Visually stunning and emotionally gripping horror films often contend with external forces that physically and mentally challenge and damage a family’s safety. Investigating the sinister events that spark the evil plaguing a family can be truly terrifying, as it threatens the family’s sense of domestic security and safety. Actor Patrick Wilson has undoubtedly found well-deserved recent success in the horror genre, particularly in the supernatural subgenre, in which spirits and ghosts mercilessly haunt families with young children. From this summer’s acclaimed horror thriller ‘The Conjuring,’ which was helmed by famed horror director James Wan, to the anticipated horror thriller sequel ‘Insidious: Chapter 2,’ which opens on Friday in theaters and reunited the actor and filmmaker, Wilson effortlessly explored the lasting psychological effects hauntings have on families.
Immediately pickup up where the original film left off, ‘Insidious: Chapter 2’ follows the Lambert family, including Josh (Wilson); his wife, Renai (Rose Byrne); their sons, Dalton (Ty Simpkins) and Foster (Andrew Astor); and Josh’s mother, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), as they’re reunited after Josh went into the Further to get Dalton back. However, paranormal events continue to occur to the family, which become more and more terrifying. When the family begins to notice strange behavior from Josh, they start to wonder if it was really him who came back from the Further. With the help of returning investigators Specs (the film’s screenwriter, Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), who helped the Lamberts uncover the ghosts that haunted them the first time, as well as one of Elise Rainier’s (Lin Shaye) old acquaintances, Carl (Steve Coulter), the family is once again prepared to fight the spirits that have long plagued them.
Byrne generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Insidious: Chapter 2’ during a roundtable interview at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Among other things, the actor discussed how after being offered several horror films, he appeared in the anticipated follow-up, as well as ‘The Conjuring,’ because of the filmmaker’s esteemed reputation and skills in the genre; how he took different approaches to preparing for both films, as ‘Insidious: Chapter 2’ is based on fantasy, and ‘The Conjuring’ is more factual, as it’s based on a true story; and how he’s interested in shooting several sequels to ‘The Conjuring,’ as there are more stories to tell about his character, Ed Warren, but he’s not sure how to follow-up on the Lamberts’ adventures, as the family finds more of a resolution in ‘Insidious: Chapter 2.’
Question (Q): Over the past few years, you’ve become one of the more trusted names in horror. Did you plan on moving into the genre?
Patrick Wilson (PW): No, it’s funny. I resisted horror movies for a long time, because they usually weren’t actor-friendly. The ones I loved growing up, like ‘The Shining’ and ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘Poltergeist,’ I thought they were (actor-friendly). The actors in them were great.
It’s a certain skill set, not to toot our own horns. Especially with this movie, it’s melodramatic and campy at times. It’s not in bad way, it’s just heightened. So I think it takes a certain skill set.
I think I appeared in these films because of James, to be honest. I get offered horror movies, but I’m pretty tapped out here. (laughs) I think I’m pretty good. I imagine with ‘The Conjuring,’ there are more stories to tell.
**SPOILER ALERT** But I don’t know what you do with the Lambert family after this. I think we have a nice closure with the Lambert family at the end of this one. **END SPOILER ALERT**
Q: Do you believe in ghosts yourself?
PW: Oh sure. I haven’t seen any, but I’m open. (laughs) If they want to come show their faces, sure.
I did a lot of that kind of research for ‘The Conjuring.’ This is a much different beast. But in the research I did, I feel like there’s another world or force out there. I haven’t really seen anything, but I’ve heard things. I’ve had a few unexplained things happen, but it doesn’t freak me out. I don’t feel like the ghosts are bad. But I guess they can be, obviously. (laughs)
Q: Can you talk about your upcoming projects?
PW: Sure. It’s been a busy year, so there’s a lot of different and interesting stuff. I just wrapped this action comedy ‘Stretch,’ with Chris Pine and Ed Helms, that Joe Carnahan directed, and (‘Insidious: Chapter 2’ producer) Jason Blum produced, actually.
I also did a black comedy (‘Ward’s Wife’) with my wife (actress Dagmara Dominczyk) and family, that my brother-in-law, Scott Foley, had written. I also did this movie, ‘North of Hell.’ It’s a very dark comedy with me and Katherine Heigl and Jordana Brewster and Jim Belushi. It’s super funny and crazy.
There are a few in there, and I’m super-busy. I always try to find something different. If you noticed, there aren’t any horror movies in there. (laughs) I try to vary as much as I can.
Q: Any theater work in there?
PW: I say this all the time, and I’m constantly looking. A lot of the reason why actors leave the business is because they can’t stand not knowing what their next job is. I don’t care, as it will work itself out. I’m very fortunate that I’ve been working a lot.
But with theater, you have to plan it so far in advance. It’s hard for me to go, next spring, I want to play so-and-so for eight months (in a play). It’s very difficult. But I’ve been looking for musicals to do, but it’s very hard to find a good role in something I would want to do for awhile. Especially with a Broadway musical, you have to be there for six months, at least, and that’s a haul.
Q: Do you look at those roles differently than film roles?
PW: It’s different. In six months, I’ve shot four films. But I also came up doing a lot of theater roles for eight months or a year or a year-and-a-half at a time. That’s a lot of fun, but doing a show for six months or a year means that I only put my kids to bed one night a week during that time.
I love doing theater, and I did theater for a long time. It’s the reason why my wife and I still live here, to do theater. But it just takes a lot of planning.
Q: Since the ‘Insidious’ films aren’t based on a true story, while ‘The Conjuring’ is based on real people, what was it like to go into the mindset of those on which that film is based?
PW: Since ‘Insidious’ is a fantasy in every sense of the word, since it is a fictional story, it’s a different kind of preparing. I wasn’t really preparing for it like I did for ‘The Conjuring,’ in which I was shifting through tapes, and you ask, how did he do this? You sort of look at it like a biopic.
With this, it’s more about, what are the rules of the world you’re creating, and James is creating? You ask, can I ask this question? Can I answer this? So it’s more about being present, and trying to answer questions, and mapping out your possession.
It’s also about finding those little moments of wanting to trick the audience a little with the family. You’re getting into, what it’s like to be possessed, and how we react. It’s about finding one moment where we linger on the kid a little too long. So on the first time viewing, you don’t think anything of it. But then the next time viewing it, you’re like, wow, he’s staring. Those are all specific things that either I or James came up with.
In the fantasy world, it’s just about making real progress, even in the way I would say, this is my room, or whatever. The choice of words is very specific. Most people wouldn’t notice it, or wouldn’t care. But this is stuff I would dig into.
Q: Did you watch the first movie again, since the second one picks up right where it left off?
PW: Yeah, I did. just to get back into what was happening. I watched the first one and ‘The Shining’ again.
Q: Was it easy to find the character again?
PW: Yeah. Well, he looks similar to me. (laughs)
Q: In the same realm, you’re playing the same character in the sequel, but everything you’re doing is the complete opposite this time. You’re the one doing the scaring now, as opposed to being the one who’s scared. Was that interesting for you, since you weren’t doing what you knew worked in the first film?
PW: Yeah, I think that’s a trap for a lot of horror sequels that don’t really work very well. Or the sequel features a totally different family and circumstance. It’s very similar to comedy, too. You don’t want to do the same jokes, and have the same set-up again.
It’s very hard. Like with ‘The Hangover’ movies, it’s tough. You’ve got a built-in audience, so you know they’re going to enjoy it. I was there opening weekend for ‘The Hangover: Part II.’ With that franchise, there was so much money involved.
But with ‘Insidious: Chapter 2,’ we still only filmed it in 20 days. It wasn’t like we were all of a sudden given $30 million. We made it again for very little. I think there’s a creative freedom in that. James and Leigh would say, go where you want, and do what you want to do. You can’t really do the haunted house again.
Q: In this movie, you’re the one scaring the kids. What was it like working with the child actors?
PW: I’ve actually known Ty for years; he was my son in ‘Little Children.’ But he’s never seen me like this. While I know Ty, I also kept a good distance. I’m a dad-I have two boys, and I know it’s a fine line.
I don’t want them to think I’m actually going to hurt them. But at the same moment, I want to surprise them. I don’t want to tell them exactly what I’m going to do. So that little bit of fear is really good, to be honest. But I don’t want it to be in a child abuse way.
It also goes when you’re working with kids on any kind of film. If you’re their buddy the whole time, when it comes time to work, they’re still joking around about the joke from five minutes ago. You have to say, okay, we have to work now.
I’ve always had a great relationship with Ty. But a lot of it is knowing when to work. With child actors, they need to know that when they’re there, they’re there to work. We had fun on the set, but when it was time to go to work, we were ready to work. Kids may still be joking around, so you’ve got to rein them in. James was good with that.
In the meat of the movie, I was possessed. So there was a lot of chit-chat before. After I was banged up, they were terrified, so I made sure they were okay. I was there to work. My tagline was, I’m not here to make friends. (laughs) It’s terrible to say.
Q: Did you shoot this movie before ‘The Conjuring?’
PW: No, we shot this movie a little over six months ago, in February. I shot ‘The Conjuring’ over a year-and-a-half ago.
They’re very different. I’ve had a very good friend of mine who’s seen both and is very objective. He said, to me, ‘The Conjuring’ was fine, but this freaked me out. I was like, but this is make-believe, with crazy make-up.
It’s very strange. It may have to do with religion; if you grew up with religion, and you believe in it, that’s part of it, too. With ‘The Conjuring,’ it gets you on that level.
Q: In your research for ‘The Conjuring,’ did you read about any particular Ed and Lorraine Warren cases that you can see being adapted down the line?
PW: Are you digging for a sequel? (laughs) We are going to do a sequel to that. (Screenwriters) Chad and Carey (Hayes) have talked about a sequel. I saw one thing they said in the press, and I wouldn’t mind furthering the gossip. They spoke about a case in London about two sisters who are possessed. I did read about the case in my research. (laughs) In the latter part of the book, ‘The Demonologist,’ it gets pretty intense and insane.
But there are thousands of cases. So there may be more than one. But I haven’t read a script.
Q: Do you think ghosts are all in a person’s mind?
PW: That’s a whole other conversation. I think the answer is probably yes. But on the flip side of that, maybe that’s what seeing ghosts is, anyway. What is crazy? Maybe you’re possessed. It goes round and round. Maybe they just need to take medication.
We all know we use so little of our brain. With kids and animals, there’s another sensory, where you can sense some sort of danger, and ask, what is that? When you see something, I think it’s all in that other sense. Maybe there’s not a person standing in front of you, and you’re imagining it. But it could be something.
Written by: Karen Benardello