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Insidious - Leigh Whannell and James Wan interview

Leigh Whannell and James Wan

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JAMES Wan and Leigh Whannell, the co-creators of Saw, talk about the inspiration for their latest movie, the supernatural chiller, Insidious.

James talks about directing it and what draws him to scary movies in general and Leigh (who co-wrote and co-stars in the film as Specs) talks about some of his research and whether Specs might get a spin-off.

Q. Where did the idea for Insidious first come from?
James Wan: Insidious was an idea that Leigh and I had a while ago. It actually came up around the same time we cooked up Saw. We were kicking it around back and forth and it was actually a concept that we really, really liked but we felt that maybe doing a supernatural film may be a bit too expensive at that point, so we thought let’s go with a thriller instead, which was what Saw was. We came up with the twist for Insidious early on and then years later we came back to it and said: “We’re both big fans of ghost stories and haunted house films, so let’s take the idea we had back then and put that into this film.”

Q. Leigh, how much did you research different realms and the paranormal?
Leigh Whannell: Well, I interviewed a medium to research the role, which was really interesting to talk to him about his work and how he would visit houses when people called upon him to do so and help them to ‘clean’ their house, literally, of these entities that they believed they were experiencing. I also went ghost hunting with a team of amateur ghost hunters… I went to an abandoned mental hospital in downtown LA and that was quite an experience. Unfortunately, though, I didn’t see a ghost.

Q. Has anything supernatural ever happened to you?
Leigh Whannell: Not to me. I think James may have had an experience but he doesn’t like talking about it. He may have had one in his dark and mysterious past. I’m begging for one!

Q. So, where did the fascination for horror and the supernatural first come from for you?
Leigh Whannell: Oh man, I remember telling ghost stories with my cousins when I was four, five, six-years-old. I’ve just always loved it. But I think you’re drawn to things you’re terrified of.

James Wan: We love it because it’s frightening! In the same way we’re terrified of shocks but we’re so fascinated by it at the same time. We’re terrified of spiders and reptiles and all of that but at the same time you’re fascinated by them – you want to go to the zoo and go behind the glass and look at all these creepy crawlies! It’s the same thing with the supernatural. I think we’re very frightened by it.

Q. This relies on basic forms of terror such as darkness and silence, so how much fun did you have playing around with those things?
James Wan: Oh yes, the fun factor for me from a filmmaking standpoint, or a director’s stand-point, was allowing me to do things that were a lot more subtle and suggestive, which is always great because if you can pull it off it’s very satisfying when it works… because when it works it really gets inside your head a lot more.

Q. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne bring a believable everyman quality to their roles of husband and wife. Did you have them work on that beforehand?
James Wan: The great thing was that I spoke to both of them individually and I felt deep down that when they finally met to get chemistry together they would make a terrific on-screen couple because they’re such terrific personalities. I think one of the things that I actually did get right with this film is the casting. They helped to ground the film in reality and I don’t think the film would be as scary if you didn’t believe in the characters.

Q. Ty had played Patrick’s son before, so that must have helped with their bond?
James Wan: Yes, in Little Children, and it did. It was part of the reason that I cast Ty… I mean, he actually gave a really good audition but because he had worked with Patrick before I thought that the short-hand between the two of them would be great for this film.

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Q. Talking of on-screen chemistry, let’s turn to Specs and Tucker…
Leigh Whannell: Yes, let’s talk about chemistry! Specs and Tucker are the heart and soul of the film and audiences in droves have said so! No, it’s fun. It was basically like getting to do a little comedy routine in the middle of all this scariness. I mean, even though these guys aren’t straight up comedic, just their quirkiness gets laughs from audiences. I think because the audience is on the edge of their seat so much, they just want a little bit of relief.

Q. Could you envisage a movie for just the two of them?
Leigh Whannell: Absolutely. It’s really up to the highest bidder! At the moment there’s a bidding war [laughs].

Q. So, what’s the trickiest question you’ve been asked at fan Q&As about Insidious so far?
Leigh Whannell: Jeez, there’s been some interesting ones! One guy said: “So, I wrote a film that was pretty much like this… It was basically the same idea, so where did you get this idea from?” So, I said: “I read your script!” That was pretty funny! I’m kidding of course!

Q. I gather you’ve also been setting trending patterns ablaze on Twitter at all hours of the night?
James Wan: Yeah, that’s definitely been one of the coolest things, seeing Insidious trending at 1, 2 or 3am… I’m like: “Why is it trending at 2am?” But then I’d read people’s tweets and it’s people saying they’ve just seen the movie and they cannot sleep because it’s just scaring the crap out of them! They have to either sleep with the lights on, or it’s keeping them awake. I think that’s the biggest compliment we’ve really received about the film.

Q. Have you ever watched a film that’s kept you up at night?
James Wan: Oh yeah, definitely growing up as a little kid. You know, movies like Jaws scared us. Poltergeist scared me… Nightmare on Elm Street.

Leigh Whannell: The Shining. Even The Others later, when we were at film school, was still really scary.

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Q. And what’s the most memorable jump out of your seat screen shock you’ve ever experience? There are several in Insidious
James Wan: I have to say, one of the great shock moments that I really love is in The Sixth Sense, when Haley Joel Osment runs into the little tent he had set up in his room and the pegs that are holding his tent together start to break apart and the camera pans down to find the ghost inside it with him.

Q. And Leigh?
Leigh Whannell: I saw that with James and when he screamed he made it sound somewhere between a nine-year-old girl who had just stumbled into a wasps’ nest and a bunny rabbit being strangled. But I loved the moment in The Exorcist 3 involving the corridor in the hospital where a nurse walks out and gives you a hell of a fright.

Q. What’s the chemistry between the two of you like when you’re writing? Who has the more ‘out there’ ideas?
James Wan: Leigh and I work really well, so when it comes to the script, the ideas and the concept we’re usually on the same page. We talk it out a lot and we share a passion for a lot of the same things. We have very similar sensibilities and I think that’s what allows us to continue to make these films and hopefully make them well. We’re pretty much frightened by the same things.

Leigh Whannell: I’ll go off and write and then give it to James and he’ll be like: “Why don’t we take these ghosts and turn them into harlequin ghosts with painted cheeks?” And I’m like: “That’s genius!”

Read our review of Insidious