A mainstay in Hollywood for the past 25 years, acclaimed actor Lili Taylor has had enough experiences to know that it’s not too often a film works on all levels.
But Taylor has no doubts about her latest project, the horror thriller “The Conjuring,” even though director James Wan puts her character, Carolyn Perron, through the ringer both mentally and physically.
“I had a blast, and it doesn’t happen a lot, where the experience is great and the movie is just as great,” Taylor told me in an interview Wednesday. “They’re really few and far between, and I’m just soaking it up because I think James is so talented and everybody was at the top of their game. Everybody was collaborating so beautifully.”
Now playing in theaters nationwide, the film chronicles the details of a previously untold case by famed real-life demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren — the same couple who a few years after the events of “The Conjuring” explored what would become known as “The Amityville Horror.”
Set in 1971, “The Conjuring” tells how the Warrens (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) helped out the Perron family — Carolyn (Taylor), Roger (Ron Livingston) and their five daughters — who encountered dark forces after they moved into an old farmhouse in Harrisville, Pa.
While the film is based on a true story, Taylor, 46, said she didn’t let the details of the role freak her out — even though Carolyn fell under the spell of demonic possession.
Taylor did admit, though, that some of the research she did was unnerving, particularly YouTube videos of purported exorcisms, but it was a necessary evil — so to speak — to get into the head of a possessed person.
“I needed to know more about exorcisms, and physically what happens, vocally what happens. I needed to know what exactly these people went through,” Taylor said.
Despite the research, Taylor said, she’s still skeptical about the idea of possession.
“I still would send the subject to a psychiatrist first instead of a priest,” Taylor said. "I would go the psychiatric route before I’d go the Vatican route.”
No matter her personal feelings, there’s no question Taylor’s depiction of possession is frighteningly real. Knowing viewers would be apt to compare her performance to Linda Blair’s horrifying portrayal of Regan MacNeil in “The Exorcist,” Taylor and Wan decided it was best to distance themselves from the iconic film as much as they could and interpret the possession in their own way.
“I love ‘The Exorcist’ and watch it once a year, so I know the movie quite well,” Taylor said. “But James and I made a conscious decision together to do it different. What I liked, though, is that James wanted to be different not for the sake of being different, which wouldn’t have had much meaning. There was really meaning behind what he was doing.
Another big difference between “The Conjuring” and “The Exorcist,” Taylor added, was the actual level of the possession.
“In ‘The Exorcist,’ Regan was totally gone. The devil had totally taken over her,” Taylor said. “Carolyn was still there, just a little bit, and that made a big difference. That way I could play with a minor battle inside. I didn’t want to get into Latin or that really scary voice in ‘The Exorcist’ — the most evil voice you could imagine — but I still did a voice that seemed to be common denominator with all the videos I watched doing research.”
While films about hauntings and demonic possession are nothing new in cinema — and the subject matter is particularly over-exploited on reality TV shows — Wilson told me in a separate interview that he feels audiences will feel refreshed by the story of the Warrens in “The Conjuring” because the couple took an interest in the field when it wasn’t exactly fashionable.
“The thing I kept going back to in this was the fact that the Warrens started doing this in the ’60s — a long, long time ago in terms of TV and the technology, where there were no shows about it and there was so little known about it,” Wilson said.
Plus, he added, their motives were much different from what you see with the so-called paranormal investigators nowadays, even though their most famous case was met with skepticism.
“In my opinion, which is a very strong one, they came about it from a very honest place of wanting to help people,” Wilson said. “They were devout Catholics who really felt that there was this underbelly of evil, and if they could help people, they were of service — even when Amityville came out, which put them in the national spotlight. But like with anything, any success is going to bring a lot of backlash.”
Tim Lammers is a syndicated movie reporter whose work appears on more than 50 TV news and entertainment websites across the country. You can see Tim’s work on his website, StrictlyCinema.com, and follow his tweets at Twitter.com/TimLammersFilms. You can also “Like” Tim on Facebook.com/StrictlyCinema.