If you haven’t heard about Corin Hardy’s upcoming horror film, The Nun, the latest release in the ‘Conjuring Universe’ then you’ve probably heard about the controversy surrounding it. Yes, it’s the same film whose teaser trailer was recently banned from YouTube for being too scary (violating the service’s “shocking content policy” technically speaking). Not a bad promotion for a horror film really.
We talk to the wonderful Taissa Farmiga (probably best known for American Horror Story) about her character Sister Irene, the challenges involved with bringing this film to the screen, and how she unwound between takes.
QUESTION: What drew you to the film and to the character of Sister Irene?
TAISSA FARMIGA: When I read the script, I just fell in love with the writing. [Screenwriter] Gary Dauberman has such an interesting way of drawing you into this world and making you feel like you’re right there in the abbey with those characters. He makes you feel like you’re a part of the story.
I adored the character of Sister Irene, particularly her strength to pursue a life of sacrifice and dedication to become a nun. Though she hasn’t yet taken her final vows, Sister Irene has persevered through so many personal struggles to be the person she wants her to be. She sets a high standard, which I really responded to.
QUESTION: The Nun is part of the larger Conjuring universe of films, whose primary architect is James Wan – who directed your sister, Vera Farmiga, in The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2. Did Vera offer any advice when you landed the role of Sister Irene?
TAISSA FARMIGA: One of the first things I had asked Vera was, “What do you do when you go home at night, after a day of filming scary scenes, and you’re alone?” I was thinking about how I would deal after a day of battling the demon nun in our film, who’d be bloody and roaring at me. Vera told me to make sure to pick a house to live in that felt pure, so I wouldn’t return home with any lingering supernatural feelings from the set. But most days, I would shake with fear under the sheets, anyway [laughs].
QUESTION: Is it true that you watched the movie The Nun’s Story before beginning work on The Nun?
TAISSA FARMIGA: I always want to bring authenticity and truth to a role. So I spent hours researching and prepping to play Sister Irene, and part of my preparation was watching The Nun’s Story. There are so many rules and regulations and rituals to learn when becoming a nun, and part of my research involved figuring out what that entails. I had learned that being a nun was a minute-by-minute challenge of self-perfection. There are many rules: Don’t talk loudly; don’t engage in non-essential conversation; close doors quietly; and to always walk humbly with purpose. That was interesting to explore. Sister Irene is going through many extreme struggles in the film, but she’s also thinking about the countless internal challenges: Is she performing at her best? Is she being the best nun and person she can be? I really wanted to incorporate those things in the character and in my performance.
QUESTION: Talk about working with Demian Bichir, who as Father Burke, partners with Sister Irene to investigate the apparent suicide of a nun in remote Romania. What does he bring to the role?
TAISSA FARMIGA: I really enjoyed my time with Demian because he is such a fun-loving guy, with a wonderful and joyful energy. He walks into a room and makes everybody smile. Most people might think of priests as being rigid and proper, but Demian always made sure that Father Burke had a twinkle in his eye. On the surface, Father Burke is proper and everything he’s supposed to be. But a closer look reveals there’s a way to break through his outer shell.
QUESTION: What was it like working with director Corin Hardy, who is a big fan of the horror genre? A film of this scale also must come with unique challenges. Can you talk about those?
TAISSA FARMIGA: Corin is overflowing with knowledge, imagination and creativity about horror films. His enthusiasm is contagious. His passion for the horror genre really gets you fired up and makes you want to be a part of it. I was immediately drawn into his world and his love for the genre. I really respect him as a filmmaker, and I love the level of respect he gives his art. Corin is also a talented artist, and drew many sketches about scenes, sets, and characters in the film.
QUESTION: In addition to its horror elements, The Nun also has aspects of an adventure film. Can you talk about that?
TAISSA FARMIGA: Father Burke and Sister Irene are on an adventure. The suicide they’re investigating take them from Philadelphia to a remote abbey in Romania, where they must deal with all kinds of obstacles and challenges and really scary things. Corin said one of his inspirations for this was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and I could definitely see that. There’s a lot of action in The Nun.
Corin and James Wan love using in-camera and practical effects, which helped us visualize the action. I filmed a big action scene in a water tank, where I could fully experience the demon nun that Sister Irene was fighting. It was right in front of – and haunting – me. I didn’t have to imagine it against a green screen.
QUESTION: Amidst filming these horror, action, and adventure scenes, was there any time to enjoy some on-set levity?
TAISSA FARMIGA: One of the things I love about filming something so intense and physical, is that once they call cut, the set instantly becomes so much lighter. It’s more fun than it would be on a dramatic film or even a comedy because the actors and crew compensate for the scares of the scene they just captured. That lightness and fun is important because otherwise it could be a very long two months of filming.
Any day I was working with Demian, who is such a fun-loving, joyful person, I knew it would be a good day. We could be in the middle of shooting a big action scene, attached to wires, and after Corin would say cut, we’d just start laughing. Demian loved when I whistled, so I’d start whistling and he’d mimic me, and we’d be laughing for no reason other than the fact that we were having a wonderful time working together in this gross water tank.
QUESTION: What do you hope audiences experience when they see The Nun in cinemas beginning this September?
TAISSA FARMIGA: Corin Hardy and James Wan really know how to scare audiences. You are going to experience true fear and a real thrill ride with The Nun.
The Nun is released in New Zealand theatres on September 9.