Rob Lowe, Lily Collins, RuPaul's Drag Race queens, more stars tell EW their 'terrifying' paranormal stories
Celebrities: they're just like us! In the sense that they're mere mortals who can sometimes act as conduits between the spiritual realm and our earthly existence. Just in time for Halloween, EW has spoken to 10 celebrities about their horrific brushes with the occult, from Rob Lowe, Lily Collins, Margaret Cho, and Chloë Sevigny to RuPaul's Drag Race stars Miz Cracker and Mayhem Miller. Read on for their 'terrifying' ghostly encounters, involving a round of 'paranormal flirting,' dead rabbits, a soul who won't rest until Diane Ladd tells her story on the big screen, and one spirit who really doesn't want Ming-Na Wen to mess with her stained glass windows.
Long before cameras started rolling on her long-gestating Lizzie Borden biopic, Chloë Sevigny had an experience that bridged the gap between the human and paranormal worlds — and piqued her curiosity in the subject matter.
“I kept hearing all these weird moaning and groaning noises, but there wasn’t anybody else in the house. It was terrifying. It was pretty early and [my then-boyfriend] was like, ‘I have to leave.’ He had a strange experience last night where he felt a pressure on his chest,” Sevigny recalls of a years-ago sleepover at the Massachusetts home where Borden supposedly hacked her father, Andrew, and stepmother, Abby, to death in 1892.
During the research phase, Sevigny and screenwriter Bryce Kass traveled back to the Borden family home to map out the infamous murders for themselves — including Kass stationing himself downstairs while Sevigny hurled herself at the ground to mimic the thud the body of Lizzie's stepmother Abby would have made as it hit the floor. But this time they brought a spiritual souvenir back with them...
Hacking from beyond
“Well, there were actually two scratches,” Kass said of his run-in with the spiritual realm. “There was the first scratch when I spent the night at the house and we did a séance, which was f—ing terrifying. And I’ve spent the night in the murder room, and in the middle of the night I woke up and I could feel something. I had a scratch on the side of my body. I was like, what the f—k? Then I couldn’t sleep… but when we were on set, we were shooting in this old house… I had to do a lot of drafts for the day [so] I was in a room by myself and suddenly, again, in the exact same spot there was the exact same scratch. It’s hard to know if it’s a prank, or if it’s a reminder, or if she has a sense of humor? In that sense, I’m hoping it’s Lizzie and not Andrew, you know?”
Hot off her first Oscar nomination for Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Diane Ladd joined a 1976 stage production of Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater while enjoying a self-described "high roll." She was even due to appear at the city's annual Memorial Day Parade on a special invitation from President Ford. But Ladd never made it to the festivities thanks to a ghostly intervention that would change the course of her personal and professional life.
Ladd says she was staying at the Watergate Hotel for the duration of the play's run, though fans offered her a lavish apartment (which the actress tells EW she later discovered was a "love nest" for senators and congressmen) as an alternative.
"At 4:45 a.m. exactly on the day [of the parade], someone shook my arm [while I was asleep]. When I’m doing a play it takes an awful lot of energy, and a Mack Truck could drive through the apartment and I could still sleep. But someone shook my arm to the extent that I sat up," Ladd remembers. "I was looking to see who shook my arm. I’m looking all around the room. At the foot of my bed was an etheric ghost silhouette of a woman’s body. I thought I was dreaming, okay?"
With nerves shot, Ladd made herself a glass of warm milk and sat on the apartment's balcony, "reflecting" on the Potomac River. She skipped the parade, but made it to the Eisenhower for her performance. But so did the ghost.
"We both heard this crazy whisper; a woman’s whisper," she says of her scene partner. "He looked at me and said, 'What did you say?' And I said, 'I did not say anything, what did you say?'"
In the second act of the play, Ladd says she heard the whisper again.
"I looked at the red curtain shimmering on the side and I thought, that’s it, it’s the ushers! They’ve seen the play and they’re bored, so they’re whispering and the acoustics are bringing their voices up here. I thought, when I find out who it is I’m going to send them to hell in a handbasket. But there were no ushers behind that curtain," she remembers.
Enter Maury Povich...
During the play's final moments, Ladd felt a physical presence walk up beside her.
"I’m taking what they call big pregnant pauses, and the audience is shifting now waiting for my lines. I opened my mouth to speak and in my left ear a woman’s voice spoke to me with a message… her name was Martha. She asked me to do something for her," Ladd explains.
The following day, she appeared on Maury Povich's Panorama talk show and asked him if he knew of anyone named Martha.
"He went crazy. He said, 'Oh my God, you’re the one to tell her story. Somebody is going to tell it and lie, but I’ve seen you act, Diane Ladd, you will tell the truth.' And I said, 'Martha who?' Because I didn’t know which Martha everybody was talking about! And he looked at me and he said, 'Martha Mitchell.' I said 'Martha Mitchell? Are you talking about the attorney general’s crazy old alcoholic wife?' And he got livid with rage. He said, 'How dare you? She was not an alcoholic. She was the Cassandra of Watergate. She brought all the villains down with truth. She’s my friend.' And he said in the present tense 'She’s my friend.' So I said 'Ok Maury, I’ll meet her.' And he said 'Good heavens, Diane Ladd! Get a life. Don’t you read a newspaper, you can’t meet her… she’s dead.' I said 'When did she die?' and he said 'Yesterday morning at 4:30 a.m.'"
EW reached out to Povich for confirmation on Ladd's claims. He responded: "I don’t remember the exact quotes, but I remember the substance. Both Diane and Martha were friends of mine and both appeared on my show."
Call to 'action!'
The experience inspired Ladd to embark on a three-decade mission to tell Mitchell's story on the big screen. Mitchell openly criticized the U.S. government amid the Watergate scandal before she died on May 31, 1976. She was reportedly viewed by her husband, attorney general John Mitchell, as a hazard, for he feared she’d leak information about the cover-up to the press. Thus, Mitchell was reportedly drugged and quarantined in a California villa after speaking to White House reporter Helen Thomas about the political scandal that ultimately led to President Nixon’s resignation from office in 1974.
"She wanted me to tell her story. She wanted me to help fulfill her destiny," Ladd says. "She wanted to be an actress, and I feel she floated over the stage while I was acting and said to her angels, ‘Give me that sucker right there to tell my story!’"
Ladd confirmed to EW she was working with producers Martin Scorsese, David O. Russell, and her daughter, Laura Dern, to finally bring her movie Woman Inside to life within the next 12 months.
"I’m going to promise you one of the greatest films, okay? I’m going to bank my 50 years in show business on that. I’ve won 57 international awards…and I’ll bank it all on this movie,” Ladd said of the project. “[Martha] was inside all of the shenanigans, she knew what was going on. She knew the truth and she cared about her country. The truth about Watergate has never quite been told, so it’s also the story of two women who changed the course of political history forever: Martha Mitchell and Helen Thomas. It’s one of the greatest love stories that’s ever been told."
Miz Cracker didn't crumble under the pressure of competing on the tenth season of RuPaul's Drag Race — probably because she'd already honed her confidence battling demonic spirits several years before clicking her heels into the Werk Room.
As a college student in Olympia, Washington, Cracker (currently on tour) did as most university attendees do: moved into a spacious home with a few friends. But the house needed the touch of a Woman™ before it could feel like a proper home. That's when things got weird.
"I brought four paper bowls that my mother made and I put them in the center of the dining room table, and I spread them out to the four corners of the table to start decorating immediately because hello, I’m gay," Cracker tells EW. "I left the room and came back and took the bowls out of a stack and put them on the four corners of the table to decorate because hello, I’m gay. I walked out of the room again like, wait a second, I did that twice."
Cracker crumbles amid the occult
What happened next, Cracker says, was a "total unraveling" of the relationship between the roommates. She says it was partially instigated by the nefarious presence in their home. The haunting cresendoed over the next six months, with the friends waking in the middle of the night to the sound of footsteps coming from upstairs (plot twist: there was no upstairs!) or odd noises in the kitchen (spoiler: no one was there!). It was enough to literally drive one roommate mad.
"Our friendships deteriorated. One of the girls legitimately lost her mind and is now fully missing," remembers Cracker. "It was sort of like an Amity Horror-type film where we were sleep deprived, twitchy people who were haunted."
'Velvet blackness' isn't as comforting as it sounds
A bit of research into city records showed that the house was built atop apple orchards, though there was no documentation explaining what the land was used before that. Whatever it was, speculates Cracker, "it split up a group of friends and ruined us." The "lowest point" for her involved late-night bouts with a ghostly face made of "velvelt blackness" that would hover in front of hers in the darkness.
"When you’re watching a movie you’re like, 'Get out of there! It’s the house!' But when it’s your life it takes a long time for you to acknowledge because you [think you’re] crazy. So you just put it under the rug," Cracker admits.
Cracker finally decided to move out of the house after an apparent possession of her ex-roomie.
"I came home and the house was apparently empty. I heard mild laughter [upstairs]… I hadn’t heard my roommate laugh in so long. I went upstairs and the door was ajar, so I was going to go in and jump on her bed like the old days," she remembers. "I opened the door and the room was blacked out fully, the windows were covered with blankets. She was sitting and laughing into the heating vent… I was like, 'Brooke, what are you doing?' And she turned around and was like, 'What do you want!?' Just monster-like crazy, her eyes were spinning, like that little giggly laughter just snapped off and I ran out of that room and out of the house… It was the craziest Exorcist transition I’ve ever seen in person."
Actor Rob Lowe loves the occult so much he launched a reality TV show, The Lowe Files, which sees him traversing the United States alongside his sons as they probe into a slew of mysterious phenomena — from the exploration of an underwater alien base off the coast of Malibu to working with an esteemed shaman at Preston Castle, a reportedly haunted reformatory for boys.
"Based on my experiences on the show, particularly around ghosts — absolutely," Lowe previously told EW when asked if the show made him more of a believer. "We captured some incredible [footage]. Our first episode is about poltergeists in one of the most notoriously haunted structures in America. Nothing is staged, nothing is trick-cut — no B.S. I believe there are probably ghosts out there."
Wood apes and 'Hollywood kooks'
The most riveting episode of the show, however, featured Lowe coming face-to-face with a "wood ape" (in essence, the local vernacular for Bigfoot) in the Ozarks.
"I’m fully aware that I sound like a crazy, Hollywood kook right now," he told EW ahead of the airing. "I was lying on the ground thinking I was going to be killed... We’re 100 miles from the nearest town. We spent 45 minutes on the most rugged, brutal mountain trails. It’s 1 in the morning. There are a lot of serious former military men with loaded weapons, then something starts approaching our camps that are defying their orders to stop and their warnings that [they were] armed."
Five years ago, filming Love, Rosie in Dublin was a picturesque experience for actress Lily Collins (who will play Fantine in Masterpiece's Les Misérables in 2019). She'd enjoyed a blissful two-month stay at the majestic Shelbourne Hotel for the majority of production, sleeping peacefully and luxuriating in the historic site's decadence each night. Until the playful spirit of a young girl decided to toy with her, that is.
"Even though my eyes were closed I had this bizarre feeling of being watched by a presence, like a pressure was standing next to me," Collins tells EW. "I had this vision of a little girl standing next to me and staring at me. I turned into a little kid, like, if I don’t open my eyes it can’t see me! Then I heard a giggling and I felt this whoosh as if the energy just flew across my chest and across the bed."
There's Something About (Scary) Mary
Unable to sleep, the actress says she then heard a series of fire doors located outside her room burst open and slam shut. "I was tripping!" she rememebers. Thus, the next morning she asked hotel staff about the history of the building.
"They were like, 'Oh! Actually yes, you’re staying on the same floor where this girl [is] known to just roam the halls and hang out a little bit at the hotel.' [I was on] the floor she normally does it on!" Collins explains. "I’m glad to know that when I checked in a month and a half ago someone told me!"
"I believe there are different types of spirits and based on what I read afterward of this young girl, it doesn’t feel like she’s a scary spirit," she continues. "She’s just there and you’re existing in her world."
The haunted mansion that isn't at Disneyland
But the event at the Shelbourne Hotel wasn't Collins' first ghostly encounter. At age 14, the actress says she frequently visited the 90-year-old Greystone Mansion in Los Angeles, where her mother used to throw events after restoring the palacial, tudor-style California residence to its original glory.
"I was standing outside on the patio… looking up at the windows and I remember seeing by the window a woman standing in a white dress and holding onto the curtain [but] I didn’t think there was anybody left in the house," Collins, who says she'd just finished cleaning up after one of her mother's events, recounts.
Google everything... Yes, everything!
"I saw one of the park rangers who I’ve known since I was a kid. He’s witnessed a lot of stuff at the house and does the rounds at the end of the night, but there are certain areas of the house he will not go into because it’s super negative and he won’t put himself in that position," Collins says. "He was like, 'Well, I’ve seen a lady in this white gown [before]! And I was like, 'Ok great, I’m not crazy!'"
Later, Collins says she did an online search regarding the location's history, and discovered that a murder took place some years prior. The moral of both stories? Lily Collins needs to Google every (potentially haunted) space she enters before setting foot inside.
Sashaying into the Werk Room on season 10 of RuPaul's Drag Race, Mayhem Miller (currently on tour) was armed and ready to deal with the fiendish personalities and pervasive shade that permeates the reality competition show; She survived a demonic possession as a seven-year-old child, after all.
"Out of nowhere, this blood-curdling scream happened in the middle of service," Miller tells EW of a particularly disturbing trip to a Corona, California church in 1991. "Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked around, and this woman was just wailing… She started speaking in a different language."
She says adults quickly swarmed the woman, whom she estimates was in her mid-thirties, and "tried to get all the kids to leave the building because she was apparently possessed by a demon," Miller remembers.
"I think that’s when I learned that God was real; Everyone started praying over her and laying hands on her. I was waiting for her head to spin around and projectile-vomit green. She didn’t do that, but she did convulse and her body was making some pretty creepy contortions," adds Miller. "At that point my mom was like, 'I think we need to get the kids out of here because they’re going to be scarred for life,' and of course I was. Ever since then I’ve been a little leery of going to church sometimes!"
Luckily, an ambulance was called and the ordeal ended shortly thereafter.
"She wasn’t in immediate danger. Apparently the demon left," she finishes.
Macau-born actress Ming-Na Wen (Mulan, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) is no stranger to the supernatural. The creator of the wellness initiative WenEver says Chinese culture is ultra-superstitious, and she claims to have been visited by "sitting ghosts" ("playful ghosts that just want to f— with you," she tells EW) throughout childhood.
While she acknowledges there might be a physical explanation for "sitting ghosts" (the warning signs — your body is immobile but your brain is conscious — sound a lot like sleep paralysis to us), science can't explain a harrowing encounter she experienced at her Los Angeles home in 2003.
Home improvement gone wrong
Wen says she and her family moved into their San Fernando Valley home shortly after the previous owner's wife — who decorated the home — died in the master bedroom. Built in the 1980s, the home was, for the most part, "beautiful" to Wen except for a four-piece stained glass window set at the top of the staircase to the second floor.
"It’s a very odd sequence of four stained glasses… it’s just not my taste," Wen admits, adding that it depicts a Gone with the Wind-era woman wearing a bonnet overlooking a Malibu beach scene. "So I said, 'I can’t wait to change out those windows and put some nice, plain windows in place of those and really let the light in.' That was the first thing I said when we bought the house and moved in."
That, she would soon find out, was a big mistake.
That moment you realize your daughter has a sixth sense
After they'd settled into the home, Wen remembers she was watching TV with her then-two-year-old daughter Michaela, when the youngster suddenly jumped off the couch and moved toward the stairs.
"She’s just staring up there at the emptiness. I came over like, 'Michaela, what are you looking at?' And she goes, 'The lady.' And she’s not looking at the woman with the bonnet in the stained glass... she’s staring at the empty [landing]."
Naturally, Wen — who didn't see the apparition her daughter did — called her husband to tell him, "'Honey, our daughter sees dead people!'"
'Bitch, I just want to let you know!'
Wen's conscience began weighing on her, so she "basically said [out loud] to her that I wouldn’t remove the stained glass, and if we did ever remodel I would do something special with the stained glass and keep it in the home," and then "burned some sage [so] she can now move on."
Over 15 years later, Wen says, "those windows are still there!" though she's thinking about redoing the home this year.
"There is a part of me that’s still kind of hesitant," she says with a laugh. "She was obviously very friendly, giving me a friendly message... She was just standing there looking at her stained glass, like, 'Bitch, I just want to let you know!'"
Actress-comedian Margaret Cho (currently on the road with her Fresh Off the Bloat tour) is a self-admitted fan of haunted houses. In fact, she describes her permanent residence in Los Angeles as an "Addams Family-style" abode where she often sees the ghost of the previous owner's dead dog frolicking in the yard, while her own deceased pet, Ralph, often returns to lick people's butts when they get out of the shower. But nothing prepared her for what she'd experience in 2010 while living in a rented home during production on Lifetime's Drop Dead Diva in Peachtree City, Georgia.
Prelude to a fright
"One night, I remember laying in bed on my side, and somebody got in bed next to me. It felt like the bed lowered. I was so scared because I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming," she recalls. "I was laying there petrified. When the sun came up I turned around and nobody was there. Another time the bed seemed to lift up and jump down, like there was somebody at the edge of the bed pulling it up and slamming it down."
The incident prompted Cho to ask her landlord if she could break the lease. But the ghost had other ideas.
Dead rabbits, garbage disposals, and broken leases, oh my!
"I was making the call to the [landlord] trying to figure out what would happen if I broke my lease. When I did that, the oven started beeping and it wouldn’t stop," says Cho. "Then the garbage disposal went off and I didn’t touch anything, it just started going at the same time I was on the phone. I went to the fuse box and turned off all the fuses connected to the house so there was no electricity… but the oven and garbage disposal still wouldn’t stop. So I just left!"
She returned a few days later to retrieve her belongings, but remembers seeing a dead rabbit on the threshold above the door. Several years later, she returned with a reality crew and a psychic, who claimed a pair of boys who used to live behind the house practiced satanic rituals on the property.
Cho says she feels like the manifestation was connected to her "own unresolved depression and issues about upbringing," and that the "adolescent within" her that she wasn't ready to release might have conjured the dark spirit and "caused some kind of spiritual hole in the matrix of it [that] people were coming through!"
'It really was literally the Devil's Triangle!'
Cho notes that she can deal with friendly ghosts like Ralph's, but "this was something different that was really aggressive that was really trying to get my attention and trying to get me to interact."
"I think it’s a spirit who was lonely. It did feel like a male spirit. It felt like he just wanted to get in bed. It was sort of paranormal flirting," she remembers with a laugh. "It was toxic masculinity on another level, from the beyond! It really was literally the Devil’s Triangle."
With nearly 30 years of Michael Jackson impersonation under his belt, professional doppelgänger Navi signed on to play his lifelong idol (and real-life friend) in Lifetime's 2017 biopic, an experience he says brought him closer to the King of Pop's spirit.
"I’ve never felt more like Michael Jackson than I did here. Surreal things happened behind the scenes. We were filming pictures on the wall [for scenes depicting] the night he passed away, and one of them fell on the floor when no one was near it," he told EW shortly before the film's premiere. "We were filming the This Is It concerts, and the trusses came down while I was standing there dressed as Michael, holding the curtain. They picked a mansion to do a photo shoot out of a catalog, not by an address, and the mansion ended up being on the opposite side of the street as the house Michael passed away in."
Tiffany "New York" Pollard
Getting her heart broken on Flavor of Love wasn't the scariest moment in Tiffany "New York" Pollard's life. When she joined the cast of VH1's horror-themed competition series Scared Famous alongside other reality stars like RuPaul's Drag Race champ Alaska and America's Next Top Model winner Eva Marcille, she quickly formed alliances with those beyond the human realm instead of her flesh-and-blood castmates.
“I definitely made friends with a set of [ghosts],” Pollard told EW of her time on the series. “Any scenario where I’m living with strangers, I’m automatically annoyed... But on top of that, there were ghosts there, and they made their presence known! I decided to align myself more with the ghosts than the people. They were easier to get along with.”
"I said a healthy prayer, but I did a lot of reminding the... ghosts that we live here right now," she continued. "I said, look, you guys can have this house for the rest of the time after we leave, but for right now, I’m the HBIC in this haunted mansion. I had to remind the ghosts of that and the clowns of that by flexing on them both."