We spoke to director David F. Sandberg and Australian stars Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto about the return of the diabolical doll.
Horror directors love Australia’s talented actors, but perhaps none more than Swedish filmmaker David F. Sandberg who cast Teresa Palmer in his Hollywood debut, Lights Out, and now Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto in Annabelle: Creation.
Of course it’s Australian filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell who turned Tinseltown into Horrorwood with their lucrative Saw and Insidious franchises, and a continuation of the former on the horizon with Jigsaw. And while Wolf Creek and The Babadook have similarly shone a light on Australia’s dark heart, it’s Sandberg who acts as cheerleader for Aussie horror actors.
“I’ve been a fan of Miranda ever since Lord of the Rings. The Australians are so professional; they make the job of a director so easy. You don’t have to pull performances out of them because they know what they’re doing,” Sandberg tells STACK when we meet with him and the Annabelle: Creation cast in Los Angeles.
Returning the compliment, Otto says, “David was incredibly calm and together, probably the calmest person I’ve ever worked with. You’d never have thought this was only his second major film because he took everything in his stride. On most sets I’ve worked on, at some stage a director will be stressed or tense about stuff, or pressured about the length of the day or getting it shot. But David’s just not like that.”
Joining the mutual appreciation club, LaPaglia adds, “David is super chill and comes without any baggage. It’s the most amazing transition from European filmmaker to the Hollywood system that I’ve ever seen. He was unflappable; very specific with what he wanted and really actor friendly. His next picture is Shazam for DC and he’s not even making a big deal about that.”
Old mates, LaPaglia and Otto both longed to work together, seizing upon the opportunity to play husband and wife in this scary prequel to The Conjuring and Annabelle.
For LaPaglia, the deal breaker was his 14-year-old daughter Bridget’s reaction when he was offered the role. “I’ve done so much stuff and she’s never exhibited much interest other than not wanting me to leave for work. But when she heard me talking on the phone about Annabelle, her first words were ‘Oh my God, you have to do it; you would be the coolest dad ever’.”
Casa LaPaglia swiftly became a cool hangout. “My daughter’s friends love coming over and scaring the crap out of themselves watching horror films – and the boys are now all very respectful to me,” laughs the Without a Trace star, who co-parents his daughter with ex-wife Gia Carides.
But on the set, LaPaglia kept a distance from the six girls to whom his character has offered refuge in his haunted home. “I purposefully distanced myself. My fear was that I would get to like them too much, and it would start to show, and it wouldn’t be the same. So instead I’d just lurk around, like a creepy guy,” he says LaPaglia, 58, who moved to LA in 1982.
Otto is a more recent transplant, relocating four years ago with actor hubby Peter O’Brien and their daughter, Darcey. “I avoided making the move for the longest time because this city always seemed like it was so concentrated on film that, years ago, I found it kind of claustrophobic,” she notes. “But since having a daughter and family and moving here, I’ve made a lot of friends who are outside the business, and I love living here,” she says.
“I think the reason Australian actors do so well here is because they’re less maintenance,” muses LaPaglia. “There’s so many Australians in Hollywood now although for the longest time, I didn’t even meet another Australian actor. It was just Mel Gibson and I. Mel really paved the way; I was still bartending when he was working.
“Australian actors are just a tougher breed. I think we all know how to work with no budget and battle through stuff. It’s a small, competitive market so the decision to become an actor in Australia is not an easy one. I remember talking to Hugo Weaving years ago and he was considering retiring and doing something else.”
Otto agrees: “I know a lot of Australian actors who have to take other jobs and act part time. I also think the Australians are prepared to throw themselves into anything, even if it means hauling equipment around. You know? If it starts to rain, I’ll always help bring in the stuff.”
LaPaglia was nonplussed by the spooky set. “I’d go home every day and my partner would ask, ‘So how was work?’ And I’d go, ‘I just walked around scaring kids all day, it was great’,” laughs the actor, who is engaged to Alexandra Henkel.
If LaPaglia was nonchalant on set, then Otto confesses to a certain fear of the Annabelle doll. “I found the doll really creepy. I didn’t like rehearsing with it,” she says.
A self-professed atheist, Sandberg bowed to the wishes of his more superstitious crew, who requested the set be blessed before filming. “Just in case,” he smiles.
Annabelle: Creation is in cinemas on August 10