Interview with Insidious Chapter 2’s Patrick Wilson

We sit down with Patrick Wilson to discuss Insidious Chapter 2, his role in horror movies and just what exactly gets under his skin. He also confirms some new, disturbing details about The Conjuring 2.

In Insidious Chapter 2, Patrick Wilson enjoyed the job of having the most fun. If the first film was a weird, surrealist painting, dealing with New Age philosophy, astral projection, and weird concepts of purgatory and demonology, the second film is all about the dad getting to proverbially shout, “Here’s Johnny!” For those who don’t recall the ending to Insidious, Josh Lambert (Wilson) saves his son from a demon in the Ether, but as a reward has his body possessed by an old woman in black who once haunted his dreams as a child. In short, after playing the victim in Chapter 1, he gets to let his hair down as a possessed ghost lady in one of his dual roles for Chapter 2. What could seem like a daunting prospect for other performers (or audiences) comes as naturally as anything else for one of the more underrated leading character actors today. Making his start on Broadway in productions of The Fully Monty and Oklahoma!, Wilson transitioned to Hollywood with his Emmy nominated performance in Angels in America. He has since appeared in a slew of varied films, including The Alamo, The Phantom of the Opera, Hard Candy, Watchmen and, of course, The Conjuring. We sat down with Wilson last month to discuss Insidious Chapter 2, his role in horror movies and just what exactly scares him. He even confirmed some new, disturbing details about a potential The Conjuring 2. In the last few years, you’ve become one of the more trusted names in horror. Did you plan on this? Patrick Wilson: Not really. It’s funny because you’re really talking about two franchises or potential franchises, but I resisted horror movies for a long time, because usually they weren’t sort of actor friendly.  I mean the ones the I loved growing up, The Shining and The Exorcist and Poltergeist, those movies were [actor friendly]. Those movies usually had great actors. It’s a certain skill set I guess too. Not to toot our own horns, but especially this movie gets very melodramatic and campy at times. Not in a bad way, but it’s heightened. So, I think it can take a certain skill set… I guess it’s really because of James to be honest with you. I get offered horror movies, but I think I’m pretty tapped out here [Laughter]. I think I’m pretty good. I imagine with Conjuring there are more stories to tell. I don’t know what you do with the Lambert family after this. I think we have a nice closure. Do you believe in ghosts? Sure. I haven’t seen any, but I’m open. If they want to come and show their faces, sure. Anybody in here? I did a lot of that kind of research for Conjuring. This is a much different beast, but in the sort of recon-research that I did, I feel like there definitely is another world or force out there. But I have never really seen anything; I’ve heard things and stuff; I’ve had some unexplained things happen, but it doesn’t freak me out. I don’t feel like the ghosts are bad. I guess they can be. Obviously. [Laughter]. Can you talk about your upcoming projects at all? Yeah, it’s been kind of a busy year, so there’s been a ton of things that are very interesting and different. I just wrapped this movie, Stretch, this action comedy with Chris Pine and Ed Helms that Joe Carnahan directed that Jason Blum produced, actually. I did a movie with my wife and family called Ward’s Wife, a black comedy that my brother-in-law Scott Foley had written. We did this movie called North of Hell coming out that’s a very dark comedy with me and Katherine Heigl and Jordana Brewster…There’s a few in there. You’ll notice there’s no horror movies in that line-up. So, I try to vary it as much as I can. Any theatre work coming up? Not really. I say this all the time, but it really is true: I’m constantly looking. A lot of the reason actors leave the business is they can’t stand not knowing what their next job is. I don’t care. It will work itself out. I’ve also been very fortunate that I’ve been working a lot, but something like theatre is you just got to plan it so long in advance. It’s very hard for me to go, “Next spring, I want to do ‘so-and-so’ for eight months.” So, I’ve been looking for musicals to do. It’s very hard to find a good role in something I want to do, something I want to sit in for a while, because especially a Broadway musical, you’re going to be there for six months at least. And that’s a haul. Do you look at those roles differently from film roles? Well again, it’s different. I’ve shot four films in six months. I also came up doing a lot of theatre where I would do roles for a year at a time; a year and a half; eight months. And that’s fun, but that’s also doing a show for a year or six months, and also putting my kids to bed for one night a week for that time. So, I love doing theatre. I did theatre for a long time. The reason my wife and I still live here [New York City] is to do theatre. But it just takes a lot of planning.

 This is not based on a true story like The Conjuring. How is your mindset and approach to this kind of horror movie different? Because this is a fantasy in every sense of the word; because you’re talking about a fictional story. You’re not really preparing like I was on The Conjuring where you’re sifting through tapes and audiotapes, and what did he wear, what did he look like, how did he do this, let me find this story, let me find that. You’re looking at it like a biopic. Where with this, it is more about the rules of the world that we are creating, talking of James and me. Can I answer this question, can we say this, should I say that? It’s more about being present and mapping out your possession when that occurs and finding those little moments. I know we want to trick the audience a little or maybe the family, but you’re getting into what it’s like to be possessed by someone. How would they react? Okay, let’s find maybe one moment where I linger on the kid a little too long, and he just says, “What?” So maybe on first time viewing, you don’t think anything of it. Then next time through, you think, “Oh wow. Why’s he staring at him?” Those are all specific things that either I come up with or James comes up with. But it’s really about making, even in this fantasy world, trying to make some real progress in even the way I would say, “This is my room.” It is the choice of words that is very, very specific. Most people wouldn’t notice it or really wouldn’t care, but that’s the sort of stuff that I dig into. This is a sequel where you’re playing the same character, but pretty much everything you’re doing is the opposite. You’re doing, by in large, the scaring, as opposed to being the scare-e. It’s got to be interesting as an actor for you, because you’re getting to do something different. With most things with “Chapter 2” at the end or “2,” you’re more or less doing what you knew worked the first time. This time, everything you knew that worked the first time isn’t your character anymore. Well I think that’s the trap [as to] why there aren’t a lot of horror sequels that work very well, I guess. Or it’s just a totally different family or circumstance or whatever it is. It’s probably very similar with comedy too, because you don’t want to do the same jokes. Are you going to have the same set-up again? It’s very hard. You watch maybe The Hangover movies where it’s tough, because you have a built-in audience, so you know they’re going to enjoy it. I was there opening weekend for Hangover II. It worked here I think [in comparison] to that franchise where so much money is involved, where we still only did this in 26 days. It’s not like all of a sudden we’re given like 30 million dollars. It was still for very, very, very little, and we went out and did it. I think there is a real sort of creative freedom in that that just sort of let James and Leigh say, “Go where you want. Do what you want to do.” Because you can’t do the haunted house movie again, you know? Because you’re kind of the scare-er in the movie of these little kids, how is it to work with these child actors and be the one who’s trying to murder them? Well, I’ve known Ty [Simpkins] for a long time now. Ty was my son in Little Children. They’ve never seen me like this. [Laughter]. But I say I’ve known Ty, but I also keep a good distance to be honest with you. I’m a dad, so I have two boys, but it’s a fine line. I don’t want them to think I’m actually going to hurt them, but at the same moment, I want to surprise them. I don’t want to tell them exactly what I’m going to do. So, that little bit of fear is good to be honest with you. And not in a child abusive way, I don’t want that! But this goes whether you work with kids on a horror movie or not, if you’re their buddy the whole time when it comes time for you to work, they’re still joking around about the joke five minutes ago, and you’re like, “Yeah, but I want to work now.” I’ve always had a great relationship with Ty, but a lot of that is “it’s time to go to work now.” Child actors are a whole other conversation, but they need to know that when they are there, they’re there to work. Even if it’s all fun and games on set, an adult can go, “Alright, you guys ready to work?” And then we get to work. Kids are still, “What we’re still joking around.” So, you’ve got to rein them in, and James is actually very good at that. When I was certainly in the meat of the movie like possessed and stuff, there wasn’t a lot of chitchat before. Now afterwards, obviously, when I was all banged up and they were terrified, I’d then make sure everybody was okay. That’s a part of the job. You’re there to work, man [Laughter]. That’s my tagline: “I’m not here to make friends.” [Laughter].

 What do you find scarier, The Conjuring or Insidious? Because I don’t get scared in horror movies, and The Conjuring was something else. It’s very funny. For me, I agree. But a very dear friend of mine who’s seen both, totally objective, said to me, “The Conjuring was fine for me. For me, THIS [Insidious Chapter 2] freaked me out!” But I’m like this is make believe and crazy make-up. It’s very strange. A lot of it might have to do with religion. If you grow up with religion that’s part of it too, whether you believe it or not. The Conjuring sort of hits you on that level. In your research for The Conjuring, did you read of any particular Ed and Lorraine cases that you could see being adapted into a movie down the line? You digging for a sequel? [Laughs]. I mean we’re going to do a sequel to that. Yeah, Chad and Carey [Hayes] have come up…They said one about a case in London about two sisters that were possessed. I mean there are thousands of cases, so there may be more than one. I don’t know, I have not read a script. Did you read about this case in your research? About which case? About the London case with two sisters. Yeah…Yeah. Yeah. [Laughs]. Well if you go to The Demonologist [the Gerald Brittle book about the career and lives of Ed and Lorraine Warren], in the latter half of that book, it gets pretty intense and insane. It’s insane.