Director James Wan has assembled a fantastic core cast for "The Conjuring," not filled with movie stars but with Class-A character actors like Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as The Warrens. Their counterparts are Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor as the heads of the large Perron family, who move into a farmhouse in Rhode Island that's haunted up the ass.
Of these four leads perhaps the most physically/emotionally challenging role went to Lili Taylor as Carolyn Perron, who begins to disintegrate under the stress of ghostly bombardment. Taylor's career spans decades, from early roles in "Say Anything…" and "Mystic Pizza" to ensemble pieces like "Short Cuts" and "Public Enemies." We sat down 1-on-1 with the actress for a lively chat about possessing Republicans, being underrated and throwing 1999's "The Haunting" under the bus.
In this movie you have a lot of kids, like five whole children. You grew up the fifth of six children yourself, so were there any survival parenting skills you learned from your mother that you imbued in Carolyn?
The family seemed pretty healthy. It didn't seem unrealistic that it was just one of those families without a lot of neurosis. I think the two older kids helped a little bit. If I had all younger ones there might be a little more tension in the house, but the older ones helped with the younger ones so I had mother-helpers.
And that's something you had in your own household growing up?
No no, I'm Irish twins so me and my brother were under a year, so that's about as hard as it can get when you have two little ones. I feel like I didn't have to apply any of the skills from my mom because the family was a lot healthier. [laughs]
It's interesting because in the first five minutes of the film it's apparent that this is the closest to June Cleaver you've ever played. But the whole point is to see she's a nice person before what ultimately happens to her.
Yeah, right, exactly! More to fall from.
In this movie the Warrens are true believers; the Perrons not so much. They're not churchgoing, their kids aren't baptized. There's a parallel with filmgoers because statistically a good portion of the audience for possession movies has to be secular. What is it about demons and exorcisms that transcends religion?
The psyche, the unconscious, the stuff we wrestle with that we all know since the beginning of time. It's part of life. Is there a Stepford-ville planet and do you wanna go on it, you know what I mean? It's hard stuff but it also gives life meaning and character.
Maybe no matter what you believe in there's evil in the world?
See it's funny, I don't believe in that word. I think there's some dark stuff, but evil is a strong word. I guess I feel that I can understand most things and it doesn't seem as evil. It seems dark.
What's so fantastic about "The Conjuring" is it harkens back to an older, classier, more contained kind of horror movie. You did the remake of "The Haunting" which is 180-degrees from this because it was a gargantuan production with CGI. Do you prefer one approach over the other?
[laughs] Oh s**t, James' approach, but you know what James did is hard and I hope it encourages people to go for it, because you do need to have people in your corner. Jan [de Bont, director of "The Haunting"] said to me, "What you can't see is what scares you." The basic tenet of horror. Yet when push came to shove he started to forget that, lose it, people were breathing down his neck, "people are stupid, you have to show them everything." If Jan said the same thing to me I'd still do it again with what he told me, but now maybe I'd say, "You've gotta show me something." So I saw "Insidious" and knew James was gonna walk his talk, right? I was hoping that "Haunting" remake was gonna be … I mean the original "Haunting" was brilliant.
Sure, the Robert Wise version is choice.
Brilliant! And now I love this movie 'cause its all practical effects, everybody does. It's a great thing about human beings and where we're at right now — at New York Comic Con, two thousand people, when "practical effects" came up people were like, "Whoo-hoo!" We're intelligent, we have imaginations, I mean, c'mon!
Those definitely embody that era of classy horror.
Totally. Yes, you can have a brilliant cinematographer, you can have great acting, the production design can be great. Why just because it's a genre movie does it mean you can't have every level operating at the top of its game?
If you were a demon and could pick anyone to possess whose soul would you steal?
Oh, whoa, interesting. The Koch brothers [Charles G. Koch and Bill Koch]. I would try to take over someone who's causing us a lot of problems right now. What's that senator that I can't stand? It's not Lindsey Graham because he's bad but he's sorta silly, it's that nasty senator … someone who's thwarting goodness from happening.
So you'd be a reverse demon, you'd be the "Dexter" of demons.
I'd be a reverse demon. I'd be like, "We gotta get you out of here, you're messing us up right now." Cantor! [House Majority Leader Eric Cantor] Cantor's a real f**king scumbag. Cantor's f**king us up right now.
What's the worst physical injury you've ever received on a movie set?
When I was doing "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle" I got gout, which was totally bizarre. I don't know if you remember that but I had to give Edna Ferber my character a cane because I couldn't walk. I'm really happy to say I haven't received an injury, especially on this one. I love stunt people, they're really safe, especially the ones that work with guns. In Canada they're called armorers or something. I feel so safe, like "Oh God, nothing is gonna happen." I'm safe, too. I like to do car stunts, but if it's something difficult I'm not gonna do it. I'm all well, thank God.
What's the most outrageous lie you've ever read about yourself?
I don't read a lot about myself, actually. I think that's best, I would recommend that to everybody, because I think it's just worker among worker. I think when someone starts thinking about themselves too much … did you not believe me? Your hand is over your mouth! You don't believe me! Oh s**t! Sure, of course I'm gonna read about myself sometimes, but a lie? A lie? I've read things about myself I don't like, I wish they'd been a lie. I really don't have one, but you don't believe.
I think I trust you.
You think you trust me? Push it, what are you saying?
You don't seem very self-conscious.
I've read bad reviews and they can f**k you up, and that's where I really learned to not read stuff about yourself.
Speaking of bad reviews, what would you say is the most underrated movie you've made?
Actually I was in a column called "Overlooked and Underrated," and I think that sums stuff up. "Dogfight" was in the overlooked/underrated column years ago.
The River Phoenix movie?
Yeah. I feel like I'm overlooked and underrated, I really do, but that's gonna change, that's fine. I just feel like I'm really ready, I have a lot of energy right now and I'm tired of being overlooked and underrated.
This movie is gonna be huge, truly.
You think so? Good. I'm gonna believe it 'til I believe it myself.
New York or L.A.?
Oh please? You have to ask that?
New York, right?
Yeah. I don't hate L.A., I just love New York. I was in the West Village for 20 years, now I'm in Cobble Hill [Brooklyn], 'cause I'm across the street from a good public school. I have a kid.
Christmas or Halloween?
Demons or "Household Saints"?
Demon. Saints are tiring.
"Household Saints" is a great underrated movie of yours. Anyone with even mild OCD can appreciate it.
Yeah yeah yeah, totally! Well that's what those saints had was OCD, you're totally right, man. Or anorexia!
What would be your porn name?
Heidi Washington. That's pretty good.
Must Google to see if that's already taken, but that's off the hook.
That's pretty dang good, man, isn't it?