Interview with Insidious: Chapter 2’s Lin Shaye

Lin Shaye, the haunted Elise of the Insidious films, sits down with Den of Geek to chat about how Elise came back for the upcoming sequel, where she has been, and what exactly scares audiences.

Lin Shaye is one of those long running character actresses who you have likely seen a dozen times. Landing her first film with a bit part in Joan Micklin Silver’s Hester Street (1975), she has appeared in nearly 70 films. In that time, she has participated in such varying genre fare as A Nightmare on Elm Street and There’s Something About Mary, Snakes on a Plane and Stuck on You. Yet, she has found remarkable pop culture recognition and fandom in recent years for her memorable turn as Elise in director James Wan’s Insidious. While Elise’s two sidekicks—a pair of paranormal investigators, one of whom is played by writer Leigh Whannell—are present for the comic relief and campy yucks, Shaye’s character carries the series’ weight of humanity and gravitas. All the poster-ready taglines, including “It isn’t the house that’s haunted; it’s your son,” come from a performance radiating hope and kindness. Now with Insidious: Chapter 2 upon us this week, Shaye was nice enough to sit down and discuss with us just what makes Elise tick, and especially how she is even back considering Elise’s ghostly end within the original’s closing minutes. How did you find out you had a role in the sequel when your character dies at the end of the first film? Lin Shaye: Well, I guess you never really know for sure. The ending of the first one left things open where it could be the end of the story and leave you wondering a little bit, or definitely have room for more story to come. And as Leigh Whannell was saying, after the experience of the first one, and people were really happy about it, they were trying to figure out what the sequel could be. They realized the best thing to start with was the family everyone fell in love with in the first one, and that kind of put the train on the track to answer the questions of the first one. James [Wan] and I had a conversation when we were doing the first one, as he was not sure what fate he wanted me to have. Because if there was a sequel, the idea was he said, “I’d love to incorporate you into it.” Then we both stopped and went, “Wait a minute, it’s a ghost story. Anything can happen in the Further!” So, we kind of left that open and over the months, I heard different versions of where the story was headed and hoping they would be able to bring Elise back into some area of the film. And lo and behold, I got the call that I was involved in it. I don’t want to say too much, but it was a wonderful part that Elise got to participate in this next adventure. I’m happy to be there and hope to be a guide for a long time! Were you able to discuss with James and Leigh what your character has been through in the afterlife in-between the two films? Because it seems like she has been on a journey herself. Thank you for that, because no we didn’t. Because that was sort of my job to fill in those elements. As an actor, you try to fill in your past to get to where you are. And James and I did discuss what might be different about Elise in her new position, as opposed to where she was. We sort of talked philosophically about it, and then it became about physical details. Do I look at people when I talk to them? Am I hearing something else going on that no one else is privy to at the time? Physically, can I touch things? Can I not touch things? Those kind of questions that came up. The journey I tried to fill in myself, and I’m hoping it reads in what you see in her presence in the film. She has been through a lot. To maintain her humanity was a very important aspect to the character, because I think that is what people were drawn to, that she wasn’t just a messenger, that I have a deep connection to the spirit and the souls of the people both in the film and who are watching the film.  What do you consider memorable when it comes to horror? Do you think audiences like shock value or more the anticipation of horrific moments with the characters themselves? I think it is all of those elements. James is really skilled and gotten even more so, I think, as he’s grown as a director in terms of setting up the terror. And one of his strong suits is he creates a very normal, very loving family, which everyone [wants]. If you don’t have that in your life, you want to have that in your life. There is something to relate to there. Your child, child’s bedroom, the crib, the monitor, your bed where you sleep with your wife or husband. These places of comfort and safety that hopefully we all have in our lives, and then he turns that on its head. So, I think the fact that he leads you into those worlds of comfort first, [building] a real relationship with the characters, and then interjects his skill at creating tension in those avenues. He knows when to hit the scare. It also deals in human suffering, which is a big word. Even though it is an entertainment, it taps into something really primal that I think we all have. Everyone experiences the film in a personal way, because it’s about family. You reflect on your own family. The great catch-line in the new one, which is “there’s something wrong with daddy,” that gives me chills! Because if there’s something wrong with daddy—you’re in deep shit. [Laughter]. You can beep that out if you need to, but I mean there is no other way to say it! It has an element of humor to it with the kind of ghostbuster characters and your relationship to them. What is the role of humor in horror for you? I think it is a brilliant counterpoint. Actually, I think it is a brilliant counterpoint in all storytelling. It is also knowing when to have the release building, when you’re like “Uh-uh” and then knowing when to let you down, so that you can go forward again. It’s pretty engineered. It’s figured out on some level of having good instincts as an editor…I remember [James Wan] saying, “Once I get all the scares together, then someone else can look at the film.” Because he knows exactly how he wants to position it, and how he wants each scare to take you further into the story, which I think is the mastery of his work. Did Barbara Hershey and yourself have the opportunity to speak the actresses playing the younger versions of your characters? Yes we did and that was a tough one for me. I had never objected myself really and thought, “We want a Lin Shaye type.” Well, what the hell is that? [Laughter]. I mean I have a dog at home and I have a son. When I met Lindsay [Seim], I was very flattered because she’s a very beautiful young girl, and I thought she’s a lot prettier than I was at that age. But I was very flattered that they thought she was a younger version of me. We had a very sweet conversation. She was very worried about meeting me, and I was worried about meeting her too. [Laughs]. Barbara also, I met [Jocelin Donahue] that played her. They came in when we were doing a make-up test this one day. So, I didn’t have a whole lot of conversation with her, but [while] I haven’t seen the finished film to be honest with you, I’m assuming she did a great job and both girls did a great job. It’s an important part of the movie because it sets up the beginning. Not to give away the ending, but it has a certain element that Elise will be the character followed in additional films. Have you talked about what that possibility is? No, we haven’t. I think that opens the door to saying that the story of the Lamberts has been completed. There is a resolution there. And the Further has lots of souls running around there. [Laughs]. We do know that part. So, I think it keeps the door open for future story ideas. And I think probably business-wise, it depends on the success of this film, and how people receive it, and if there’s an interest in there being more stories. I’m just very grateful to have been part of both of them…Hopefully, there will be more.Like us onFacebook and follow us onTwitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!