by Gill Pringle

Tell us about Tucker, the character you’re playing and how different is it from the previous installment?

I think Tucker is the unsung hero of the franchise. We’re looking to siphon off Specs. No, I think curiously as the franchise has gone – Specs is like the left ventricle, Elise [Lin Shaye] is the heart, and Tucker is a little more quiet, a bit more observant and hence his ingenuity in making those contraptions – which I don’t know how much it actually achieves, but we do have some wonderful new gadgets in this chapter, which is building on the previous trilogy.

There’s a couple of little nods that James set up in the first film where whenever we see Tucker, we first meet him eating some type of fast food or brightly coloured food. So, there’s little nods to that. But in this chapter, he’s finding his voice a little bit more. Without revealing too much, he gets paired up with Elise for a lot of this film. So, the spectral sightings, the boys as we come to know them, circumnavigate the problem in separate areas in this chapter, which hopefully is reconciled at the end.

What’s your relationship with Lin Shaye like?

I love chatting to her – you could ask her a question and suddenly find out about There’s Something About Mary or talking Nightmare on Elm Street. I always speak to her about her brother Bob who was head at New Line. She’s a treasure trove of stories and anecdotes. She’s been doing this for her whole life. She’s incredibly thankful for Insidious, and she’s really enthusiastic about the character and the world. She brings a lot of focus on set, because it’s so important to her as a performer and to craft this world, which ultimately you could say from outside looking in, this is a lady who needs to be put in an asylum. She’s talking to herself and seeing things that no one else is seeing.

How has the franchise evolved?

Leigh’s a family man now, he’s had a kid since the second Insidious, and interests change. He wrote this script in Spain, and that gave it a different feel, he wasn’t afraid to break rules that had been established. But it’s just great to see Lin come back and do it. I don’t know any other film that has a female front and centre of her generation kicking ass in this world and the next. I’m thrilled to be part of that legacy. The fans will tell us if they want us to revisit this world. It’s great that James and Leigh and Jason are back with Lin and I, and a whole new cast of characters.

Do the spectral sightings, and yours and Leigh’s characters, owe a bit to Ghostbusters?

I wish, I wish. We don’t have the Marshmallow Man, but we do have some horrific demons. I think this chapter is the scariest of the four, in my humble opinion as a film fan. But I guess that maybe they’re closer to the Frog brothers from Lost Boys in that they don’t have the resources, they don’t get paid for their endeavours or pursuits, and it’s more that Elise indulges them and their energies. And a big part of this world is that James Wan, Jason Blum and Leigh always try to make it a family pursuit rather than chasing horrific things for horrific sake. So, they’re always trying to tie it back to the congeniality of these three characters. In this chapter, we go back to Elise’s hometown as she attempts to take on a case that’s personal to her and reconcile some things in her own family.

How did you guys first come up with these two characters?

Initially when Leigh wrote Saw, he and I were living together in Australia, and he and James and I would make short films, and they would hope that they would make Saw in Australia. There was a character in that, that I was going to play but they never ended up making it in Australia. So, there was always like “you know we’ve got to do that horror film together that we were always going to do” and it was totally Leigh’s idea to push for that levity in that world of horror.

Curiously, those guys always envisaged Saw as a thriller, and tried to direct it like a horror, rather than “let’s make a horror film”. So, when they were endowed with having this, they wanted to reconcile that and try and make it a scary film where there’s no blood, where it’s domesticated. They’re wanting to take something familiar and invite the audience to look at it in a new light. That’s I guess – not so much a horror comedy, but more just to give some lightness to the pressure, to our characters, just to loosen the valve. Anything that can engage the audience in either listening or laughing, it’s like the tickle before the shank. So invariably if there’s humour somewhere, there’s going to be something shocking just after.

What’s it like playing a ghost hunter? And have you ever encountered any ghosts in your life?

It’s kind of all care, no responsibility, because you get to just be scared. You don’t actually have to take any demons on. You’re just like ‘I want to get out of here’. Curiously when we made the first Insidious we hired the Los Angeles Paranormal Association. Leigh and I met with them at a brisket place in the valley. We didn’t know who they were, what they looked like. We got there and there was three lovely people who made us eat lots of meat.

They took us to a place in Boyle Heights, which is downtown LA. We paid them some money, they gave some of that money to a caretaker of this abandoned hospital, and – I’m probably getting him in trouble – but he led us into this abandoned hospital. It was pitch black and it was 2am on a Monday morning Sunday night, and they give you infrared lights. We were wandering through the hospital, there’s birthing suites still there, it’s completely abandoned. The places where they burn the cadavers is still there. We found ourselves in the mortuary, part of the hospital which is next to where they perform surgery. Leigh and the LA Paranormal Association people went into the surgery, and I went into the mortuary by myself. There’s all the bits where they pull them out on the slab, and I went and sat down in the corner and I turn my infrared light off, and I sat there and I was like “I wonder how long I could sit here in the pitch black”, I couldn’t see my hands. Then I was like “imagine if I turned this flashlight on, and there was a face this far in front of me”, and so I was like “ah, nah that won’t happen”, but I didn’t want to turn my light on then in case. So, I was like “I’ve just got to do it”. I did this and turned it on, but my torch wouldn’t go on, and I was like “oh come on”. All of a sudden, I start hitting it and it’s like flickering and I freaked myself out. So I stood up, walked out of the morgue section, and I could hear them talking in the surgery, and I was like “what if I recreate the end of Blair Witch Project here?”. And so I stood at the end of the corridor. It took ages and no one came. I ended up going “hey guys, did you notice I was missing?” and they were like “what!”, they didn’t even notice I was gone.

We thought their investigation would be very detailed and have some sort of science speaking to the next world, but it was really simple. They were doing stuff like knocking on things and then we were like “ah”, and then they were like “hello, it’s Michael. We’re your friends”. Then they go “two weeks ago we heard a recording here, if you listen closely you can hear someone say ‘yes’”. So, you listen to the recording with your headphones and you go I think I can hear “yes”. As they’re doing this they’re knocking again. Then there was this noise that went boom. And I was like “surely I wasn’t the only one who heard that?” No one said anything and then the lady went “oh my God did you hear that?” and we were like “yes”, and everyone froze. We were in the surgery bit and the guys recording, they’ve got all these mics set up. Leigh starts taking over, he goes “we are your friends, can you hear us?” and sure enough, we all heard it about four minutes later. We look up in the air conditioning vent, and there’s a pair of eyes staring down at us in this hospital, like 2:40am. And the lady goes “ahhh!” and screams, and one of the LA Paranormal Association members put their torch up, and it was a raccoon. So yeah, that’s my ghost story.

You and Leigh have known each other for many years. Can you just talk a little bit about that first time that you met? Did you instantly become good friends?

Leigh and I met on an Australian music television program named Recovery. He was the cable dragger of the camera, and he also did film reviews, and I played a mute character called The Enforcer who wore a balaclava and you couldn’t see his face and he didn’t speak. The premise being that our music show was so bad, no one would willingly come on it, so I would have to go and abduct them to appear on the show [laughs]. We would film Billy Zane being abducted, and I would drive him in a purple muscle car from the ‘60s into the studio as silverchair or Public Enemy were playing, and it was like a cultivated mayhem on a Saturday morning, three hours of live television in Australia aimed at independent music or alternative music listeners in the late ‘90s.

Leigh was still living at home, and he kind of just ended up living on my couch for a lot of the time, and then he eventually moved into our house, and a week after him moving in we got evicted. Then we moved to an old abandoned warehouse that used to be a wool factory. He couldn’t get Saw made so he and James got the script formatted, reprinted onto US size paper and they got it to the double space like Americans did back then, and sent it out and that was 2003. They went over with a couple of suitcases and stayed by The Grove and took a bunch of meetings. He’s always been there, and I’ve always been there for him. Curiously we live about a block from each other now in Los Angeles. He’s godfather of one of my kids. It’s a nice – it’s indulgent on one level but it’s humbling and nice to be able to come to work and revisit this world with someone that you love.

Just for you, why do you think this film series is so popular with audiences? What’s the secret?

I would hazard to guess that Leigh and James work really hard crafting the scares and the horror of it. It has to resonate with them as well, so it’s not so much a matter of jump scare after jump scare. “Let’s make the music loud here, we’ll do a close up of someone’s face.” If you go back and look at the lead up and the build up… I know James – he may not want me to say this – but he would edit the scenes three ways, just to see what would change with different edits. Leigh and he have made so many films together that James makes it look easy. There are a lot of horror films that get made that don’t resonate around the world, haven’t taken $900 million globally or whatever it is. That’s what I think I put it down to, James and Leigh and their diligence and respect for the audience. They get asked to reboot familiar horror things all the time, but I give respect to them both for saying “oh no we’d like to do something a little different rather than remaking Halloween again.” You want to keep the audience on your side, and I think that’s the thing Leigh and James and Jason [Blum] are huge fans of horror, and that’s how they want to be remembered.

Insidious: The Last Key is in cinemas February 8, 2018

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