Having played married couple Ed and Lorraine Warren four times over the last decade, it’s little surprise that Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson finish each other’s sentences.
Not that you could describe the real Ed and Lorraine Warren as any ordinary husband and wife, given that they became America’s most famous paranormal investigators during the course of their 61-year marriage, which only ended with Ed’s death in 2006.
The stories of ghosts and hauntings popularised by the Warrens have been adapted as – or indirectly inspired – dozens of films, TV series and documentaries, including several films in The Amityville Horror series and, perhaps more famously, in the films of James Wan’s The Conjuring Universe.
Officially now the largest horror franchise in film history, grossing more than US$1.8 billion worldwide, Wan’s universe includes the first two Conjuring films, as well as The Nun, The Curse of the Weeping Woman, Annabelle and her two sequels, Annabelle: Creation and Annabelle Comes Home.
Chatting with Farmiga and Wilson on the eve of the release of the eighth film in this universe and the third Conjuring film, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, their genuine affection shines through.
“It’s amazing growing older with my fake spouse,” Farmiga tells STACK. “At the risk of sounding corny, my love for old Patrick Wilson continues to run feverish. I adore him. We are such good friends. We mitigate the dark, emotional work that we do by laughing our heads off together. He makes me all kinds of giggly.”
“We’ve trusted each other since day one,” adds Wilson, “that’s where the chemistry comes from. We’re totally comfortable with each other and we have a lot of fun.”
In this third Conjuring film, we even get to see how the Warrens first fell in love when they were teenagers, their younger selves portrayed by Megan Ashley Brown and Mitchell Hoog.
“That’s one of my favourite parts of the film,” says Farmiga. “Mitchell is just uncanny the way he’s just got Patrick’s smile. These kids knocked it out of the park. For the Warrens, that teen love was real.”
This third Conjuring tale, The Devil Made Me Do It, takes its story from one of the most sensational cases in the Warren files, starting with a fight for the soul of a young boy, marking the first time in US history that a murder suspect would claim demonic possession as a defence.
If Wan is synonymous with The Conjuring series – as the creative force behind the entire Universe, developing stories, overseeing spinoffs and directing the core Conjuring films to date – then The Devil Made Me Do It marks the first Conjuring film about the Warrens where he was not in the director’s seat.
The Aussie filmmaker almost didn’t direct The Conjuring 2, but was persuaded to return by Farmiga and Wilson. During that shoot, he hinted he might not direct the third, but the actors thought they could convince him again.
“When I heard that he may be opting out of directing this one, I thought, ‘I’ll just hound him again, and I’m sure it’ll work’, like we did with the last one,” says Farmiga.
But when their persuasion failed to do the trick this time around, she felt assured that Wan’s deft hand would still be at the core of this massively successful franchise.
“I knew James would still be shaping and producing the story, that he would have his fingerprints all over it, so the most important thing for me was that James find someone who matched his vision, who wanted more than anything in the world to direct it,” she says.
And the two actors could not have been more delighted with Wan’s chosen successor, Michael Chaves, whom Wan entrusted to direct The Curse of the Weeping Woman two years earlier.
“I had just worked with Michael Chaves,” Wan says, “and I really liked the guy a lot. I saw him grow as a filmmaker over the course of his first feature and felt his creativity, energy and mindset were exactly what this third Conjuring film needed.”
“Chaves was a great addition,” agrees Wilson, “because he loves these movies, and he has tremendous respect for James. He’s also bold. He’s not afraid to try new things and come up with new ideas. He has respect for this franchise, but he’s also excited to push it forward.”
After years of playing the Warrens, clairvoyants and demonologists who have witnessed things that would send most people over the edge, then Farmiga and Wilson have surprised themselves in becoming at ease with this creepy universe.
“I had an incident last week where I called Patrick up and said, ‘I can’t figure this out. I don’t know what’s happening here’. It kept happening. And then it stopped happening. But if I tell you now, it will seem actually really stupid and ludicrous. It’s frightening in the moment. But if I actually go on to talk about it, it will seem really cheesy,” teases Farmiga.
“But, look, I’ve had these sensations and real moments where I think, woah, I just felt a hand on my hip as I was sanding a table. I was at a house where there was so much dark history and I felt a distinct hand on my hip turn me around, and there was no one there.
“So there are certainly things that I’ve experienced. Whether it’s cups flying off countertops, or who knows what. But I can tell you that in terms of like darkly mystical demonic negative forces in my life? I would like to think that I am able to bubble wrap myself with positivity and with goodness and protection that I know I have. So I don’t invite it into my life, and therefore I don’t necessarily experience anything so profoundly nerve-wracking in a way that obviously the Warrens do in this film.”
Likewise, Wilson will admit to a few spooky experiences of his own: “The few unexplained things that have happened to me or to other people in my house… I mean I’m a big believer in there being other forces at play. But, like Vera, I don’t allow the negative ones in. So I don’t believe in a lot of negativity and I try to keep that out of my life. I really like to limit that to my work, really, and the subject matter with which we act.
“And I will say, over the years, anything paranormal doesn’t freak me out or scare me anymore. And I may be completely ignorant in saying this, but I feel like I can handle it. I would just calm myself and ask Vera to come over if there was a problem,” he laughs.
“But it’s true. I feel the same confidence… and cockiness,” agrees Farmiga. “That I’m like virtually unassailable now, after a decade of experience playing these characters. I sort of feel impervious to anything negative.”
• The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is in cinemas now