Insidious: Chapter 3 is Dermot Mulroney’s first real horror film, Stefanie Scott’s first starring role in the genre, and the feature film directorial debut of writer/actor Leigh Whannell. The third film of the Insidious franchise is a prequel that finds Mulroney and Scott playing a father and daughter who call on Elise (Lin Shaye) when an evil presence begins tormenting Scott’s character, Quinn. Teamed up to discuss the latest entry in the Insidious series, both Mulroney and Scott had nothing but high praise for Whannell as a first-time director. They also shared a little about life on the set and scenes that were particularly freaky to film.
Were you a fan of the first two Insidious films?
Stefanie Scott: “I definitely had teenage movie nights watching those movies. I love them.”
Are you a horror fan?
Stefanie Scott: “I love horror films and I love ghost things, like I love those ghost hunters shows. Whenever I find a new house I have to make sure it’s not haunted before I rent the new apartment. But, yes, I love those type of movies.”
Dermot Mulroney: “I hadn’t seen either of the Insidious – the ‘Insidii’ as I like to refer to them – but when I got cast I looked at them. So really it felt like to me what was already at the outset seemed to be a pretty big challenge to be in a horror movie convincingly. After I saw those two I thought that it raised the bar even further than I’d originally planned. What I mean is that for me whether I’d been in straight dramas or comedies or so forth, it seems like generally speaking the content of a story like that is easy to believe because it’s written for that reason, and a horror movie is written for another reason. This, I think, is a big exception because it has such human elements in it and a great family story that you’d be drawn to anyway, even if it were just a drama. It’s almost like they secretly infused a family drama in a horror movie. I really responded to that.
I thought being in a horror movie would be hard because you have to pretend, because demons don’t really exist – I hate to break it to you all. [Laughing] At least I’ve never encountered one that’s as obvious as this guy. So I was a little worried going in, to be honest with you, that I wouldn’t be able to do a very good job because you have to pretend so much of it. It’s obviously what we do anyway, but to do it in a context that’s a heightened reality…I hadn’t been asked to do that really ever in any of the movies I’d done. They were either more just reality-based or maybe The Grey had some horror qualities to it, but that was very real. When I first saw Insidious 1 and 2, that for me felt like it made my job making Insidious 3 that much harder because they’re so good and they’re so streamlined. They’re really clean movies. I know from making all those other types of movies how hard that is to do. So, I didn’t take the job lightly – and it shows. Everyone brought their best game to make this movie. Leigh [Whannell] in particular is who I was guiding off of. He just ran a great set and brought everything we needed to make everything feel real.”
Can you speak about Leigh as a first-time director? What are his qualities as a director?
Stefanie Scott: “What I thought was so great about Leigh is he’s an actor too, and he was so invested in the characters. He wasn’t just about making a scary movie with jump-scares. It’s a deep story and the way he had me prepare for Quinn and to bring her to life in such an authentic way, not having her in a plain basic t-shirt from Target like any other normal teenage girl. She has life to her and qualities, and he had me listening to certain records to have me connect to my mother who died in the movie. Her dreams and aspirations, I think she’s really relatable to teenage girls and where you want to be in life at the beginning of the movie. It starts off with her applying to college and auditioning for a theatre school in New York and I know I related to that because that’s my dream in life, you know?
I think what’s so great about Leigh is how he brought it to life in such an authentic way. In preparation for the part he had a journal for me as Quinn which plays a big role in the movie. But I had to fill out the whole journal as Quinn and her feelings through losing your mom and that horror on its own. Even like decorating the journal and having just everything just be her, I guess. So that’s what I thought was really neat about him. Or even having us listen to certain pieces of music. I know we had to do that in a certain scene that was really emotional, because music is such a big part of any emotion. I’m sure there’s music that will bring you to tears. Music is a big part for Leigh as well.”
Dermot Mulroney: “I was really impressed with his confidence as a director. I learned later that he was worried about working with actors for the first time but I never saw anything like that. I was actually impressed in the opposite that actually his script is really competent and accomplished, and it reads really, really great. But I never detected any hesitation in how to direct an actor or how to direct me.
Now, we are acting in scenes with the director which I haven’t done very often, so that’s really fun anyway because you’re thinking, ‘What’s he thinking?’ and now I can look at him instead of him being behind the fake wall of the apartment judging you from there. He’s actually in the scene. And I swear to god there is a scene that we are in that I saw the director not the actor who would normally not break from it, he kind of gave me a quick, quizzical look. Like, ‘Are you really going to do it that way?'”
Stefanie Scott: [Laughing] “Totally judging Dermot Mulroney.”
Dermot Mulroney: “So I would say one strike against Leigh is that he had a little trouble separating being the director who acts. Not that he was unable to perform either of those duties, but they overlapped for him in a way that I found really charming.”
Stefanie Scott: “He started rewriting the script so he wouldn’t be in it, so that he would be off-camera.”
Dermot Mulroney: “That’s true.”
Stefanie Scott: “He would give all of his lines to Angus [Sampson]. I knew there were times for continuity where we would shoot a rehearsal and it would be a really great take and then he’d ruin the take because he forgot his glasses. He’d be so pissed. For half an hour he’d be like, ‘I can’t believe I forgot my glasses!’ He would get really mad at himself. I’d ask him to chill. I’d be like, ‘No, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it. You’re great,’ giving him a little pep talk and then he’d get more mad.”
Dermot Mulroney: “He did a great job. The thing that impressed me the most when I saw the film is how seamlessly he translated a great horror script to the screen. Because a lot of times you’ll love the script and you’ll see the movie and they’re both good, for example, but they’re not exactly the same thing. He wrote down what he wanted, he shot what he wanted, and he edited it together to be exactly what he originally wanted and that’s incredibly hard to do. There’s other pressures: there’s time, there’s money, you don’t the time to shoot a thing a certain way or whatever the things that prevent you from getting that ideal thing. But he got it. He had great support from the producers, Blumhouse, and everybody just worked really hard for him because of his personality. He’s got it all. What you need to be a great writer/director, he’s got.”
Were there any scenes that were particularly difficult that you were really proud of working on?
Stefanie Scott: “It’s so hard to talk about these things because I’m always scared I’m going to say something that I’m not supposed to and get in really big trouble…”
Dermot Mulroney: “No, you can talk about anything. No, honestly I think that your experience is more interesting than whatever they tell us to be careful not to give the story away but you won’t.”
Stefanie Scott: “I think there’s one scary scene…”
Dermot Mulroney: “And if you do I’m telling Leigh!”
Stefanie Scott: “Oh my god, no!”
Dermot Mulroney: “No, go ahead. This is a funny, cool story. I think I know what scene you’re going to mention and you can talk about it.”
Stefanie Scott: “Okay. Well, there’s one scary scene in particular and I did a lot of…well, I did all the stunts in the movie that I did as Quinn which were really intense on their own. I was really nervous at first on my first scary scene because I was so scared that I wasn’t going to be scared enough, which is really very ironic but I was terrified. But the best scary scene I think you see it in the trailer when Quinn falls to the floor and every door closes until it goes completely pitch dark which is terrifying to watch but to be in it and to fall on the floor hard and to have this demon slowly closing everything… What’s so great about Insidious is that everything is done in real life. Like, he actually looks like that in person. All the stunts were done on cue. Things falling, there’s no CGI – it’s all real.”
Dermot Mulroney: “You’re on a set with wires, a bed shaker, practical effects which is so fun because it’s actually happening around you. Pictures flying off the wall and all that isn’t added later. There’s physical stuff that she did that’s really impressive. She has an accident, both legs are in a cast. It’s hard to describe but there are eight hour stretches where the actress is in actual leg casts and can not walk so [Stefanie] was in that situation deliberately and she took it like a champ. You could really see it wearing on her.
I thought you were going to say another scene where she sort of gets possessed by this demon. She talks back to her dad! I thought that was so uncool. I was trying to be so nice but she really loses her sh*t in one scene which she did beautifully in her performance and freaked me out. Freaked me out. And there too it wasn’t effects or anything; it was an actor saying the script as written so I know what’s coming and yet I’m freaked out because of the way that she’s doing it. It’s really impressive what she did on this movie.”
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