For the release of ANNABELLE: CREATION, Craig had the pleasure of being part of a round table interview with actors Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto where they discussed everything from wearing masks to director’s notes.
Question: What was it like to have an American accent in ANNABELLE: CREATION?
Anthony LaPaglia: It’s easy; I’ve been doing it for thirty years. Next question.
Question: What was it like working with kids?
AL: All those girls are seasoned pros at a very young age. At thirty I was still picking lint out of my navel. It’s like, they’re so confident. They’ve got their rap down. It’s very impressive and on set they are super professional.
Miranda Otto: And super prepared; chomping at the bit.
AL: They’re ready to go. It’s interesting because sometimes it’s hard to see that they’re children; they’re so polished and professional.
MO: I agree. Even the little girl who was our daughter; who is really young, she was totally across it. So well behaved, totally knew what she had to do, took direction, it takes a special kind of kid. They are older than their years.
AL: I know, they even give you a full performance off camera, which most adult actors won’t do. They were fantastic to work with and, if anything, I probably learned something from them. I had to be more professional than usual.
Question: Was there any pressure in knowing you were going to be a part of THE CONJURING Universe?
AL: You know, I have to be honest, I’d seen THE CONJURING but I had not seen ANNABELLE, and I didn’t watch it until after. I had no idea that it was such a big franchise. I gotta be honest I think my agent said something about it being a franchise, but I had never (even) heard of James Wan. I’m like a dinosaur. I just stay home watching documentaries all day. So I didn’t know, I didn’t realize. Last week at Comic Con was the first time I (realized), “Oh, this is a really big deal,” but I didn’t get that before. (Looks at Miranda) Did you?
MO: I got a sense of that. I’d seen THE CONJURING sometime before and then I watched ANNABELLE just before, but I didn’t feel pressure at all. I felt like the whole team that had worked together before really knew what they were doing so that actually makes me feel really confident. I felt very confident with David (F. Sandberg) so I didn’t feel a pressure. I think it’s kind of exciting being part of a family.
AL: I’m excited now.
MO: Because you had no idea.
AL: I didn’t know they were connected (before). I’d seen THE CONJURING before and I liked it; I like it a lot. I didn’t know that it spun off into so many different areas and there were bits and parts of things from THE CONJURING in this.
MO: And special effect actors who come in on each film and that there’s like a superstition to that too.
AL: And even the ending with the ragdoll. You have to know it, but the ragdoll is actually what Annabelle’s based on so that’s kind of an inside wink to people who really know. Like, she’s got the real one now.
Question: What was it like working beneath a mask and having all that makeup?
MO: Fun, actually. As an actor anything that makes a role different to other things that you’ve played is what, at least for me as an actor, I do it for. It was fun to play somebody who is mysterious, like the less you gave, the less clues you gave the audience the more interesting it was, I felt.
AL: Be honest, we’re all looking for a character with a deformity, because we know where that can go.
MO: I didn’t want to give a lot away. I was interested in the idea of not giving a lot away. Like, how little could I give away so that they (the audience) would endow it with their own idea? Endow my character with their own ideas. The facemask is really sweaty, though. I had little magnets that they kept on my face with –
AL: Where did the put the magnets?
MO: They stick them on my face, like on my nose. I had like four magnets.
AL: That’s abusive.
MO: And underneath it’s, like, really sweaty, your face sweats.
AL: I’m not sure how good magnets on your face is.
Question: What are your thoughts on minimalist acting?
AL: The thing as an actor you have to understand is that the environment does the work for you. You don’t have to act it, you just have to be in it. In fact, you should undercut your performance.
MO: Yeah, you want to hold back a little.
AL: And I was kind of aware of that. Like the setting, the house, when you walked in the house it felt like the real thing, so that makes your job easier right there.
MO: You have to be as real as possible.
Question: What was your experience like on set?
MO: They built it all on set at Warner Bros, so we were going to set everyday on the lot. They built that whole incredible house; you know two different stories, but the full thing so they could run the camera right through it and up the stairs. It was amazing.
AL: But the attention to detail (was amazing); it wasn’t like you can see the flats somewhere. You felt like you were in a real house.
MO: And we couldn’t lived in it.
AL: I offered. We could’ve rented it out.
MO: I know, I thought rather than arriving at six in the morning we could’ve just stayed in the bed for the night.
AL: That’s how I felt.
Question: Can you tell us a little bit more about the detail of the house/set?
MO: I love how in my room instead of putting crosses on the wall they actually cut them out of the wood so it was actually the light shining through the cross. I thought it was a really good inversion of the idea of putting crosses on the wall but to actually have it as a shaft of light I liked that.
AL: I like the details in the beginning of the wood shop, the doll maker’s workshop. It was perfect. There was every tool, everything in there to make it feel completely real and also I like the elevator chair for the stairs. I thought that was very cool.
MO: That was so cool.
AL: I wanted to ride that.
MO: I love the gun that David (F. Sandberg) designed. You know, that little pop thing; he designed that gun.
AL: Yeah, he designed it.
MO: Yeah, he made that up; it was out of his imagination and they made it.
AL: He made it in a very David fashion (he said), “I like this; make me this.” He hates when I impersonate him.
Question: How important was it to stay in character?
AL: I felt like sometimes, when you work on a movie, you can get very friendly with your co-stars and in this particular case I felt like it would be easier for me not to. I like them, they’re nice kids, but I didn’t want anything else to play in, psychologically. It’s just easier for me to walk around creeping them out all day and go back to my trailer. It’s a conscious choice, it was a conscious choice to remove myself so that it would play like that on film.
Question: Can you explain the use of method acting when things are shot out of order?
AL: That’s right, that was the biggest challenge for me. Remembering where I was in the script. Every time we did a scene, I would backtrack and be like, “Okay, what have I done?” It’s hard because you have an arc of a character –
MO: We did our back story last, that was the last for me anyways.
AL: Yeah, we shot the death of our daughter and that was the very end.
MO: I think it was my second day on set we did the whole story of Annabelle and what had happened to us.
AL: Right, it’s a bit like you put a jigsaw puzzle together and then you take it apart and then you have to remember where all the pieces go. You need a decent degree of focus so that you can stay on track and not act happy in a scene where you should not be. It wouldn’t make any sense when you see the film.
Question: What was it like to see the Annabelle doll?
MO: The doll’s just really creepy. The doll, it’s just, ugh. WE had to do this scene where Stephanie (Sigman) bring it in to ask me, you know, what’s going on and we’re trying to rehearse it and the doll was sitting on the chair. I was like, “I cannot rehearse the scene with the doll sitting there. You have to take the doll out or you have to turn it away and when I’ve rehearsed it and got it then you can put the doll back in. It just kept distracting me, I kept looking at it all the time.
AL: For me, it was dependent on the light. In a certain light, it looked pretty benign and then I’d walk in and it would be in a different kind of light and a different shadow on its face and suddenly it’s like the eyes are following you around the room. It was really effective that way. There’s something about the contour of the face that (it) changes with the light.
MO: It’s really clever that the doll never actually moves. You never see the doll move.
AL: Not like Chucky.
MO: But when you come back to it, it’s moved or moves underneath the sheet. It’s very clever.
AL: What I liked about the movie is more of those implied moments. You know, the door just opening before anything happens, that’s where the tension is. That’s where I think David (F. Sandberg) did an amazing job; creating that stuff.
Question: What are some of your favorite movies?
MO: I just always like to see strong female characters in almost any genre.
AL: Not me. In case you have noticed, this is a very girl power movie; there’s only two guys in it.
MO: I love WONDER WOMAN, that was really fun.
AL: I had a few problems with WONDER WOMAN. Not with (the casting of) Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), but because of the setting.
MO: She was excellent.
AL: I know, but it distorts World War I a little bit. I’m big into history so I’m like, “Our kids gonna think that Wonder Woman, like, actually saved the day in World War I?” It’s a good movie, bu t just that part of it bothered me a bit. I like stuff more like THE BIG SHORT.
MO: I like that a lot.
AL: I like more adult themed movies. I’ve seen everything because my daughter is fourteen so I go and see all the stuff they make for, well they say they make it for adults, but it’s actually for fourteen year olds. Look, everything has a place; some stuff is for entertainment and some stuff moves you more or informs you more. The majority of stuff I watch are documentaries. I watch documentaries all the time because I find them truthful. I find the human condition more real and it’s interesting to see how people behave in front of the camera. They forget, you know, THE JINK, the Robert Durst thing.
MO: Oh, that’s great, I love that.
AL: That’s the creepiest movie you’ll ever see. That guy has black eyes, like holes, that guy scared the hell out of me. That’s a documentary and I prefer those kind of films, I think.
Question: What challenges did you face playing a character who is bedridden?
MO: When it came to the whole exposition side of it, where I’m explaining what happened, to not be able to move that much was tricky. When you’re doing all the stuff and then you know you need to “get out” you actually can’t because you are bedridden. I hadn’t really thought that through a great deal until I got to that scene and realized I wouldn’t be able to move in any of the scenes. I had to do everything from there (the bed). In the beginning it was fun because it was so shuttered in and cloistered but as the story comes out I couldn’t actually move so I felt very trapped in that bed by the end.
Question: What was it like working with director David F. Sandberg?
MO: I felt like I pretty much knew what I wanted to do. There were times when I would ask him about levels, about finding the right level. Then there were a couple of questions during some of the trickier bits where I was saying, “Does that work?” and he would say, “Try more of this.” It was mainly about trying to get a level that was enough, but still believable because you want to try not to do too much. I think we had really similar ideas on what it should be.
AL: He’s very actor friendly.
MO: Very actor friendly
AL: He trusts you. You know, sometimes you get hired and they don’t trust you. I don’t know why they hired in the beginning but they suddenly start second-guessing. It’s mainly them, second-guessing themselves, but it kind of transfers out onto actors, sometimes. David’s very calm.
MO: And confident.
AL: And confident and very precise and clear on what he wants. That’s a really good environment to work in. I think maybe the secret to good directing is maybe hiring the right person and then trusting them to do it.
MO: And not giving too many directions. Like an actor can only take so many directions per take.
AL: Can you take any? I can’t take any.
MO: I can take up to three.
AL: Can you?
MO: For a next take I can take in three things that I can change, but when I get a million directions it all starts to blur.
AL: There are some directors you work with that have learned “actor speak.” They’ll start talking motivational, you’re character, and stuff.
MO: Or tell you too many things.
AL: Yeah, tell you too many things and you’ll be like none of that makes any sense; it’s all contradictory.
MO: I just tell them I don’t understand. I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.
AL: No, I just say this: “Great idea,” and then I go and do what I did, exactly what I wanted to do. Then they go, “That was terrific.”
MO: Thank you for that note.
AL: It’s a great note, trust me. I learned the hard way just say, “Yes, great” then do your own thing. I just gave myself away.
ANNABELLE: CREATION is now available in theaters nationwide.