Lin Shaye’s 42-year career as a film, television and stage actress has spanned all kinds of projects and led her to a wide range of roles, but she’s perhaps best known for her work in horror (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Dead End, Ouija) as well as her roles in some modern comedy classics (Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary). But it’s in the former genre — which is known for catering to younger audiences with teen and college-age characters – that she now finds herself a bona fide heroine and star, thanks to the Insidious franchise created by director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell.
Starting with the original Insidious in 2011, Shaye has played Dr. Elise Rainier, a paranormal investigator, clairvoyant and demonologist whose fearlessness is matched only by her dedication to saving lost souls and eradicating supernatural darkness from the lives of the living. Ironically, that first Insidious and its sequel, Insidious 2, told the end of Elise’s personal story. In director Adam Robitel’s Insidious: The Last Key, she must revisit the beginning — returning to the house she grew up in to unlock tortured memories of her childhood and defeat once and for all the evil entity that was inadvertently unleashed.
Shaye’s natural warmth and charisma have helped shape the character of Elise to the point where she has become the glue that holds the Insidious films together, and those qualities were on hand as well when we spoke with her recently about the new movie, its impact on her and more.
Den of Geek: Your character, Elise, really takes center stage in this film.
Lin Shaye: I know. Isn’t that crazy?
It feels very organic, like it’s been building to this over the course of the last couple of movies.
I’m delighted and totally blown away. I’m still sort of in shock in a way, because I still can’t believe how people respond to the character, and thus to me, but it’s really the character, which is exciting because that’s a creation. I’d rather they like my creation even than me. It’s not like I ever aspired to come to Hollywood and be a star.
I still don’t even think about that stuff. It’s not of particular interest to me, but what’s happened with Elise and my characterization of this person and the sort of love that I’ve put into it, which seems to have transmitted to the public, blows me away and thrills me no end. So I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, I can honestly say that, in my whole life.
The conventional studio wisdom is that with horror movies, you’ve got to have teens front and center in the story. And here you have this older woman who’s the central character, which defies the standard marketing line for this genre these days.
Somewhere in me right now I feel ageless and genderless. It doesn’t matter how old Elise is, whether she’s a man or a woman or a sheep, there’s aspects of her humanity that I think is what’s appealing to people. I look at Rose Byrne on screen and I go, “Oh my god, look how gorgeous she is.” And inside and out, she’s one of those beautiful women that just every angle is better than the other, and not to diminish her as an actress or as a woman, because she’s a wonderful person and a fantastic actress, both dramatic and comic.
But I don’t have those qualities, I have something else apparently, which I didn’t even think about, but there is an appeal that channels through me, and I think it’s that this character is not a ‘me’ person. The world right now is, “I, I, I,” and Elise is “You, you, you.” She’s about you, and about what she can do as a person to help make your life better and easier. It sounds real simplistic, but people don’t really do much of that right now. It’s a broad generalization of course I’m making, but I think when you go and see a story, and that kind of person becomes the main focus of the film, I think it’s a very positive thing because people are identifying with something in her that either they hope they are or they want.
That’s really exciting to me, as well as that Leigh has built this tragic back story. As an actor, I always created a back story. That’s kind of the way I’ve been trained. I kind of always saw her as an only child who spent a lot of time by herself, and through her loneliness, invited in these entities, who found her vulnerable and open. But that’s not what Leigh built. He built this really dangerous, debilitating sort of sad beginning, which even amplifies who Elise becomes, because that she could grow out of that to become the woman we see in the first Insidious, which is really the end of this whole chain.
I think that’s also a very positive message, that no matter how bleak your beginnings are, you can still remain a hopeful and optimistic person who is a giver.
It’s interesting how the character developed even though the films were not made in chronological order.
As long as all the pieces fit together, and gratefully they have, there’s this picture we’ve drawn of her. That includes the third one where you see her sort of in the middle of those two places, where she’s lost her husband and decided never to do this again or it’s too dangerous. Even from that she unfolds out of herself to help Quinn, the young girl.
So the qualities of the character, it’s funny, I don’t think of that as heroic at all. I love that they’re calling Elise heroic, but she just stands up for what she thinks is right. It’s kind of upsetting that that’s heroic, just doing the right thing. We’ve all got that power.
This is the first movie in the series without either James or Leigh directing. How was Adam’s approach different and how did it feel to have a new voice behind the camera?
The new voice was great. Adam has wonderful energy. He’s a great listener. He knew he was coming into a situation where he was pretty much ego-less, in the sense that he didn’t come in like, “Okay, now I’m in charge.” He came in wide open to really hear what was going on on set, how people were relating to each other.
He knew he had a story, he had certain expectations to fulfill within the franchise, but at the same time added his vision, created the look of the film, and did the storytelling. I think he did a great job and I think the film reflects his energy.
You must get recognized now by a new generation of fans because of these movies, but do you ever get stopped by people for a movie that you don’t expect?
Boat Trip. Have you ever seen Boat Trip?
It’s worth seeing. It’s funny. It’s Cuba Gooding Jr., Horatio Sanz, the storyline just briefly is they’re trying to go on a cruise to meet chicks and they piss off the travel agent so he sends them on a gay cruise instead. It’s really funny, and I play this character Sonya who’s a Swedish-German and head of the Swedish bikini tanning team. I cut my hair like a quarter-inch, shaved my head and dyed it platinum blonde, and it’s pretty funny.
So that’s always a surprise, but a lot of the time it’s Kingpin and There’s Something About Mary and Detroit Rock City, and even Dead End, which is a great little movie I did some years ago. Those are probably the ones aside from Insidious and Nightmare on Elm Street.
You have done a lot of horror movies and this one touches on some pretty serious subject matter. Do you believe that this genre can be used in that fashion?
I totally do. Child abuse is a pretty intense topic, and it’s rampant, which is horrifying. But that’s one of those things people don’t talk about. Kids don’t want to remember it, they move on from it, they don’t discuss it. The parents deny it, “We didn’t really do it, he just didn’t …” I think unfortunately there’s a lot more of that than we even remotely know, and I found it very brave for Leigh, without giving away too much of anything, to touch on those aspects in an entertainment film about ghosts, but the bottom line is that this story is about children growing up, and what they face, and family dilemmas that they can’t quite get out of because their children.
There’s really bad stuff that goes on, and fortunately what happens in this movie is just pretend, but it’s serious stuff. I think it’s very brave of Leigh to inject these kinds of stories with truth.
Insidous: The Last Key is in theaters now.