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Vera Farmiga has hell of a time on The Conjuring sequel

Opening in cinemas here on June 11, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It serves as a sequel to The Conjuring (2013) and The Conjuring 2 (2016) and marks the reunion of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, who reprise their roles as experienced real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.

One of the most sensational cases from their files, the supernatural horror film starts with a fight for the soul of a young man named Arne Johnson, then takes the Warrens beyond anything they’d ever seen before, to mark the first time in US history that a murder suspect would claim demonic possession as a defence.

Here, US actress Farmiga, 47, talks about working with new director Michael Chaves, her close friendship with co-star Wilson and experiencing paranormal activity on the set of the movie, which has already grossed US$57 million (S$75m) at the US box office against a budget of US$39 million.

With this third The Conjuring instalment, director James Wan has turned over the reins of the core franchise to Michael Chaves. What has that been like?

James had already been resistant to directing The Conjuring 2. Patrick and I hounded him on that one until he caved. Then I heard that he may opt out of directing this one, and I thought, “I’ll just hound him again; it will work out”. I tried to convince him. I sent him texts when the script was being written. I honestly didn’t think that James Wan would ever turn the reins over to anyone else. I thought for sure he would direct the third one. 

When it became clear that our hounding wasn’t going to work this time around, then most important for me was that James find someone who matched his vision and who wanted more than anything in the world to direct it. I knew that James would still be involved, as a producer, in shaping the story.

I knew that his fingerprints would still be all over it, and when Patrick and I met Chaves for the first time, we understood why he was picked. We were completely on board.

(From left) Patrick Wilson, Michael Chaves and Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do ItWARNER BROS

Why is Chaves the right director to continue the franchise with this instalment?

Chaves loves The Conjuring franchise. When he first spoke about the plot points of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It and the journeys of our characters, it was akin to religious fervour. 

You can literally feel divine inspiration at play when you listen to him talk about Ed and Lorraine and their mission and their love. He referred to it as a love story, and to me, it’s not so much a ghost story as it is a love story. I knew then we were in the right hands. 

And then, of course, there is his energy and his enthusiasm, his enjoyment, his eagerness that was so palpable it was infectious. He just had conviction. He had the readiness to be the one to do this. That was apparent. His devotion and his fanaticism, to be honest, won him the spot.

Passion always wins, right? Passionate people go the extra mile. The thing that separates you from your competition is passion. It pushes everyone else aside. Chaves had that passion, which he could beautifully articulate and convince us that he was the chosen one.

What can you tell us about the case file that inspired The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, and why was this particular story chosen as the next film in the series?

This particular case gave the producers an opportunity to manoeuvre the story away from the redundancy and isolating nature of the haunted house narrative. Every time there’s a new instalment of The Conjuring, we need to up the ante on the fear and the faith. 

Sending Ed and Lorraine into the trenches, boots on the ground, was a smart choice. I also think the fans adore Ed and Lorraine and what’s unique to this detective format is that it will give the audience more time alone with them, to see the investigative aspect to what they did as demonologists. It’s an interesting follow-up to the first two films. 

Ultimately, Ed and Lorraine are in the business of spiritual rescue work. In The Conjuring, the deliverance from evil was confined to a single space within four walls. In The Conjuring 2, we got Ed and Lorraine an airplane ticket, and we sent them to England. But again, their mission was confined within the walls of a home. In The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, we get them to leave the confines of the haunted house and send them into the broader world.

The Conjuring films are famous for their scares. Without giving too much away, what are some of the more chilling moments for Lorraine in this story?

Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do ItWARNER BROS

The conflict for Lorraine and Ed this time sends them to the most depraved and scary places. The story forces them to leave the confines of the Glatzel house if they have any hope of severing the dark connections with evil. 

Then it becomes a bit of a wild goose chase to determine the origins of the evil. As a result, Lorraine’s gifts are really put to the test in this third story, and she will encounter a seemingly unbeatable rival. In the way that Christ had Satan, Lorraine encounters her greatest nemesis to date. There is a spiritual war that is declared on Lorraine by someone who wants to destroy her, and dark spirits are summoned against her and her family. 

Lorraine’s clairvoyancy includes not only precognition, or seeing the future, but retrocognition, which means seeing the past. Lorraine is going to have to sort through cognition to understand if the impulses that come to her are from the divine or from the enemy of the divine. She is going to have to untangle the past in order to affect the future. It all becomes quite harrowing for her.

How do you feel your friendship with Patrick Wilson over the last nine years of making The Conjuring movies affects the on-screen relationship between Ed and Lorraine?

Vera Farmiga (left) and Patrick Wilson in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do ItWARNER BROS

I mean, it’s amazing growing older with my fake spouse. There’s never a lukewarm attitude when it comes to working so intensely and so intimately over time with a co-star. At the risk of sounding corny, my love for old Patrick Wilson continues to run feverish. We are such good friends. We respect each other. We mitigate the inexorable passage of time and the dark, emotional work that we do by laughing our heads off together. He makes me all kinds of giggly, that guy. 

We are family at this point. Patrick knows the deepest parts of me, he’s in the inner circles of my life. We adore each other, and we adore each other’s families. We have so much in common. 

That deep friendship is a gift from God. I feel truly blessed having him by my side in this franchise, because at the heart of The Conjuring movies is the love story between Ed and Lorraine. Having met and gotten to know the real Lorraine Warren, the love she and Ed shared is what made The Conjuring stand apart from other horror films. Patrick and I are both so grateful that we’ve had the chance to grow as friends and to imbue our beloved characters with that affection over the years.

When Lorraine died shortly before shooting commenced on The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, did that affect your approach to the character, and did you do anything differently to honour her memory?

I had a very special relationship with Lorraine, and so did Patrick. At any given time, I continue to feel her presence and her sweetness around me. Honouring her memory means recognising her attributes and how she lived her life and bringing those qualities to my characterisation. She was always seeking truth, and she was always cheerful and gentle in the way she went about it. Service to others was of utmost importance to her.

In every word that she uttered to me, in every action, she was always on a path to God — that was evident. It was a beautiful thing to listen to her when she spoke about her relationship with God, it touched me. Time spent with Lorraine would always infuse me with calmness and amazement at her intentions, which was always just to tap into the Holy Spirit, move closer to God and help others.

Lorraine always stressed to me that there was no prescription on how to deal with the spiritual attacks that came their way. The only thing she could do was rely on the Holy Spirit to guide them. She told me, “When the enemy strikes, I always had to lean into God.”

She stood steadfast on the wisdom of scripture. I can still hear her voice. She would say, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Most of the ways that she would explain things to me would be with scripture; she relied so much on that. Her spiritual body was so bright. No matter what trauma or darkness or what level of the diabolical she experienced, she was always so full of joy and gratitude and a sense of wonder. That was the most delightful thing about her, that she could still maintain such a sense of wonder, having gone through such depravity. Lorraine showed by example that God is love.

It’s a tradition in The Conjuring universe to start production with a set blessing. What was it like to have a real-life exorcist do it this time?

I believe in the power of prayer and meditation, and I think prayer helps us focus on the wellbeing of others. It makes us feel hope and safety. 

We have this ritual on The Conjuring films because it sanctifies the space in which we work so that the space is consecrated and blessed. We want to be bathed in God’s light and love. We want it to be a positive experience. We push everything negative away. Whatever you focus on expands and draws towards you. It’s the law of attraction. 

Lorraine said to me countless times that just by giving credit to dark entities, you are acknowledging them, so let’s give credit to all that is good and holy and pure. I love starting out with everyone coming together and asking for a blessing upon the experience. It unites us in intention and protection. I think it’s really beautiful.

Can you talk about the blood on your script pages that appeared after the set blessing? Do you think the blessing helped to “quiet” any unexplained activity on set during production?

Well, right after the initial blessing, there were traces of blood on my script. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know how it got there. I don’t even like talking about it.

Lorraine has said, by giving credit to dark entities, you are acknowledging them, and acknowledgement is a kind of invitation. So, that law of attraction that I was talking about earlier, whatever you focus on expands and draws toward you. 

It seems like when I throw myself into reading about negative mysticism is when I get most fearful, because I am opening the door. I have never been as afraid as I was when I initially started the research for this character back on the first The Conjuring. I lived my life in sheer terror for about a month or two while I went deep into researching diabolical mysticism. I would wake up in the middle of the night and see things out of the corner of my eyes. I would hear things. This was all in pre-production. 

Then, once filming started, it all dissipated. I needed to exert strength, though, to be able to create a barrier. I had to be psychically mindful.

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