Don't fear the reaper

Lin Shaye on immortality, Gothic Harvest and learning when to speak up

by Jennie Kermode

Gothic Harvest
Gothic Harvest

Ashley Hamilton’s Gothic Harvest, a New Orleans-based tale of ancient family curses and young women learning the hard way that they should be wary of talking to strangers, is likely to be noticed by horror fans due to the presence of Lin Shaye. Much admired for her work in the Insidious franchise and, more recently, The Final Wish (which she and I spoke about in January), she’s always looking for interesting new characters to explore. We discussed Gothic Harvest last month, on Friday the 13th with a full moon in the sky. She told me she’d been waiting for a parcel for months and had been told it would be delivered that day “of all days,” so she was convinced that these omens meant something would go wrong.

“I’m superstitious in a good way, I think,” she says, laughing, as we begin. “All roads lead to good things if you keep your brain in the right direction.”

Lin Shaye as family matriarch Griselda
Lin Shaye as family matriarch Griselda

When I ask what attracted her to the film, she says it was primarily writer Chris Kobin.

“He wrote it and was one of the producers and asked me to do it, and I thought it was a really interesting story. This idea of people being trapped in a web that they can’t get out of and with repetitions over and over.

“I think with a writer – some writers – I think sometimes you have it in your head what it’s about but it’s not 100% communicated clearly to readers and viewers. I felt that a little bit about the original script I read... I was very grateful to him that he let me move things around a little bit in terms of some of the dialogue, especially my own dialogue, to hopefully clarify that a little bit. So there were those elements of being able to be received creatively and then there was also the character.”

That character is the family matriarch, trapped in a repeating cycle of events which effectively makes her immortal but at considerable personal cost.

“She’s an interesting woman. She lives in this hole that she can’t get out of, which I think a lot of us do. It’s kind of a metaphor in some respects, for people’s lives even now – and that was appealing to me, that it was about something bigger than just a horror film... And of course going to New Orleans is always quite an interesting adventure!” She laughs.

I ask her about the ambiguity in her character, who wants to survive but isn’t sure that she wants to live in the way circumstances force her to. Did that appeal to her?

“Yeah, it does. What we’d hoped to reveal too was some of her past, which was not so great. I had this idea that she was pretty much abused by this awful husband and there they were, they had to sit across the dinner table from each other for eternity. When you translate fantasy into what it might be like to really live in that kind of a world – which is kind of what I try to do as an actress, to make it real for myself – her kind of hatred for him, I mean, she’s stuck in this damn wheelchair, which also, we kind of added in this idea that he threw her down the stairs. It happened right before the curse happened and so she’s stuck in this wheelchair now. She says in that one little speech that if the curse had happened a little bit earlier, she wouldn’t be in the wheelchair.

Lin Shaye as Elise in Insidious
Lin Shaye as Elise in Insidious

“I think all those elements of frustration – that sometimes we all feel, I mean, we’re all caught in hamster wheels on some level in our daily lives – there’s a comfort to repetition but there’s also a monotony and a hatred of it! So I think that those aspects were really interesting to me.”

Her character also helps to create a sense of history in the film, both through her actions and through a story she tells about the past.

“That was something we added in quite a bit later,” she says of the latter. “That was also a participating moment for me where I said ‘I think we need to spell it out a little bit.’ You need to tell your story. The worst part for me is if I’m watching a film and things are not clarified is it takes me out of the movie. There’ll be a scene happening and my brain goes to ‘Wait a minute, when did that happen?’ I’m not watching the film anymore, I’m trying to fill in the pieces for myself. So we worked on the dialogue together so there would be the real story of what happened.”

Despite the backstory just described and the reference to abuse, her character has a lot of authority within the family. I ask Lin if she finds that she’s offered more roles like that as she gets older.

“That’s a good question,” she says, thinking about it. “That’s actually maybe so... Also, people attribute growing older to authority for some reason. It’s either that or becoming an old bag lady! You either get one or the other. I mean, the Insidious franchise has been very useful in terms of my career in many ways, because even though those are considered horror films the character could be in any movie. That’s kind of interesting too, that Elise took this turn of authority, and the audience defined that even more than I did. Their response is fascinating to me. You put forward something that has an intent behind it from you, but the way that’s experienced by someone else can be 100% different. And not just in moviemaking – in real life too, which is why there’s a lot of miscommunication, I think.

“There’s one moment in Insidious where I throw the Woman in Black off of me and apparently the audience cheered. people wanted to see somebody with real compassion be a winner, I think. Because compassion can also be joined with weakness, because you’re vulnerable. But I think when you marry those things together, especially in entertainment, which is a private experience in public, is what I like to call it – that people long to have that be rewarded. You want to see a person with feeling and compassion have strength rather than be a victim.

Gothic Harvest poster
Gothic Harvest poster

“So Elise kind of opened that door,” she says, getting back to what we were saying about authority. “And I’m no pushover!”

She laughs and I tell her that somehow I didn’t think she was.

“I guess that has come with age,” she continues. “I mean, when I was younger, you know, you’re afraid to offend people a little bit or you’re cautious because we’re in a business that’s a team sport and you need to to look and see where your place is on the ladder, and I respect that. We all move forward in our work, hopefully... Hopefully you know when it’s time to speak up. Sometimes you’re asked to do things or pushed into doing things you don’t want to do and when you’re younger you sort of make peace with it and go ahead – obviously we’re not talking about dangerous issues here, we’re just talking in general – but I think as you grow older people look to you for authority. Which kind of is strange to me because I’m the last person on the planet to feel like I have any answers!

“I do try to express myself more fully and if I’m getting cast in roles that have a little more authority, as long as they’re married with truth – my personal truth – and staying true to the story, I’m thrilled about it. It’s wonderful to feel your strength and we all have it, that’s the other thing. people are told by society and family ‘You can’t do this, you’re not good enough for that, your opinion doesn’t really count,’ and I kind of feel that as an artist part of my responsibility is to remind people that we all have authority, that we all have answers. Sometimes you have to search for the right answer but it’s important to express yourself fully, with respect.”

She remains excited about the upcoming release of Grudge and its director Nicolas Pesce, and about her role as a Nazi-hunter in the new Penny Dreadful on Showtime, as well as Room For Rent, “a little film I have on Amazon Prime right now that I’m extremely proud of. I hope everybody watches it because it’s one of my favourite characters that I ever created.”

As for Gothic Harvest, she says simply “I hope the audience is delighted by the story and all the horror of it!”

Gothic Harvest comes to digital platforms on 15 October and available on DVD on 5 November.

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