From the franchise of Saw to the edge of the seat horror film Insidious, James Wan has become a name synonymous to some of the best Hollywood films. This Australian film director-producer is gearing up for the sequel to the much talked about Conjuring which releases today in India. Getting into a detailed tete-à-tête with James is Bollywood Hungama‘s team as we reveal some more details on the upcoming details of The Conjuring 2.
In taking the next story to Enfield in London, were you looking to create a completely different environment from the first film?
Yeah, part of the reason I wanted to come back and was willing to come back was that it felt very different stylistically. So the location change really made it feel like a different movie, and, obviously, the time period of ‘7s London just gave such a different flavor.
I’ve heard you had a priest come and bless the set of The Conjuring 2 prior to filming. Whose idea was it?
I don’t know whose idea it was, but it was brilliant, because the rest of the shoot was smooth going. Nothing too creepy happened, not that I know of, anyway. Actually, Patrick (Wilson) has a great video that one of the crew members took one night after we had finished shooting. A crew member took a video of the huge soundstage curtain – the kind you draw all around the studio – just swaying on its own; there was no one around making it do that. Everything was closed down, all the doors were shut, and the air conditioning and all the fans were shut down. It’s super cool.
Patrick and Vera Farmiga are magic together. What did you see between the two of them when you cast them in the first film as Ed and Lorraine Warren?
I’ve always admired Vera Farmiga and loved the idea of working with her. I love her work all the way back. With the first movie, I think I’d seen her in was a movie she made with Paul Walker called Running Scared. I thought she was just amazing in that movie and, obviously, subsequent movies she made after that. I love what she looks like; I love her ability. I felt I needed someone like a Vera Farmiga to portray that sort of other worldly character of Lorraine Warren, and that’s what Vera brings to it. So I felt very fortunate that we reached out to Vera and she was excited about this role. And doubly exciting for me was the fact that she knew Patrick. She had directed Patrick’s wife in a movie (Higher Ground) in the past, so they already had a bit of history there. I thought, ‘This is great!’ and, of course, I had worked with Mr. Wilson many times before (laughs) on Insidious. And I just love Patrick. He’s such a great actor. And, you know, women love him for some reason – I don’t know why (laughs). I think he’s such a great leading man and is really just biding his time here (laughs). So, yes, it was great. The two of them just get along so well. I think they’re about the same age and share a lot of similarities and influences. They’re both really loving family people. He’s a very loving dad and husband, and she is a very loving mom and wife. And that was the perfect dynamic that I needed for the Warrens.
Were there any insights, or special little things that you got from Lorraine that you wanted to work into this story?
Yes. It wasn’t necessarily a specific thing to do with this case in particular. But, more than anything, what I really wanted to get from talking to Lorraine between this movie and the first Conjuring was just about the dynamic between them. I love hearing the love story between her and Ed. I just love that part of them. And I’ve always said, even if you don’t believe in who they are, they make really interesting cinematic characters. That was one of the things I really wanted to tell with this one – the love story between the two of them – so that was the one thing asked Lorraine a bit more about. She is a lot older now and so her memory’s not quite as good, but I’m very glad I was able to hear sort of little anecdotes about her and Ed and how Ed would not do certain things, or how he would do certain things. That was the great part for me.
As much as how Patrick and Vera work in both of these films, you also have such strong mother characters. They are strong enough to be protectors of their kids but also human enough to react to what’s happening around them. Can you talk about your process in casting the mother?
Yeah. I mean, listen, I have such a great casting director, first and foremost: Anne McCarthy, who helps me tremendously with all the characters, especially the kids. But she did such a great job in helping me find Lili Taylor; I’ve been a fan of Lili’s for such a long time, and we were very lucky to get her for the first movie. Lili did such an amazing job that we thought, ‘You know what? We’ve got to live up to that.’ So when Frances O’Connor’s name came up, I said, ‘We’ve got to go with Frances.’ I’ve been a big fan of Frances’s, all the way back to her work in Australia, when I was really young. I’ve known her work for a long time, and I’ve always wanted to work with her, so this was the perfect opportunity. She really wanted to be a part of this movie. She loved the first film. It is that role where you need someone who’s strong, but in this movie, she’s playing a character who’s sort of lower middle class, very English, from that part of the world in that time period. And Frances, who is such a well-respected actor, really wanted to capture that in her performance – living in a council house, and not having the money to look after her family. She really did her research into Peggy Hodgson. But, of course, she wanted to play Peggy her way – as she should – so that was the fine line of what Frances brings to it and what the real Peggy Hodgson kind of demanded.
Can you talk about the house? It felt so creepy…
Yes. You want to Clorox the whole place (laughs). Okay, I’ll talk about two aspects of it. Firstly, we talked a fair bit with the people who were there in the late ’70s, who are part of this particular story, right? And one of the people investigating it, who was there during the height of all the media frenzy, was a guy called Graham Morris. He’s the photographer who took a lot of the pictures of whatever thing that happened in the house, and he could not be any more of a skeptic. He’s not a religious person. He’s not spiritual. He’s still alive and has become a very famous cricket photographer. He’s highly respected in the photographic/journalistic world. Graham Morris said when he was there, the house felt like it was just falling apart; the wallpaper was peeling off the walls. This family was very poor – they had no money to fix anything. And he said, ‘I could not believe that this was the environment that these people were living in.’ He felt bad for them. But he also said, ‘I don’t believe in the supernatural world, but things were happening in that house that I just could not explain.’ He told us that things would be moving around on their own and that he literally had a LEGO brick fly out of a living room and hit him in the face, and it drew blood. When he went to look in the room, there was no one there. And these council houses are so small, there’s no place for anyone to hide. He said that for some reason, whatever entity was in that space really hit it up every time Janet was around. I hear the stories and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God,’ you know? I take what he says as a testimonial.
So when I went to create the house, I tried to stay as true to those people as I could. A big part of the thing I wanted to do with this movie was to change the look from the first film. The first movie took place on a farmhouse. It was isolated in the middle of nowhere. It’s a big, big farmhouse, and there was a lot of space to move around. There’s a lot of places for boogeymen to hide in. What made this one exciting for me was that it could not be more the opposite. It was smack in the middle of suburbia, in a busy borough on the outskirts of London, and there was pedestrian traffic everywhere. And that was what made it very exciting for me because the house, for lack of a better term, is actually very boring. It wasn’t your typical haunted house. It wasn’t on the Moors. It wasn’t a big Gothic mansion. It was a very boring looking council home. And I saw that as an exciting challenge for me to do something different, and make is scary.
The film is based on true events, but can you talk about what creative license you took just to move the story along?
Well, I mean, it’s not a documentary (laughs). So, yes, going in I knew that I was making a movie that was subjective in terms of perspective. It’s not objective. I wanted to make a movie through the point of view of these characters. I want to be respectful to what they said happened to them, and it was just the same with the first movie as well. At the end of the day, the true aspect is a foundation for me to build my own scares, but always coming back, though, to what made these characters real and what they said happened. So it’s that the fine line of: if I start real and sort of branch off a little bit, I always remember to pull myself back to this. It’s very important to keep coming back to that tree stump. If the stump is the true aspect of it, the tree branches that branch off are the stuff that I would create. But, at the end of the day, the foundation – the stump – is still what is supposedly real. That’s important.
You’ve had success in other genres but clearly have a passion and a gift for the horror genre. Can you go back to the beginning and talk about what it was about horror that first spoke to you as a kid?
First and foremost, I’m just a fan of the genre. I mean, I saw Poltergeist and Jaws at such a young age, and those movies scared me. Poltergeist made me terrified of creepy dolls and there’s a reason why I’m somewhat fixated with evils dolls (laughs).
And clowns, right! I have (Steven) Spielberg to blame for that and Tobe Hooper. And then Jaws made me terrified of the watery unknown – the ocean – and the concept of taking us out of a space that we’re comfortable in and putting us in an environment where we’re literally the fish out of water, right? So, between those two movies, I think I kind of started understanding the dynamic of how to create tension. So, part of the reason I got into horror movies initially was that I love the genre, so I know I can make something in the horror genre that comes from a pure place, a place of passion. But I remember reading an article where Sam Raimi said that horror is the best genre to break into in filmmaking because you don’t necessarily need a lot of money to make it work. And it can be effective; you can make it really good for a little amount of money. But, more importantly for me, that particular genre, the horror genre, is a director’s medium. It lets the director craft the camera work. Craft the cuts on scene, and know what to edit in your sound design. There’s visual, there’s lighting, there’s using the actors in such a way. So it truly is a director’s medium and I just felt it was the perfect place for me to showcase myself as a filmmaker. And since I became successful with the first movie (laughs), Hollywood kind of pigeons you and puts you in that box.
But does anything still scare you?
In the movie world or just in general?
In the movie world, I think I’m very fortunate that I can still detach myself from the filmmaker part of me, and watch other people’s movies and be scared by them. But in general, the real world scares me the most (laughs). We’ve got an election coming up…