By ROCCO THOMPSON
In a career spanning over forty years and at least ninety films, Lin Shaye has done it all. Though she cites her comedic work with the Farrelly Brothers (DUMB AND DUMBER, KINGPIN) as a career highlight, she’s regarded as a horror mainstay thanks to roles in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, CRITTERS, OUIJA, and the INSIDIOUS series which have endeared her to generations of fright fans. Warm, vibrant, and prone to easy laughter, she’s the last person one would expect to play a murderous house frau, but in ROOM FOR RENT (Tommy Stovall and Stuart Flack’s demented character study of a woman slowly coming apart after the death of her husband) Shaye’s sunny demeanor curdles into something truly disturbing. We caught up with the actress to discuss her profession, how she tackled the role, and what frightens her about human nature.
You work so often! Did you always want to act?
Well, I love telling stories! I guess I like being the center of attention on some level, but that’s not what it’s about for me. It’s really this weird drive I have to journey into other people’s ideas and minds. It’s a skill that I’m lucky to have. Even as a little kid, I was happiest alone in my room dressing up in different outfits and making up stories. There weren’t a lot of other children in the neighborhood where I was growing up and my mom was great–she just kind of left me alone! I was sort of bizarre! [Laughs]
I really never thought about being in films or even having a successful career. I went to the University of Michigan as an Art History major, but decided to go to Columbia for my Masters in Theatre Arts. I mean, I couldn’t have been happier! It was really twelve hours a day doing what I loved in a beautifully intensive program that was history and acting and movement and voice. My brother is Bob Shaye, who started New Line Cinema in 1968, and I was living with him when he started the company. Bob is…my brother is a genius. He’d probably throw up on me for saying that, but it’s true! When I moved out to LA, he knew I was struggling, and I would always say, “So, what’s happening over at New Line?” and he would tell me to shut up and get my own job! [Laughs] You know, like a big brother does. I had little tiny parts in a couple of their movies, but really, my first movie was with Wes Craven. But, I love my job. I love working. It’s interesting to be in a safe place to tell the truth, and that’s what I feel acting is.
You’re best known for your work in the horror genre. What keeps you coming back to it? Would you consider yourself a fan?
To be one-hundred percent honest, I’m a fan of character and story, but the genre doesn’t matter to me. I never was a “horror fan.” When I first read the script for INSIDIOUS, it was so scary that I locked it in my closet before I went to bed! [Laughs] I literally did! What keeps me coming back is getting to play great characters, like Elise Rainier [in those films]. But the fact that she became so popular is still a mystery to me.
In a way, she’s really grown into the hero of the series.
I still don’t get it. I mean, on some level, I do. In this day and age where everybody is so selfish, Elise is a character who had horrible beginnings–lots of suffering and abuse–and she still came out being this person who’s a giver, not a taker. I think there’s something about that that appeals to people on a subliminal level. And she’s a badass! She speaks up for what she believes in and what’s right. I guess that’s what a hero is. My initial impression [on the first film] was “boy she talks a lot” [laughs], but Leigh [Whannell] is the one that gave her the heart he did. She’s really a force to be reckoned with.
Your character, Joyce, in ROOM FOR RENT couldn’t be more different from Elise.
I’m very excited about people seeing this! I don’t think anyone has seen me do this kind of thing before! I’m hoping it’ll fill the need of everyone who wants to see me do horror, but I’m really just so proud of the work. It’s always hard to watch your performance back, but with ROOM FOR RENT, there’s not a false moment in it for me. Maybe the audience will never see it or know it, but I know my process and I feel that I really found who Joyce was in this journey, which is very exciting for me as an actress.
How did you initially get involved with this project?
[The director] Tommy Stovall is a fascinating person, and I have tremendous respect for him. He’s a very, kind of, cryptic guy. He’s very quiet. Very thoughtful. We worked together twice before and got along great. So, he shows up with this script. I read it and I didn’t like it. It didn’t strike a chord in me. I think another year or so went by and out of the blue, Tommy calls again and he says, “Remember that script? I’d like to send to you again. I need you to take another look at it.” And so, I reread it and I still didn’t like it. I said, “There’s something wrong with this character.” Joyce was not “on the page” at all. This is not denigrating the writer or what he created, but you couldn’t feel who she was from the script.
So I said [to Tommy] “What if she’s a woman who had been held captive by her husband, and lives her life in the kitchen while he’s out living his?” She’s kept. There are women like that! I mean, it’s more transparent these days because of the media, but we don’t really know what goes on in these women’s emotional lives. She has no social skills, has never been allowed to develop them, and has been married to this guy thirty years and suddenly he’s gone. Where would that put her? What would that make her do? How would she function? It’s about a woman’s descent into madness, because she’s trying to learn how to navigate life. She’s this trapped animal that’s been set loose.
All of a sudden, I got really excited about the idea, and Tommy trusted me enough to reinvestigate the dialogue and storyline a bit. What’s fascinating is that the relationship with her dead husband is what creates who she becomes. He’s kind of a ghost who lives in her. I totally fell in love with this character and what we did with her. I’m very proud of my work in it, and I’m very grateful to Tommy for allowing me to expose myself in this way and to collaborate with him and Stuart Flack in terms of telling the story of this woman’s journey. I feel the movie is almost like a good novel. People say “Is it a horror film?” Sort of. “Is it a drama?” Sort of. “Is a comedy?” Sort of. I mean, it’s all these things wrapped up into one, and I think it’s a page-turner.
What do you hope audiences take away from ROOM FOR RENT?
A chill. A chill that comes from recognizing that we are all capable of something terrible. That’s the real scary part of the movie for me. We all have fragile psyches, and the course of this character really came from my own soft place. I don’t care how strong you think you are, there are those places within, that soft tissue, that if it gets trampled on, you can become something you never thought you could be. That’s the truth in ROOM FOR RENT. We have no idea what we’re capable of…until we’re pushed to a point.
ROOM FOR RENT is in theaters May 3rd, and available On Demand May 7th