By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson reprise their roles as real life husband and wife paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren in “The Conjuring 2.”
The sequel follows on the heels of James Wan’s box office blockbuster “The Conjuring,” the 2013 horror movie that raked in $319 million worldwide.
While Farmiga and Wilson had supporting roles in the original that starred Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston, they play a more central figures this time out with Wan back at the helm.
The Connecticut couple travel to north London to help a single mother raising four children alone in a house plagued by malicious spirits. Frances O’Connor plays Peggy Hodgson, whose pre-teen daughter, Janet, appears to be possessed by the ghost of an old man that previously lived in their house. As the ghost’s behavior becomes increasingly more aggressive, experts are called in to exorcise him. Farmiga’s Lorraine initially is reluctant to take on the case because of she is having dreadful premonitions about her husband’s death. Eventually, though, duty calls and the Warrens travel to the Hodgson townhome where they try to evict the evil spirit.
Neither Farmiga nor Wilson are strangers to the horror genre. Besides “The Conjuring” franchise, Farmiga has battled otherworldly forces in 2009’s “Orphan” and she stars in the popular A&E “Psycho” sequel “Bates Motel,” in which she plays serial killer Norman Bates’ mother. Wilson previous starred in Wan’s “Insidious” horror films.
While their onscreen characters are dead serious about their pursuit of evil spirits inhabiting homes and tormenting people, Farmiga and Wilson, offscreen, seem to be right out of a romantic comedy. They laugh and rib each other and there is an obvious friendly affection they’ve developed over the course of making two films together.
Q: When production began on this, a priest was brought in to bless the set. Was that because strange things happened during the filming of the original “Conjuring?”
Wilson: They blessed the set. I know it’s a tradition in a lot of other countries but we were not there, but they did bless the set. It can’t hurt. A couple of squirrely things happened on the first one.
Q: Like what?
Wilson: I remember one of the young girls got bruises all over her body. I didn’t talk about this at all doing press for the first movie, because it happened to a kid and I, as a parent, was like, ‘I’m not going to trivialize it just for a good article.’ It wasn’t until we were on the press line for the first film that I heard her talking about it, and I said, “Okay, I guess we can talk about it.” But it was a very odd moment because kids don’t do stunts in films, so there was no reason (for her to have bruises). You go through, “Are you anemic?’” “No.” “Did anybody hit you?” “No.” “Did you fall down the stairs?” “No.” Crazy right? But then (the bruises) just went away towards the end of shooting, and she never had that before or afterwards.
Q: Is it easier to play these roles since you’d played them previously?
Farmiga: Yeah, We came back with eagerness and confidence and a certain level of comfort. Yet I had no idea, though, how challenging it would be this time around, the emotional profundity of it. There was just so much more for us to play in terms of how harrowing it is.
Wilson: Yeah, there was a lot.
Q: Did you have any reservations returning to the franchise, because some sequels can be good, but others aren’t?
Farmiga: We didn’t have a choice. We had already signed up for three. (She laughs.) They had us hook, line and sinker. But it’s a major incentive for me to work with (Patrick) and I love working with James. I really knew I wanted to do it when James signed back on to helm it.
Wilson: When you’ve been around a while and you’ve got a really big hit I always felt like if James doesn’t come back we’re going to get some great director because who doesn’t want to be a part of this franchise? The first movie did so well, both commercially and critically, that almost never happens, so I felt like we would be taken care of. We had such a great relationship with Warner Bros and New Line I knew they’d take care of us.
Farmiga: And we feel responsible for our roles. We knew it’s going to be as good as we apply ourselves. Lightning almost never strikes twice in the same place. You can’t think about it being a sequel. People are going to judge it a certain way. You just have to stay true to your characterization.
Q: Wasn’t it cool that so much of this one was about your characters?
Farmiga: Yes. We didn’t get the script until we’d already signed on to do it. We didn’t see it for a year after we said, “OK.” We were willing.
Q: Your characters have a great bond in this one.
Farmiga: The (real life) Warrens had a very special bond. (Ed Warren died in 2006.)
Wilson: Because Ed’s not with us, we could talk to Lorraine and her son-in-law and daughter and try to glean information about what it was like. She looks at him with such love and longing that you feel like you just want to do these people justice. We’re only responsible for showing their relationship so if we can shed light on that, then that’s all we can do.
Farmiga: Most 85-year-olds just complain about their husbands. But Lorraine just adores him. She has so much reverence for him, so much delight, so much joy, so much romance. It’s just palpable; we just tried to do it justice.
Wilson: They are so different, which is what I love about it. They are complete opposites in so many ways but they do have this profound passion for this (occult) world.
Q: There’s more of a threat of skepticism in this movie, particularly with Franka Potente’s character. Do you get defensive for the Warrens since you’ve played them twice?
Wilson: Yeah. I think the skepticism is equally important. If you’re going to have a conversation about God, you’ve got to acknowledge the atheist in the room.
Farmiga: Doubt is very much a part of belief. I think we all have a definition of God that works for us and I honor (Lorraine Warren) and what that is for it. It’s made her into a beautiful, compassionate, joyful person and that’s really powerful for me. She’s full of grace. And she shares that with people. I don’t like people crapping on her because I know her personally. She’s helped a lot of families come through very dark moments. Whether you belief in negative or positive mysticism, she does, and she’s been very compassionate in her life.
Q: Have you had any experiences that are unexplainable? Do you believe in ghosts or demons?
Wilson: I’e never had a face-to-face with a ghost. Yeah, there have been some experiences at my house. People have heard noises and this and that. I’ve heard some noises too. That I can sift through and say it is what it is. Last week, I was doing an interview, and I was talking about someone who I hadn’t seen in forever. I started thinking about her. The next day, I got an email from her. For me, that’s enough. There’s a force here and it’s unexplained. It’s not as clear as, “Oh, there’s a ghost in Room 212.”
Farmiga: I believe we all come with certain gifts. You can call it prophecy. You can call it clairvoyance. It’s all semantics, depending on faith. There are parts of our brain that some people can tap into that I may not have. I’ve had strange occurrences, particularly in and around this job. I sent Patrick picture texts all the time and he doesn’t respond.
Wilson: I don’t care. (They laugh.)
Farmiga: But it always happens around this thing. It’s cuts.
Wilson: She sends me pictures of her arm. “Do you see? There are three scratches.” I know. She just did that.
Farmiga: I don’t. I’ve had weird little things happen. I don’t know why. Laugh. Wait till it happens to you. I was frantic with fear on the first “Conjuring.” The research into negative mysticism really petrified me. I couldn’t sleep. I’d always wake up at the same time in the night. I remember we were shooting in Wilmington (N.C.). My kids were very young so we moved a mattress up to the master bedroom. I’d look over at night and be terrified they’d be levitating. So I lived in dread during that first “Conjuring.” I was really scared.
Wilson: I remember. I was there.
Q: What kind of mood does James Wan keep on the set?
Farmiga: It’s always light but there it’s always about time. Plus we have the kids and they’re only on set for a certain amount of time because of school schedules. Were’ like vinegar and baking soda so it gets a bit frothy and fun.
Wilson: Like Mentos in a Coke bottle. We try to keep it light because we know that when we have to cut loose because we know that when it comes time we have to dig in and scream things like marquis of snakes. That’s the thing about doing this sort of genre, is you can’t do it halfway. You’ve got to jump in so when you do, you have the confidence of everybody around you.
Q: What was the scariest or most difficult scene to film for you?
Farmiga: Finding the audacity in that final banishment (of the demon) was probably the most difficult thing.
Wilson: It was awesome. When she was up against the wall, it was great.
Farmiga: Thank you. Just physically, because you’re hanging from a couple of hooks, it feels like your clavicle is hooked to the wall. And yet you’re supposed to be coming forward, so that push and pull of energy (was hard). To be honest with you, who knows how to banish a devil? It’s tough because it’s operatic stuff, and you want to be earnest in it or it’s not going to work.
Wilson: The same sequence, being in that room for days on end, hanging out of a window, because even though you’re cabled in, you don’t want it to be too easy. You want to get to the point of physical exhaustion just so it looks right. So you’re trying to find that sweet spot of pain and performance.
Q: You’ve signed on for three films, this is getting great reviews already, are they already talking to you about the third one?
Wilson: I did hear James sneak out something the other day, he has an idea, but he didn’t tell me.
Q: And it will be a real case again?
Wilson: Oh yeah, they had thousands of them. We’re going to have thousands of movies. (He laughs.)
Q: This could make a great TV series?
Wilson: I prefer to do the movies.
Farmiga: I’m sure it’s coming. You want to see this on the big screen.
Q: What’s happening with the last season of “Bates Motel?”
Farmiga: I’m not sure. I’m ready and in September we’ll start. But I have no idea what’s on the agenda. They’re scheming and very excited about it but I’m left in the dark.