James Wan is set to hit the big screen not once but twice this year. In fact twice in two months with The Conjuring releasing itself onto the big screen today followed by Insidious: Chapter 2 back from its astral projection on the 13th of September. In honour of The Conjuring‘s release, we spoke with Shanley Caswell who plays Andrea Perron in the story based on the real events of paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga). If you haven’t caught any of her work then as well as The Conjuring you have a low budget comedy-horror with Josh Hutcherson called Detention and an episode of iCarly to cram in to get your Caswell worth. We spoke with the young actress about working on a horror film with James Wan, her directing idols and being locked in a room to watch horror films. That may be less about her and more about me but regardless it’s a good interview with plenty of details about on set pranks, the pleasure of working with the cast and crew and Celebrity Ghost Stories.
How does it feel to be raking in the millions at the box office currently?
It feels awesome. [laughs] We’ve scared so many people, it’s awesome.
Working on a horror set would be difficult for me, I think, because I’d always worry that what’s happening on set could actually happen. Did you ever take it home with you and get a little scared?
There were a couple of sleepless nights that I had but it was not so much because of being on set of the movie – that was super fun – but I was reading a book alongside about the Warrens so that was the thing that really scared me and kept me up all night! Of course I would read it right before going to bed and wouldn’t be able to sleep. When you’re screaming and crying and imagining these things all day you take it home with you. But I never really actually thought there was something, you know, there.
So you never looked at your closet and got a little worried?
No, my closet is filled with pictures of my friends and family and stuff like that so it’s not scary. [laughs] Plus it’s stuffed and overfilled with clothes so I’m never scared there’s something in there.
James Wan is a director I admire. What’s he like to work with on set? Is he strict, does he allow for change, does he leave script notes out to really scare you?
He is so awesome. He let us do our thing and we had two weeks beforehand to bond as a family and create this natural family dynamic – especially among the girls, the five daughters. He let us fall in to this natural rhythm and natural rapport that we went back and forth with which I think you can see on set. We’re very comfortable and you can see it. But he was never really strict with us and liked playing around. It didn’t really seem like we were working on a horror set. It felt like we were working on a family movie but in pyjamas, screaming and crying a lot. [laughs]
You got to work some pretty big names like Patrick, Vera, Lili and Ron, did they mentor you a bit and teach you?
I think it was just watching them on set. They all had extremely hard parts. They wouldn’t explicitly tell us anything but just being around them on set was nice to see how they acted in the film but also their dialogue off screen and how they acted around set. It was really interesting because you have four – Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson – powerhouse actors in one room. You would think that ego would get in the way but it’s just like they’re all getting together for a party or something. They’re all just talking and having a good time. It’s unbelievable. I was just watching amazed at how relaxed they all were and how it didn’t seem like we were working. It seemed like we were just hanging out. [laughs]
Did you have one specific scene or one day which you enjoyed the most?
Yeah there was one scene which I remember where we all kept laughing. It’s when the Warrens first come to the house. It’s a very sombre scene when you watch it but for some reason we were all so giggly that day. I think it was the first day we all worked together, it was the first day everyone was on set together. Everyone was like happy and giggly and we couldn’t take it seriously. It comes off on screen that we were all very upset so I don’t know how. They must have cut that well because we were just laughing the entire time – at least the girls were.
Horror sets can be notorious for pranks. Did you incur any on set?
There were a couple of things. The kids and I and Shannon Kook – who plays Drew in the movie – we’d all have these big wet willy wars. That happened throughout the entire film. [laughs] A lot of playing around. Also the person who plays Bathsheba in the movie, he would have all this make-up on since there was no CGI for his character, it was all real. He was walking around on set looking like that and – you’ll understand when you see it – he would just stare at us. From the corner of the room, when we walked into the room – he wouldn’t do anything he would just sit there and watch us. That was pretty freaky after a while. That scared the crap out of a lot of us [laughs] to the point where we were always watching our backs and made sure we always knew where he was so he didn’t jump out at us. I think he was having fun with it.
It’s based on “true” events of the Warren investigators. Do you believe them or in the supernatural? If so, did that belief enhance the authenticity of your performance?
In order to believe in something I have to see it with my own eyes and I’ve never personally experienced anything like that but I really want to. I love watching all the ghost shows no matter how hokey they are. I can’t get enough of it. I’m the type of person who would want to go to an abandoned mental ward and sit there overnight to try and see something. [laughs]
I remember when I was last out in America I watched something like Celebrity Ghost Stories that one of the stories was about a picture frame moving. Is that still on?
[Laughs] Yeah, a pen rolls across a table! I think that show is still on actually. I watch that show… a lot. There’s that one, Ghost Adventures, My Real Ghost Stories and I just love them! I can’t get enough of ghost stories, I love them.
Did you watch any of James Wan’s films before working with him?
Oh yeah! I watched Saw, I’ve seen all of the Saw movies. I really like Insidious and Dead Silence I liked as well. I was a huge James Wan fan before we even started the film.
Was it a dream to work with him?
Yeah, yeah! You meet him and he’s completely the opposite of what I’d imagined. You think the person who created Saw would be this type of person who never leaves his house and imagines all these scary things but James comes out with this Australian accent and is really super friendly and always smiling, laughing. It doesn’t match up! [laughs]
There’s already news of a sequel. Could you potentially return to that?
This story kind of ends with this chapter of the Perrons. I think the Warrens will continue on but I don’t know if the Perrons will but you never know. They might throwback to us but The Conjuring is the end of their story.
This is your second horror film after Detention. Were they very different experiences?
Oh yeah but I don’t really think of Detention as a horror film. I think of it more as a multi-genre, horror-comedy thing. They’re still very, very different experiences. Detention was ultra low-budget, we had to fight for everything, we had to fight for money, we had to fight for time. That led us to being more creative with the way we dealt with the lack of money and how we still went on with the production. With The Conjuring we didn’t have a lot of money but we had more. That gave us a little more wiggle room, a little more breathing room to create the movie. Also the styles are completely different on both of them.
Did you research the period that it is set in beforehand?
Yeah. We had the two weeks beforehand there and so we got to went into these warehouses with all these clothes and all these vintage clothes and vintage antiques and everything. We also looked into old movies like The Brady Bunch and Love Story and stuff like that just to get the look of the character – how they parted their hair, how they wore a certain thing like jewellery, clothes and stuff like that.
You said you were reading a book about the Warrens earlier. Did that help bring an authenticity to your performance?
My character in the movie isn’t a paranormal investigator but in the book it’s about paranormal investigation. If anything it gave me stuff to talk about with Vera and with people who had read the book but it did help me get into the mindset of the paranormal world and what the people experience when they’re experiencing something like that. I’ve never experienced anything like that so I don’t know. It was nice to hear about experiences by other people to try and implement that fear that comes across in the book into the movie.
Did you get a chance to meet the Warrens or anyone who has experienced the paranormal beforehand?
Yeah, I met Lorraine Warren and also all of the Perrons. They spoke about their experiences firsthand. It was kind of scary.
It must have been quite terrifying when they’re describing what happened.
Yeah it was freaky. They have so much that they say happened to them so when you’re talking to them – of course, me, who is a super geek like that and loves hearing all that stuff, I loved it – it’s a little freaky. When they’re talking about it, it makes it seem super real.
You’ve done a lot of TV work which has been very different from this. You’ve done an episode of iCarly which is like a total opposite. What differences occur in TV and in film and do you approach the role any differently?
Of course. Shows like iCarly are four camera sitcom shows, a lot more like theatre with a lot of larger than life acting and making a fool out of yourself for comedy. Then when you do things that are more realistic it’s a lot more understated and you’ve got to be more careful and more subtle with your emotions. That’s how people are realistically. It definitely varies on what you’re working on. For kids shows the comedy is a lot different to the comedy on SNL. It also depends on what type of cameras they’re using. If it’s four camera, two camera comedy, if it’s a single camera film; it all varies. I’m still learning about all that, I’m still trying to gain an understanding of every single thing and every single method of filmmaking, I’m not an expert. From what I’ve understood it’s all very different.
So you started off in theatre. Do you still do that now or are you looking to do more in the near future?
I would love to do theatre again but right now it’s not on my plate because I’m focusing more on films; being in LA, that’s where the emphasis is. If I ever went back home or if I ever went to New York then I’d love to do theatre, it’s really like a first love of mine.
It’s got to be asked as you’re in one but are you a horror film fan?
Oh yes I am! I love the horror genre. My first favourite horror film was The Ring and I think that’s because I watched it at a birthday party with my friends. [laughs] I think the reason people really love horrors is because you go with your friends and it’s an adrenaline rush, it’s like going on a rollercoaster together. Everyone is getting scared, then they’re laughing about it, then there’s nervous laughter. It affects people so much. I think that’s the big reason I love the horror genre because it’s something you experience together as a group of friends.
I know you said The Ring just now as your first favourite horror film but what is your favourite horror film?
The Ring is my first favourite one and there are others. I thought more of Poltergeist and The Exorcist but The Ring is the one that I’ll always be afraid of. [laughs]
That’s what Scream is like for me because my brothers locked me in a room to watch it when I was about 7.
Oh my God.
Every time I watch that film – even though I love the horror genre now – it still absolutely terrifies me because it brings me back to when I was a kid.
Exactly. It takes you back to that primal fear that you had as a kid. I’m so sorry that you were locked a room, that’s scary! [laughs]
[Laughing] No, no, it’s fine. It wasn’t that bad. It was just my brothers being brothers.
Well my cousins did the same thing to me as a kid and it terrified me.
Older people aren’t nice when you’re young.
Older kids aren’t nice at all. [laughs]
You mentioned The Exorcist there and one cinemagoer in the UK said that “it made The Exorcist look like Peppa Pig” about The Conjuring. Do you know what Peppa Pig is?
No, I don’t know what that is.
It’s an animated kids’ show. [laughs]
I saw that quote but I didn’t know what the pig was. [laughs] That’s funny it’s a kids show, I’m glad it scared them. [laughs]
Are you hoping that this success will take you into more things?
Of course. I’m always hopeful that there will be more work.
Is there anything that has been confirmed yet?
Not right now. I’m going to study abroad in England in August actually and then after that I’m going to come back and audition and stuff. Then I’ll be auditioning for stuff after that, from there I’ll see what’s next. For right now I’m trying to finish school.
What are you studying?
I’m going to be taking a study abroad course to get a few classes done but my major is Anthropology.
Do you have stories that you’d like to bring to the screen in the future?
Yeah, there are a lot of stores I’d like to. I don’t think I have the formal knowledge to make them into a movie yet but I’d definitely like to have some friends of my mine who do have that knowledge to make these ideas into a movie. That’d be pretty cool.
Is there a director that you’d love to work with in the future? Whose work you really admire and would just love to be a part of?
Yeah I love David Fincher, I think he’s amazing. James Wan was one of them! [laughs] David Fincher because I love Fight Club, Se7en, The Social Network, really almost every one of his films I love. [laughs] I also recently have been liking David O. Russell with The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook. Aaron Sorkin as a writer, I would love to work with Aaron Sorkin or do his work in the future, I think he’s a great writer…
The Conjuring bursts out of a quiet pause into cinemas today. There’s also a mini fan club that Shanley and I are now a part of but unfortunately the first two rules stop us from telling you about it.
Before there was Amityville, there was Harrisville. Based on a true story, “The Conjuring” tells the horrifying tale of how world renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren were called upon to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in a secluded farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful demonic entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most terrifying case of their lives.