Director James Wan is currently publicizing his upcoming paranormal horror movie The Conjuring (out July 19) as well as his other paranormal horror movie Insidious: Chapter 2 (out September 13) and he’s currently prepping the seventh entry in the Fast & Furious franchise. So, how much sleep is getting at the moment? “Seriously? Not a lot,” says Wan. “I will be lucky if I’m averaging five hours each night.” Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad. “No, it’s not too bad, except I’m one of these people that need at least eight hours. I’m always very groggy first thing in the morning.”
Below, Wan talks about his three new projects and explains why the man who brought us Saw is, at heart, a complete “chickens—.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In The Conjuring, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. When did you first hear about them?
JAMES WAN: When you’re dealing in this [supernatural] world it’s hard not to have heard of the Warrens. I’ve always found them to be very fascinating characters. I’ve always said, “Someone needs to make a movie about these guys.” For a long period there I was kind of tracking their life rights. I heard the life rights were with one place, that they were at another place. It was kind of messy.
When Insidious came out and was successful the story about the Warrens came to me and I was like, “Oh my god, this is really cool.” I knew I wanted to get back into the studio filmmaking system and I felt that basically making a movie that’s similar to the world that I came from would make the studio feel comfortable giving me the chance to do it. But I didn’t just want to make another ghost story or another supernatural film. One thing I had never explored was the chance to tell a story that’s based on real-life characters, real-life people. So those were the things that led me to The Conjuring.
I recently spoke to Andrea Perron, one of the real-life people whose haunting is depicted in the film. She could not have said nicer things about you and the movie. But she also said that after hearing you had been hired to direct The Conjuring, she rented your breakthrough film Saw and was horrified at the idea of you telling her family’s story.
[Laughs] Yeah. Saw was good and bad. It was good in that it gave me a career start but it was also negative in that it really marginalized me as a filmmaker. It made a lot of people in Hollywood think that I was “that guy,” that that was the only kind of movies I made — despite the fact that I only directed the first Saw film and I did not direct any of the sequels at all. But because I was the guy that created it, so my name is attached to the franchise, which I’m very proud of by the way. That was part of the reason why I went off and made Insidious because I wanted to prove to people that I could make a very classic, old-fashioned haunted house film and show that I could make scary films without relying on blood and guts, which by the way the first Saw movie had very little of compared to all the sequels, but people forget that.
Conjuring producer Rob Cowan told me that he offered to arrange for you to visit the real farmhouse depicted in the film and you basically said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
[Laughs] Yeah, he’s right. I cannot believe he told you that! [Laughs] But that is true. Just because I make movies in the scary world doesn’t mean I want to visit scary worlds. I am such a chickens—. I believe in these movies, I believe in ghosts, and the supernatural, and the spiritual world. But I don’t want to go there.
The Conjuring features an evil doll called Annabelle, which is again based on something in real-life. But the movie Annabelle looks very different from the one which Lorraine Warren still owns. Why did you change its appearance?
I could not use the actual Annabelle doll because it’s a Raggedy Ann doll, right? And I’m pretty sure that the company that owns the right to that are not gonna want us to say that the doll which they make is possibly possessed. So when I knew that I had to change the look of the doll anyway I thought, “You know what? I’m going to use this opportunity to just create a doll that’s more to my liking.” So I created a doll which was more human-like.
Are there other tales from the Warrens’ case files you would like to turn into movies?
That’s the crazy thing. They’ve got so many stories. Whether or not you believe in these guys, that’s a whole different thing. But they’ve investigated so many cases in their lifetime. There’s many cases that one could pull out of their files and they could be future installments. I myself think the Annabelle story could be a great movie on its own. I couldn’t cram it all in but the full Annabelle story is really interesting and really, really scary.
Next: Wan talks Insidious 2 and Fast & Furious 7
What can you tell us about Insidious: Chapter 2?
Insidious 2 is a direct continuation of the first movie. We literally pick up from where we left off at the end of the first film. And whereas the first movie is a twist on the haunted house genre the second movie is a twist on the classic domestic thriller. It plays more like a domestic thriller but with a ghostly, supernatural spin to it.
Insidious 2 is your third movie with Patrick Wilson in as many years. He has a very handsome face — but are you not getting a little sick of looking at it?
[Laughs] He has very damn handsome face, yes. Fortunately, for a lot of us, his face is very easy to look at. No, I love Patrick. He’s a great collaborator. He gets me and I get him. I love that Patrick brings more to the table than is necessarily scripted. He brought so much to Insidious, he brought so much to The Conjuring, and he brought so much to Insidious 2 as well.
I saw you being interviewed recently and got the impression this might be the last Insidious film — or at least the last Insidious film with this cast.
Um…I don’t know. [Laughs] That’s my honest answer. I don’t know what will happen next.
What’s the status of Fast & Furious 7?
I’m in the preproduction stage right now. I’m in the process of designing my action sequences, working on ideas, and fleshing out things that we want to do with the characters. That’s been really fun.
Are you going to have a 27 mile runway in this one?
[Laughs uproariously] I’m going to have to top that, man! I’m going to make it 37. It’s going to be the runway that never ends.
Can you confirm that we will be seeing more of the gentleman who made a surprise cameo at the end of Fast & Furious 6?
Do you feel like the new kid coming into this franchise?
Okay, this is how I’ve been describing it: It is like being invited to a Thanksgiving dinner and the whole family’s at the dinner [table], already carving the turkey. And I walk in through the door and everyone stops and looks at me. And I’m standing there awkwardly going, “Hi! I’m here! Oh, that’s my seat? Okay, I’ll come and join the table.”
The other analogy that I use is that it’s like coming in and playing another person’s saved game. I know the characters, I know the stories, but now it’s up to me to pick it up from where it was left off and take it in a different direction — but a direction that has kind of been laid out, if that makes sense.
I have this vision of you suggesting something and Vin Diesel saying, “Yeah, we don’t do it like that around here.”
[Laughs] You know what? I’m pretty sure there’ll be some of that down the pipe. Who knows?
You can read much more about The Conjuring and Ed and Lorraine Warren in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly. And you can check out the trailers for The Conjuring and Insidious: Chapter 2 below.