By Barry Koltnow
SANTA ANA, Calif.
Growing up with strict immigrant parents in New Jersey, Vera Farmiga was not allowed to watch scary movies.
Thanks to her best friend, Missy, however, Vera was introduced to the horror films of Freddy Krueger.
Thirty years after feasting on “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and its sequels at Missy’s house, the 39-year-old actress said she is ready to scare a new generation of overprotected children with the terrifying new film “The Conjuring.”
Farmiga, who was nominated for an Oscar opposite George Clooney in “Up in the Air” and is one of the stars of the A&E series “Bates Motel,” portrays real-life paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren in the new film. Warren, a clairvoyant, and her husband, Ed Warren, a demonologist played by Patrick Wilson, investigated thousands of hauntings, including those that inspired the films “The Amityville Horror” and “The Haunting in Connecticut.”
“The Conjuring” directed by James Wan of “Saw” and “Insidious,” is based on the Warrens’ most challenging case — the 1970s haunting of a Rhode Island farmhouse. Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston play the owners of the farmhouse who are terrorized by dark forces.
Farmiga starred as a psychiatrist in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed,” and later directed the 2011 film “Higher Ground.” In the A&E prequel series “Bates Motel,” the actress plays Norman Bates’ mother — long before he kills her and rents a room to Janet Leigh.
Q. What or who was the key in making this film work?
A. It was Lorraine. She is an influential and fascinating person. That was the draw for me. And, of course, Patrick Wilson playing Ed was the cincher. I just worked with his wife (Dagmara Dominczyk) on “Higher Ground,” and I adored her.
Q. So it wasn’t the scary element that attracted you to the project?
A. Not at all, although I knew it was going to be scary.
Q. How did you know?
A. At the first reading, I thought it was very effective. And I was happy that I got to read it the first time with other people. I did not want to read it in the sanctity of my own home. I tried to read it, but I ended up chucking the script across the room. Whenever I have an offer for a role, my husband clears the house so I can concentrate and read the script alone. So, he took the two toddlers food shopping and left me alone. In my creaky old colonial house, I couldn’t get through it. I only felt safe reading it on an airplane or in front of people I knew.
Q. Are you saying that it was scary on the page?
A. Yes, it was scary on the page, but even more so after I did some research on Lorraine. I hadn’t heard of her because I’m not someone who gravitates toward the paranormal. I watched footage of her, and I think it’s them as a couple that is so fascinating. The real-life aspect of this story is what makes it so scary. The research was not pleasant.
Q. I know Ed Warren has passed away, but did you get to meet with Lorraine?
A. I did. I had just read their book “The Demonologist.” It was unlike any book I’ve ever read. It’s about mystical phenomena. It just scared the daylights out of me. It details all their cases. There are things that go down in this book that are absolutely unfathomable, so far-fetched and so diabolical. Then they have their museum of the occult that is located near their house.
Q. That museum, which contains objects from their most celebrated cases, plays a significant role in the movie. Did you take a tour of it?
A. I opted not to see it. I decided that I was only playing Lorraine Warren. I didn’t need to be around the psychic energy of these things. It would have done nothing for me. Just knowing about the terror and dread these objects instilled was enough for me.
Q. Was Lorraine OK with you not going through the museum?
A. She doesn’t go through there much since Ed’s passing. They have a priest who lives on the property and continues to bless the items and pray over the household every night.
Q. That’s pretty creepy.
A. That’s what I’m telling you. Her nephew will tell you that there is an active energy to those objects, even though the priest prays over them.
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Q. So, what could you learn from Lorraine?
A. My questions had more to do with her insecurities. She is a very positive person so it’s hard to extract intimate details from here. I wanted to know how she handled being a ghost buster by night and a domestic dust buster by day. When you’re privy to such evil, darkness and negativity, how could she be so cheerful?
Q. What did she want from you?
A. She didn’t want anything. She genuinely loves people. I thought she would be wary of some actress from Hollywood coming into her world. She had no idea who I was, but she was so welcoming. I studied her but how do you play clairvoyance? Her eyes are so beautiful, and so full of love and goodness that it’s hard to look away. And she doesn’t look away. Her gaze is so deep, and that’s what I came away with. Her gaze is so mesmerizing that it feels like you’re staring into a mirror.
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Q. How much did she share about the demons she’s met?
A. She doesn’t like to dwell on the past, and she’s never told anyone, including Ed, what she saw in the house that night. I assume she saw death in the face, whether it was hers or her children, nobody knows. You can only imagine what she saw. She doesn’t go there. And I think she maintains power over it by not talking about it. I mostly just watched her gestures and how she spoke. I absorbed whatever I could.
Q. Is it scary on the set when you’re making a scary movie?
A. Only if your co-workers are scary. We are responsible for the energy we create. Some strange things happened on the set, but we have decided not to discuss it because it gives that mysticism negative energy.
Q. What happened on the set?
A. Something happened to one of the children playing our children, but we don’t want to talk about it. It’s up to the parents to talk about it. All I can say is that what happened to her was mimicking what was happening to her character in the film.
Q. You’re really not going to give me details?
A. I can only speak for myself. On the night I accepted the role, I looked at my laptop and there was this strange design across the screen. Maybe some techie could explain it, but I had never seen it before. Lorraine would tell you that it was a mocking of the trinity.
Q. Did it freak you out?
A. No, I just let it go. It’s like what happened on the last day of filming. I woke up with three strange bruises on my leg in an odd shape. Maybe I was scratching some mosquito bites. And maybe it was something else.
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Q. What was the first movie that scared you?
A. There are different types of scary. For instance, “Little House on the Prairie” scared me when Caroline Ingalls caught an infection. I was scared of losing my mother. But I think you’re talking about a supernatural scary movie where the monster is inhuman and diabolical. I wasn’t allowed to watch them so I snuck over to Missy Berner’s house to watch them. Missy introduced me to the whole Freddy Krueger series of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” movies. Yes, it would have to be Freddy.
Q. Did you worry a lot about Freddy?
A. Well, I do remember showing the movie to my cousin in Clifton, N.J., and we slept in a tent in the back yard after watching the movie. Clifton Crime Watch was on the alert because some murderer was on the loose in the neighborhood. It was supposed to be this fun sleepover, and all I could think about was Freddy.
Q. Any other scary movies?
A. There’s always Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.”
Q. Do you realize that you are in a movie that could be the one that scares a new generation?
A. That would make me so proud. That puts a big smile on my face. Things can go horrible awry in these kinds of movies. A lesser director and a lesser cast, and there is no way to get in there with the likes of “The Exorcist” or “The Omen.” It’s not easy to make a scary movie that is truly scary.
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