Fittingly on the day of this interview, having just watched a wet, grey depiction of England on screen in The Conjuring 2, I left the film to find that London was characteristically on form by chucking it down with rain just as summer was officially about to start. Director James Wan however was as enthusiastic and full of laughs as you could hope for, talking with a speed and passion that made him a delight to interview.
It’s no surprise I guess, considering that one of his strongest assets as a director is the enthusiasm and love that he has for cinema, especially horror, which shines through in his work and really helps to set him apart from many of his peers. If you take a look at the first Conjuring, you can see influences from the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist, yet he somehow always manages to add his own imprint and freshness to stories we either know, or think we know – the sight of a familiar house at the start of The Conjuring 2 is an absolute delight, for instance.
Wan has also successfully managed to create multiple franchises out of his horror movies, with The Conjuring, apart from spawning its own sequel, creating the world of Annabelle which has also now got a second film in the works, then there’s Insidious and of course Saw, both of which have a string of follow ups.
I suspect that his gift for creating worlds is in no small part why Warners decided to give him the reigns to its upcoming Aquaman, so it’s all fingers crossed that he manages to make a hit out of such an unusual DC hero. Of course there’s also the large matter of him directing The Statham fighting The Rock in Fast 7 and for that alone, he merits a spot at the Den of Geek table just about any time he wants.
So with that in mind, we sat down to talk about all things Conjuring, with just a little Statham on the side…
I’ve just come from the screening and there’s something really great about watching a horror film first thing in the morning – you’re completely open to it.
Yikes! It’s, I don’t know, a weird concept to me to see a scary movie first thing in the morning!
It has that more impact, I think, as you have nothing else in your head. The thing I really like about this sequel was that it built on what was set up in the first Conjuring, which was that you have all these rich supporting stories around Ed and Lorraine – was it always your intention to world-build?
Well, I mean you know you kind of fantasise about building a world and having the opportunity to expand down the line, if the first movie works but you know, I try not to think about stuff like that too much because it’s almost like saying to the universe to screw things up for you! But I definitely always plan and think hopefully that we’ll have the opportunity that we could expand on it more and it gives us, gives me as a film maker, places to grow and, like the characters, grow and expand and just leave more stories and places to take it. I always say, what is cool for me with The Conjuring, is it’s not just another scary set piece, or another scary case, it’s more about what I can do with the characters of Ed and Lorraine Warren.
I think the characters are definitely key, because as a life-long horror fan, I think too many horror films can get lost and they can become too cold, because they don’t have any heart at their core. With Ed and Lorraine were those characters you were aware of in real life, or were they something you learnt about?
Well, I definitely pulled inspirations from hanging out with Lorraine, that was something that was important for Patrick Wilson, Vera and myself, is to try and do justice – or at least be respectful to who they are and who Ed was. So, at the same time though I knew that, I wanted it to be like our own cinematic version for the Warrens and so, yet again you know, I think for me anyway, the most successful horror movies that work are the ones that can create characters who you care about and that have characteristics that resonate with you and I think that is highly important, because if you can create characters that are likeable and people you can relate to, to me it makes the scares that much more scarier.
Because you have that sense of investment and I think that’s what made this more successful than a lot of horror sequels, because you’ve already have one film to become invested in Ed and Lorraine’s relationship and so there is a sort of strange beauty to The Conjuring 2 as a whole, because you care about them…
There is a set of continuity to the characters and because you’ve invested in who they are from the first movie already, you want to go along with them on their second journey – it gives me a lot of short hand to open things up more.
It is always been fascinating to me when directors use the same actors again and again. With Patrick Wilson I wondered if you signed some exclusive rights to use him!?
[Laughs] I joked that I – you know how Johnny Depp was to Tim Burton, Patrick Wilson is my Johnny Depp. I don’t know, I think the guy is such a cool guy and he to me in a lot of ways is the kind of embodiment of a leading actor for me as a director you know, he’s a great actor, he’s a very thoughtful thespian, always thinks about his characters.
He’ll really think about the roles that he plays, but at the same time he’s easy going, really cool and as a director that’s so great, you know, like you want to work with people who you enjoy working with, you know, because making a movie is so difficult, and you do not need an extra layer of craziness that go along with it and Patrick is so easy and cool and besides being a talented actor as well, he’s just so fun to have around on set.
I love watching the way he interacts with Vera Farmiga, because they have such an easy chemistry between the two of them and I love it – a lot of them time I see them screwing around, just joking off camera and I just want to turn the camera on and just capture that! [Laughs] And what more can a director ask for than great chemistry between the two leads.
It’s fascinating actually, that you mention like the Burton and Johnny Depp thing, because obviously I grew up with that and a lot of those filmic relationships. Who are your horror influences because of course, I’m a huge Carpenter and Russell fan…
Who isn’t, right? Well especially for us as such genre geeks! Definitely I love Carpenter, I love Craven – these are all the classics – the Romeros of the world, but I think the biggest influence on me as a storyteller and as a filmmaker is actually Steven Spielberg. I love that even though Steven isn’t known for being a horror director, he started out his career making scary movies. I mean Jaws to me is one of the scariest movies ever made, and Poltergeist as well and all the way back to Duel, his first movie. I loved those films, I love the way he crafts his scenes with so much tension, and such classic sort of pure cinema style of filmmaking, you now obviously his love for Hitchcock, and so I guess I admire Hitchcock in a roundabout way through Steven Spielberg as well.
And so yeah he’s definitely one that I always sort of aspire to and I mean I know it’s a cliché and everything ‘cause everyone loves Steven Spielberg but definitely – you know I even put a lot of that stuff that I love in my horror filmmaking, or tension building into my other movie like Fast And Furious 7, because I think that’s the style of film making that I really love.
Yeah its funny, I hadn’t considered it until you said it but Conjuring 2 was obviously about family and so was the first Conjuring and then actually you have a family dynamic in Fast 7, as well…
It just ties into that… I don’t know if that was something consciously that I was doing [laughs]! I think it’s more of a coincidence than anything, but in terms of the stylistic aesthetic, I carried a lot of my sort of my horror film making designs, definitely into Fast And Furious 7 and then now learning from that I bring it into Conjuring 2, and so I like to think that with every movie I make, I develop and I evolve as a filmmaker and I’m still growing which I think is a good thing – I definitely did not peak with my first film! [laughs and looks comically anxious!]
No definitely not! And talking of being a genre geek, I have to ask as you now have the honour of course, talking about Russell and Carpenter, of doing the best Kurt Russell action sequence for well over a decade?
Yeah a long time! Yeah, yeah! [laughs]
Because he sort of disappeared and then he’s suddenly come back…
Yeah, believe me it was a big joy for me as a fan to get the chance to direct Kurt Russell, and like you say in this really cool action scene as well, it was small, but yet it was just cool to kinda let Kurt Russell be Kurt Russell! [laughs] Be Snake Plissken, you know just seeing shades of Snake, so that was really fun, and the fact that Patrick actually worked with him on Bone Tomahawk and so we love sharing our Kurt Russell stories! [laughs] He’s such a great guy, I love Kurt.
What made me laugh as well when thinking of crossover questions is the fact that you’ve gone from working with a handful of the greatest action movie stars in Fast 7, and then decided that the easiest thing to do would then be to work with a whole load of children in Conjuring 2 and that was your wind down!
[Laughs] It’s definitely challenging obviously working with children, but at the same time it’s really cool as well. I think I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve had really great casting director Annie McCarthy, who’s worked on a bunch of my movies from Insidious to The Conjuring films and she’s so great in helping me find really likeable and really talented kid actors and I think I was very fortunate to work with great child actors in the first Conjuring and again in Conjuring 2.
But definitely more so with Madison Wolfe in this one, who has such a difficult role to play – someone that has to ride that wave of – to play a character that is so nuanced from innocence and naïve, to now very troubled, to possessed, you know to all of that range. I think we definitely got very lucky with finding Madison, I think she has such an amazing, bright future ahead of her.
I thought she was outstanding, actually, so much so I wrote her name down on my notes. So last question, traditionally we always ask what your favourite Jason Statham film is…
[Laughs] Wow, what is my favourite Statham movie? I mean I definitely I love the Transporter films, they’re so much fun I mean, obviously Lock, Stock and Snatch, I actually like a lot of movies that he’s been in and of course I think you know!
Fast 7! Yeah he’s super cool in Fast 7 there’s no doubt about that! Yeah he’s a cool guy to begin with and I got to make him even cooler, so I’m very proud of that.
Yeah you made him like a Terminator – that was an awesome move, that opening in the hospital was just fantastic!
Yes, yeah that was fun to just design from a filmmaking standpoint!
Yeah I bet! Well thank you so much!
Thank you sir, it was pleasure to meet you!
The Conjuring 2 is in UK now.
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