Lin Shaye has been on the horror scene since her older brother Robert Shaye brought her into the New Line Cinema fold back in 1984. “My big brother put me in A Nightmare on Elm Street and that started it all!”, the Detroit, Michigan native proudly proclaims.
Since her beginning in the horror world, Shaye has enjoyed a successful career that has mixed horror and comedy with just about all things in between. Whether it’s playing beloved paranormal expert Elise Rainer in the Insidious franchise or my all-time favorite overbearing mother in Detroit Rock City, Lin is the consummate professional. Shaye’s eclectic career is a testament to her lifelong commitment to the craft and the fact that she tackles each new project with the fervor and passion not found enough in Hollywood these days.
From Critters and 2001 Maniacs to There’s Something About Mary and Kingpin, Lin is never sitting down for too long. She has a laundry list of projects coming up over the next few years, too.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Lin on a chilly afternoon lunch break here in northern Illinois over the phone. Being such a wonderful experience for me and a truly fascinating discussion, I decided to break this discussion up into two parts. Please enjoy part one today and keep your eyes peeled for part two later this week.
MANGLED MATTERS: You cite your passion for story-telling as a big reason you became an actress. Stories are what makes horror truly scary and so I love that someone who has such an affinity for weaving a tale is as big a part of the horror scene as you are. Were you always drawn to horror films or did it take some time for that seed to be planted?
LIN SHAYE: Absolutely not at all (laughs). I always feel like I disappoint my fans in the genre to an extent when I say that, but it’s true. I consider myself an actress and, as I said, a storyteller. So whatever genre it is in, whether it’s a drama or a kid’s story, the project has to have some real substance. It has to be about something that is universal, a real center to it that’s not just frivolous. I’m drawn to the material and also to people- if a project has good people attached to it, that’s a big point of contention. I’m drawn to good storytelling with good people and, of course, a good role. I want to be challenged with roles I’ve never done before. I don’t want to repeat myself as an actor.
MM: Speaking of stories, it’s a real testament to James Wan and Leigh Whannell that they have been able to not only make great horror films but create franchises on shoe string budgets with all-star casts. It’s all about the story-telling and those two know how to tell a scary story.
LS: I have James to thank for this resurgence in my career, totally. He kind of poo-poos it when I tell him that, but I know he takes it in with genuine appreciation and goodness. James Wan is my hero- you can put that in print!
MM: How did you meet James?
LS: I had done a movie called Dead End, which was released on DVD at some point and became a cult favorite. I’m a fan of it, too! (laughs)
So James, unbeknownst to me, was a fan of that film. You know, there’s a really big familial feel in a lot of movie circles, so Tim Sullivan, whom I worked with on Detroit Rock City when he was a producer, brought James over to my house one evening for a small get-together. This was shortly after Saw, and I hadn’t seen it and didn’t know much about James. I gave him a copy of Dead End and then about a month after this get-together, James called me and asked me to be a part of a short video that he was putting together called Doggy Heaven. He told me that Leigh Whannell, who I didn’t know from Adam at this point, was a part of it, too. That’s also how I met Mike Mendez, who was producing it. The film is hilarious and I think it’s still online- I hope it is.
After that, James called me a little more down the line and we talked about a project that he and Leigh were putting together and they had been working on it for quite some time. They hadn’t settled on a title yet, but were thinking either The Further or Insidious. He asked if I’d be interested in reading for a role in the film and I’m still from the roots of raising my hand as far as I can raise it in the back of the class and hoping I get picked (laughs). So he sent me a hard copy of the script. I can’t read scripts online, I need a physical copy because it translates better to me that way, I feel I’m a better reader like that. I read it in bed and at the end of it, I was so chilled by it that I took it downstairs and locked it in my closet (laughs). I’m not kidding. The next day, I called James and told him my thoughts on it and he was really excited about the cast he was putting together and shortly thereafter, we shot it.
MM: How was your experience on set of Insidious?
LS: It was a really hard part. I remember when I was reading it, I thought ‘God, she talks so much!’ and it wasn’t just in terms of learning the material but she’s really the exposition of the whole story in the first film. Leigh is such a skilled writer and I joke with him and tell him he writes in Australian, which I love- there’s a certain rhythm and cadence, a very precise choice of words that he uses as a writer. And he’ll tell you if you mess up! (laughs) I kept getting a word wrong, saying “night” instead of “dark” and he gave me some playful grief because “I picked the word for a reason- night and dark are not the same thing. Get the word right!” I had so much good material for that film and the rest, really is history.
MM: Following the supporting role in the first two films, in which you kind of became this generation’s Zelda Rubinstein, that beloved paranormal expert, I was ecstatic to find out you were going to be the focal point of the third installment. Elise Rainer is such a fleshed out and deep character and I love how the audience gets to learn so much more about her back story in the third film. I can’t help but believe that Leigh wanted to make Elise a bigger part of this last film because he’d spent so much time writing and creating this character over the years. What were your thoughts when he told you that you were going to be the motor that powered this film’s vehicle?
LS: I was really excited for several reasons. Now, I was part of this family, which is a wonderful way to work. Leigh not only wrote it but he is also Specs, so I’d worked with him as an actor in the series. With this being his first director role, he was really nervous and I tease him about this because he knows even more about Elise than I do. Sometimes he’d tell me too much about the character and I’d tell him “Don’t tell me that! You’re telling me too much!” (laughs)
Leigh wrote a story that was very powerful for the third film, about grief and loss. Every film-goer, young and old, can relate to that. Leigh very skillfully tapped into the psyche of the audience for this one. I think the whole franchise has taken a bit of a turn.
I work very hard on my craft- I come prepared to set each day and I take it very seriously. It’s a flexible and fluid art, which is one of the things I love about acting. It’s been a wonderful experience working in this franchise. I’m so thrilled to be an integral part of this series.
MM: I’m not a big fan of gratuitous gore and that torture porn genre of horror. As someone who has been in the genre long enough to see it evolve, do you feel horror is headed in a positive direction or do you think the gore and that style of entertainment supersedes the substance, the story, of horror films these days?
LS: That’s a great question. I think there is a core fan base for the really bloody and gory stuff- there always has been and always will be. But it just doesn’t interest me. Now, if it’s part of the story, that’s different. If it has a reason to be there.
I just finished a film called The Midnight Man, with Robert Englund, who is no stranger to gore and we just chew it out and spit it out in this one (laughs) So there’s always people who love that gore and there’s people that will always be turned off to that. But I feel that so long as it’s done well and is appropriate for the story, then it’s a fabulous device.
MM: I completely agree. I know there’s a lot of people who don’t want to watch gore and horrible violence, but it is a part of the horror film-making art form.
LS: It’s taboo. I think film-making taps into that a lot. There are certain things that we aren’t supposed to think about and enjoy in courteous society but there’s something very titillating about sitting in a dark theatre with a room full of strangers and exploring that part of your psyche on that level. There will always be the Hitchcock-infused horror that people love and there will always be the tear ‘em up- eat ‘em up films. Hey, look, I did 2001 Maniacs where I was eating people so I know both sides of the coin! (laughs)
MM: What can you tell us about The Midnight Man?
LS: It’s a very gory and upsetting film, but it’s also about something and it’s a fascinating story. The Midnight Man is a game played on Creepypasta and it’s a really creepy story and game. There are warnings online about playing it and it’s just a wonderful set up for this movie. People already know about this game and it is pretty gory, I must say. For an actor, it’s totally fun to do. There’s a lot of things I got to do on this film that I’ve never done before, so that’s very fun. It’s a great character that I play and the set design is simply gorgeous. Plus, I get to work with Robert again!
MM: That had to be a blast.
LS: Oh, it was. I worked with him back in 1984 on the original Nightmare so this is like a fun little reunion. My big brother, Bob, gave him his big break as Freddy with New Line Cinema. Robert is such a professional. A lot of people don’t know that he’s done Shakespeare and he is a truly educated and classically trained actor. His dedication to a role is wonderful and the two of us had a lot of fun working out scenes for this film, a few of which involved stunts and some choreographed physical stuff. It’s a really fun film and I think audiences are going to enjoy it very much.
PART TWO OF MY INTERVIEW WITH LIN SHAYE WILL BE POSTED LATER THIS WEEK!