Shaye at Play!
Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Lin Shaye loved storytelling for as long as she could remember and knew that she was destined to act. She performed in many plays in college at the University of Michigan, and then moved to New York City when she was accepted into Columbia University’s Master of Fine Arts program. Remaining in NYC after graduation, she further honed her skills with celebrated stage directors like Joseph Papp and Des McAnuff, appearing in such productions as Tartuffe, at the New York Shakespeare Festival, as well as in The Tempest and The Taking of Miss Janie.
She made her film debut in 1975 in Hester Street, which was shot on location in Manhattan, and featured Carol Kane in an Oscar-nominated performance. But when Jack Nicholson cast Lin in Goin’ South, she relocated from New York to
L.A. Her other early films included The Long Riders, Brewster’s Millions and Extreme Prejudice, all directed by Walter Hill.
In 1982, she and a dozen fellow thespians formed a theater company called the Los Angeles Theater Unit, which produced only new plays over the course of its decade-long existence. She earned her a Dramalogue Award for Best Actress for her work in the troupe’s staging of Better Days.
The Farrelly Brothers recognized Lin’s extraordinary talent and cast her in a series of memorable roles in their films, among them Dumb & Dumber, Kingpin and, perhaps most memorably, as the overly-tanned neighbor in There’s Something About Mary. Her other notable comedic roles include the KISS-hating fanatic mother in Detroit Rock City and the head of the Bikini Tanning Team in Boat Trip.
Lin has almost 200 screen credits to her name, including Snakes on a Plane, Nightmare on Elm Street, Ouija, The Hillside Strangler, My Sister’s Keeper, The Signal and Corrina, Corrina. Here, she talks about reprising the role of Elise Rainier, the heroine of Insidious: Chapter 3, in the latest installment of that vaunted fright franchise.
KW: What was it like being directed by your co-star Leigh Whannell this go-round in what amounted to his directorial debut?
LS: He was a fantastic director. We were both a little nervous when we started filming, because you always are, even if you’re a veteran actor or director. But we obviously had already forged a wonderful friendship and relationship making the first two films together. Leigh, being a performer himself, had a different directorial style from James [Wan] who is more of a cinephile. Leigh’s was more emotional and more informational, since he’d created the characters as well. So, he probably knows more about Elise than anybody, although he said, “No, I don’t,” when I tried to tell him that. [Laughs] But making the film with him was wonderful, because he could step into the shoes of any of the characters, if necessary. He was also open to anything you had to say, and there was never a sour word out of his mouth, even at the end of a 17-hour day. He was just amazing! And you know, when you’re the director, everybody on set wants something from you. Leigh handled it like a true prince.
KW: How would describe this third chapter of Insidious, as a prequel?
LS: It’s basically an origins story. You don’t have to have seen the first two to understand this film at all. In fact, it works quite the opposite. After you’ve seen this film, it informs you about the history of the next two. Seeing Insidious 1 and 2 after this episode makes more sense, because now you’ll know where Elise started. In a weird way, this is really the first film in the series.
KW: How were the new cast members? LS: Stefanie Scott and Dermot Mulroney were wonderful to work with. They were both very supportive and totally present in terms of making the scenes work. I can’t say enough good things about them. Dermot is a very skilled actor who’s aware of everything that’s going on around him. He’s not just about “Me! Me! Me!” Dermot was a true friend to all of us. And Stefanie was only 17 at the time of the shoot, but she was totally professional.
KW: How do you like the final cut?
LS: The film is so scary, and in ways people are not going to expect. It’s got some emotional elements in it that I think are going to hit people in a very strong way.
KW: What’s the key to creating a memorable character, as you’ve done again and again, whether in Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something about Mary, Dead End, Kingpin, Detroit Rock City or Snakes on a Plane.
LS: Wow, you know all my good ones, Kam. [Laughs] I don’t know the answer. I hope I’m a good storyteller. I think very carefully about the details of my characters. I’ve studied with the best: Stella Adler, Uta Hagen, Lee Strasberg, and I’m a member of The Actor’s Studio. I mean, I’ve really studied my craft over all these years. And I’m still learning. If you ever think you’ve stopped learning, you’ve stopped living in my opinion. The details that I look for in each character is what makes them memorable. The first read of a script is always very exciting to me because you get an imprint that you never get again of the material and of your character. I’m very consistent about looking for the details that make the character work on a personal basis and also in terms of storytelling. So, thank you. I’m glad you find them to be memorable. I want them to be.
KW: You just made me think of Quentin Tarantino, because he’s the only director who sends me the script instead of letting me see his movie before I interview him.
LS: Oh, that’s fabulous! I didn’t know that. That way, you see the narrative and the stage directions. Wow! That’s a very rich way of expressing himself to you other than what you will see on camera.
KW: You’ve also been asked to play a number of older and unflattering characters. Does that call for a special talent, especially as a female to be willing to go there? In real life, I’ve noticed that on Halloween, women very, very rarely want to make themselves look older or less attractive.
LS: Again, it kind of goes to character. I look in the mirror and I see what I see. And then I don’t look in the mirror because I don’t want to see what I see. [LOL]
KW: You’re a very pleasant and attractive woman in real life, but they’ve asked you to play some rather repulsive characters at times.
LS: The exciting part for me is that I have a slightly transformational quality. But I try to not look at my characters. Instead, I just try to be them. You do the looking, and you do the definition. I can only tell you what I’m feeling from the inside. And then, whatever I look like, that’s what I look like. That’s the truth of the character. I have no vanity about it. I really don’t. In real life I have vanity of sorts, and sometimes see myself from the outside in. I’ll look in the mirror and go, “Look what just happened,” or “This outfit makes me look ridiculous.” [Laughs] But as an artist, I always want to see myself from the inside out.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: What did you see as the main challenge in playing Elise Reiner this go-round? LS: That’s a great question, Patricia. The main challenge was investigating the darkest side of her. It’s a very emotional and a very frightened side. People like to think of Elise as strong. But I cried a lot making this movie. I got in touch with a lot of sadness and a lot of fear. That’s why I believe audiences are going to experience it in the scariest way yet. It’s a very scary film.
KW: Patricia also asks: What is the secret to your enduring career? LS: Probably the love of my craft. I love what I do. I’m not ambitious, but I’m obsessed with my work.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would? LS: People don’t know that I like to watch boxing, even though I don’t really know anything about it. What I like about boxing, and about sports, in general, is the psychology of what makes the athletes who they are.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
LS: I don’t know if this is too much information, but I remember standing up in my crib and feeling embarrassed about my wet diaper because I thought my mother and a friend of hers were laughing at me. Isn’t that crazy? [LOL] I asked my mother about it when I got older, and learned they were really just laughing about something the two of them were talking about. When you have a secret memory like that, and you open it up to the person it’s about, it often triggers a discussion about things that are important. In this case, it led to really important exchange with my mom about appreciation of each other. She told me how much she loved me when I was little and how she would never have made fun of me as I had suspected all those years. So, all those early memories are really important, even though as little kids, we’re sometimes tempted to discard stuff for different reasons.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
LS: I’m embarrassed to have to admit that I mostly read scripts. But the last book I read was a collection of poems by e.e. cummings. He used to be my favorite in college because his poems were so beautiful and whimsical, which I like to believe is part of my soul.
KW: Lastly, what’s in your wallet? LS: About 25 cents. And I took my driver’s license because I know I’m going to need it when I travel.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Lin, and best of luck with the film. LS: Thank you for the lovely interview, Kam. I appreciate it.
Watch the Insidious: Chapter 3 trailer: