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 Byrne said when I recently sat down with her during a roundtable interview at the New York City press junket for “Insidious: Chapter 2.”
It seems like your Renai Lambert character got knocked around more in “Insidious: Chapter 2” more than she did in the first “Insidious” movie. How much of that was you and how much was a stunt double?
I did have stunt double for few things when the bookshelf falls over. And a couple of other things. And a bunch of it I did myself. I’m kind of one of those actresses who, if I hit someone with a frying pan, I’ll go, “I’m so sorry! Are you OK?” But this movie is kind of like an action [movie], especially for Renai and the kids … Yeah, it’s a different kind of workout. It’s pretty draining. By the end, you’re pretty tired from the physical, but it’s fun, too, because you get out of your head, which is a little more intuitive, which is always fun.
Do you personally believe in ghosts or spirits?
I’ve never had an encounter. When it happens, I’m well up for it and ready. But it’s not something that’s happened to me. I like horror movies, good ones. I’m a fan of a good scare.
What’s your favorite horror movie, besides the ones that you’ve done?
“The Shining” is one of the classics. That terrified me when I was little. I like “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” the original. And “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” like old school. When I was growing up, I used to love that stuff.
Did you find yourself getting scared watching those movies?
Anything that’s too out there, more for films about serial killers. There’s an Australian film called “Snow Town,” which is based partly on a true story in Adelaide in Australia. That’s probably the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. It’s about these murderers in Australia. I was terrified to even watch it! I turned it off.
Speaking of Australia, a lot of people who see you act on TV or in movies don’t know that you’re really Australian, because you tend to play Americans or British people. Do you find it easy to do an American accent?
It does. I love doing the accent. I did a television show [“Damages”] for five years, so that was really great training for getting more natural with it. I love getting into character and distancing myself from myself. I like it.
When you do a movie with a lot of intense scenes, what do you do off of the set to decompress?
[She says jokingly] A lot of heroin. [She says seriously] The pace is so fast, so we would sort of retreat into our corners and recharge a little bit and have your space. And then you go back into it. But it was great because the pace was fast, so there wasn’t too much waiting around, because that’s sometimes the frustration on the set: the waiting.
I did a TV show for years, and the pacing is fantastic. You get used to working like that. [“Insidious: Chapter 2”] was a quick shoot. It wasn’t a huge budget, so we kept it at a really fast clip. I don’t really do heroin.
Your Renai Lambert character has a baby to take care of in “Insidious: Chapter 2” whom she didn’t have the first “Insidious” movie. What was that like, since actors say that working with babies can be unpredictable?
There were three different babies. One didn’t want to be there. She was screaming relentlessly. And then the other two, one was pretty good and the other one was 50/50 and could go either way. That was the biggest challenge: the babies. So that was hard. That was pretty crazy.
Can you compare and contrast what it’s like to do a horror movie compared to your comedy film? What’s easier or harder for you?
I think comedy is harder for me. I’m still pretty new to it. That’s a different energy that you have to keep up all day. And improvising is a part of your brain you have to access, and to me, it’s all new. That’s why comedy is really hard. You do drama, and on top of that, you have to get a laugh.
But weirdly, comedy and horror [have something in common]. Like, when you see a horror film or when you see a comedy, the first thing you talk about with friends is, “Is it funny and is it scary?” That’s kind of what matters, in a way. It’s authentic in their reaction, and you hear it straight away. Because working in both genres, like hard comedy and hard horror films, they have that same sort of thing. But comedy is really hard, and I admire those who can do it effortlessly. They make it look, but it’s actually really hard.
There’s a subtext in the “Insidious” movies about mothers who have to deal with possessed children. On the one hand, the mothers want to be protective of these children, but on the other hand, they have to be in conflict with the children because the thing that is possessing the children is causing chaos in the family. Can you talk about your Renai Lambert’s approach to this dichotomy?
James really helped in that sense. I was like, “How are we going to ground this in reality?” He said, “It’s like Josh is having an affair.” So it was grounding it in that.
And obviously, her children being the main focus of protection and keeping the family alive and protect them. And there was a moment when I said to James, “What’s the rational decision here?” And he said, “It’s a risk she’s taking to save the family in the long term.” Because of what they’ve just been through, she knows that there’s an element that is really out of her control and that she has to really trust him and his access to that world.
You also had some scenes with Barbara Hershey in “Insidious: Chapter 2” where we get to see more of your in-law relationship with her than we did in the first “Insidious” movie. What was it like working with her/
She’s great. She’s smart and such a cool actress to work with.
Which location in “Insidious: Chapter 2” have you the biggest chills: the Lambert house, the abandoned hospital or another location?
None of them were palaces. [She laughs.] The dust is what killed us at the hospital. That dust was intense because everyone’s coughing and you can’t see anything. That gets a little rough.
But the house is pretty creepy. They scout the most incredible locations. The houses they find, it’s just wild! It’s so strange and not my cup of tea. It’s very atmospheric.
The hospital was pretty strange. It’s in a strange part of L.A., which added to it. So the hospital was probably a little bit weirder. And there’s something about a hospital, because there are so many lives and deaths are there. It’s pretty potent.
You’ve done a wide variety of projects, so when you meet your fans in real life, what kinds of comments or feedback do you get the most about any of these projects?
It depends on the demographic. People just think they know me, like, “Have I met you?” I think the [Australian] accent throws people off. Usually, it’s “Bridesmaids,” because that was such a successful film that was seen by a lot of people.
But “Insidious” is really popular with young kids, really. Boys, they love this genre. My boyfriend [Bobby Cannavale’s] son is big fan of “Insidious.” It’s nice when people [recognize me]. I’m always really flattered that people know my work.
Are your Australian fans different from your other fans?
Not really. I’ve been very lucky that I’m generally under the radar within certain circles in Australia. The industry is smaller [than in United States], and obviously, the population is a lot less. But I’m pretty under the radar, in terms of visibility and people knowing me. I live a normal life. I don’t get followed around or any of that. That’s where people become super-recognizable.
When you look back on “Get Him to the Greek,” what are your memories?
I just loved playing Jackie Q. It was so much fun. She was so flamboyant and bizarre and narcissistic and wild wildly different to me. It was a comedy which was very exciting to be a part of.
What’s next for you?
I just wrapped a film called “Townies,” which is opposite Seth Rogen, with [director] Nick Stoller, whom I worked with on “Get Him to the Greek.” So I’m reunited with Nick Stoller, the director. That comes out in , so I’m excited to see that. It’s about a young couple and a baby.
Is it true that you have a role in the “Annie” movie musical?
Yes. I think I can say that now. I am playing the role of Grace, who works with Benjamin Stacks, who is Jamie Foxx's character.
How is the singing going, since “Annie” is your first movie musical?
Just dipping my toe into the whole thing. I'm starting. I'm going to see how it all unfolds. It's really exciting.
What have you heard about a third “Insidious” movie?
I was so lucky to be a part of these two films. It was a tiny movie we did with no money and no time, and it was really successful. It was so encouraging and really inspiring to do another one. I feel very lucky to even be part of two of them.
Has your acting career turned out in the way that you expected it would?
You never really know, starting out, what will unfold. I was sort of bumbling along a little bit, in terms of coming to America and getting small roles in big films and bigger roles in small films. But the ability with acting — if you’re lucky enough to be a working actor — to work everywhere, or to be a chameleon and try to work in different films or plays or whatever it is, that always really excited me about the job and the potential. So that’s something that’s been really exciting: to have the privilege to work in lots of different places with lots of different artists.
Is there anything that you’d like to do before this summer ends?
I’d like to go to Coney Island. I haven’t been there for about 10 years. I think I’m due a visit. I like the rides. I haven’t been there for a while. It would be really interesting to go down there and take some photos.
When will you go back and visit Australia next?
For Christmas, hopefully. I miss it. It’s beautiful there that time of year.
For more info: "Insidious: Chapter 2" website