'The Nun' star Taissa Farmiga on her new film: 'You are going to experience true fear'
There’s no shortage of spooky haunted houses in Hollywood movie history – those in The Amityville Horror, House on Haunted Hill, The Last House on the Left. So far, The Farmiga household, home to scream queen Taissa Farmiga, who hits screens on Thursday in supernatural horror and The Conjuring spin-off The Nun, hasn’t really gained much cultural traction, but it must surely have its fair share of things that go bump in the night.
Big sister Vera Farmiga is famed for playing paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren in both “main” instalments to date of director James Wan’s The Conjuring series. She also picked up a Primetime Emmy nomination for her role as Norma Bates in Psycho spin-off Bates Motel.
Farmiga senior’s sister-in-law is Molly Hawkey, who had a supporting role in Lincoln Kupchak’s 2007 zombie yarn Brain Blockers, while the godfather to her son is her Bates Motel co-star Freddie Highmore – Norman Bates himself.
It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that younger sister Taissa has found herself drawn to the dark side, too. She first came to public prominence in 2011, with a leading role in FX’s American Horror Story: Murder House, and returned for a further three seasons, Coven (2013), Roanoke (2016) and Apocalypse (2018). Now it’s Taissa’s turn to step into The Conjuring universe, taking the lead role of Sister Irene in Corin Hardy’s The Nun, the fifth film overall in the franchise, which Wan produces this time around.
Farmiga admits that she sought out tips from her sister when she landed the role, though not so much on how to approach the film on set as how to cope when she got home from work: “One of the first things I asked Vera was, ‘What do you do when you go home at night, after a day of filming scary scenes, and you’re alone?’” she reveals. “I was thinking about how I would deal after a day of battling the demon nun in our film, who’d be bloody and roaring at me. Vera told me to make sure to pick a house to live in that felt pure, so I wouldn’t return home with any lingering supernatural feelings from the set. But most days, I would shake with fear under the sheets, anyway.”
The Nun follows the creepy adventures of Sister Irene, who is sent by the Vatican, alongside Demian Bichir’s Father Burke, to investigate the apparent suicide of a nun in an abbey in 1950s Romania. Naturally, things aren’t as straightforward as they seem, and as well as having to deal with being terrorised by murderous phantasmal matriarchs, our heroes also begin to unearth an unholy secret that leads all the way back to The Vatican itself. If you think that sounds like some kind of Dan Brown meets The Exorcist concoction, you might not be far wrong – director Corin Hardy, who had indie success with the low-budget Irish horror The Hallow, has claimed that the film is both an adventure and a scary movie, and cited Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as one of his biggest influences.
The trailer for The Nun:
Nonetheless, Hardy is best known as a horror aficionado, and Farmiga says that this proved crucial to the making of the film: “Corin is overflowing with knowledge, imagination and creativity about horror films,” she says. “His enthusiasm is contagious. His passion for the horror genre really gets you fired up and makes you want to be a part of it. I was immediately drawn into his world and his love for the genre. I really respect him as a filmmaker, and I love the level of respect he gives his art. Corin is also a talented artist, and drew many sketches about scenes, sets, and characters in the film.”
The Nun’s screenwriter Gary Dauberman doesn’t escape Farmiga’s gushing praise, either – she says it was his words, as well as Hardy’s knowledge and enthusiasm for the genre, that initially attracted her to the movie: “When I read the script, I just fell in love with the writing. Gary has such an interesting way of drawing you into this world and making you feel like you’re right there in the abbey with those characters. He makes you feel like you’re a part of the story,” she says. “I adored the character of Sister Irene, particularly her strength to pursue a life of sacrifice and dedication to become a nun. Though she hasn’t yet taken her final vows, Sister Irene has persevered through so many personal struggles to be the person she wants to be. She sets a high standard, which I really responded to.”
And Farmiga certainly did respond. As part of her research for the role, she watched Fred Zinneman’s Audrey Hepburn-starring 1959 melodrama The Nun’s Story, about real-life Belgian nun Marie Louise Habets living in the Belgian Congo in the 1920s to 1940s. It’s a great film, with eight Oscar nominations. It was, for a time, also Hepburn’s most financially successful, and the actress often cited it as one of her favourite parts. But is it really essential viewing for a 2018 role that mainly involves being chased around by a scary, prosthetic nun? Farmiga insists it was.
“There are so many rules and regulations and rituals to learn when becoming a nun, and part of my research involved figuring out what that entails. I learnt that being a nun was a minute-by-minute challenge of self-perfection. Sister Irene is going through many extreme struggles, but she’s also thinking about countless internal challenges: Is she performing at her best? Is she being the best nun and person she can be? I really wanted to incorporate those things in the character and in my performance.”
For all the preparation and method acting, however, The Nun is ultimately a shocker, and Farmiga says that few director-producer teams are better equipped to deliver a good, old fashioned fright fest: “Corin and James Wan love using in-camera and practical effects, which helped us visualise the action,” she says. “I filmed a big action scene in a water tank, where I could fully experience the demon nun that Sister Irene was fighting. It was right in front of – and haunting – me. I didn’t have to imagine it against a green screen.”
“They really know how to scare audiences,” Farmiga concludes. “You are going to experience true fear and a real thrill ride with The Nun.”
The Nun is in cinemas from September 6