Few actors have seen the sort of meteoric rise as Lin Shaye has...
...Lin Shaye (Insidious, The Grudge), sister of New Line Cinema founder and A Nightmare on Elm Street producer Robert Shaye, has been a popular actress for decades, first appearing in Hester Street (1974), and since acquiring over 200 credits to her name, including a memorable cameo in A Nightmare on Elm Street. It wasn't until 2010s Insidious though that Lin suddenly became a household name, since appearing in countless genre films in just a short time span.
Lin's most recent film, Dreamkatcher, about a sinister force hidden within a dreamcatcher that begins to possess a young boy, is out today from Lionsgate. I had the immense pleasure of getting to sit down with Lin to discuss her new film, talking spiritualism, what it's like to play more sinister characters, and whether or not we can expect an Insidious Part 5 in the future...
Killer Horror Critic: How did you become involved in Dreamkatcher and was there anything in particular about the role that excited you?
Lin Shaye: I became involved with it primarily because of Kerry Harris, who directed and was one of the producers on the film as well. We’ve been friends for a long time and it just seemed like an interesting premise to me. And also dealing with evil in a different kind of way. I thought the character was interesting. She was kind of written originally as a little bit more of a mountain kind of woman. I almost pictured her with an accent. Somebody who was country, who wasn’t very educated or whatever, and I didn’t think that was correct in terms of the storytelling and we discussed that.
We were in upstate New York and had an incredibly beautiful location. The barns we were in are these really old dairy barns. It’s quite an extraordinary part of the country. There used to be six-hundred dairy farms up there and now there are three.
LS: And the New Yorkers, not to sound harsh, but the rich New Yorkers have come in and bought up all this property at very cheap rates and turned them into B&Bs and you know, it’s gotten a little bit gentrified. But the actual locations were amazing and had a lot of wonderful energy to them.
So, we kind of made Ruth not so much of a…you know, you don’t know too much about her past until she reveals all of the sadness that she’s been through. But that she was just a country woman, but not a mountain-woman who had no connection to civilization. She did her thing, she knew what she was good at and she stuck with it.
KHC: I really appreciated that about the character.
LS: Thank you.
KHC: So, Ruth is a very spiritual character who has a lot of earthly beliefs. Do you relate to her in that way, or are you more similar to Radha’s character, Gail, who is opposed to belief in the supernatural?
LS: I lean more towards Ruth. Because I think the other becomes an excuse for what we don’t understand in my opinion and I think there’s a lot we don’t understand. Humans, we seem to want to put things into categories so we understand everything, so we are in control, and I think she recognizes that fact. She picks up this item at a garage sale and it’s bad. There’s a bad thing going on there. And I think it’s representative of that belief that there is evil out there, and you have some choice of how you experience it.
There was one thing that didn’t quite come through in the film that for me was a bit important. I guess the scene ran long. There’s always cutting and you have to edit and stuff, but there was an explanation I came up with with Kerry talking about why did I keep this? You know, here’s a piece of evil, and why did I keep it? And I had this one little monologue that was saying I keep it because of hope. Because you hope that maybe something good will come from this. And I think that’s the way that a lot of us experience life. Even when something is bad, we have hope. There’s so much we don’t understand, that you don’t want to let go of the possibility that something good could come from it. So, I kind of miss that personally. I don’t know if that really comes through in the way the film is put together. But I do share that thought. We hang on to stuff sometimes. We shouldn’t be so quick to get rid of everything that we don’t like or we’re afraid of. Sometimes, embracing those things can really teach you something new about life and yourself.
KHC: For sure. Well, if it makes you feel any better, I personally got that from the film. It did feel like Ruth had held onto the dreamcatcher hoping for some sort of different outcome.
LS: Good, then never mind (laughs). Good, I’m glad you got that.
KHC: Because Ruth is such a spiritual character, do you feel like this was fate in a way? Because she finds this dreamcatcher at a garage sale, do you feel like it’s almost like the dreamcatcher found her in a sense?
LS: Perhaps. That’s actually a really beautiful way to express the thought. Perhaps, yes, and maybe things do find us. Again, we want to put things in categories, whether objects hold energy…I mean we know energy is for real, that we know, because it’s scientifically proven. Because it’s scientific we know it’s real, that’s something else we kind of hold onto. But the objects that people hold onto, you know, a piece of jewelry, or a coin…people carry lucky coins around in their pockets maybe because they think when they hold it, it gives them something. And maybe it does! Again, who are we to say no?
I’m glad you even asked that question because that’s true, maybe it did find her. It knew where it was going to land. What is it, anthropomorphism where we attribute human elements to inanimate objects? There could be some element that this thing kind of finds her to teach her something too.
KHC: Right, and like you said, there’s no science proving that’s not the case.
LS: Right, so might as well say okay.
KHC: Exactly! Why not?
You play somewhat of a grey character in Dreamkatcher, and you’ve been playing a lot of characters like that recently, such as in films like The Grudge and Room for Rent, so I’m wondering, do you prefer to play characters like this, or would you rather be the hero such as in the Insidious franchise?
LS: That’s a great question. I really don’t think about it like that exactly. I’m really interested in a good story. I often don’t really know how it’s going to turn out, if she’s going to be a hero. In other words, I don’t look for that aspect. Also, it takes on a life of its own often. I’ll accept a role for one reason, and then as we create it and unfold it, it surprises me as well. So, I think again, kind of giving up control, making a choice but giving up control is an important part of finding the right role for yourself.
"...I think that’s the way that a lot of us experience life. Even when something is bad, we have hope. There’s so much we don’t understand, that you don’t want to let go of the possibility that something good could come from it."
KHC: I hear you, so going into it you may perceive the role one way, but going through the process it tends to become something else.
LS: Totally, yep. It often does. Actually, Ruth did. Ruth very much transformed from what was originally on the page.
KHC: You mentioned she was somewhat of a mountain woman, so out of curiosity, what was Ruth originally supposed to be more like?
LS: Not so smart. She was more of a manipulator. She was kind of a victim of circumstances rather than guiding her own life. I just remember it was sort of, she wasn’t really a driving force, she was more of a manipulative force.
KHC: I see, kind of driving Josh (Finlay Wotjak-Hissong) a little bit towards what was going to happen?
LS: Kind of. She was just kind of…I didn’t like her very much (laughs). I kind of like this Ruth. And listen, it’s valid to play somebody you don’t like too. I mean, I don’t have to like every character I play, that’s for sure. I feel that the Ruth we came up with was a little bit more sophisticated. She was more detailed and a little bit deeper in terms of what her problem was and what she was hoping to do with her grandson and what she did do.
KHC: I think you made a lot of great choices with that, because it makes Ruth a lot more sympathetic, so the sad side of her story really hits a lot harder.
LS: I’m glad to hear that. That’s what we were hoping for.
KHC: With playing these sorts of characters, you’ve gotten quite good at scaring others, but have you ever gotten so into a role that you scared yourself with it?
LS: ‘The Grudge’ was close (laughs).
KHC: I can imagine.
LS: We always have fun. Even the grueling, gory…I mean ‘The Grudge’ was the most graphic horror film that I’ve ever been a part of. I mean it was really, it was gnarly. And Nicolas Pesce is a fascinating, brilliant guy. I just watched ‘Piercing’ the other day, which is his second film that I had never seen.
KHC: Great film.
LS: Oh, my god!
KHC: So good.
LS: I almost called him just so say wait a minute, we have to talk about this! (Laughs).
I mean, it’s still acting. There was actually a scene in ‘The Grudge’ in particular that was not…I’m curious to get the DVD because I think a lot of that stuff was added in for extra scenes and stuff, because they can’t put everything in. But there was a kind of fit that Faith has. She’s basically trying to commit suicide and whatever she takes is not working a hundred percent but instead it puts her into having seizures basically and it was really, I mean we did the scene…Frankie Faison, who plays my husband who I adored, I mean he was a wonderful scene partner, and really supportive great guy…and Faith has one of these seizures and when the scene was cut, when Nicolas yelled cut, it was really quiet and I was really upset. I didn’t realize how upset I was. And we had to take a little break. I just had to sit still. I was really shaking. Because I always say, your body doesn’t know you’re pretending. You build a story that has physical aspects to it and your nervous system only knows how to behave with what you tell it, so sometimes stuff like that is a little bit scary and you need a moment to regroup, but I’ve never lost it so much that I had to go home or anything.
KHC: Right. That’s the one I figured you may mention because, and I mean this in the best way possible, you were terrifying in ‘The Grudge’.
LS: Thank you! That is the best way possible.
KHC: Yeah, no, you were great.
I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask, have you heard anything about an ‘Insidious’ Part 5, and can you tell us anything about it if you have?
LS: There really isn’t. I mean at one point right after part four, people were asking. It sounded like maybe there was some kind of bubbling about it but there’s really nothing. I’ve heard zero about it further. And I’d be fine too if we left it at the end of ‘The Last Key’. I think that was a strong way to wrap up the whole series. But you never know. James (James Wan) is very smart. He has very good ideas, and if he did take it somewhere else, I think we’d be in good hands and maybe people would be ready for another one. But for now, I think it’s just the four.
KHC: I see, so as of now you’re okay with it ending where it did, but if James came up with a concept for a fifth film that excited you, you’d be up for another one?
LS: Oh totally. I think Elise’s story is finished, certainly on Earth. If anything comes further, she is in the Further. So, it would probably be a different story. Perhaps even the Lamberts…maybe the little guy grown up, who knows. But James is a very clever businessman as well as a creative force, so I feel very confident in his choices if he decides that there shouldn’t be anything else. We’re good. And if he comes up with something, great, absolutely, I would do anything with or for James. I adore him. He’s a brilliant person and a wonderful guy.
KHC: All right, well I don’t want to take up any more of your time so thank you so much Lin, I’ve really appreciated talking to you. It was a pleasure.
LS: Oh, you had great questions that were very appreciated, and you made me think about things in a slightly different way too about what my intent was, and that’s always a great interview for me too so thank you so much.
KHC: Thank you so much Lin, that means a lot to me.
LS: And until next time, shall we say.
KHC: Until next time.
"...I’d be fine too if we left it at the end of ‘The Last Key’. I think that was a strong way to wrap up the whole series. But you never know. James (James Wan) is very smart. He has very good ideas, and if he did take it somewhere else, I think we’d be in good hands and maybe people would be ready for another one."
Dreamkatcher is now available from Lionsgate on DVD, Digital and VOD.
By Matt Konopka