Could you imagine having your choice of directing a movie about The Flash or a movie about Aquaman? On the surface, most people would probably pick The Flash, right? Ahead, James Wan reveals that he had exactly this choice to make and explains why he decided to take the, let’s say, less conventional choice. And, yes, he knows you make fun of Aquaman – and that’s exactly why he chose the way he did.
But, we are getting ahead of ourselves. This week, Wan is returning to his horror roots with The Conjuring 2, a sequel to the massive blockbuster of a first film that grossed $318 million in 2013. Wan returns to horror after directing Furious 7, a critical and financial hit that, as Wan admits, was a difficult film to make (for numerous reasons, including the tragic death of star Paul Walker). As Wan says ahead, he felt reinvigorated to tell another story from the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), this time with a case of the supernatural that takes place just outside of London.
Ahead, Wan explains just why he felt he had one more story to tell with the Warrens (and how Warner Bros. convinced him to keep his 134-minute runtime), and Wan reveals why Aquaman, for him, was the obvious choice over The Flash.
I am not a big horror fan. Why do people like me like the Conjuring movies?
Listen, I think that’s the biggest compliment that these movies can have. I do think it’s partly because people love that they have real characters and it takes time to tell people’s stories and it’s not just about the scary set pieces, and the human element is what resonates with a lot of people.
In a lot of horror franchises that have more than one movie, we follow the villain. Here we follow the Warrens.
Yeah, you’re right. I didn’t really think about it from that perspective, but it’s usually…
Or the Jason or the Michael. Usually those are the characters that you franchise from, not the victim. But I think in some says, that’s the testament of these two characters – they work somewhat like superheroes.
There’s only so many times we can watch Jason Voorhees kill people before an audience is like, “We get it.”
Well, when you’re a silent killing machine, there’s not a lot of character development you can expand on, right?
And sometimes that is tried, but I’m not sure that really works.
Exactly. You don’t want Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers to have too much of a backstory that removes the mystery of what makes them scary, right?
The way you handle religion in these movies is interesting. Ed and Lorraine are religious, whereas audience members might not be. But it never feels “preachy,” even though their faith is very much part of the characters.
I totally get it. Believe me, I definitely do not want to make a preachy movie at all. You know, faith is such a big part of who the Warrens are, so it’s not something I can sidestep. So I decided to wholeheartedly embrace it. It’s what they use to combat the things that they do. So I wanted to treat it as a character point of who they are – and that’s all it is. And it was something I was very mindful of: I don’t want it to be a commentary on religion, it’s just another part of the storytelling.
I just saw that the Amityville house is for sale.
[Laughs.] Yeah, everyone is sending me that story.
You should buy it.
You know, it would be great if the studio would just rent it for a day or two and did press from the house.
I would not go.
Come on, it would be fun! Just to go in and feel it out!
You and I have very different definitions of “fun.” I can live my life just fine without ever entering that house.
You’re afraid you might have some evil entity latch onto you and you bring it back with you. I totally appreciate that.
I’d rather not take the chance.
I’m the same. That’s the reason I don’t play with shit like Ouija boards or anything like that, because there’s no reason to tempt the universe.
Why risk it?
Exactly. Why risk it?
The Conjuring 2 starts out with the Amityville case. Could you make a whole movie about that with the Warrens? Or are there legal reasons you can’t?
You know, I don’t think we can tell the Lutzs’ story because someone else has the life rights to that. But more importantly for me, I didn’t want to tell the entire Amityville story again, because we’ve seen that a bazillion times. That was a big thing for me, too, for coming back for The Conjuring 2, is the fact that I didn’t want to make a movie that felt like I was repeating myself from the first movie. I really wanted to branch out and do something different.
I was shocked this movie is two hours and 15 minutes long. But after watching, I see why it needs that time to set everything up so it’s not all “scares.”
It’s kind of funny, that is one of the key criticisms I hear right now is that “The movie is a bit long, but we love the characters.” Well, you can’t have both worlds! Because if you like the characters, I need the time to take to create it so I’m not just jumping into scare scene after scare scene. I find that stuff really boring. And for myself, I’ve kind of done a lot of those scare scenes and I know how to do them – that part doesn’t challenge me at all. What’s interesting to me are the characters of Ed and Lorraine Warren. So it’s something I had to bite, I knew the movie would be a bit longer…
Did the studio give you any grief for that?
Do you know what the irony is? I’m the one who said, “Maybe I should cut this out?” And the producer and the studio are the ones who said, “No, that’s an important character moment.”
That seems rare.
It’s extremely rare. It happened to me on Fast and Furious 7, as well. And I generally, as a filmmaker, for the sake of brevity and pace tend to make things move quicker and move faster. Sometimes the studio and producers have to remind me the character stuff and moments really resonate.
I remember you were very non-committal when I asked you before if you’d direct Fast and Furious 8. I know that was a tough shoot. Watching you work with The Conjuring 2 and how much joy you seemed to be having, it all makes more sense now.
Right. Yeah. That is basically what it is. You’re right, Fast and Furious 7 was very difficult on so many levels. But it was also, obviously, also very rewarding. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to do that movie and get to play on such a big canvas. And ultimately prove to the world that I can do other kinds of films and not just scary movies. I think that’s very important for my career in the long term. But what I did find as I was putting that movie together, I really longed for the quiet and slower and more controlled filmmaking of my thriller films. And I did get creatively rejuvenated. And so when eventually another Conjuring came about, I was like, you know what, I think I have one more in me. I’ve got one more horror movie in me. So I attempted The Conjuring 2 and I gave it my all. I gave it everything I’ve got. I did not make this movie lying down. I did not phone it in.
Is it fair to say without Furious 7 your upcoming Aquaman doesn’t happen? Are those the dots to connect?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s a bit of both? Before Furious 7, I had made The Conjuring for Warner Bros. So, I had already had a lot of conversations with Warner Bros. and they knew very early on that I had said I would love to be a part of the DC Universe. And this is early on. This is back in the early days when The Conjuring was just about to come out. So they’ve been talking to me about that…
So it goes back that far?
Yeah, we’ve been talking about it for awhile.
Was it always Aquaman? Or were other DC movies in the mix?
It was, well, oh jeez, this would be a big tidbit: They asked me which of the two characters I’d be interested in and it was between The Flash and Aquaman.
A lot of people might have picked The Flash. That’s interesting. How did you weigh those two?
This is how I weighed it: For me, we’ve seen various versions of The Flash…
There’s a current popular television show.
Exactly. There’s a popular show on TV and there was a great one in the ‘90s.
I watched every episode.
Exactly. I loved that Flash! But the thing that ultimately pushed me more towards Aquaman is I love the possibility of creating a whole new world. I’ve always wanted to do a world creation story and visually create this amazing, incredible, magical kingdom. And also, I love the fact that Aquaman is an underdog character. I love the fact that people like to make fun of him. [Laughs.] I feel the bar is a lot lower and I can have fun with him!
Like on Entourage.
Yeah, exactly. Everyone makes fun of him! And I actually don’t mind that! What it allows me to do: I think people are a lot less precious with him than, let’s say, you were doing a Spider-Man or a Batman or whatever.
There will not be a #notmyaquaman hashtag. Not many people have an Aquaman. Maybe the Superfriends version?
Exactly. That’s exactly it. I felt like it allows me the freedom to just tell the story of the character I wanted to tell. And I think what I proved for myself with Fast and Furious 7, how I took on this massive movie and I was able to overcome the tragedy that befell the production – I think it really proved to everyone I’m capable of doing more than just horror movies.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.