“I feel like we’re trying to summon a spirit,” said a Hong Kong-based journalist as we sat at a small round table on The Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s fifth floor.
Lin Shaye, who was dressed elegantly in black, laughed and said, “The séance is beginning.”
The actress had flown to Hong Kong to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at CineAsia and to promote her newest film, “Insidious: The Last Key.”
Movie audiences had seen Lin in well over a hundred films including “There’s Something About Mary,” “Dumb and Dumber,” “Contagion” and “Snakes on a Plane” before she took on the role of Dr. Elise Rainier, psychic, clairvoyant and demonologist, in the “Insidious” films.
There are rumors that when she first read the script, she got so scared that she locked it in her basement. Is it true? “Yes, it’s totally true. It wasn’t the basement, it was a closet downstairs,” Lin said, laughing.
Bigger and bigger
“Insidious” is now a franchise that has spawned four movies, with Lin’s character playing a bigger and bigger role in each one. “Insidious: The Last Key” explores Elise’s childhood and family life—something we had never seen before. Lin said, “It’s the evolution of the character. We started sort of at the end and we’re going back to her beginnings. It’s like having a drawing and we’re filling in all the colors as we go. It’s going back to her early years and really seeing what the aspects of her life were that led her to become who she is.”
For Lin, who had the freedom to create her own backstory for Elise while working on the previous three films, some of the revelations were a surprise. “I had a different story in my head about Elise’s beginning. I kinda saw her as an only child and then I found out that no, she’s got a brother, she’s got a family… I saw her very much in her own fantasy world as a child and she was of course dealing with this ability that she was gifted with.”
She finds hope in Elise’s tale and wishes audiences will, too. “Leigh Wannell (who wrote the script) has created this very dangerous and sad world for her as a child and yet she comes out of it full of optimism and generosity. I think that’s a really beautiful message to people, too. No matter how difficult it gets for you, you still have the opportunity to grow into a positive person and not be a selfish person… Elise… she’s a good one.”
The role isn’t just bigger this time, it’s also a lot more emotionally taxing. “As an actor, it’s a challenge. I’m not a pretender. I’m an expresser. I’m a storyteller and it’s very important for me to tell the truth both emotionally and spiritually,” she said. “Making a film is like being on another planet for a while. In this particular environment we were in very dark spaces, literally, physically and emotionally… I was really immersed in that world until the film ended. And when it ended I was exhausted, I was really tired. I felt very vulnerable about everything. My dog looked at me funny and I would start to cry. But it’s very gratifying. It’s fun, in a deep way, it’s very satisfying.”
Fans of the “Insidious” films have embraced Elise, something the 74-year-old Lin is happy about. “This is the best time of my life, it really is. Hopefully there’s a message in here, too, because I’m an older woman. I’m very grateful to my family, even though I was from a very traditional family, there was never this big emphasis on being a boy or a girl or how old you were. It was more about goals and doing what you love and picking up your socks. I feel very fortunate. Sometimes I feel somewhat genderless. I feel like I’m not a man or a woman. I’m just an energy. I think that’s what we all are,” she said.
Lin’s family, including her 28-year-old son, is proud of her. “His friends, they really love it. And he’s very happy to see me so happy. I mean that’s family, right? That’s the best part of family, you root for each other.”
How many more “Insidious” films would she be willing to do? “I love this team in general and I think Elise’s story, there’s not a whole lot more in her mortal life to explore after this one… probably if there was any more of any kind, I’d be in The Further. I think as long as the storytelling remains strong… I’m faithful to Blumhouse, I think Jason Blum is extraordinary in the way he picks his projects and his support of writers, actors and directors… I would do whatever Jason would ask me to do… I hope he’d ask me to do more over time. I’m in.”
Because of her role as Elise and her appearance in the films “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Amityville,” and “Ouija,” Elise has been tagged a scream queen. “Whatever people want to call me, as long as they call me. Isn’t that the old story from some joke somewhere? People love to put labels on things in general. I’m not a big labeler, I try not to do that. But the fact that that terminology exists and I think it was started by Jamie Lee Curtis from Halloween… it’s good company to be in. I don’t have an issue at all with what people say about me, I just hope they appreciate the work and they experience something from the work that I’m putting out there.”
She’s also been called the godmother of horror but which title does she prefer? Lin said, “I’ll take the godmother of horror. But it’s all good. Again, the idea that you penetrated people’s emotions and thoughts and they have an impulse to call you anything is a privilege.”
Elise is a total badass and, we tell Lin, we think she is, too. “I like that best,” she said.