throughout the entire shoot. Leigh is an actor as well as a writer and director, and so his point of view and his explanation of things would sometimes get too detailed for me. Whatever information there is from the director, of course you must listen, and try to give them what they are asking for. But Leigh would sometimes go off because being the writer and the actor, as well as the director [laughs] he would sometimes give me too much; he would knock me a little bit off my base. And we discussed that actually because every director is different and asks for different things. Adam Robitel came in having to fulfil the franchise and he was quite elegant and cautious about the way in which he would give you notes, because he knew that we knew more about the world we were creating than he did. So I would say that literally all three directors made terrific contributions. James created the structure and atmosphere of the stories, which I think have been carried on through, and Leigh was more an actors-director. He would talk about your emotionality and Stephanie Scott who was the young actress in the third film, he had her write a journal and do all this outside work; some psychic stuff and he gave her assignments to almost fulfil in order to create the character. He didn’t do that with me because I am old... I am too old for that [laughs]. It is a team sport, that’s the way I look at it, and so your responsibility is to also be a team player. At the same time you cannot lose the fabric of what it is you are creating as the actor. So all three directors made terrific contributions evidenced by this last one in particular, which the audience seem to really love the storytelling and the pathos of the story itself, as well as Elise’s journey. So I feel gifted to have been given the gift of these three directors.
Speaking with Agnieszka Holland I asked her: “Across the decades, the feel of film has changed. For example, the American gangster film of the '40s has a different feel to the gangster film of the '70s onwards. Do you believe this shift is caused by more than technological developments, and may reflect a changing aesthetic?” She offered: “I think it is something that is more mystical -- a mystery that is included in the particular film, and which doesn’t age.” What are your thoughts on this change of a sense of feeling?
I feel both things. Technology has certainly become more advanced, and to be honest, one of the things I love about this franchise is that it’s not about any special effects. The Further is basically a big black room with smoke on the floor [laughs]. We don't have any fancy CGI or anything like that. I think spirituality in storytelling reflects the times, and there is an agelessness to fear, which is a very interesting emotion. Has the quality of fear changed or are people more afraid than they used to be? Or are they afraid of different things than before? And there is certainly a universality to the physical experience, which is never particularly pleasant for anybody. A good storyteller still elicits those feelings and with the horror film in particular, and seeing a film in a theatre with a lot of other people where everyone is experiencing the same kind of fear, but in different ways because we are obviously individuals, is very exciting. Part of the love of horror is that you are allowed to experience fear in a safe setting, and then you can then go home and be in your nice cosy bed after having had an horrific experience, which is both independent and yet a communal emotion. It reflects the spirit of the time and we are lacking in spirituality tremendously right now. Technology has really taken over and people haven’t found that mid-ground, which is disturbing to me to be honest. If you can lose yourself in whatever the spirit of the film is in those moments that you are watching it, then maybe it elevates us and takes us away from our stupid phones; I am so sick of them [laughs]. You know people are buried in their technology right now and a movie or the experience of storytelling can still elevate you out of that. And that's an important aspect of filmmaking in general. So I hope it elevates our spirit, as opposed to the other way around.
Interviewing filmmaker Christoph Behl he remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the creative process, and does the experience of watching a film offer the audience a transformative experience?
The first part is am I different person after I have worked on something and the answer has got to be yes. Hopefully we are always learning and that is part if it. I often feel like I didn’t know anything about anything, but you need to open yourself up to be creative on any level, and in anything you are doing that’s art, which I still consider what I do to be. So hopefully it does transform me on some level. Certainly for an audience it’s what you allow in, and again, cinema in particular is a safe place to experience personal change. It makes you think about something in a new way and in INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY the element of child abuse is very powerful, and possibly transformational to people who have experienced that in their real life, and who have never been able to admit to it, or discuss it. To me that was a very exciting element to the story and it was brave of Leigh Whannell to include something as dangerous as that in a populist horror film. I honestly thought to myself that there will be some young people who have been beaten by their father or mother, and who have never talked about it, and who after this film they might be able to say: “I never told anybody that this happened to me”; for there to be a moment of transformation in their lives too. So we had a responsibility and I hope we fulfilled it. But I do think people change spiritually from experiencing art, which as humans is a very important important part of our humanity and evolution. As I say, I am thrilled to be a part of it with such a team that honours that.
Insidious: The Last Key is returning to UK cinemas on 20th April 2018
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