Leigh Whannell | INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3

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With Insidious: Chapter 3 hitting cinemas in a matter of days, we were lucky enough to grab some time with Leigh Whannell. Having written the first two movies, not to mention having played Specs in those, Whannell is finally making his directorial debut with the third movie in the Insidious franchise. Having co-created the Saw series, as well as his work on the Insidious films and the upcoming Cooties, Whannell is one of the biggest names in modern horror. We got to chat to the always-engaging Aussie about Insidious, Cooties, and whether there’s enough legs in the Saw franchise for one more outing.

STARBURST: Plot-wise, Insidious: Chapter 3 is a prequel to what we’ve seen in the previous two films in the series. Was that always going to be the case with this third film?

Leigh Whannell: No, I think I didn’t know what it was. I kind of sat down with a blank page, literally. Every time I write a new screenplay, I buy a new notebook and kind of look at the empty pages as this sort of wonderful potential, like what the script will be when this notebook is filled up. So sitting there looking at this blank page, and I’m thinking what can this film be, and I just made a few decisions about the prequel thing. The first is that I didn’t wanna involve the Lambert family; I thought they’d taken enough of a beating. Then I decided to make Elisa [Lin Shaye’s character from the first two movies] the main character. As soon as I did that, I realised it had to be a prequel because she died in the first movie. The only way to really delve into her life was to go backwards. So that was really it; that was the whole driving force behind it being a prequel - it was Lin Shaye.

And it’s great to see Lin Shaye playing such a huge part, as quite often these days she’s just used in supporting roles. Was it a nice change for you to bring her and that character to the forefront of the movie?

Yeah, it was. I love that Lin got to play a main role. She is not usually given those roles, as you said. Indeed, women her age are rarely given lead roles in films, even rarer that they get to play such a badass. I was into that. When we were shooting the film, I started to get more and more into the idea of Lin being this kind of badass demon slayer, and I just thought it was a cool concept and not something we’ve really seen before. It’s just another reason I’m so happy and have so many good memories of the film. It’s this sort of happy accident that Lin got to play a role she would never normally get to play.

With the first two films, a common theme is fear of the unknown and facing up to that. Is that the same here, particularly with Stefanie Scott’s character?

Yeah, I mean fear of the unknown is the bread and butter of haunted house movies. Usually you’ve got a family and they have no idea what’s happening to them. That first act of a haunted house movie is all about people saying “What the hell’s going on?!” I feel like that’s something that audiences really latch onto. If you look at those two words, “haunted” and “house”… most people who have seen a haunted house movie in the theatre probably live in a house. So they can relate to it. If they see your average kitchen or average living room, they can put themselves in it. There’s a very relatable aspect to that. It’s different if you set a horror film in the depths of hell – it might be fun, it might be great, but it’s not something that the audience can latch onto in terms of their own life. What I love about haunted house movies is that relatability and just how average and common the characters are. So I wanted to do that with this movie. We had a brand new family, so we could kind of start off again with that bewildered response to these hauntings, whereas the Lambert family from the first two movies have been through so many hauntings at this point that if we focussed the film on them then they’d be experts.

On the set of Insidious: Chapter 3 

With yourself having written all three of the Insidious movies, there’s obviously some continuity in place on the production, but how different was it for you to pop your directorial cherry this time out?

It was great! It’s always been a goal of mine, but I wasn’t sure what it was gonna be that I would direct or indeed how I would be in this job. I didn’t know if I would suck at directing. It really is something that you need to learn by doing, kind of like jumping out of an airplane. I can show you a diagram on a chalk board with the velocity speed that you’ll be going, I can show you how to pack a parachute, I can show you videos of people jumping out of a plane, but none of that is going to matter when you’re up there thousands of feet in the air and about to jump out of a plane. It’s something that you need to actually do to know. I kind of feel like that about directing, so when the opportunity came up to direct this film I thought, “Let’s just dive in with both feet and find out how it is.”

And how did you feel about the directing job afterwards? Was it a good experience and something that you’ll look to come back to?

Yes, definitely. I had a great time, actually. I’m starting to worry that I was too spoilt and I didn’t actually get a realistic view of what filmmaking’s actually like. I have heard a lot of horror stories about filmmaking from different people over the years, other filmmakers that I know, but I actually had such a great time that I’m worried that the next film I shoot I’m going to get my arse kicked from here to Galway and suddenly realise, “Oh, that was not a real experience. This is what directing’s really like!”

Did it feel a bit odd to be doing an Insidious film without having Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and James Wan around on set?

It was a little bit. It was odd to be on an Insidious film set without James there, certainly. Usually I’m sitting in the background as the writer and he’s the one in charge of things. It was strange to be the person doing that, but I actually started to treat the film like it was a brand new movie. I certainly didn’t think of it as a sequel. I tried to think of it as a standalone film, and that really helped me.

The last time we spoke to you early last year, you’d just starting writing Cooties, which is now set for release later this year. From the trailer, it looks like a great mixture of comedy and horror. Given the subject matter [a virus turns a group of children into wild savages], was it always going to be quite a light-hearted film?

Thank you! And yeah, my goal was to make a comedy in general. I’ve always wanted to do a comedy. Then when the idea for Cooties came around, I thought it was perfect because it kind of had one foot in the horror camp, one foot in the comedy camp. And I loved making it. The cast was all these comedy legends; you had Nasim Pedrad from SNL, you had Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock, Rainn Wilson from The Office. It was just a great comedy cast, and so I kind of felt unqualified to be there on the set as an actor. But I had a ball, I got along really well with everybody, and I’m really proud of that film. I can’t wait for you to be able to see it. It comes out in the US on September 18th, but I’m not sure when it comes out everywhere else, but I love it; I’m super proud of it.


With Insidious: Chapter 3 out shortly, and Cooties to follow later this year, as an actor, writer, producer and director, what route are you going to take next?

I think I’d love to direct another film. I really would. I really got the bug and I just feel like I’m gonna have to make up for lost time and really claw my way back to the director’s chair. It’s never easy to make a film, so I’m not expecting to have one dropped into my lap and just be doing it, but I really want to direct another film. That would be my primary goal next.

And is there any particular genre you’d be looking to go for next?

Musical’s probably the only genre I can think of that I don’t really want to direct in the future [laughs]. I don’t know exactly. I’m going through a real sci-fi phase. I’m gonna have to make this sci-fi movie now because any journalist that interviews me or asks me what I’ve got coming up next, I’ve been saying, “Well I’m really into sci-fi right now…” So I’ve really committed to this sci-fi movie. But that’s just something that I really enjoy as a genre, and I’d love to do something in that genre.

Maybe some kind of creepy sci-fi horror?

You know, horror’s very malleable. You can make a sci-fi horror film, and I do love films like The Thing and Alien. Sci-fi horror movies like that are amazing, so maybe it could be that.

Finally, there’s still rumours and rumblings of a Saw remake or another entry in that franchise. Is that something that you have any wish to see or to be possibly involved with?

I don’t know where they’re at with it. I know that they’re not shooting anything right now. If they were shooting anything then they’d have told me, as I’m still close with those guys. So I’m kind of as in the dark as you are. If they’re secretly planning something then they haven’t told me, but they’re certainly not in the middle of shooting it.

And do you think that there’s enough legs still in the franchise for another film or two?

I don’t know with Saw. It’s been so long since I was involved with Saw. I feel like it’s all about the idea, you know? I guess this goes for any film or film franchise, but what makes it worth doing is having a great idea. If you rush it and you just kind of push this film out just to cash in on the interest in Saw, it’s not going to be good. I would love it if they came up with an idea that was truly original and truly kind of turns the whole Saw concept or gimmick or story on its head. That’s what I think they need, and I think that’s what they’re waiting for. That’s why it’s taking a while.

Insidious: Chapter 3 is in UK cinemas from June 5th, and Cooties is waiting for a confirmed UK release later in the year.


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