Has James Wan been mostly shooting in or out of the water this week? That’s the first question EW put to the director when he called your writer last Friday — and it’s a pertinent one, given the filmmaker was phoning in Australia, where he is currently shooting the Jason Momoa-starring DC superhero film, Aquaman. “I’ve actually been shooting a lot of water this week,” Wan replied. “I’ve been shooting in a a lot of rain, shooting a boat that’s sailing through thunderstorm — there’s a lot of wetness happening.”
Between Aquaman and 2015’s Furious 7, Wan is something of an old hand at overseeing entries in established film series. But the Malaysian-Australian auteur is one of those very rare filmmakers who can claim to have played a leading role in the creation of three movie franchises. In the early aughts, he directed the first film in the Saw horror series, whose eighth entry, Jigsaw, will be released Oct. 27. He also made the 2010 supernatural terror tale Insidious, which would be followed by two hit sequels and a fourth film set for release on Jan. 5. Finally, Wan directed New Line’s 2013 film The Conjuring, another ghost story, which this time was inspired by the supposedly true adventures of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. In the short time since that film’s hugely successful release, the mythology of The Conjuring has expanded into a fully-fledged universe thanks to 2014’s Annabelle — a Conjuring prequel about that film’s possessed doll, on which Wan was one of the producers — and last year’s The Conjuring 2, which was again directed by Wan and found Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprising their respective roles as the Warrens.
A second Annabelle film, the David F. Sandberg-directed Annabelle: Creation, is due out this Friday, while filmmaker Corin Hardy recently wrapped The Nun, a solo film for a supernatural character introduced in The Conjuring 2. Wan, his producing partner Peter Safran, and New Line are also developing a second Conjuring 2 spin-off, The Crooked Man, as well as The Conjuring 3. “When we were starting out, when we made the first Conjuring, we always kind of quietly, jokingly, among ourselves, felt that the world of the Warrens, and all the interesting artifacts they have in their haunted room, could have their own stories and therefore spawn movies,” says Wan. “We had hopes and aspirations but we never thought in our wildest dreams that we could actually go on and do it.”
In the ’50s-set Annabelle: Creation, young actors Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson (Ouija: Origin of Evil) play friends targeted by the titular character after they move into a family home-turned-orphanage owned by Anthony LaPaglia’s dollmaker and his wife, played by Miranda Otto. “Talitha was one of the actresses that I actually considered for Conjuring 2,” says Wan, who, together with Safran, produced this prequel-to-a-prequel. “We were looking at a lot of young, talented, up-and-coming actresses to play the role of Janet in Conjuring 2, it was really down to Talitha and [Madison Wolfe], who we eventually cast. But we always knew that Talitha was fantastic and that we we would love to go back to her at some point, and that was what we did.”
Wan was also familiar with the film’s director, David F. Sandberg, having produced his directorial debut, last year’s box office hit Lights Out, through Wan’s company, Atomic Monster. “Myself and New Line had such a great experience working with David on Lights Out that, when Annabelle 2 came around, we all thought that he was just the right guy for it,” says Wan. “David felt he could something unique, and different, and bring his own vision to the sequel of Annabelle, and I think it worked out really well.”
Wan is similarly fulsome in his praise for Corin Hardy, whose own contribution to the Conjuring universe, the Romania-shot The Nun, will be his second feature as well, following the British director’s well-received debut, The Hallow. “I love Corin,” laughs Wan. “That guy is amazing. I put Corin in the same camp as David — you know, like, really young, hungry, upcoming filmmakers, full of passion for the genre. Corin is such a monster movie-nut and I just love the guy’s passion. All these up-and-coming filmmakers remind me of what I was when I started with Saw. That’s the kind of filmmakers I would love to continue to foster through Atomic Monster. So, I’m very excited for what Corin has done with The Nun, and right now we’re in post-production, putting the film together.”
Wan explains that The Crooked Man is still at the beginning of the development process. “Early stages, kind of like cooking away,” he says. “But we think we have a really exciting story. What we want to do, with The Conjuring universe, is we want each of our little offshoots to have a very different flavor, right? So, for example, Annabelle is the classic sort-of haunted doll subgenre. And with The Crooked Man, I would love to push it more down somewhat of that dark fairytale, and more whimsical, subgenre. I love the idea that, within the Conjuring universe, each of our little movies all have their own flavor, so that way they don’t feel like they’re the same films.”
And what news of The Conjuring 3? “We’ve been working hard on Conjuring 3,” says Wan. “Of course, that is something that I am not neglecting. The Conjuring films are still the mothership and the mothership needs to be strong. [Laughs] The mothership needs to be strong for all these other jet fighters to shoot out of. So, we’re in the midst of working on the script, and still hashing [it] out. We want to make sure that the script is in a really good place. With how much people have loved the first two Conjuring, I don’t want to rush in to the third one if possible.”
Wan admits that he is unlikely to direct the third Conjuring film because of other commitments. “I just don’t think it’s realistic with my schedule,” he says. “I’m going to be on Aquaman for a year-and-a-half. I just don’t see that as a reality.”
Speaking of superheroes, would Wan be up for an Avengers-style team-up in the Conjuring universe? “If I could pull off an Avengers of the Conjuring universe, I would love for that to happen,” he laughs. “We’ll see. It could be fun.”
You can watch trailer for Annabelle: Creation above.