SXSW Interview: James Wan Talks ‘Insidious’
Insidious is his fourth directorial film. Also written by Saw and Silence writer Leigh Whannell, this ghost story takes a family into a realm beyond the afterlife. The Further is where human souls exist when they leave their bodies. At South by Southwest, Wan and I discussed the SXSW premiere of Insidious and the films that have emerged since our last meeting.
Q: Is The Further a concept in spirituality or metaphysics that you guys studied?
James Wan: It’s interesting because I don't know how it is for Leigh, but because I come from an Asian background, my dad’s side are all Christians but my mom’s side are all Buddhist. Growing up in an Asian upbringing, I see a bit of both worlds. In a lot of Asian culture, superstition and spirituality plays a big part, especially in Buddhism. So it’s always something that has always been in the back of my mind and I remember pitching Leigh a particular old wives tale that I’ve heard from my grandmother about people going to sleep and your soul leaves your body when you sleep and the idea is they say never paint or draw on someone’s face when they’re sleeping, because when their soul leaves their body and they come back, they may not recognize that face and they’ll continue moving on. That sensibility I think led to what eventually would be the very tiny seed that would become Insidious.
Q: Could The Further be a place you could explore further, even without horror?
JW: From a mythological standpoint? I think it’s great and that’s the thing that Leigh and I wanted to do which is create another mythology, create our own - - we wanted to create our own scary world. Instead of calling it the Limbo or hell or heaven or whatever it is, we call it The Further. We always like doing that, taking something that you’re familiar with or you think you know and just kind of giving it a new spin to it.
Q: Do you have more mythology figured out?
JW: Yeah, we do have a fair bit figured out in terms of backstories, when he was writing it and for me when I was directing it so that I know how to direct it. It’s like acting for actors, they need to know where their characters come from to know how to perform but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the backstory needs to be on screen.
Q: But could it be if this continued as a series?
JW: Knock on wood. We’re not thinking about sequels but it definitely can. We’re literally opening up a whole different world.
Q: Where did you find the maturity to portray parents, as single men yourselves?
JW: Well, Leigh’s the one that finally got married so I think he’s now in that process of shifting over to more of a grown-up. Leigh’s no a single man I am but it’s good that he’s the writer. So for him, it was very important, he’s going through this period in his life now where he’s shifting from one phase of his life to the next phase. I really think a lot of that shows in this movie.
Q: No kids yet?
JW: No, not yet but I’m pretty sure that’s the kind of stuff that they’re talking about as you get married.
Q: Well, there are fathers and mothers who don’t portray parents that well.
JW: Right, and you know what? Very luckily I have such great actors as Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, to make that believable.
Q: I never got a chance to tell you how much I loved Death Sentence.
JW: Oh, cool.
Q: Are you feeling the love for that film after the fact.
JW: Yeah, I definitely didn’t feel it when the film came out but now I hear a lot. People that have seen it love the film. Especially when I do these press tours, it’s pretty incredible when I hear people that have actually seen the movie and really dig it so I’m actually very surprised.
Q: How did it feel to start a certain movement with the Saw series and then see another one take over like Paranormal Activity, from your producer Oren Peli?
JW: I think it’s great. I think movies, like anything, are like fashion. They go in and out of style but they’re out of style completely. They’re never done. People just get used to and get tired of a particular aesthetic. Then they breathe, they move onto something else and then we come back to it again. That’s how it works.
Q: I hope you’re a millionaire from the royalties to seven Saw movies. How are you supporting your lifestyle off the franchise?
JW: [Laughs] Well, it’s definitely allowed me to work. We all need to work to pay the bills, right?
Q: Leigh always said Dr. Gordon died after cutting his foot off. What was the conversation when they said they were doing Saw VII with Cary Elwes, and here’s how it ends?
JW: Interesting. As the director of the first Saw only, I always wanted the fate of Dr. Gordon and the fate of Adam (Leigh Whannell) to be unknown. We slam the door on Leigh’s character, you presume he’d probably die because there’s no one there to help him but you don’t see it. Dr. Gordon crawls out and you never know what happens. I really wanted to just leave it at that.