People don’t often ponder their mortality and humanity until they’re unexpectedly forced to face both their literal and figurative ghosts in frightening situations. But Fangoria Chainsaw Award-winning actress Lin Shaye has captivatingly appreciated the journey of reflecting on your life choices when you’re compelled to contend with those phantoms over the course of her career. The performer, who has become welcomed in the horror genre in recent years for her portrayal of the medium Elise in the ‘Insidious’ trilogy, is once again powerfully embracing the reemergence of those ghosts in the ‘Grim Grinning Ghost’ segment of the new anthology horror film, ‘Tales of Halloween,’ which is now playing in theaters and on VOD and iTunes.
‘Grim Grinning Ghost’ follows the easily frightened Lynn (Alex Essoe) as she tries to enjoy the festivities at her mother’s (Lin Shaye) annual Halloween party. Along with the other guests, Lynn intensely listens to her mother tell a story about a spirit of a girl who was considered an outcast of society, as her face was tragically disfigured. To get her revenge on people for tormenting her, the ghost would sneak up on, and scare, unsuspecting victims who turned around to look at her.
After her mother finishes the story, one of the guests sneaks up on Lynn and makes her jump, since she’s so easily scared. On her way home after the party later in the night, her car breaks down, and she’s forced to walk the rest of the way home. Shen then suspects that something’s following her, but she decides it’s just her over-active imagination playing another trick on her. But when she then lets her guard down, Lynn discovers whether or not her mother’s story was a fantasy she should truly worry about.
Shaye generously took the time to talk about filming ‘Grim Grinning Ghost’ recently during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actress discussed how she was drawn to play the mother in ‘Grim Grinning Ghost’ because she wanted to work with the segment’s writer, director and producer, Axelle Carolyn, who she feels is smart and knows her material, and contribute her acting skills to what she thought sounded like a unique film; how she appreciates how her acting work has made her an icon in horror movies, and cherishes working with both up-and-coming and experienced filmmakers and other actors in the genre, including Wes Craven and Johnny Depp on ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street,’ and James Wan and Leigh Whannell on the ‘Insidious’ trilogy; and how she feels that both the emotional arcs and look of her characters really helps her connect with each movie.
ShockYa (SY): You star in the ‘Grim Grinning Ghost’ section of the new anthology horror film, ‘Tales of Halloween.’ What can you discuss about your character in, and the story of, your section of the movie, and why were you drawn to play him?
Lin Shaye (LS): It was all about Axelle! (laughs) The project was generated by her, and ‘Grim Grinning Ghost’ was her segment. I thought it has a really interesting story. The reading of it was really cool, and really wanted to work with her. It was a nice opportunity to make a contribution to what I thought sounded like a terrific film.
SY: Like you just mentioned, ‘Grim Grinning Ghost’ was written and directed by Axelle Carolyn. What was your experience of collaborating with her, as both the short’s scribe and helmer?
LS: I really enjoyed the process because she’s totally smart and knew her material. Since she had also written it, she knew exactly how she wanted it played.
My character has a monologue, in which she’s telling a story. I had one thought on how to end the story, which I pretty much prepared. Then on set, Axelle wanted something different, because she already knew how she wanted to edit it, in terms of creating the atmosphere and story.
So she was very strong, in terms of knowing what she wanted. She was also a great team player, in terms of our thoughts and ideas. It was a very tight schedule with a very tight budget, and there was no time to waste. She made the most of every moment.
SY: Speaking of filming the segment independently and on a short schedule, does that process influence the way you approach your roles as an actress?
LS: I think I work the same, no matter how much I’m getting paid, or how long or short the shoot is. (laughs) Basically, I always try to approach my characters in the same way, and try to start from the very beginning. I figure out who I think the character is, and what their relationships might be. Obviously, that’s all tailored to the story you’re telling.
You want to make a contribution to the whole story; it’s not just about your character. Your character may have to be tailored a bit to the actual storytelling.
So I don’t really make any changes to how I prepare, depending on how much or little time I have. I just try to do the best I can, so that we don’t waste time. But unforeseen things do happen in filmmaking, so you always have to be on your best game, no matter what the budget is, and who you’re working with; it’s all about being a professional.
SY: With ‘Grim Grinning Ghost’ essentially being a short film within the context of ‘Tales of Halloween,’ is the process of preparing for short films also similiar to preparing for the feature films you’ve appeared in?
LS: Yes, it’s exactly the same for me. Whether this character would be in a feature-length or short film, she’s going to be the exact same person.
SY: Besides Axelle, ‘Takes of Halloween’ also features such diverse filmmakers as Lucky McKee, who contributed the segment ‘Ding Dong,’ and Neil Marshall, who closed out the anthology film with the segment ‘Bad Seed.’ As an iconic horror actor yourself, why do you feel it’s important to have the top contributors in the genre work together, especially an experienced female helmer like Axelle?
LS: Well, it’s exciting to work with people who you know have accomplished a certain element of expertise in their work. It’s also nice to work with people who have proven that they’re good filmmakers through their work. But I’m always excited to meet people, period. (laughs)
But professionalism is definitely a key word that I seem to keep talking about. Whether you’re a new or older director who’s been around for awhile, the same rules apply.
I had the great experience of working with Wes Craven on ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ many years ago, and nobody knew who anybody was at that point. Johnny Depp had never been in a movie before; it was his first movie. We didn’t know how famous everybody was going to become, especially with Wes and Johnny.
But you always give your best, and I always expect the best from the people around me. But sometimes even seasoned actors and directors aren’t on top of their games like they could or should be, in my opinion. But I’m grateful to say that I’ve really had wonderful experiences along the way.
Axelle has only directed one feature film, a wonderful (horror mystery) called ‘Soulmate.’ When I saw it, I thought it was really terrific. So I was as excited to work with her as anybody.
Again, it goes back to telling a good story, and really working on your character and being a good team player when you’re there.
SY: Speaking of working with new and up-and-coming filmmakers and actors, like Wes Craven and Johnny Depp on ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street,’ who you just mentioned, why do you enjoy collaborating with new talent on your projects?
LS: Yes, I do enjoy working with new filmmakers. But I don’t particularly enjoy when someone’s unprepared, or really doesn’t have their skills in tact.
Like when I starred in the last ‘Insidious,’ Leigh Whannell was making his feature film directional debut, and he was fabulous. As he likes to say, he was a protege of James Wan.
But they all start somewhere; there’s always the first film you make. You learn from your mistakes. It’s always an exciting process (to work with first-time filmmakers). But there’s always problem solving, whether you’re a seasoned or new director. So I always finding filmmaking energizing, no matter how much experience people have. We’re always learning; I always learn something new whenever I work. So you have to be open-minded and available to the mistakes and progress that get made.
Like the ‘Insidious’ franchise, ‘Grim Grinning Ghost’ also delves into the world of ghosts, notably the ghost of Mary Bailey. Why do you feel the world of the supernatural is so attractive, as both an actress and a film viewer?
LS: What I find attractive as an actress is being hired. (laughs) The bottom line is, I like working, whether or not there are ghosts. That’s not a criteria for me, to be honest. It’s even bewildering to me that I’ve become a mainstay in this genre. (laughs)
But I don’t want to minimize it, because the horror community is one of the sweetest and nicest that I’ve come in contact with. Some of the best directors and actors work in the horror genre.
I know I’m not supposed to say that I’m not a big horror film buff, but I’m not; I’m an acting buff. I love my work and finding new characterizations and people within myself.
That’s what really attracted me to ‘Insidious;’ James Wan created a fantastic story. My decision to star in the series didn’t really have to do with the amount of supernatural activity in the story. (laughs) I just really try to do my best with every story I’m presented with. Hopefully the ‘Insidious’ franchise will continue, because I love the people involved, and I love the character of Elise. Who knows what lies ahead? I always like to say, into The Further we keep going! (laughs)
SY: While Elise died at the end of the first ‘Insidious,’ James and Leigh brought her back for the second and third installments. If a fourth ‘Insidious’ is made, would you be interested in returning to the series, and seeing how Elise fits into the story?
LS: Well, I’m certainly not the writer. However, Leigh, who’s written all three of the chapters, and I do sometimes talk about the character. But he’s definitely the master who comes up with the storytelling.
I know James was a little reticent about the fact that Elise died during the first film, especially after we found out that she was a very popular character. I’m grateful to say that they realized it was helpful to have me in the movie.
That’s why when production started on the second ‘Insidious,’ I asked James if he thought they were were going to bring Elise backs, since she went into The Further. He said, “We’ll find a way to work her in,” and they did. So in the second chapter, Elise is dead in The Further.
They then realized that they wanted to try to enhance the character. Like Leigh says, “No one wants to see Lin Shaye the ghost; they want to see the living woman.” (laughs) That’s what he did so skillfully and beautifully in the third chapter. If they decide to make a fourth film, I’m assuming they’ll continue along the lines of the prequel, which will lead up to the events of the first movie.
SY: ‘Tales of Halloween’ has played at several film festivals, including having its premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival, and was also chosen as the opening-night film at Wizard World Chicago and Toronto After Dark. How have audiences at the festivals reacted to the film?
LS: People seem to love this film-it has received fabulous reviews. But I only have a small role in one of the segments, and there’s so much going on in all of the segments. Whatever goes on with all of the different storytelling all hangs on the idea that all the stories happen on Halloween night in the same town.
Axelle’s segment has received lovely notice, and I do get mentioned, which is great. But I can honestly say that I’m not the star of this movie; I’m just a small part of what we hope will be a very successful film.
SY: Besides ‘Tales of Halloween,’ there are several other anthology horror films and series that have been released in recent years, including ‘Trick ‘r Treat,’ ‘V/H/S‘ and ‘The ABCs of Death.’ How do you feel ‘Tales of Halloween’ differentiates itself from the other recently released anthology horror movies?
LS: I think that this film is unique because the idea is that all the segments happen simultaneously. I haven’t seen a feature that does that. There are often episodic films, but this movie has the thread of the stories all happening on the same night.
The fact that there’s also so many recognizable directors makes it very appealing to the audience. But overall, viewers are absolutely loving the overall film, because we know the cell phone has affected our attention spans. (laughs) Cell phones have made people impatient. So the fact that this movie has 10 shorts is a good selling point, as each one leads audiences into the next one.
SY: In ‘Grim Grinning Ghost,’ your character also mentions how people wear costumes on Halloween, so that the dead can’t determine who’s alive, and that Mary Bailey wore makeup because her face was disfigured. How important do you feel that your costumes and makeup contributes to your character’s emotions and arcs in your films?
LS: In films, I’ll do whatever I need to in order to connect with my character, and follow where they all take me. I’m also grateful for the roles I had in ‘There’s Something About Mary’ and ‘Kingpin,’ which are some of my older comedies. With those characters, people still say, “Oh, my God! That was you?” (laughs) Thankfully, I don’t look too much about either of those women.
In real life, I do like dressing up, but I also like to be comfortable. I wear boots to take care of my horses, and get dirt under my nails in the process.
But in terms of character work in films, part of the fun is finding the character’s image. You’re helped by the wardrobe and make-up departments, as they also come up with their own thoughts and ideas.
I was in a movie called ‘Critters’ some years ago (in 1986), and my character’s name was Sally. She was a dispatcher at a radio station in a little hick town. It was actually the make-up woman’s idea to make the character look like she was from the ’30s. So we created that look that was totally great, but it was out of left field. It had nothing to do with the movie, or how it would seem obvious that the character would be played. But it gave Sally this retro feeling, as she has had old movie magazines.
Those are the little things that can bring a character to life in a unique way. So I love dressing up when I play my characters. It also gives you a lot to do as an actress.
I always say shoes are really important. If my characters don’t have the right shoes, it really throws me off. Even if they can’t be seen in the take, I still need to have the right shoes on.
Written by: Karen Benardello