Imagine going away on vacation, and coming back to find you’re in the hottest movie of the summer. Shanley Caswell can tell you all about it.
The young actress made her major role debut in the film “Detention” a little over a year ago, but finds herself in a considerably different position these days, as one of the stars of “The Conjuring,” the summer box office dark horse that usurped the likes of “Pacific Rim” and Johnny Depp himself.
So it was time to catch up on our chit-chat from when “Detention” hit theaters and see how things were going.
TQOS: Well, last we talked you just had an independent film come out, your first major role in “Detention.” And now you have recently had a little movie out called “The Conjuring” that maybe a few people have heard of.
Shanley: Yes, they may have heard of it. [laughs]
TQOS: I looked back in the last interview and you referred to your next project as a film called “The Warren Files,” so that was obviously the working title then. But anyway, how has life changed for you since the opening of “The Conjuring?”
Shanley: Really, not much. I have been on vacation with my family in the middle of nowhere in the mountains so I have kind of avoided all the hustle and bustle of everything that has been going on which is nice. It’s nice to be away from the industry for a bit while this craziness is going on.
TQOS: But were you kind of surprised at such an overwhelming response to the film?
Shanley: Yes, I think everyone really was. We knew that people would like it but we weren’t expecting the huge response that we got: everyone going to see it and it being the number one movie… nobody was really expecting that. So I think everyone was pretty shocked because we are not a super, super high budget movie but on the lower range. I think that everyone was shocked but really, really proud that we did something that became that big. It’s really validating that people like it because we all like it so much and it’s wonderful to have other people agree with that.
TQOS: It is a quality horror film, and that’s from a horror movie geek. You know, there’s a lot of garbage turned out in the horror genre, so it’s really refreshing to find a good one. But being kind of a smaller film and not big budget you still got to work with some really great actors… like Vera (Farmiga) and Lili Tailor who I have always adored. So how it was like working with all those great actors?
Shanley: Oh, it was wonderful, but it was very intimidating. But of course as soon as I met them all it wasn’t so intimidating because they’re just so wonderful and always very down-to-earth. Yes, I learned a lot from just being on set and watching them work… they’re all so professional. Ron and Vera and Patrick and all the kids involved really took it very seriously. When we weren’t rolling the camera it seemed like we weren’t working but just hanging out. But as soon as the camera started rolling, everyone was extremely professional and did an amazing job. So I think I learned a lot about how to balance relationships on set. And how to work well on set: I think that is a bit I really took away from them all and watching them together was just amazing.
TQOS: Was there any one thing in particular that was really tough with doing some of the scarier scenes in the movie?
Shanley: Yes, I think because all the little girls and myself (and all the actors really) were very close… when we did have to roll the cameras, and we were getting into all the screaming and crying… it’s a fine line with the younger girls between having fun on set, and making sure that you’re going into a serious mode with them. I realized that part of this film is finding that line between working and really learning how to work with kids, because I had never really done that before. But it went well and the kids were all amazing.
The wonderful thing about James (Wan, the director) is that there wasn’t a lot of CGI either. It was there and real so that wasn’t hard: we actually had things to react to instead of just pretending that it was there.
TQOS: It was definitely nice to have such a CGI-free movie because I’m old-school. I hate CGI, I mean I know it has its place, but I can imagine it would be much harder to react to something imaginary than something physical.
Shanley: And I think it made it scarier for the actors on set to have something to react to: real things that they can actually see so they don’t have to imagine the thing. I think it makes it scarier watching it as well. You know, it seems real, it doesn’t seem fake. I see some movies and I just get so distracted by how fake it looks or how computer-generated it looks and, well, it actually takes me out of the bubble of reality that the movie has tried to create.
TQOS: Exactly. And, well, I know that the movie has only been out for a couple of weeks and this is really early, but has anyone started talking about “The Conjuring II” already, god help us?
Shanley: Oh, god, I know… (laughs) Yes, I have heard something about that … I can’t remember but apparently there is going to be a second one… I think that it might be the parent’s story? I don’t really know, but this is the continuing franchise about the Warrens, and maybe going on to their next story.
TQOS: That would be what I would predict. When they had one of the scenes when they were lecturing about the paranormal in a classroom, I wanted to jump up and scream, “That’s the real Lorraine Warren! Right there in the front!” during her cameo.
Shanley: You noticed her? Oh, my god, I looked for her every single time and I completely missed her. I need to pay attention more.
TQOS: Well, there’s a lot going on, so it’s hard to catch her. But moving along, do you have any other projects in the works right now?
Shanley: Next week I’m leaving to study abroad and I’m basically just trying to finish up school. I am graduating at the end of August — I already did the ceremonial graduation stuff — but I am going overseas and finishing up some classes. Then I’m back here and looking for the next job.
TQOS: Well, you’re probably going to get some offers while you’re overseas I’m just guessing… going out on a limb here.
Shanley: Fingers crossed, fingers crossed…
TQOS: So since you have been on vacation in the middle of nowhere, you probably really haven’t had a chance to get to talk much with any cast members about their reaction to the movie and its success?
Shanley: A big group of us have been emailing back and forth, and everyone is just out of their minds excited. James has been texting all of us, just sending us pictures of the headlines and articles. Everyone in my family is really excited, too. We all went to see it last Saturday — it was, like, 50 of us — so I’ve had many congratulations through a variety of sources, and it is just unbelievable. I really didn’t expect that at all.
TQOS: So now, what would be the kind of role you would hope to do next?
Shanley: What I’ve been kind of gravitating toward are good stories and stories that haven’t been done before, because you read the same things over and over again… just carbon copies of the scripts you’ve read before. So anything that’s original — original stories and original characters — characters that I haven’t done before. I’ve played the typical teenage daughter a million times and would like something with just a little more meat to it, something to challenge myself with.
TQOS: Are you at the point yet where you are going down the street and people are saying “Hey! Weren’t you in ‘The Conjuring?’ or is it still a little premature for that?
Shanley: Well, it’s still a little premature and I’m at this point where I’ve been out in the middle of nowhere. But I was in the library studying one day and this kid comes up and he recognized me from “Detention” — I had never really been recognized before. So when he told me he recognized me I was like, “Oh, we probably have a class together.” And he said, “No, you’re Riley.”
TQOS: Well, hopefully when we touch bases again in a year, you’ll be, you know, like A-list, red carpet, getting the Bieber mobs famous. And it won’t be a teen horror movie or a teen comedy or teen anything — it will be, you know, as an adult.
Shanley: Yeah, fingers crossed, fingers crossed.
TQOS: It comes in time, it comes in time. Of course, in twenty years you’ll be saying “Why can’t I play a younger character?”
Shanley: Yeah, exactly! I’m holding on to this for as long as I can.
TQOS: Well, thank you so much for checking in and hopefully we’ll speak again in about another year.
Shanley: Plan on it!