Ever since this COVID-19 pandemic began, all my days have sort of blended together due to the lack of social interaction. I don’t think I’m alone in this…have your walls started talking to you, too? If so, are they also saying “Feed me…”?
Recently, however, one day stood out and broke up the monotony of my self-imposed quarantine. It was the day I was fortunate enough to interview legendary actress Lin Shaye.
Shaye stars in the upcoming psychological film Dreamkatcher, a story about a young boy who may or may not have attracted the attention of a fabled demon after stealing a dream catcher from a local shop. Shaye plays the owner of the roadside shop filled with curios and knick-knacks…but she quickly discovers she and the boy have a similar history of tragedy, and all signs point toward an entity she’s feared for years.
Growing up, Lin Shaye was an actress I saw in all the best films. She played Magda in There’s Something About Mary, the KISS-hating mom in Detroit Rock City, a not-so-appropriate landlord in Kingpin, and an extremely dissatisfied dog grooming client in Dumb and Dumber. Even in the movies where she only appeared momentarily, she always made a lasting impression on audiences, and her characters were always the ones I’d remember long after other details of these movies became hazy.
Shaye has made quite an impact in the horror genre, too. In addition to Dreamkatcher, she’s appeared in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Critters, Abbatoir, The Grudge, and has played an ever-evolving role in the Insidious franchise.
So who is this amazing woman, and what lessons has she gathered in her many years as an actress? Over the course of our phone conversation, I was surprised by a few of her answers.
Do you remember the movie that made you fall in love with the horror genre?
You know, I can only tell you the movies I’ve fallen in love with in general, I really don’t make a separation for myself, it seems like the fanbase makes more of a separation because the world of film seems to be separated into Comedy, Drama, and Horror. I’m a fan of good storytelling and good characters, so there wasn’t one specific movie that made me fall in love with horror. Of course, my first real adventures into horror were from Wes Craven, Mick Garris, and Stephen Herek, who did the first Critters. I think A Nightmare on Elm Street was first, and I fell in love with that because my brother Bob told Wes to put me in his movie! That was how that worked out. Everything kind of unfolded without me having any predilection toward one genre or another. As I said, my main focus is just good
storytelling, so the ones that have been done successfully, I guess I could say those are the ones I’ve fallen in love with.
What are some of your favorite ways that storytelling has evolved over time?
It’s really always up to the director and the editor at the end of the day. As an actor, I have my inner story I’m telling from my character’s perspective, and when it’s all put together, it’s really up to the director and editor to make those choices about what they want to reveal. I’ve done films where I’ve felt it’s been skewed in a way that I didn’t intend it, and sometimes it’s for better and sometimes it’s not. As an actress I figure out the story for my character and how I feel the elements in the story fit into turning that person into who they are and how it informs the story, and the rest is really up to how the film is assembled.
Speaking of character; in Dreamkatcher especially you go through a wide range of emotions due to your character’s past trauma. How do you prepare for roles like that?
Very carefully! Again, the planning part of it is always there, because you’ve got your script and you make plans about what you think you want to reveal in a scene, and if it’s an emotional scene I have some ideas about how I think it will unfold. But again, that old famous quotation “moment-to-moment” is really the truth, because you’re in a moment with the other actors. My favorite moments are where I surprise myself, where I’ve made certain preparations and I really allow myself to go there quietly and let it unfold rather than try to manipulate the moment too much. There’s also Lee Strasberg, who was gratefully one of my mentors years ago, he would always say “You might think you’re projecting one thing, but what you’re projecting to other people is different.” So it’s a little mysterious; you don’t always know if what you’re hoping to project is being read that way by people watching. So I kind of allow the moment-to-moment to happen, where I’m sort of charting the course of the character emotionally and story-wise, and in that moment on set your interaction with the other actors and the environment you’re in, I know that sometimes I’ll have an idea, and then I’ll get to the actual set and suddenly there’s a bed with stuff on it, or there’s a dresser with pictures, and it informs the character in a whole new way that I never imagined. You’ve got to be able to let that in, because I think that’s your goal. For me that’s always the treasure, what you unearth. Because it’s not what you’re expecting, but you need to be able to incorporate it into your world. It’s in flux all the time for me.
What drew you to the movie Dreamkatcher?
Kerry Harris is an old friend. We worked very diligently for a long time on story, and I can honestly say it was because of Kerry, because he was very open to my views and suggestions on filling in points of story. You’re building a pretend universe there, and you have to make sure your audience understands the universe you’re creating, and I felt there were places that weren’t filled in quite enough. We were wonderful collaborators, so Kerry was really what pulled me in.
A lot of your movies feature hauntings, urban legends, and demonology. Have you become more superstitious over the years because of this, or has it affected you at all?
No, not really! People ask a lot what I believe in, and I believe in everything, because I don’t think we know anything. We really think we know so much about everything, and that’s such an egocentric way to think of the world and your life, because we’re not even a blip in the universe—we’re all a bunch of nothings! I mean that with love, I don’t mean it critically, I just I’m not one to say there’s no demon world or that ghosts don’t appear. Have I had experiences? If so, you could always say it’s a coincidence…but is it really a coincidence? We don’t know, so you can always question things day by day, like “Oh my God, that must mean this!” but I just try to do the best I can, to be honest, especially now. I sort of give credos to everything, because I feel there’s so much unknown, and it would be very egotistical to say “No, that doesn’t happen” or “That couldn’t be.” So playing characters that are involved in that world is sort of a part of true life, there’s all kinds of stuff we can’t explain, and I think humans are always looking for a way to make everything make sense, because that’s how we find comfort. We want to be able to say “I understand that!” Well, you know what, I’ve given up on that—I don’t understand anything! I’m always surprised by the way people behave by things they do each day, and right now in this place we’re in where we’re spending more time with ourselves and with people that we live with because of this COVID-19 virus, it’s really an opportunity I think to explore the things we think we have a grip on or think we understand. Sure, maybe there are forces that are helping to guide our lives, I believe that as much as anything else.
If you could offer one challenge to storytellers of the future, what would the challenge be?
To tell their truth through their eyes, because everyone sees the same thing differently. I think that’s what makes a great story, because really, how many stories are there to tell? I think since we’re evolving day by day because of the way the world is right now, I think we need to stay true to our truth and portray it so that other people can see how you’re living and what you’re thinking.
See Lin Shaye star alongside Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill, Pitch Black) and Henry Thomas ("The Haunting of Hill House", Doctor Sleep) in Dreamkatcher, arriving on DVD, Digital and On Demand April 28th.