Moviegoers nationwide are being terrorized by “The Conjuring,” this summer’s latest horror blockbuster. Based on the accounts of two real-life families, “The Conjuring” recounts the tale of the Perrons as they move into their new Rhode Island farmhouse plagued with paranormal activity, and the Warrens, a pair of demonologists who move in to help the terrorized family.
Fourth-year anthropology student Shanley Caswell plays Andrea Perron, the oldest of the five daughters, who struggles with leaving her friends and old life but must take responsibility for her siblings once trouble brews in “The Conjuring.” The Daily Bruin’s Aalhad Patankar spoke to Caswell about her role, meeting the real-life Perrons and making it in Hollywood.
Caswell will graduate from UCLA in August.
Daily Bruin: How did you prepare for this role? How did you get in the state of mind of a terrified teenager in the ’70s?
Shanley Caswell: Well, I like horror movies a lot, so I regularly watched horror movies. But I was reading this book that’s written about the Warrens’ investigations called “The Demonologist.” I read that while we were filming, and that almost scared me more than the movie did because it gives a firsthand (account) of what they went through, so that supplemented my preparation.
DB: What’s perhaps scariest about “The Conjuring” is that it’s based on real people and their testimonies. How did you react to meeting the families whose stories you were retelling on screen?
SC: It was kind of surreal. I met them halfway through filming. … Until then I kind of had a separation between myself and the film, but when I got to meet them, it made it real. I actually connected to (the fact that) I was playing a real person.
DB: How did you approach the role after you met the real-life Andrea, and how did your conversation with her go?
SC: The thing that changed most (after meeting her) was that I felt like I had the responsibility to play her correctly and, if I did it wrong, then she would know. The part was originally written as a bratty teenager who didn’t want to be there, who didn’t want to have anything to do with the country(side), but when I talked to her it became really obvious that she was a big help to her mom through all of this, and she was like a mother to the children. So I kind of added that in when we were filming.
I wish I had more time with (Andrea), but it was a lot of her and her four sisters telling us a lot of other stories we may not have heard of from the notes or from the movie about what happened to them. So it was a very eerie day on set.
DB: You mentioned earlier that you’re a big horror fan, so what was it like for you working with a horror veteran like James Wan?
SC: It was wonderful because I love James Wan. I liked “Saw,” and I really, really loved “Insidious,” and also “Dead Silence.” Meeting him for the first time kind of blew my mind because I was expecting someone antisocial, who had really weird thoughts if he had created something like “Saw,” but he’s completely the opposite. He’s a smiley, funny guy who likes to talk to everyone, eats ramen noodles for every meal – he’s just a wonderful person. Working with him was amazing because he knows the genre so well, so for someone who’s a big fan of it like me, it was just an amazing experience to be able to listen to what he had to say, and to be a part of his vision for “The Conjuring.”
DB: How does it feel to be a fourth-year at UCLA and already have a foot in Hollywood, with major experience in the industry?
SC: It’s interesting because it almost feels like both (acting and school) are hobbies. It’s like I take time off of working in the industry to go to school, but then I’m also taking time out of school to work in the industry, because they’re both things I really love. I think getting an education is really important, which is why I did everything I could to graduate, but working in the industry is something I love to do and it’s also something that pays the bills.
DB: You gained a lot of recognition for your lead role in the multi-genre horror-comedy “Detention” in 2011, and now you’re starring in what many are saying is the scariest movie in years. Have you found your niche in horror?
SC: Not really. I love it, but I don’t think that’s something I would choose to be in. And I don’t think of “Detention” as a horror film, it’s a multi-genre teen film, I think; it parodies horror in a way, but “The Conjuring” is a true horror. … I like the horror film thing, but there are other things I would really like to do, and I have done, but those are just the two that people really have focus on because those are the two that people know me from. Hopefully I don’t fall too much into the scream queen niche, but I don’t find it too insulting I guess.
DB: What’s next for you?
SC: Well, I’m just trying to finish school, that’s what this past year has been like. But in August I’m done, and I’m just going to go back to auditioning again, trying to get another job.