James Wan, Leigh Whannell on Trust, Terror and 'Insidious: Chapter 2' (Q&A)
James Wan and Leigh Whannell, who met in film school at the age of 17, brought to life one of the biggest horror franchises to ever hit the big screen with the Saw films. Then, they hit horror gold again in 2010 with the haunted house pic Insidious. The dynamic Australian duo is back at it again this month with Insidious: Chapter 2, which takes the same family (the Lamberts, played by Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson) through another horrific experience.
Wan, who also directs the pic and will next helm the seventh installment in the Fast & Furious franchise, and Whannell, who also acts in the film, sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to talk about bonding in school, the biggest challenges with the sequel and what it's like to watch an audience watch their films.
It seems rare to have a working friendship like this that started at such a young age. Tell me about how you two met in film school.
Whannell: We were the two youngest people in our course. University in Australia is basically free. It's not like here, so there was a real range of people. There were people in their 30s and 40s studying film with us. It was the opposite, I guess, of the American college experience, where you turn up and there's like thousands of people your own age. This was a real range, so we definitely felt like the two kids, and I guess that kind of brought us together. And we had a similar taste in films.
What's your secret to working together and having a successful collaborative relationship?
Wan: I think that Leigh and I just shared the same kind of interest -- we want to make the kind of movies we want to make, and we know where we stand. I think we're very collaborative in that respect. We don't care where the ideas come from as long as the end product is one that benefits that film. He'll come up with an idea that he'll throw at me, and I'll take it and shape it and throw it back at him. By the end of it, we have no idea who came up with the original content.
When you started writing this, what was your main challenge in making a sequel? How different do you want it to be?
Whannell: I think the biggest challenge with Insidious 2 was: How do we make this film as scary as the first film, given that we're dealing with a set of characters who are already privy to what is going on around them? One of the triumphs of a haunted house film is that you have an unwitting family moving to a home. Events start to escalate, and there the sheer terror of not knowing what's going on drives the movie. That was a big challenge for James and I -- how do we keep this film scary when they know what they're dealing with?
Wan: I think we came up with a pretty good way to keep it scary, but to do so we pretty much had to take it into a different genre. It wasn't a haunted house movie anymore. It was more of a domestic thriller-mystery.
Patrick has to do some pretty crazy stuff in this movie. How, as the director, do you push him to that place?
Wan: Patrick is great in that respect that he's not afraid to go there. I know there are some actors that are more insecure about going in sort of a different direction, and that's what I really admire about Patrick is that he's not afraid to let me push him in that direction -- doesn't matter how over-the-top it may be. He has a great ability of just knowing when to pull back and when to go. And even when he goes all out, it's still good acting. That's the great thing about working with Patrick now on a bunch of movies that we've made together. He has that trust for me, and he'll let me sort of guide him in some ways, knowing that I will let him know how far to go and how far to come back.
When we look back at Saw, you brought that franchise to life, and then moved on to other things. Would you want Insidious to go in that same path or would you want to stay hands-on if it does become a 3 and a 4?
Wan: I know I would like Leigh to hang around it! (Laughs.) No seriously, with the Saw franchise I was comfortable going off, you know, I went on to direct other stuff and did not do anything of the sequels. But the only reason I felt comfortable moving away from it was because Leigh was still here. He had a big hand in number two and number three, and that made me feel very comfortable that at least I know someone wasn't going to mess it up too much. With this, I'm just happy that we got the chance to make a number two. If you do a sequel that is usually an indication that the first one worked and people connected with it. So I'm very excited for people to see the next installment of the Insidious world. But what surprises Leigh and myself is just how many genuine fans there are of the first film. So I'm just really happy to bring them number two right now, and we'll see what happens after that.
Do you ever sit in the theaters and watch people watch your movies?
Whannell: Oh yes, that's the best part about making a movie.
Have you seen any funny or surprising reactions?
Whannel: With Saw we got some people about to faint or people walking out of the theater going, "I can't be in there anymore."
Wan: I think Saw had one of the most extreme ones, where we snuck into The Grove during one of the late-night showings opening weekend. There was a guy who had brought his girlfriend along to it and she freaked out so much that she ran out of the theater crying, just bawling. And Leigh and I, we go up to her and we're like, "Hey, it's okay -- it's just a movie. We made the movie." And then we ended up getting our pictures taken with her.
Insidious: Chapter 2 opens in theaters on Friday, Sept. 13.