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Patrick Wilson – Conjuring Up Something Insidious

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Patrick WIlson at the New York press day for “Insidious: Chapter 2” at the Waldorf-Astoria. Photo copyright 2013 Jay S. Jacobs.

Patrick Wilson

Conjuring Up Something Insidious

by Jay S. Jacobs

If Patrick Wilson has been looking a little haunted lately, it is not just a coincidence. In the last few years, Wilson and horror director James Wan (Saw, Death Sentence) have teamed up on three films in which Wilson has played a family man who must deal with ghosts, demons and spirits in the night. The last two of these films have come out in just the past few months.

It all started three years ago with the surprise hit Insidious. In that film, Wilson and Rose Byrne played a young couple who moved their family into a new house, only to find that their son had attracted a strange demon. This evil spirit started wreaking havoc on the family at night, kidnapping the son and taking him to a very evil dark zone in a separate reality.

This summer, Wilson made the transition from the haunted to the ghost hunter in the surprising smash hit The Conjuring. This film was based on a case from real life paranormal investigator Ed Warren, who was famous for looking into The Amityville Horror as well as many other hauntings. Together with his psychic wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), he tried to rid an old country house of the malevolent spirit which is antagonizing the family of Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor.

Now the Insidious story continues – literally, Insidious: Chapter 2 starts right as the first film was ending. The family has literally just saved the son from the darkness, but it turns out that the horror was not over yet. Wilson's character becomes more complex in the sequel as the dark forces take over his body in a continuing attempt to get to the child.

All this horror was kind of new for Wilson, but then again, the actor has always had an adventurous streak when it comes to taking roles. Over the years, Wilson has shown his proficiency in a mind-boggling array of films, everything from action/adventure (The A-Team, Watchmen, Promethius) to comedy (Young Adult, The Switch) to period drama (The Alamo, Evening) to very dark looks at life (Hard Candy, Running with Scissors). He even did a musical (the film version of Phantom of the Opera).

A few weeks before Insidious: Chapter 2 opened (on Friday the 13, naturally...), we sat down with Wilson at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York to discuss his career and things that go bump in the night.

You've done three ghost films in the last couple of years.

I have.

Do you believe in ghosts and spirits?

They're not making me see them, if that's what you mean. (laughs) I think, yeah, no. This is such a different beast than The Conjuring. It's a whole different kind of ghost, I guess, for lack of a better term. But yeah, I'm still ghost free. So far.

But did the making of the movies cause you to ponder their existence?

Sure. No, no, no, no. I gave it thought. I've given it a lot of thought, trust me. (laughs) I'm certainly open to it. I think because Conjuring was sort of rooted [in the real world] ... you know this is much more of a fantasy film. So it's a much different bit of astral projection and these crazy demons. It's a much different beast. On Conjuring, because it was rooted in their reality, in their case stories, through that I learned a lot about ghosts and demons. I think there is definitely another world at play, but I think that even if technically the same ghost was in this room, we would all see it differently. I think that's the way I feel about it, if that makes sense.

Vera Farmiga talked a little bit about her unexplained paranormal experiences working on The Conjuring. In the Insidious movies or The Conjuring were there any eerie or spooky things that happened to you? It was two different movies by the same director. What was the atmosphere like?

It's also based on shooting schedule. I mean, the Insidious movies, the first one was what, 22, 23 days? This was 26 days. This is a much more aggressive, brutal schedule. Whereas Conjuring was a studio film, it had five times this budget. You had three months to shoot. It was based on a real story. It's a whole different beast. That being said, [there was] almost the exact same crew, so we've all now been together quite a bit, with those guys. In three movies, going back I guess three years. It was a much different vibe. Again, I think because you're dealing with this – in The Conjuring this tag line of "Based on a true story" – and things were real, at least from somebody's perspective. That and you're dealing with The Bible and religion and demons, that carries much more significant weight than like... nothing really weird happens on this set. I think when people shot in Linda Vista, the hospital, I think that was creepy for a lot of people. But, yeah, nothing really strange happened.

When you do something that is emotional or intense, what do you do off-camera or on a day off to decompress?

Yeah, this was pretty brutal and pretty exhausting. The prosthetics as the movie went on, the days of that. My family was there with me for... let's see, when were they there?... for a bit of it, for about a week and a half of it. I've sort of got it down to where as soon as the bell rings, I'm like Fred Flintstone – out of there. I just leave it all there. I don't take anything home. I just go home and rest. The fortunate thing about having little children is they don't really let you think about your work, because you're doing other things. That's the benefit of going home to your family.

I saw you in The Full Monty on stage. Could you envision yourself back then doing stuff like this?

Doing what? Horror movies? No, I think I'm pretty tapped out. (laughs) Yeah, yeah. No, I don't know where you go after this movie. I know where the story goes. I've seen the movie, just like you guys have seen the movie. It's pretty clear, they are going on to another family. At least that is what I would [guess]... I haven't had any great conversations. You can only be surprised so many times. So that's my gut. 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, too, they would go, "Yeah, I don't think we're in Conjuring 2." It just makes sense that we would go on to a different case. The fact that they are so close together, and with [director] James [Wan], I know it seems like I have a penchant for horror movies, but really, in the grand scheme of it, you're talking about three out of nearly thirty films that I've done. So it happens to be right now, these few months, but...

You've worked with lots of fascinating directors over the years. How does James compare?

He's up there. He's great. What I love about James is, even within the genre, you see the difference of Saw to Conjuring to this movie, which is in a weird way sort of much more fantasy or even camp, at times. That sort of '80s [vibe]... there is a weird sense – maybe he would disagree with me if he were here – but if I were to put Conjuring into the group of 70s horror movies, I'd put this into the group of 80s horror movies. You watch A Nightmare on Elm Street, and you watch it as a cynical adult, and you're like: That's a burn victim in a striped shirt with a fedora. Like what is happening? Like what? You know what I mean? There's this almost ridiculous element. And yet, you're scared. I like that even within the genre, James pushes himself as far as he can go. I love that. I can really admire that. That was the one thing after the first Insidious that I thought: If you're going to go do it again and move the story along, can you pick it up right where you left off? And where do you go? I think they wanted to just swing a big stick, you know. You're dealing with a linear storyline of what is physically happening to me. And then you're dealing with a very non-linear storyline, of this time travel, weirdly, and The Further, and... you know, it's a lot. But I applaud that. I think it's really... there are questions that were answered. You know, again, well you can figure out whether you want to print it or not, but the fact that Parker was a man, when we cast the woman in the first movie, it was played by a man. That wasn't for any reason other than [Wan] liked the sort of off-kilter look of the image of this creepy old woman that looks kind of mannish. But it's a creepy old woman in the first movie. There was never this conversation like: "But she's really a guy." It's like, no, no, she's a creepy old woman. The actor happened to be a man that he cast, because he wanted a different look for the demons and for the spirits. So, in thinking about how to bring him back for the second one, I'm sure he was like, "Well, we already presented the idea that she's played by a man, what if we get it even weirder and it actually is a dude?" So there is that. I like those kinds of things, that they are answering questions that they didn't even know that they were raising from the first one. (chuckles) Filling in those gaps. Using footage from the first film. I don't know many movies that do that. Certainly not in this genre.

It reminded me almost of Back to the Future Part II, where people were actually witnessing things that happened to them in the first movie.

Yeah. Listen, I think it's fun, you know? I think it's fun. We couldn't do another haunted house movie. Rose can't be surprised or sad that someone is possessed. I can't save anybody else. It just would be... it's like when a comedy goes back for a sequel, does it look like the same jokes? So I really applaud the fact that they really stuck their neck out. I'm sure they'll... look, especially after Conjuring, it's a completely different beast, you can't help but put them in the same category and try to compare them. But it's such a different style of movie, you know? I don't know. At least that's my feeling.

Without giving out any spoilers, in the first film your character was pretty heroic in saving his family. In this one you see a darker side to him. One cool thing was when we were seeing your massive dark side, your eyes were really chilling.

Oh good. One of the most fun scenes to do was the scene with me and Steve Coulter where he comes to the house and I'm in the robe. That back and forth. Steve is a really good actor. Steve was also in The Conjuring, which is a little tidbit of knowledge that nobody really knows. He was the priest that Vera and I go to see. That's how James met Steve. He is a very good actor. He lived in LA for a long time. Now he lives in Atlanta. So when they were thinking of guys for this, well that's James, he just thinks of guys that you've worked with, that you know that you trust. So I sort of knew, 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 stillness. Whenever you make a move, it should mean something. Even in that scene, if it's a really dramatic scene, I want to find somewhere where there is some joke or whether I smile or something to make it a little off kilter.

Where do you go in your mind as an actor to get to that place? I loved the stillness you had in your eyes, which was really...

Dead. (laughs) I don't know. I remember reading some interview about someone saying... I won't quote him, because I disagree with the comment, but it was something about all actors have to be these tortured souls and this and that. I've found that completely false. I feel like I get to exorcise whatever little... if you've got one kernel of something that bothers you, I get to act out all my evil instincts on film. I don't walk around like this. (mimes mental anguish) I'm just pretty easy going. I get to let it out through movies. That's for me part of the fun, going to that dark place and acting like I want to kill you. (laughs again)

Another great actor in the cast who doesn't get enough good roles anymore was Barbara Hershey. What was she like to work with?

Awesome. Barbara is great. That's why it was so great to see her role expanded in this one. We felt like we hit a gold mine with getting her for the first movie. It was a sort of nod to... she has done a ton of work and James is a big fan of her previous horror work. So getting her on board, she's awesome. She is a total pro. She's just very skillful. She's great. She's great. She's Barbara Hershey. She shows up and you could take any take, any rehearsal, they'd all be different, but they are all just [amazing]. She's like Meryl [Streep] and Glenn Close and those women that are like: Yeah! You guys are really, really, really good. (laughs)

Are your kids old enough to go see this movie?

No. God. Not yet.

How old are they?

Seven and four.

How long are you going to make them wait?

Well, I mean, to see the whole movie? Probably a long time. I'll show them pieces and stuff because they get fascinated. And they of course come to set, too, so it's different. I would show them parts of the first one, because my oldest would remember going to the set and seeing Joe [Bishara], the red-faced demon, get into make-up. That doesn't scare me. My kid is a cinephile. Don't know how that happened. 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. But I may show him bits of this where I go crazy. Not really where I'm choking anyone, but where I'm running around in the make-up. I think that he'd find that fascinating.

What are you doing next?

Next? Oh man, what am I doing next?

IMDb says Space Station 76, North of Hell...

Yeah, there's about eight coming out. Those are all movies [that are already made] ... [are you talking] movies that I'm shooting or coming up? Coming up, that's all on IMDb. But shooting next, I think I'm going to do this movie... actually, I haven't really announced this, but I think I'm going to do this movie called Big Stone Gap, based on the novel by Adriana Trigiani. A little independent movie, but coincidentally, Big Stone Gap is a series of books that were very successful. It is also where my father, grandfather, where they are all from. This tiny little coal-mining town [in Virginia]. So it's a double whammy for me. I get to go stay at my grandparents' house. They are no longer here, but we still own the house. On Wilson Road. Going on the Wilson Bridge to get there. So I'll shoot that.

Did you sing on set at all?

No. I was too busy trying to hurt people.

Got anything planned for the rest of the summer that you want to do?

Just vacation. Honestly, I've been in LA. I just finished another movie with [Insidious and Conjuring producer] Jason Blum, actually. It's called Stretch. We just wrapped about two weeks ago.

Copyright ©2013 All rights reserved. Posted: September 13, 2013.

Photo Credits:

#1 © 2013 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.

#2 © 2013 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.

#3 © 2013. Courtesy of FilmDistrict. All rights reserved.

#4 © 2013. Courtesy of FilmDistrict. All rights reserved.

#5 © 2013. Courtesy of FilmDistrict. All rights reserved.

#6 © 2013. Courtesy of FilmDistrict. All rights reserved.

#7 © 2013. Courtesy of FilmDistrict. All rights reserved.

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