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Lili Taylor helps give different spin on possession with 'The Conjuring'

Published On: Jul 18 2013 12:19:39 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 24 2013 04:55:13 PM CDT
Lili Taylor in 'The Conjuring' (photo -- Warner Bros)(1)

Warner Bros.

Lili Taylor in "The Conjuring."

A mainstay in Hollywood for the past 25 years, acclaimed actor Lili Taylor has had enough experiences to know that it's not too often a film works on all levels.

But Taylor has no doubts about her latest project, the horror thriller "The Conjuring," even though director James Wan puts her character, Carolyn Perron, through the ringer both mentally and physically.

"I had a blast, and it doesn't happen a lot, where the experience is great and the movie is just as great," Taylor told me in an interview Wednesday. "They're really few and far between, and I'm just soaking it up because I think James is so talented and everybody was at the top of their game. Everybody was collaborating so beautifully."

Opening in theaters nationwide on Friday, the film chronicles the details of a previously untold case by famed real-life demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren -- the same couple who a few years after the events of "The Conjuring" explored what would become known as "The Amityville Horror."

Set in 1971, "The Conjuring" tells how the Warrens (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) helped out the Perron family -- Carolyn (Taylor), Roger (Ron Livingston) and their five daughters -- who encountered dark forces in after they moved into an old farmhouse in Harrisville, Pa.

While the film was based on a true story, Taylor, 46, said that she didn't let the details of the role freak her out -- even though Carolyn fell under the spell of demonic possession.

Taylor did admit, though, that some of the research she did was unnerving, particularly YouTube videos of purported exorcisms, but it was a necessarily evil -- so to speak -- to get into the head of a possessed person.

"I needed to know more about exorcisms, and physically what happens, vocally what happens. I needed to know what exactly these people went through," Taylor explained.

Despite the research, Taylor said, she's still skeptical about the idea of possession.

"I still would send the subject to a psychiatrist first instead of a priest," Taylor said. 'That's my feeling. My feeling is it's in the mind. I would go the psychiatric route before I'd go the Vatican route."

No matter her personal feelings on the matter, there's no question that Taylor's depiction of possession is frighteningly real. Knowing viewers would be apt to compare her performance to Linda Blair's horrifying portrayal of Regan MacNeil in "The Exorcist," Taylor and Wan decided it was best distance themselves from the iconic film as much as they could and interpret the possession their own way.

"I love 'The Exorcist' and watch it once a year, so I know the movie quite well," Taylor said. "But James and I made a conscious decision together to do it different. What I liked, though, is that James wanted to be different not for the sake of being different, which wouldn't have had much meaning. There was really meaning behind what he was doing. For instance, in one scene, putting a sheet over me was very smart because there are so many other instances where the person is seen. This way, the viewers' imagination is allowed to go wherever. It was unique."

Another big difference between "The Conjuring" and "The Exorcist," Taylor added, was the actual level of the possession.

"In 'The Exorcist,' Regan was totally gone. The devil had totally taken over her," Taylor observed. "Carolyn was still there, just a little bit and that made a big difference. That way I could play with a minor battle inside. I didn't want to get into Latin or that really scary voice in 'The Exorcist' -- the most evil voice you could imagine, but I still did a voice that seemed to be common denominator with all the videos I watched doing research."

The making of "The Conjuring" was unique in that it involved the cooperation of Lorraine Warren (Ed Warren died in 2006) and the living members of the Perron family. And while the real-life subjects were on set from time to time, Taylor opted not to ask them about their experiences to help her interpret the part.

"I said 'hello' to Lorraine from a distance and it felt like we were circling each other, which I felt was appropriate," Taylor recalled. "It was just wasn't the right time for us to meet, since she's a paranormal investigator and I was playing possessed. Then when the family came, Carolyn, who I play, broke her hip on the day they were visiting, which was so intense and awful. The daughters were there, though, but since I was playing a scene where I was minorly possessed, I didn't feel right going up to them. It just felt like they had been through enough. When I saw theme at the premiere the other night, that felt right, and we hugged."

It's by happenstance that Taylor has been doing more paranormal and sci-fi projects of late, from "The Conjuring," of course, to the hit Netflix series "Hemlock Grove" to her upcoming sci-fi series "Almost Human," which is being done under the auspices of filmmaker J.J. Abrams.

Whether or not the roles have come to her by happy accident, Taylor said she is loving every minute of playing in the fantasy and horror realm.

"Some of the genre stuff is the most interesting stuff that's going on in some ways and I think it's because of an adage that says it's a discipline that frees you," Taylor enthused. "There's something about the constraints of the genre that gives the director something to push up against and go beyond. I find it interesting because the people I've been working with are finding other creative things to do within the genre. I'm having a great time, plus I get ready to go off to San Diego Comic-Con for 'The Conjuring' and 'Almost Human.' That'll be a blast. Comic-Con is where it's at now."