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Q&A: Lin Shaye on “INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2”

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Horror has always been a safe haven for character actors, offering a showcase for their range and presence while providing them the type of roles they might not be able to inhabit in other types of movies. And while some actors view the genre with discontent, others welcome fear fare with open arms, embracing their roles with a dedication even beyond what the material entails. One of these is Lin Shaye, a genre veteran with such films under her belt as A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, CRITTERS and THE HIDDEN, who received a new level of visibility with her prominent role in INSIDIOUS and returns tomorrow in INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2.

Shaye, also a mainstay of Farrelly brothers comedies, is an old-school actress with a progressive mentality, championing her roles no matter how offbeat. It’s no surprise that the gung-ho and charming Shaye returned as Elise Rainier in INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2, albeit with her place in the story shrouded in mystery, given her demise at the end of the original. Shaye spoke to FANGORIA about the sequel, her collaborative process and the one role for which she turned to the history books…

FANGORIA: In the first film, Elise was particularly memorable, as you played the medium archetype very humbly, with an almost therapeutic cadence. Considering where she was left in INSIDIOUS, did you find that there was a certain amount of freedom to make her more aggressive and human in this chapter?

LIN SHAYE: It’s very interesting to hear your evaluation of the first film because, as an actor, those aren’t the kinds of lines I would think in. In the first INSIDIOUS, we were obviously introducing a character you don’t know too much about; you don’t know much about her past at all. That was something I worked pretty hard to figure out, so it informed the way I figured out all the dialogue that allowed me to be “the messenger.” It was exposition, basically, needed to explain the story—but of course, you can’t play it like that. You need to have a reason to be there, so the elements I had to deal with were, “Who am I? What is important about this case in particular that makes the stakes high for me when I help solve it? What does this family mean to me, and what happened in my past that makes them even more important?”

So the question of where Elise is once her fate has been sealed in the first movie was something that James [Wan] and I did discuss, although not so much until I got to set, because Elise didn’t come in until they had been in production for about a week and a half. I came in when the machine was already in motion, and we did have a discussion where he asked, almost like your question, “What do you think is different about Elise now?” We never came up with one real, specific thing; it was more about each individual scene. Like, “Would I use my hands at this moment? Do I look at people when I talk to them? Am I hearing things around me that other people don’t hear? What makes me different here from there, being in an altered universe?”

I haven’t seen the film yet, so I don’t know how it all translated! I know what Elise’s job is, and the urgency of it, so whatever it is I’m doing, it’s like I’m a bird, swooping down to help—whatever elements contribute to that action, which is more like how actors think, as in “What am I doing here? What do I have to do to get what I want?” Those are very primitive acting exercises that I try to make myself remember, because otherwise, I’m just saying lines, and anybody can just say lines. It’s about creating the activity you feel will achieve your goal as a character.

So I’m not sure what’s different, but I’ll see it when James puts it together, because he’s the master puppeteer in this situation. As actors, you provide colors and ideas and then there’ll be footage, and you’ll do take after take, possibly, but it’s him who will pick out [the performance]. “I like that gesture here; I don’t like that moment there.” He knows what moments will create that universe for the audience. So we’ll see!

FANG: One aspect of Elise that I noticed in INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 is that she’s given more humor in this film, which may be a byproduct of her being more hands-on and involved in the action, whereas in INSIDIOUS, she was more of a guiding presence. Were these qualities that attracted you to return for CHAPTER 2?

SHAYE: I would have returned for the sequel no matter what it was [laughs]! I was happy to be working with James and Leigh [Whannell] again. But it was very attractive, because the character has changed, and that’s what you saw. It’s a good change, and that makes me happy to hear. Again, it’s about what James picks. He chose the introduction to [Elise in CHAPTER 2]. That was James, completely, and he talked about it with me personally several times.

He set the character up in a beautiful way in this film, and it didn’t have to work out like that. There were many ways to reintroduce Elise, I think, and I don’t want to say anything more because I don’t want to spoil it for the audience. We don’t mean to sound mysterious, though we mean to sound mysterious! But it’s exciting how Elise is reintroduced, and everyone will be happy about it—let’s put it that way.

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FANG: You came to INSIDIOUS (pictured above) as a genre veteran, having built up an impressive résumé over almost 40 years. Were you informed at all by your previous horror-film experiences when you took the role of Elise?

SHAYE: No, I was not. I have to say that I approach everything exactly the same, whether it’s a comedy or drama or a genre picture or something I’ve never done. I immediately start with the source of the material, like a detective. I read the script, I look to see what other characters say about my role…and I can’t read a script on-line. I’ve got to have it in my hands with a pencil and paper. No matter how technological I get—which I won’t—there’s something about that process that’s really integral in terms of creation.

Maybe it’s just a force of habit, but I’ll make lists and jot down words, thoughts, ideas, colors, fabrics, states, songs—whatever comes to my mind. Whatever comes through my peripheral antennae, I don’t let any idea be censored, so I write down any and everything that I feel might be a possibility for the character. I don’t really go into history, unless I’m portraying a historical character. Then there’s work to do, but mostly for me, that would still be about the time period, as in researching what people wore, what people ate. Just really visceral things.

I’ve never played a living person biographically before, although I did play Eleanor Roosevelt once, which is another long story [laughs]. It was in a movie called FDR: AMERICAN BADASS, which was very funny and starred Barry Bostwick. I did do research on Eleanor for that! But mostly, it’s about the information on the character and where I feel the character fits into the story.

I didn’t really look at any other genre pieces, like POLTERGEIST, even though people say Elise is like Zelda [Rubinstein] in POLTERGEIST, blah blah blah. That’s certainly a compliment, because I saw that film, but I tried to make Elise personal to myself and figure out what was important to me about this family.

FANG: INSIDIOUS featured intelligent and proactive women as protagonists, which carries on in a big way in CHAPTER 2. Was this an inspiration to you in terms of crafting Elise throughout the franchise?

SHAYE: That wasn’t an element, but it’s wonderful that Leigh writes these strong female roles. That’s always thrilling, and his character voices are always strong and powerful, regardless of gender. It’s funny, because I don’t think about the “franchise” thing at all; the difficult thing for me, which I had never done, was recreating a character. I’ve never had the opportunity to play the same person in a movie again. So that was a bit of a challenge—to make sure I was staying in the right groove, because even though the circumstances are different, Elise is the same. I had to make sure to stay true to what I created in the original, even though she’s in a different place in the second film. It’s wonderfully attractive to have a strong role with a beginning, a middle and an end and is written with an arc, but that wasn’t a determining factor for me to come back and do CHAPTER 2.

If I’d had any suggestions about how to play Elise after reading what Leigh had written, I would have felt free to suggest so, but given the limitation of what this story had to be and what had to be answered, it was really up to James and Leigh to figure out Elise’s place in this world. I just felt happy to be a part of it. James and Leigh are just awesome people, and John R. Leonetti, who photographed the film, too, and Jason Blum, an awesome producer and a fabulous person. All in all, it was just a wonderful project to be a part of. So I was basically grateful to have been asked.

FANG: This film must have been particularly significant for you, as Whannell must have written Elise in your voice, as opposed to creating her and then having you fill her shoes in the first film. Did that make CHAPTER 2 easier than the first INSIDIOUS?

SHAYE: CHAPTER 2 was a little bit harder, because we’re just beginning to define where Elise is. If there’s more INSIDIOUS, I’m sure that world will be even richer and they’ll figure it out, but we’ve just started defining what those differences are. I had asked James, “Am I less emotional or more emotional? Am I more joyful or am I sadder, in human terms?” And we kind of did it scene by scene, so we could find the tonality for each moment. There were two different endings we shot for Elise, and I don’t know which one James picked because I haven’t seen the film yet. But they each had a different feeling and left Elise in a different place. That will definitely inform what happens next, if there is a next.

FANG: Do you have any other projects currently in development or awaiting release?

SHAYE: I just finished two projects. One is called THE SIGNAL with Laurence Fishburne that [the INSIDIOUS films’] Brian Kavanaugh-Jones is also a producer on, and another film he’s producing called GRACE, which Sony picked up for distribution from a director named Jeff Chan. It’s wonderful and scary; it’s about possession in the Church, and that was intense. I had a wonderful time shooting it and I’ve got a great role in it. But for now, INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2, here we come!

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Web Content Manager for FANGORIA, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, a graphic novel and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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