A haunted family struggles to uncover a terrifying secret that has left them dangerously connected to the spirit world in “Insidious: Chapter 2,” another nerve-twisting thriller from director James Wan and screenwriter/actor Leigh Whannell. This sequel reteams most of the cast from the first “Insidious” movie, including actors who play members of the haunted Lambert family (Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey and Ty Simpkins) and Whannell and Lin Shaye, who play paranormal investigators. Here is what Wilson said when I recently sat down with him during a roundtable interview at the New York City press junket for “Insidious: Chapter 2.”
You’ve done three James Wan-directed movies about ghosts in two years: “Insidious,” “The Conjuring” and “Insidious: Chapter 2.” Do you personally believe in ghosts or spirits?
They’re not making me see them, if that’s what you mean. [He laughs.] [The “Insidious” series] is such a different beast than “The Conjuring.” It’s a whole different kind of ghost. But I’m still ghost-free, so far.
I’ve given a lot of thought to it, trust me. I’m certainly open to it. [“Insidious: Chapter 2”] is much more of a fantasy film, so it’s much different. It’s dealing with astral projection and this crazy demon. It’s a much different beast.
“The Conjuring” was rooted in reality and case stories. On that, I learned a lot about ghosts and demons. I think there’s definitely another world at play, but I think that technically, if the same ghost were in this room, we would all see it differently. I think that’s the way that I feel about it, if that makes sense.
Can you compare and contrast the atmosphere on the sets of “The Conjuring” and the “Insidious” movies?
It’s also based on shooting schedule. The “Insidious” movies, the first one was [filmed] in 22 or 23 days, and this one was 26 days. This is a much more aggressive, brutal schedule, whereas “The Conjuring” was a studio film. It had five times this budget. It had three months to shoot. It was based on a real story. It’s a whole different beast.
That being said, it’s almost the exact same crew. We’ve all been together quite a bit on three movies, going back three years. It was a different vibe. And I think because you’re dealing with “The Conjuring,” this tagline of “based on a true story,” and things were real — at least from somebody’s perspective — and you’re dealing with the Bible and religion and demons, that carries much more significant weight.
Nothing really weird happens on this [“Insidious: Chapter 2”] set. I think when they shot in Linda Vista Hospital, that was creep and weird for a lot of people, but nothing really strange happened.
When you do a movie that has a lot of intense scenes, what do you do off of the set to decompress?
This was pretty exhausting. The prosthetics as the mood went on, the days in that. My family was there with me for a bit, a week and a half of it. I’ve sort of got it down, as soon the bell rings, I’m like Fred Flinstone out of there. I leave it all there. I just go home and rest. The fortunate thing about having little children is that they don’t let you think about your work, because you’re doing other things. That’s the benefit of going home to your family.
Did you think you would be doing so many horror movies in a short period of time?
No. I think I’m pretty tapped out. I don’t know where you go after [“Insidious: Chapter 2”] … It’s pretty clear that we’re going on to another family … You can only be surprised so many times. It's a different beast with “Conjuring” because we're not the family being [haunted].
"I think if Ron Livingston and Lili [Taylor] were sitting here, they'd go, “I don't think we're in ‘Conjuring 2.’” It just makes sense that [paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by Wilson and Vera Farmiga] would go on to a different case.
With these [movies’ so close together, and with James [Wan], I know it seems like I have a penchant for horror movies, but in the grand scheme of it, you’re talking about three out of nearly 30 films that I’ve done. It happens to be right now.
How does James Wan compare to other directors you’ve worked with in your career?
He’s up there. He’s great. What I love about James is that even in the [horror] genre, the difference from “Saw” to “The Conjuring” to [“Insidious: Chapter 2”], in a weird way it’s sort of fantasy or even camp at times … If I were to put “The Conjuring” in ‘70s horror movies, I’d put to [“Insidious: Chapter 2”] in some ‘80s horror movies.
You watch “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” and you watch it as a cynical adult. It’s a guy who’s burn victim in a striped shirt and fedora. There’s almost a ridiculous element, and yet you’re scared. I like that even in the genre, James pushes himself as far as he can go. I love that. I really admire that.
And that was one thing that after the first “Insidious,” I thought, “If you’re going to do it again and move the story along, can you pick it up right where you left off? And where do you go?’ And I think they just wanted to swing a big stick.
So you’re dealing with a linear storyline of what is physically happening to me. And then you’re dealing with this non-linear story line with time travel and the Further. It’s a lot. I applaud that. There are questions that were answered …
I like those kinds of things: answering questions that they didn’t know that they were raising on the first one, filling in those gaps of using footage from the first film. I don’t know too many movies that do that, certainly not in this genre.
I think it’s fun. And we couldn’t do another haunted house movie. Rose can’t be surprised or sad that someone’s possessed. I can’t save anybody else. It’s like when a comedy goes back for a sequel, does it look like the same joke?
I really applaud the fact that they stuck their neck out. And with “The Conjuring,” it’s a completely different beast, but you can’t help but put them in the same category and compare them, but it’s such a different style of movie — at least that’s my feeling.
Without giving away spoilers, your Josh Lambert character in “Insidious: Chapter 2” shows a darker side than how he was in "Insidious". What kind of mindset did you go into, or what direction did James Wan give you, to play those chilling scenes so well?
I think one of the most fun scenes for me to do was the scene with me and Steven Coulter [who plays paranormal investigator Tucker], where he comes to the [Lambert] house — that back and forth. Steven is a really good actor. Steve was also in “The Conjuring,” which is a little bit of a nugget of knowledge that nobody knows. He was the priest that Vera [Farmiga] and I go to see.
That’s how James met Steve. He’s a very good actor. He’s lived in L.A. for a long time and now lives in Atlanta. That’s James. He thinks of guys he’s worked with and knows he can trust. Steve’s a good actor, so I knew that “Oh, this will be fun. We’ll have a good time together.”
But I think specifically when you get into that stuff, you just want to go with the strength and the stillness, so whenever you make a move, it means something. If it’s a really dramatic scene, I want to find somewhere if it’s some joke or whether I smile or something to make it a little more off-kilter.
I remember reading some interview with somebody saying — I won’t quote him because I disagree with the comment — but it was something like, “Oh, all actors have to be tortured souls.” And I found that completely false. I get to exorcise that one little kernel of something that bothers you, I get to act out all my evil instincts on film. I get to let it out in movies. And that’s part of the fun: going to that dark place.
What was it like to work with Barbara Hershey, who plays Lorraine Lambert, Josh’s mother?
It was great! It’s so great to see her role expanded in [“Insidious: Chapter 2”], because it felt like we hit a gold mine in getting her for the first [“Insidious”] movie. She’s done a ton of work, but James is a big fan of her previous horror work. She’s awesome. She’s a total pro.
She’s just very skillful. She’s great. She’s Barbara Hershey. You could have taken any take, any rehearsal, and they’re all different. She’s like Meryl [Streep] and Glenn Close, like, “Yeah, you guys are really, really good.”
How long are you going to make your kids wait to see the “Insidious” movies?
They’re 7 and 4. To see the whole movie? Probably a long time. But I’ll show them pieces of stuff. They come to the set too.
I would show them parts of the first one, because my son would could to the set and remember seeing the red-faced demon getting into makeup. My son is a cinephile. He’s a huge movie guy, so he can look at it from that perspective too.
But obviously, I’m not going to show him the whole thing. I may show him bits of [“Insidious: Chapter 2”] … when I was running around in the makeup, because I would send him pictures of what I looked like. He loves that stuff.
What’s next for you?
I think I'm going to do this movie called “Big Stone Gap,” based on the novel by Adriana Trigiani. It's a little independent movie, but coincidentally, “Big Stone Gap,” which is a series of books that were very successful, is where my father and grandfather are all from, this tiny little coal-mining town [in Virginia]. So it's a double whammy for me. I get to stay at my grandparents' house. They're no longer here, but we still own the house on Wilson Road, going over Wilson Bridge.
For more info: "Insidious: Chapter 2" website