Lin Shaye is colloquially known among genre fans as the godmother of horror, but she’s actually been a working actress for decades, starring in the big-name likes of There’s Something About Mary and Kingpin. Still, horror has become her mainstay, charting all the way back to a short but memorable appearance in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Nowadays, a whole new generation of horror fans knows Shaye from her work in the Insidious movies opposite the ungainly Specs and Tucker. Whatever the role, Shaye brings an element of gravitas to it. With her latest performance, in Louisiana-set horror Gothic Harvest, the veteran actress proves she can even do dark and mean when necessary.
Wicked Horror‘s Joey Keogh got Shaye on the phone to talk finding her niche, acting in a wheelchair, and whether horror really is the best genre for working actors today.
Wicked Horror: Let’s start off very simple; describe your character in Gothic Harvest. I know how I would describe her, but curious how you would describe her.
Lin Shaye: That’s a good question… She’s pissed off! [laughs] She’s really sick of being stuck in this…wheel they can’t get out of, I mean, can you imagine the reality of that? As an actress I tried to think about what it must be like having to live, essentially, the same day over and over again. That’s not really amplified in the way the film is presented, but they’re caught in this cycle that won’t end. Actually, Chris Kobin, who’s the producer and writer, was very open to the dialogue I added in about, you know, if the curse had happened before she fell down the stairs, she wouldn’t be stuck in this stupid wheelchair! Life happens in ways that you just have to deal with, so she’s just stuck in this wheelchair, she can’t go back and they can’t go forward, so they just have to deal with it. So, I would describe her as stuck and angry and frustrated. And also sick of her family! Sick of all of ‘em! [laughs]
WH: The movie is kind of…nuts, it’s a little crazy, but your performance is quite regal, quite austere. Was that a deliberate choice on your part or was that how you were directed to play it?
LIN SHAYE: It was my choice. First off, the house we were filming in is really this spectacular old house, and that added a tremendous atmosphere to the family and the kind of environment we lived in. It wasn’t a mansion, but it was this beautifully regal house in its own right. Originally, when we were blocking the very first scene at the dinner table, my husband was sitting at the head of the table with me next to him. And I said no no no, she doesn’t sit next to him, she’s the head of the household inasmuch or maybe even more than he is, so we changed it to me being sat at the other end of the table instead. That immediately created an atmosphere for this character, you know, how I wheel myself in and you don’t start dinner until Mom is there, because she has a very strong position in the family. The wardrobe was quite elegant, and I think hair and makeup also did a wonderful job on quite a small budget to create this period look. The woman who did the wardrobe, she found that taffeta skirt and sometimes magic just happens, you know? You walk in and it’s just there. With the jewellery too, so much went into creating this look and it became quite elegant, which helps you define the character and define the performance. All these aspects have to fit together and sometimes your character is created partly because of what you have on, too.
WH: What about acting in the wheelchair, how was that? Was it restrictive or did you find it helped with the character?
LIN SHAYE: It helped with the character and it is restrictive, but it gives you new perspective of what it must be like for someone who has to live their life in a wheelchair. I just did another movie actually, a remake of The Grudge, and I was also in a wheelchair for that. And…it’s daunting. It’s hard. It takes a lot of energy to move yourself forward, especially with those old wheelchairs, and for Gothic Harvest it was a really old wheelchair; you really have to work hard to make it go forward. It’s a lot of work.
WH: You’re a producer on this one, too. How did you originally get involved? Was it sort of a passion project for you?
LIN SHAYE: No! They all become passion projects once you’re in them, to be honest [laughs]. I’ve known Chris Kobin for quite a while, we did a movie called 2001 Maniacs together which Bill Moseley was also in the second one of those, I’ve worked with Bill before too, and Chris asked me if I wanted to do this and I just thought it had such an interesting story. It’s very important for your audience to really understand the story because if you keep going “wait a minute, what’s happening here?” it really takes you out of the film. But, with Gothic Harvest, I just thought this story of spending an eternity and this horrific formula they have to use to keep this woman alive, and to provide nutrients and food to her, to keep the cycle alive was a pretty interesting premise and Chris, like I said, was very open to my suggestions and thoughts which is how I ended up becoming a producer on it. I wasn’t really in on it right from the beginning, but once I got involved with it, they were very generous and offered that title to me. And I think we came up with a very gnarly, but very interesting, little horror film that I think people will really respond to. It’s got a lot of sensationalism in it, for the people interested in that aspect of horror, there’s also some pretty gnarly stuff at the end that I really love – the whole final third of the film, I just love, it really moves amazingly well and it’s very upsetting. So, I think, ultimately we succeeded in telling a compelling story and I’m proud to be a part of it.
WH: You’ve been working in horror for a long time, as you said yourself, and you got this whole new, younger fan-base with Insidious. Do you feel most comfortable working in horror? Do you feel like it’s your niche?
LIN SHAYE: To be honest, I’ve never thought about a niche particularly. I love storytelling and I have no preference, in terms of comedy, drama, horror, the style of movie, because for me it’s really about, and the choices I make have always been based on, a story that interests me and a character that interests me and also the people I’m going to be working with, which is always a big thing. The community and collaboration that goes into making a film is pretty intense. So I’m actually kind of surprised in some way that horror became my thing. It’s part of my thing, but I still love comedies, I love dramas, I love westerns… Even Gothic Harvest appealed to me because of the story and the character and the people involved. So, I just hope I can continue to do all different kinds of things, really.
WH: Do you feel like there are more varied roles available in horror, though? Particularly for older actresses?
LIN SHAYE: I don’t really know the answer to that… Maybe, again, this is just me with my head in the sand, but I really don’t think about age, I don’t think about gender, I don’t categorize things. I mean, I’ve played roles that were written for men, and I just figured they’d be really interesting if played by a female, and it’s not like I’m acting like a guy but the content has something in it that’s interesting for a woman to play. So, when it comes to age, I sort of feel the same way. Most of the roles I’ve done, you know like Kingpin or There’s Something About Mary, you don’t know how old those characters are. My character in Kingpin could be anything from 20 years old to 90! [laughs] You know, she really crosses all the lines. And the same thing with Magda [in There’s Something About Mary], she’s kind of an old lady but she doesn’t have to be. Maybe it’s me sort of being in denial about it, because I am getting older, but I don’t really recognize it. Maybe other people do! [laughs] As long as everything’s working and I can do the things I love to do, and my energy levels have not really diminished – if anything, they’ve increased because I’m so enthusiastic about what I’m doing in my life right now – so I think I’m trying not to pigeonhole myself like, oh when you’re older, you can only play this, you know? I’m not being silly either, obviously there are limits to that, I’m not going to play birth mother to someone except maybe in a sci fi movie, but I think it’s more important to emphasize other aspects of working actors in general. We put way too much pressure on ourselves, both in society and in our personal lives, about how old you are and what you’re allowed to do at what age. If you’re lucky, you get to do the things you love, and to me that’s the end of the story. You don’t always get to do what you love, sometimes you have to bend and do things you don’t like — even as an actor you might have to take a role that you wouldn’t necessarily take otherwise — so I just want to continue, in whatever genre, playing interesting people. I love leaving myself behind and burying myself in new people. That, to me, is fascinating as an actress.
WH: On that note, what are you working on next? What have you got coming up?
LIN SHAYE: I just started work on the new Penny Dreadful for Showtime, which is just a phenomenal piece of material. John Logan, who did the first three seasons, is coming back for a fourth. The original Penny Dreadful took place in Victorian England but this is set in Los Angeles in 1938 and it’s about the world of this city when Hitler wanted California and was socio-politically very involved in the city, and the whole Hispanic community, and corruption in politics at that time, and I have a wonderful role. In this I do play an old, old lady, but we’re not doing anything with age makeup, which is interesting too, but that’s not what’s important, it’s about her past and her future and I’m so thrilled to be part of it. Nathan Lane plays a wonderful detective in it.
WH: [gasps very theatrically] Oh my god. Sorry to interrupt.
LIN SHAYE: Yeah, I know, he’s my buddy in it, we play compadres, we’re Nazi hunters and I’m a recurring character too, so there are 10 episodes and I’m in six of ‘em, we just did the first one and it was great. Also Grudge is coming out in January so we’re going to Comic Con to promote that with Sam Raimi, the director Nic Pesce will be there too. Those are the two most prominent things for me right now, and I’m also very excited for Gothic Harvest to come out and get its due and have its premiere. So, here I am, at my age, you know we’re talking about age [laughs] and I’m just having the most wonderful time and getting the most wonderful opportunities for roles and characters. I always like to say it, but I’m the luckiest among the lucky. And a lot of it really does have to do with luck, you just put out the best you have and take what you get back. Sometimes it’s magic and sometimes it’s…not but nevertheless always give your best.
Catch Gothic Harvest on On Demand and Digital HD
from October 15, 2019 and on DVD on November 5, 2019