Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga Talk Skepticism, The Supernatural & ‘The Conjuring 2’

The Conjuring 2 Patrick Wilson Vera Farmiga

Read the first part of our Conjuring 2 interviews here.

For those with an interest in the supernatural, few individuals stand as tall as Ed and Lorraine Warren. With a career spanning decades and literally thousands of cases, they are titans in the world the paranormal and the strange. As the opening text of The Conjuring notes, Ed Warren was the only non-ordained demonologist recognized by the Catholic church. And yet, despite the respect they’ve garnered from believers, their met with dismissal – sometimes even anger – from skeptics.

In the first Conjuring film, the issue of the Warrens’ relationship to skeptics was alluded to with a joke, but in the new sequel the issue of skepticism takes center stage. But how about the people playing these renowned, dismissed, respected, and despised purveyors of the paranormal? What do they think of the world in which the Warrens operated and what is it like playing these characters with such a complicated relationship to the rest of the world? Heroic Hollywood and writers from several other publications sat down with The Conjuring stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga to talk about the Warrens and what it was like coming back to play them for a second time.

NOTE: This interview contains spoilers.

Let’s talk about Elvis.

Patrick Wilson: He’s the king.

Did you know about that Elvis scene before?

Wilson: That was the first scene [James Wan] wrote before he came back on board. Isn’t that funny? He texted me one night and said, ‘can you play guitar?’ And I said, ‘uh, kinda… Why? Where is this going?’ Yeah, that shows you James right there. I think he knew he wanted something different for these guys. The only thing that I wanted to do was say ‘then let’s do it live.’ There’s nothing worse to me than trying to sing and all of a sudden it’s amazing and canned and some masterful Django Reinhardt is playing guitar. Let me just do it. I’m a total hack, I make no bones about it, but that should be it. I kept waiting for, ‘listen, the music department wants you to come in and re-record it because they way we had to cut it…’ But they never did. What we did is what we did.

Vera Farmiga: No, it’s amazing, but- can I share this?

Wilson: What?

Farmiga: It’s very personal.

Wilson: (Laughs) What? What are you doing?

Farmiga: No, forget it.

What a tease!

Farmiga: But he had a huge challenge that day. It was huge!

Wilson: I’m not gonna talk about it! I’ll break down!

Farmiga: His family dog died the day he had to do it.

Oh, that’s terrible!

Farmiga: I know! But to sing through grief like that is a remarkable feat.

Now when this started shooting they actually blessed the set. Is that because things happened on the last shoot that you had? And also, was it like stepping right back for both of you because you played the part before?

Farmiga: Yeah, I think we came back with eagerness and confidence and a certain level of comfort. I had no idea, though, how challenging it would be this time around.

Wilson: Yeah.

Farmiga: I think the emotional profundity of it – the depth that it was going to take – to me there was so much more for us to play in terms of how harrowing it is.

Wilson: Yeah, there was a lot. And they blessed the set – I know it’s a tradition in some other countries anyway.

Farmiga: And we were not there. This was before we started.

Wilson: I mean, it can’t hurt, really. And yeah, a couple squirrelly things happened on the first one.

Oh, like what?

Wilson: Just real briefly, I remember one of the girls got bruises all over her body. And I didn’t talk about this at all during the first movie doing press – this is true – because it happened to a kid and, as a parent, I’m like, ‘I’m not gonna 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, ‘oh, okay, I guess we can talk about it.’ But it was a very odd moment, because I was in the pediatrician’s office with my own son and she was there and had bruises. And, you know, kids don’t do stunts in film so there was no reason, so you sort of go though, ‘are you anemic? No. Has this ever happened? No. Has anybody hit you? No. Did you fall down the stairs? No.’ And they just went away towards the end of shooting, and she never had that before or after?

Did either of you have any hesitation coming back because sequels- some of them can be good and some of them are not. This one was really scary, but you don’t know that going in.

Farmiga: No, we didn’t have a choice. We’d already signed up for three. They had us hook, line, and sinker.

Wilson: Well…

Farmiga: I mean, we probably could have wiggled away if we hated each other, but this (gesturing to Patrick Wilson) is a major incentive for me. I like working with him. And I love working with James, so especially when he signed back on to helm it, then I think it was a joy for us.

Wilson: I also think, when you’ve been around it for a while and you’ve had a big hit- I always felt like, look, 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? You know what I mean? And I don’t mean that with any arrogance, that’s the truth. The movie did so well, both commercially and critically – that almost never happens – so I knew we’d be taken care of. We had such a great relationship with Warner Bros. and New Line that you felt like, they’re going to take care of us.

Farmiga: And ultimately, we’re just responsible for our roles, right? You know it’s very difficult for lighting to strike again in that same place, but you can’t think about that. You can’t think, ‘oh, it’s a sequel, people are going to judge it a certain way.’ You can’t think about all that. You can just stay true to your characterization.

Wasn’t it cool that so much of this one was about your characters? Almost equally with the other story. Was that more attractive too?

Farmiga: We didn’t get the script until we had already signed on to do it. We didn’t see it for a year after we had said okay.

Wilson: Yeah, they had like, eight versions, and we were like, ‘can we read it at some point?’

Farmiga: They had gone through at least a few versions before we actually ended up seeing it.

I really enjoyed your relationship in this movie a lot. It really showed the bond that you have with each other.

Farmiga: Yes, that’s the bond that [the Warrens] had. They had a very special partnership.

Wilson: No, it’s funny, because you know Ed’s not with us, but we can go up and talk to Lorraine and their son-in-law and daughter and try to glean any information about, ‘oh, what was it like?’ And of course, you’re like, ‘what would you ever fight about?’ And she always looks at him with such love and longing that you feel like you just want to do these people justice. Like you said, we’re only in charge of us and that relationship.

Farmiga: I know, and most 85-year-olds just bitch about their husbands, but she just doesn’t! She just adores him! She has so much reverence, so much delight, so much joy, and so much romance. It’s so palpable when she speaks about him. You just gotta try to do it justice.

Do you think it goes back to that idea that they were two people that had such specific interests and they finally found each other.

Wilson: It’s so true! And they’re so different, and I love that about them.

Farmiga: They’re the complete inverse of one another.

Wilson: Yeah, they are. They’re complete opposites in so many ways, but they have this profound passion for this world.

There’s more of a thread of skepticism in this movie. Do you guys get defensive for the Warrens since you’ve played them twice now?

Wilson: I don’t know. I think the skepticism is equally as important. It’s like, if you’re having a conversation about God, you’ve gotta have the atheist in the room. You have to.

Farmiga: Doubt is very much a part of belief.

Wilson: Exactly.

Farmiga: But I think we all have a definition of God that works for us, and I honor what that is for her. And it’s made her into a beautiful, compassionate, joyful person. That’s really powerful for me. She’s full of grace, and it’s undeniable her cheerfulness and her joy, and that she shares that with people. So, I don’t know, I don’t like people crapping on her because I know her personally.

Wilson: Yeah, I agree.

Farmiga: And I think she’s helped a lot of families come through very dark moments. Whether you believe in negative or positive mysticism, she does, and she’s been very compassionate in her life.

Have you had any experiences that are unexplainable and do you believe in this?

Wilson: I’ve never had a face-to-face with a ghost. Yeah, there have been some experiences in my house, people say this, they’ve heard noises, this and that, I’ve heard some noises, yadda, yadda, yadda. That I can kind of sift through and go, ‘it is what it is. Okay, I don’t know. Let me know when I see a ghost.’ For me, it’s something like, last week, I was doing an interview in the hometown of this girl that I knew years ago, and I hadn’t talked to her in forever, and I just started thinking about her. I was like, ‘whatever happened to her?’ I haven’t talked to her in, literally, like 12 years or something crazy. The next day I get an email. How often does that happen? For me, that’s enough. That’s enough for me to go, ‘there’s another force at play here,’ and, that’s all. It’s unexplained, and how that translates into your life is not as clear as, ‘there’s a ghost in room 212!’ I’ve never had that, but I think there’s another force at play here, so why can’t there be that?

What about you, Vera?

Farmiga: I do believe that we all come with certain gifts. Some people have the gifts of- you could call it prophecy, you could call it clairvoyancy – it’s all semantics. I think there are parts of our brains that certain people can tap into and have access to that I may not have. I have had strange occurrences, particularly in and around this job. I send [Patrick] picture texts all the time of what happens, and you just don’t respond.

Wilson: I know, I just… I don’t care.

Farmiga: But, it happens always in and around this thing.

Wilson: Why are you showing me a picture of your arm?

Farmiga: For me it’s always cuts.

Wilson: (Mocking) ‘But do you see?! There are three scratches right there!’ Yeah, I know, you just did that.

Farmiga: I don’t! I’ve had little weird things happen that I have no idea how.

Wilson: (Laughs)

Farmiga: Laugh, but wait ‘til it happens to you. I was frantic with fear on the first Conjuring. The research into negative mysticism really petrified me. At any given moment. I couldn’t sleep, I would always wake up at 3:11, or what was it?

3:07

Farmiga: Right, but the initial draft had something else, and that’s when I would wake up.

Wilson: (Whispering) You’re doing great!

Farmiga: (Laughs) But anyway, I was paralyzed with fear. I remember we were shooting in Wilmington, and the kids were very young so we moved a mattress up to the master bedroom, and at night I would just look over just terrified that they would be levitating. I lived in dread that first Conjuring.

Wilson: I remember, I was there!

Farmiga: I wouldn’t go down into the museum.

Wilson: No, you wouldn’t! That was the deal. We went back to meet Lorraine the second time before this movie, and I said, ‘let’s go, but you’re going into that damn room.’ And you did, and you were fine.

Farmiga: I did. The second time around I went into the damn room.

What kind of mood does James keep on the set? Does he like to keep it light, or does he like to keep the sense of unease?

Farmiga: It’s mostly light. It’s big demands on the film, so we’re alway up against time – especially when you’re dealing with kids – and it’s such dark subject matter, but we always keep it light. And we’re (gesturing to Patrick) like vinegar and baking soda when we get together.

Wilson: (Raises an eyebrow)

Farmiga: It gets a bit frothy and fun.

Wilson: Right, frothy. Okay. (Laughs) Like Mentos in a Coke bottle. But, yeah, I think you have to. I think you gotta know when to let it loose, because we know that when it comes time, you gotta dig in and scream things like marquee of snakes. That’s the thing about doing this genre too: you can’t half-ass it. You gotta whole-ass it. You gotta jump in, so when you do, you’ve got to have the confidence of everyone around you.

And, Patrick, this is your fourth time working with James Wan. How has that professional relationship evolved over time.

Wilson: Horrible

(Laughs)

WIlson: No, I love the guy. I think they don’t get any better, I think he’s constantly pushing himself. I love that when he came back from [Furious Seven], after doing the first Conjuring and going off to do that, he comes back with a new sense of, ‘I know this trick, and this trick now, and these tools,’ you know, it’s nice! We all sort of move on and just keep pushing. It’s awesome! I love the guy. We could tell too on this one, it was harder than he expected, because he is his harshest critic. To the core. He lives and breathes these films. He is AWOL to the rest of his life, he’s just constantly in it. Right up until the last minute, he is cutting, editing, trying to figure out the best movie he can make. That’s who you want to work with, whatever your career is. That’s awesome.

Does he like a lot of takes?

Farmiga: It certainly depends on the scene. There were some very tricky technical camera shots, and it just happened to be on some of the most arduous emotionally demanding scenes.

Wilson: But he doesn’t manipulate you in that sense where you hear some directors doing take after take after take after take after take just to see, ‘let’s watch them break down and then we’ll have the good stuff!’ He’s not that. There’s too many other things going on. He knows we’re going to come in, and if he needs to push us, if we need to do eight takes, we’ll do eight takes. It’s not, ‘guys, you need to get this, we gotta go!’ It’s not that.

What was the scariest or most difficult scene to shoot?

Farmiga: I guess it’s finding the audacity in that final banishment was probably the most difficult thing.

Wilson: It’s awesome! It’s great!

Farmiga: Thank you.

Wilson: It is!

Farmiga: Just physically when you’re up against the wall hanging from a couple of hooks. It feels like your clavicles are hooked up to the wall, and yet you’re supposed to be coming out forward. And, to be honest with you, who knows how to banish a devilry?

Wilson: You should have seen the first film.

Farmiga: (Laughs) But, you know, that’s tough, because it’s operatic stuff, but you want to be earnest in it or else it’s not going to work.

Wilson: For me, it was the same sequence. For days on end, it felt like, hanging out of a window – water and glass and upside down. Because in a stunt like that, even though you’re cabled in, you want it to be difficult enough. You want it to get to the point of physical exhaustion, just so that it looks right, not, ‘yeah, I feel totally cool here, let’s roll!’ You’re trying to find that sweet spot of pain and performance.

Well, you’ve now signed on for three, and this is getting great reviews, are they already talking to you about the third one?

Wilson: They’re not, although I did hear James sneak out something the other day. He has an idea, but he didn’t tell me.

And it would be a real case again?

Wilson: Oh yeah, they had thousands of them. We’re going to have thousands of movies.

(Laughs) I thought it’d make a great Netflix series.

Wilson: Ehh, I prefer to do the movies.

Farmiga: Yeah, you want to see this on the big screen.

The Conjuring 2 is now playing in theaters.

David Daut

David Daut

Though his taste has been described as ‘broken’, David maintains that the Fast & Furious series is the greatest cultural achievement of the modern era.