Irish actor Simon Delaney pops up in James Wan's new horror flick The Conjuring, which is pretty strange when you hear the Dublin native has never seen a horror film in his life!
We chatted to the 45 year old, known for his part in Bachelor's Walk, about signing up for his horror debut, working with special effects, learning from the great James Wan and the gangster epic he's definitely going to star in for HBO. Plus we hear about the really, really terrifying Crooked Man.
There will be cursing.
[This interview took place in person in Dublin on the 9th of June, 2016]
[It all starts with Delaney admiring our microphone, the rather nice Zoom H1]
You guys have a media company surely you have all sorts of gear?
I know yea. I love gadgets and I can’t resist buttons. We took delivery of a green screen studio which I made a complete bollox of just taking it out of the box. I’m f**king useless at DIY! So I was taking things out of boxes and the lads are going ‘stop!’ I’m putting bulbs into lights the wrong places, ‘walk away and go home!’
Do you do much with Three Lads.
I’ve two companys. Three Lads
does corporate stuff and video content and then Curveball Films
does feature documentaries and doc series. So we have two features in development at the moment and a doco series with RTE hopefully towards the end of the year. So that’s the day to day stuff, and then you have little stuff like this [The Conjuring 2] that drops in the middle of the year!
The last time I was talking to you was for Zonad which is a while ago now! And this is a slightly different film.
It’s a different costume! There’s no red latex in this one. Mind you I haven’t seen the film yet, have you?
I have yea – I really liked it.
Good. I think it couldn’t be more opposite to Zonad could it.
No, there's no suit anyway...
I could have been wearing one underneath it. All that f**king wool in the 70s. When they started parading out the costumes in the fitting you’re going ‘Jesus look at the courdory flares’.
And it must have got sopping out in the rain. I always wonder if its warm at all?
No! When we went on the set first in Warner Bros it was raining and the idiot here is thinking – this is scandalous there’s a drought in California and we’re going through thousands an hour. But of course there’s water beds under this f**king thing. I was concerned for the environment – idiot!
So, how does an Irish guy end up playing an English guy on a massive soundstage in LA?!
[Laughs] Do you know what it’s so bizarre. As a freelance actor now thankfully the world has gotten smaller so you don’t need to be in the room anymore with casting directors. It’s all self taping which is great and it means the volume of tapes we can do is bigger. You’re constantly taping for stuff – TV Pilots, series, dramas, whatever. This is one that came in with a batch of stuff and all you get is sides, you don’t see a script. and you just read it and we sent it off.
You do know it’s the Conjuring 2?
I know it’s the Conjuring 2 but I hadn’t a clue what it was about. Lo and behold you get the job and then you go – ‘clearly there was a Conjuring 1!’ And then you go look at that and go… right ok. Because I’ve never sat through a horror film in my life. I’ve never seen one. It’s not my thing. I’m a f**king wuss.
How do you research the first film then?
Well my wife said I’d have to watch it, to see how James Wan works. And I agreed because I take my craft seriously so I’m going to be a brave big boy. And I sat down and I think I got about 8 minutes in...
And then I got the script which I flicked through very quickly because there are priests and nuns and I thought ‘Jesus!’ And I wondered how I was going to get through that on the set. Because I’m reading what I would see and thinking I should f**king man up. Apart from everything else I’m and actor and this is what I do!
So I was intrigued to see how I wold cope and also from a directors point of view how they do it. so then you arrive over there and go to the lot and see the set where they’ve built the street complete with the houses. Because it was all documented and it's recreated to the point where when the real Janet visited the set. Can you imagine stepping back into that bedroom?
Even seeing that photograph recreated was incredible.
Down to the board games on the shelf. Posters the bedsheets, the nightdress Madison [Wolfe] is wearing as Janet. Watching Janet talk to Madison was f**king creepy.
I thought she was English as well, her accent was great [Wolfe is American]
I know she’s incredible isn’t she. And again as an actor watching her do what she had to do was just phenomenal. And the things that were being asked of her and then watching Janet watching her doing it. when we met Janet and Margaret – these are people who are still visibly traumatised by what happened 40 years ago. And again trying to approach your job seriously and build a character. Of course I was able to look at Vic and see why I was cast.
That’s what you’ll look like 40 years!
Yea – he looks like Elvis in the Vegas years! It’s bizarre.
As someone who doesn’t know horror films would James Wan reference other horrors on set?
He would never reference horror films in particular but he would always explain what the camera was going to be doing. And I swear I’ve never seen cameras do what they did on that set. Don Burgess who shot it. I remember at one point standing on the lot and looking up and its pissing rain and there’s a scene at the end where I run around the back.
So we arrive at the front, run down the side and go to the basement. And 100 feet in the air there’s this track which was for a camera and I said that was just incredible. Then they showed me the shot and it looks like on location, because its so high. It’s just nuts. And the stuff with Vera at the end with the camera moving around.
He made the camera dance and that’s a combination of Don and James. But he always explained what was happening. And then you’ve got the other end when myself and Peggy are walking the police through the house and we hear a noise. On set that was just James going ‘Bang’ into a mic. But he would say [in an Aussie accent]: ‘The sound I’m going to use is you know that sound of wood splintering’. So he put it in your head.
The attention to detail in terms of him describing what he wanted to the actors and the crew. When you saw things like chairs moving I thought ‘how the f**k are they going to manage that.’ And then you see them doing it, three hours setting up to do that - the detail is staggering. And reading the reviews so far there’s no doubt he’s a master of his craft.
What’s it like waiting for special effects to be set up – do you watch?
You’re kind of kept off set, above in your dressing room. For example one of the evil presences in the movie let’s say, we never met him. He had his makeup done separately. The Crooked Man. Never met him until when we were filming. And then when I saw him I nearly wet myself.
I heard you have a photo of him on set? Can I see that? Is he the guy from REC [Javier Botet]
Yea! I probably wasn’t allowed shoot it. I looked him up after the movie and he seems to be a bit of a go to guy in terms of horror so you’ll probably know him being a horror fan. There he is there. Now I’m 5 foot 10.
[And it's a picture of Delaney standing next to Javier Botet in full makeup, incredibly tall and skinny with a face like a nightmare. The Spanish actor has previously appeared memorably in movies like REC and Mama because his unusual frame (a result of Marfan syndrome) is great for adding prothetics. James Wan has recently commented that those scenes were not created with CG.
I just assumed it was all a special effect because the way he moved.
He has a dance background and this is why he would be a go to guy. If you look at his hands and the scene of him walking down the corridor and I watched that and f**king hell.
I presume actually shooting a horror film isn't that scary - the lights are bright, everyone is in costume. Was it ever actually freaky to shoot as well?
Yea the moments when furniture is moving as well. There’s a scene when Madison comes down the stairs and she’s speaking in tongues and the fire explodes and misses my head by an inch. That’s pretty edge of the seat stuff to film even. There are tricks in how they shoot it and all that but you’re still in a room with five kids screaming at the top of their voices. That’ll chill anybody’s blood.
And even in that two seconds before they shout ‘action’ when the camera is speeding the sound is speeding and they turn the rain on. And I’m hunched on the floor in the sitting room and I look out the window and the rain’s lashing down and you just turn your head to look at the kids and they’re cowering in their beds with Peggy.
Just for that two seconds it really takes you in there, that’s not by accident – it’s James Wan. He’s made sure that everything around you will take you where you need to be. So that’s how you get a performance like that out of Madison, in the hands of somebody like him.
You are going to see the film later? And you'll stay?
I’m introducing the Irish premiere, I’m going to wear a motorbike helmet and watch little snippets with my iPod on. I am going to watch it because I’m fascinated to see how what I witnessed turns out on the big screen.
As someone who make your own films – what did you learn from James Wan?
It’s one of those things. Somebody asked that question a few years ago when I did This Must Be the Place with Paulo Sorrentino and Sean Penn. And I would always try to learn from whoever – whether its on a corporate video for Bank of Ireland or with Sorrentino and Penn. And im pretty sure I’ve learned something from Sean Penn but I don’t know what it is yet.
He was so intense and honest and generous as an actor. Little things like we’re doing a two hander scene walking down Mount Street. Four page scene. And of course they always shoot the ‘money’ first, they shoot his close up first. And then they turn the cameras and a lot of actors will leave the set. And you’ll be doing it to a f**king AD or a grip doing Sean Penn’s lines.
He sat there for the two hours on the dolly trolley and at the end of each take he’d say ‘Great take man, good job!’ And you’re thinking ok… But working with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, watching Vera work… just the preparation before each scene, the commitment to it. because you’ve got to throw yourself into stuff like that. And then James just the camera is the most important member of the cast.
If you could start your own dream project tomorrow what would it be?
Well I’m a gangster freak. If I could be reincarnated it would be 1930s Chicago and I’d be hanging off the side of a car on my way to a speakeasy. So it would be Boardwalk Empire, Goodfellas… that world intrigues me.
To direct or star in?
Probably to direct, although I’d love to play a f**king gangster!
Direct and star obviously!
Well ok! This thing writes itself! Let’s just do it. We’ve started writing, I have a couple of LA based writing partners and we’ve written a TV drama series set at a certain time and it goes across the Atlantic between Ireland and the US. The underworld always fascinates me, not the underworld of
The Conjuring, under the f**king ground! But the speakeasys, dodgy dealings, Tony Soprano.
Have you see Furious 7?
I was wondering what it was like to drive a car for someone who made a Fast and Furious movie!?
Well you see here’s the bizarre thing. I texted Donald Clarke
(of the Irish Times) a couple of weeks ago who I’ve known for years and asked him had he seen it because, typical actor, I had to know if I was f**king in it! have I made the cut!? Because you don’t know, and I still won’t know til tonight! And Donald says ‘its great, you even got your own car chase!’ And I said ‘no I f**king don’t!’ because that was a stunt guy!
But you were in a car at some point!
Green screen! Yea that’s Warner Bros Leavesden in London!
If anyone asks you were totally driving.
Oh Jesus I drove that car I’ll be telling everyone it was great!
And what are you actually working on next?
Next up I’m concentrating on Curveball Films and we have two feature docs in development – one sports based and one that’s not sports based. We’ve just been given money from the Film Board and chasing finance and have writers attached. Then we have a TV series written for the States which we’re hoping to talk to HBO about. That’s a period piece but gangster driven, stay tuned!
The Conjuring 2 is in cinemas now.