After her breakout role as 'girl in medical lab' in John Hughes comedy She's Having a Baby, Lili Taylor has one of those faces. You know you've seen her but you might not be able to place the name – but after roles in films as eclectic as "Born on the Fourth of July," "Pret-a-Porter," "I Shot Andy Warhol" and Michael Mann's "Public Enemies" she's a bona fide Hollywood veteran.
It was her role in 1999's "The Haunting" that out her unique look to best effect. As the haunted (no pun intended) Nell, Taylor reminded us of Amanda Plummer – a sweet and innocent exterior that seems to hide a simmering undercurrent cauldron of violence and malice.
Her sweet side is put to the test in James ("Saw," "Insidious") Wan's latest frightener "The Conjuring," playing a smalltown wife and mother whose house is attacked by something from beyond the grave and who falls victim to it in the worst way. She spoke to Darkhorizons.com in New York.
How did you prepare for the character?
There are some exorcism clips on YouTube that are pretty intense and helped a lot. A lot of the time in research there'll be one thing that ground things and I'd say those YouTube clips were it. I don't recommend them actually.
Did you talk with the family involved ["The Conjuring" is based in a true case from the 1970s investigated by married psychic investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren]?
No, because all the research had been done by James and the writers. There wasn't a lot I needed to get verification on, It was all right there for me. I only want to enhance what's there in the script. I'm careful about weighing it down and having too much baggage.
If I was going to play a character everybody knows, I've got a different responsibility. But here I had more freedom to make Carolyn who I wanted her to be. I'd rather see a performer find that person for themselves. If they're doing a perfect imitation, who cares?
Some of the scenes in the basement were pretty heavy, can you talk about playing them?
In some ways it felt like a marathon. I had to be in good shape, it took a lot of stamina, so some of it was just physical preparation. The emotional preparation was just a real awareness of where I was going, and that this too would soon pass, we'll soon be out of here and back in New York and we'll go out to a nice dinner.
The Haunting set was very large and expansive, but "The Conjuring" is very claustrophobic. Which is better for a horror movie?
The tightness and constrictiveness worked for "The Conjuring". Having restraints on the funds was actually liberating. Discipline is that which can free you.
After Patrick Wilson's breakout role as the sexual predator on whom the tables are turned in 2005's "Hard Candy," it looked like he was going to be an indie drama fixture when he followed up with 2006's acclaimed "Little Children".
Then he cropped up everywhere from "The A-Team" redux to Zack Snyder's divisive Watchmen, Jason Reitman's dark comedy "Young Adult" and James (Saw) Wan's hit horror film "Insidious," proving himself impossible to pin down.
He reteams with Wan for "The Conjuring" this month, playing real-life psychic investigator Ed Warren. Playing opposite Vera Farmiga as wife Lorraine, the pair came up against the case of their careers in rural Connecticut when a family is terrorised by a presence that wants them out. He spoke to Darkhorizons.com in New York.
What did you like about the story?
What stuck out to me in early conversations with James was how you set up this potential, whether it's a franchise or how many stories we're going to go through. That's obviously yet to be determined, but what I loved was it's not just some sort of origin story, it's not just following them from case to case.
You have these two story lines [the Warrens and the Perron family] which I thought that was really creative, you get so invested in this family. Plus I can always tell when James gets hold of a script because it takes a certain turn. He can layer in all the scares and make these great set pieces and theatrical moments, but then he really focuses on the character. His sort of scares come from a more character-based place so we're all invested a little more – even me as an audience member.
How did you and Vera approach the playing of real people?
When you meet Lorraine [Ed Warren passed away in 2006] you can see the love they had for each other. You see the support they had and of course, as actors we're always trying to get the dirt. We asked her 'was there ever a moment where you doubted what you're doing?'
And there really isn't. When she looks back on her life you can see how much they meant to each other and trusted and complemented each other. So Vera and I latched onto that.
Ed loved the occult, but he was a working class, very stable and grounded guy that just happened to be fascinated by Halloween. So he had this almost child-like passion for it and when he met Lorraine, who was a clairvoyant, that's why they complemented each other.
What did you take from the visit to their house [Lorraine's Connecticut house is home to an occult museum full of artifacts, some of which are said to be haunted by malevolent spirits]?
I was very pragmatic, just trying to find things I could use. Ed's first goal was to debunk the phenomenon, that's why we have those moments in the film about his approach. His job was to try and prove everyone wrong and also check in with Lorraine and see if she's feeling anything.
The other thing is that Lorraine has chickens in the house. So there's a scene where I walk up and Vera's playing with our chickens. I said 'we have to have chickens', it was just the most random, wonderful thing.