June 10, 2015 Interview – Lin Shaye
In life, one would be remiss to give up on their passion and settle for something less. Accomplished theater, television, and film actress Lin Shaye understood that at a young age when she decided to follow her dreams and pursue a career in acting that has seen her star in a list of memorable films. Versatile, in her performance, Shaye always approaches roles with the same passion as the last and many of her most recognized roles can be found within Horror cinema, dubbing her the title the Godmother of Horror. Recently taking on the character of Elise Reiner in the popular Horror series Insidious, Shaye returns for the latest installment Insidious: Chapter 3 released June 5, 2015. Given the chance to develop Elise’s character more, Shaye is being praised all around for her performance of one of the Summer’s most anticipated Horror films. Recently we sat down with Shaye to talk her career as an actress, her love for developing characters, working on Insidious: Chapter 3, and more.
CrypticRock.com – You have attained quite an extensive career in acting beginning with your debut feature film debut in 1975. What has your experience been like as a professional actress through the years?
Lin Shaye – I have always loved telling stories, that is how I started. I always say that I started when I was a little girl, around four or five, in my bedroom taking all of my clothes out of my closet, stuffed animals and dolls, and I would make up stories in front of my mirror. There were not a lot of kids in the neighborhood, and that is how I would entertain myself. As time went on, I would be in school plays. I enjoyed the process of pretending to be somebody else, whatever psychological malady that may apply, but I think it is the fun idea that there are so many other kinds of people in the world. I did not think about being an actress as a profession. Through high school, I was in school plays. I went to the University of Michigan as a Art History major, not a Theater major. I was always active in their theater lab programs, experimental plays, and musical stuff. Even though I was not a singer or much of a dancer, I was a good actress, so they would put me in roles where there was not a whole lot of heavy singing where you could talk a song. Those were the kind of roles I got to do.
When I graduated from Michigan I got my first job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, in filing registers office. I was sort of just sitting there and wondering when I was going to be in the play again, it occurred to me in a flash that I was not going to be in another play because I was not in school anymore and there was a profession called Actor that I could try to do if I really wanted to continue. I applied to NYU, Columbia, and Brandeis in their Theater department. Columbia had a brand new Theater Arts department and I got accepted into that, and NYU. I decided to go into Columbia. That was my immersion into theater. It was a three year program, a twelve hour day; you get there at eight and go home at eight. It was long days of rehearsals and play breakdowns, make up, hair, and history; it was a fabulous program. I segued to the off- Broadway theater scene, and that was in 1971 that I got my Equity Card at the Chelsea Theater Center in Brooklyn. Robert Kalfin was the artistic director and they did a five hour production of Jean Genet’s The Screens (1962) with a dinner break and I was understudying. It was by a Greek director, Minos Volanakis, who was quite a renowned director in his own country and a very interesting man. The character was a girl named Layla, called the ugliest girl in the world, and the entire five hour production was performed with a burlap bag over your head and two eye holes (laughs). I understudied the actress that was playing it, and since it was such an ordeal on weekends when we had matinees; it was ten hours of performing, she asked me if I wanted to do the matinees. Of course I was elated, and that is how I got my Equity Card. That was my first professional outing.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, well it is great that you followed through with it all of these years later. You certainly have achieved a very long resume in film and television, so it worked out great.
Lin Shaye – It is really what I love, so that is the most important part. I think very often we make accommodations for what you think you cannot have in life. I feel very grateful that I had this passion for storytelling even more than being an actress, that is what I loved to do; immerse myself in other psyches of other people. I kind of encourage everybody, we have secret desires and only one life. As I have gotten older I realize it goes by really fast. I encourage everybody to really look at what you are doing and see that you are doing the things that makes you feel happiest.
CrypticRock.com – That is very good advice, completely agreed. A great deal of your most recognized roles have been in Comedies and Horror films. Are these two genres you have an affection for?
Lin Shaye – I do, but I can honestly say more than genre, it is just again with storytelling. If a character appeals to me, the story is good, if the people I am going to work with are good people, that is what brings me into a project. I love Comedy, I live my life comedicly at some level (laughs). I am always quick to come up with something funny to quell a situation often, especially if it is a dangerous one of any kind, or something that is forbidden to discuss. I do live my life with a humorous point of view and I enjoy entertainment that way to make the audience feel that way about life and about themselves. It is good to laugh at yourself, because we all take ourselves a bit too seriously. Every situation, again as you get older, you realize things just change, and you cannot control everything. You cannot be too upset about things, you have to really look for answers for yourself and ways out of bad situations, but there is always something to laugh at. That is my love of Comedy and Horror. I think is fascinating because people have these deep-seeded fears that we hide away from the world. I think that is one of the appeals in Horror films, in particular, being in a big, dark, empty space with seats with strangers you do not know and everyone experiencing their own fears in public together anonymously, there is something really great about that. As well as genre, I just enjoy the process.
CrypticRock.com – This past Friday, Insidious: Chapter 3 was released in theaters nationwide. In this film you reprise your role as Elise Reiner. Since this is the third film in the series, what was the working environment like this time around?
Lin Shaye – It was a little different because Leigh Whannell, who is the writer and wrote the first two as well, plays the part of Specs, the duo of Specs and Tucker, Elise’s sidekicks basically; you learn about that in this film. He took over the directorial reigns from James Wan, where the two of them created the story together in the beginning. James has gone on to do Fast and the Furious 7, and it looks like he is doing Aquaman next. He has moved into these big blockbuster films, Leigh is quieter, moving up slower in a different direction, and took over the directorial reigns. His approach to the story was very rich because he wrote it and also created these characters. As a director, it is a slightly different process. One of the things that was different with James than with Leigh is that James is not a performer, but Leigh is also an actor. I used to joke with him when I would say a speech as the character and at the corner of my eye I would see Leigh mouthing the words with me because he wrote them (laughs). I would joke and say, “Get out of my peripheral vision, or be “quiet” ( laughs). We had a very open and fun relationship on set.
You learn from everybody. I learned a lot from Leigh as a first time director, and I think he learned a lot from all of us and from me. It is a real team sport. I think that is something that people overlook in film, there is not just one. Even though the director is the one that gives the lead and you go to them with a problem, it really is a team sport; everybody has a part to play. The more you use each other to solve your own problems, I think, the richer the film is because everybody is on the same page. Leigh has a lot of personality, he is a very funny guy, his voice cuts through butter, you could have one-hundred people in a room and you could hear where Leigh is. He has that tenor sharp, Australian, beautiful voice. We had a lot of fun. They were long days, sixteen to seventeen hour days, with very little turn around, being back in the mornings. You really have to bring your A game all the time, especially patience, a lot of patience. I think we did that, we had fun.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it was a good working environment. It is great Leigh had the chance to direct as well. The first two films both raise their share of questions as the plots unfold. This new installment is actually a prequel centered around a different family. With that said, will viewers perhaps find some resolve within the storyline of this film that were unanswered in the first two?
Lin Shaye – A little bit, this film stands independent for several reasons. Story-wise, it predates the first Insidious, so you meet Elise around eight years before you see her in the first one. This is really the first of the series, even though it is Chapter Three. People were joking, trying to figure out how that goes semantically, but it predates the first one, so you can actually see this first and then go back to one and two. Elise is tremendously filled-in with this particular story. The storyline revolves around a young girl who lost her mother to cancer, and her dad who of course lost his wife. When we meet Elise, she is no longer practicing or giving psychic advice, she has given up her gift in her own life. That is where this film starts, and as an actress, it totally fills in who she is. It was done very skillfully by Leigh Whannell and it offered me a wonderful opportunity to fill in this character and to really create an arc. You see her go from her depth of sorrow to the Elise we meet in the first chapter, which is sort of this in charge, chipper, kind person who likes helping people and has a good hand on how to do it. Again, it is kind of a stand alone story, but it definitely fills in the rest of the series to this point.
CrypticRock.com – It is excellent that you had the opportunity to build on Elise’s character more. Was it fun for you to be able to develop the persona of Elise on screen further?
Lin Shaye – Completely, as an actor, when we did the first one, again you meet Elise at a certain time of her life. I have been very fortunate, I have studied with the best teachers who have ever lived with Lee Strasberg, I am a member of the Actors Studio, I have studied with Uta Hagen and Stella Adler, who are all the real deal. There was none of this, “Oh, I want to be a movie star!” It is really taking the story and elements of society that are reflected in the story being told, really big ideas. In the first one, where none of this was filled in, I made up my own backstory pretty much, but it was not even as rich as what Leigh Whannell created in this one for me. Elise has a backstory that is very powerful, sorrowful, and you see her grow both as a person, as well as being a professional psychic. There is nothing better than someone giving you the fuel and tools to help with that creation, and Leigh did a fantastic job filling her in.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it. The film has received pretty good review thus far. It will be interesting to see fans’ reactions as time goes on.
Lin Shaye – The audience speaks for itself. It is wonderful entertainment and a different kind of entertainment in a way than the first two films. I think it is scarier in some ways because it leaves you with things that you are going to walk out of the theater and think about. It is about loss and grief, and everyone who is going to see this movie had some sort of experience. During the premier, one of the audience members came over and he says, “I cried at the end of the movie.” I just looked at him and he said, “Because I had the kind of loss that is talked about in the film.” That got to me because I thought he had the courage first to feel that and allow that. He also expressed it to me and it made me think, “Oh my gosh, look what we are going to open up, and people are not even going to know that is happening.” I think it is extra scary and thoughtful in those ways. I just thought that was really powerful.
CrypticRock.com – That is powerful. That is something that is human and real, because we all feel that. To associate it into a film, even if it is a fantasy film like a Horror film, it is still striking, like you said.
Lin Shaye – Exactly, and even though there is great entertainment value, there are scares in here that I even jumped off of my seat a few times (laughs). I fling my right arm when I get scared, I did not do it so much during the premiere because I was sitting next to my big brother. I think there may be some chest punches in the theaters tonight and as the weeks go on (laughs).
CrpticRock.com – Well that is the fun of it all (laughs). You have Horror cinema in your family with brother Robert being the founder of New Line Cinema. The Horror film industry has changed a lot through the years. What do you think have been some of the biggest changes through the years?
Lin Shaye – I think when people ask me what is the scariest movie that I remember seeing, for me it was Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960’s Psycho. When you think about that today, would that be scary to the young moviegoers today? I do not know, I think we have become more immune and numb to things in general; to sound, to conversation, to dialogue, to feelings, and we are inundated with so much static all day long. I think that moviegoers look for different kinds of things to scare them. I think there is a kind of numbness that you need to break through the first A Nightmare on Elm Street, which was produced by my brother Bob Shaye who yes, he started the original New Line Cinema, in 1968 actually. I have a little part of the teacher in there, which has sort of followed me and people recognized that was me, we are talking about 1984. Needless to say, I think you need to keep up on some level with the sophistication in your audience and their numbness to break through to them. I also think there is a traditional formula for scaring somebody. It is usually bringing you in, leading you down a path, and when you least expect it, having something happen. I think a very skilled filmmaker does that, like James Wanm who is a master at that.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, that is very true. It is nice to see a film, like the Insidious series and the projects James Wan has done, which goes back to the traditional scares opposed to the over-obsessive gore, which perhaps has resulted in people being so numb over the years.
Lin Shaye – You are 100% correct, I totally agree with you, it is a very smart thing that you are saying. I do not like gory movies at all. I like traditional Horror in a sense that the idea that fear is such an important part of everyone’s existence. Everyone is afraid of something and when you tap into the universal consciousness that everyone has, and when you are able to illicit that in an entertainment setting, it is exciting and what draws people to it. I agree, I am not a fan of torture, I do not like watching people be tortured. If it is in a movie for a reason and has a real purpose, so be it, but to just use it to sort of decentralized and sensationalize what you are doing, I really think it is low-brow.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed, especially nowadays with the excessive computer effects that are used in a lot of films. Some of it is done tastefully, but a lot of it is so excessive. There is something great about a film that is genuinely scary and rely on the mood.
Lin Shaye – Also something James and Leigh did consciously was to not use any special effects. James said a dark room and a lantern is all you need to scare people. He is right, and that is even scarier, what you imagine and what you do not see is far scarier than all of this, whatever they are doing that costs bazillions of dollars, which does not leave anything to your imagination. Our imaginations can be our own worst enemy and our own scariest place. I think it is because what you store away in there is really what you are afraid of, and when you can illicit that in a movie, then you got your audience.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly, that is what Hitchcock did with Psycho, as you mentioned. John Carpenter did that in 19878 with the original Halloween as well. The things you do not see is what scares you most.
Lin Shaye – Exactly, I am very proud to be part of this team of guys. I think they are really classy, smart, scary, and interesting filmmakers. I am thrilled to be a part of this and I love the character. With Insidious: Chapter 3, I get to tell everyone who she is and how she got to where she is.
CrypticRock.com – You do a fine job with the character as well. My last question for you is pertaining to Horror films. CrypticRock.com covers all types of music and Horror films. I would like to know, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Lin Shaye – I think Psycho is one of my favorites. There is an old movie from 1965 that was directed by Roman Polanski called Repulsion, it is amazing and scary. It is scary because it is Roman Polanski kind of scary. It is a psychological mind-bender. I have not seen it in some years, I should go back to seeing it sometime again. I always mention that as a favorite. I also love The Shining (1980), I thought it was so brilliantly made, performed, and the story was so compelling. Actually, James and Leigh also talk about how you always steal from the best, take from Stanley Kubrick, and take from Alfred Hitchcock, and learn from each other; that is the community in making art. Everyone is part of the bigger fabric. I think working with Leigh and James, they will even tell you, they will take from the movies that they have seen and they loved. I think those are my kind of favorites.
I also loved the first A Nightmare on Elm Street, that was a very unique and innovative kind of film. It certainly caught the collective consciousness off guard. I mean, my goodness there has been pages written about Freddy Krueger. You go, “why?” (laughs) It is Robert Englund in a mask after all, who is the sweetest guy on the planet by the way, but something grabs the unconscious in a collective way and you got a hit. I love what I do, I hope I keep doing it a long time. I got this little award as the Godmother of Horror from Wizard Con, just this past couple weeks ago. It was great, I did not know what was happening. There was a beautiful article recently release in the New York Times on Arts and Leisure, on my career, and I could not believe it. At Wizard Con, there was this fabulous presentation with a sizzle reel of parts of my career, there was a big Q&A with an auditorium full of wonderful fans, and they gave me a beautiful trophy that is blown glass with flames that is a foot and a half high that says, Godmother of Horror at the bottom. I was really touched and honored. It was really a parting thing to my fans, thank you because without you guys there is no me. I am very appreciative.