Exuding calm and confidence, Patrick Wilson does not look the sort to get freaked out by ghosts. The actor, who recently played the rock-steady Sheriff in the second season of Fargo, is back this week in The Conjuring 2, the sequel to James Wan’s 2013 mega-hit. Taking $318m globally, Wan’s first film became the second-highest-grossing original horror movie of all time after William Friedkin’s 1970s classic The Exorcist.
Wilson reprises the role of Ed Warren, the famed paranormal investigator who – together with his clairvoyant wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) – formed the New England Society for Psychic Research. In The Conjuring 2, these real-life ghostbusters journey to late-1970s London to investigate the so-called ‘Enfield Haunting’, one of Britain’s most famous paranormal cases, as a poltergeist terrorises a family in their council house.
After meeting with Lorraine (Ed died in 2006), Wilson admits that he was left open to the idea of a spirit world. “It doesn’t scare me. It doesn’t worry me,” he claims. “I’m the guy who thinks, ‘You don’t have to believe in the Devil to believe in God.'” What about YouTube videos of ‘poltergeists’ flinging furniture around? Does he believe? “I don’t want to sit there and have to dispel everything. The unexplained is the unexplained and that’s OK.”
Indeed, he doesn’t even seem overly concerned when he tells me about the “old house” in Montclair, New Jersey, where he lives with his Polish-American actress-wife Dagmara Domińczyk and their two sons, Kalin and Kassian. “Unrelated to these movies, I’ve heard people on two different occasions say they’ve heard kids’ laughter in the middle of the night, in my house. And that used to freak my wife out.” He quizzed Lorraine about it. “She said, ‘Sometimes kids’ spirits want to play.’”
While this all feels harmless enough, Wilson grows a shade darker when we start talking about on-set paranormal experiences. If The Conjuring – right down to its bold yellow titles – wants to be this generation’s take on The Exorcist, it’s managed it in a disturbing manner. Rumour had it that Friedkin’s film was cursed, after a fire almost destroyed the set and injuries and even death befell some of the actors and their relatives. Did the same happen to The Conjuring?
“There was some weird stuff on the first one,” nods Wilson, referring to Joey King, the teenage actress who starred in the first film as one of the children of a couple whose Rhode Island farmhouse is haunted. Wilson remembers taking his son, who was sick, to the paediatrician when he saw King there with her mother. “We’d just been shooting for a couple of weeks and she has bruises all over her body. First of all, kids don’t do stunts. She hasn’t done any stunts. She didn’t get hit by anything.”
In the film, Lili Taylor’s mother, played by Carolyn Perron, wakes up with similar unexplained bruises. “Of course, I didn’t say that, but it was looming in the air,” says Wilson. “It went away towards the end of shooting; never had it since, never had it before. She’s all good. But it was weird. It seems like a good thing to talk about during press for a movie, but I didn’t do it then because I’m a parent and I wouldn’t just make light of someone. I saw the fear on her face. You literally see this little girl going, ‘I don’t know.’”
Despite also appearing in Wan’s two Insidious movies, Wilson does not come from a horror background. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, his early showbiz engagements were in musical theatre – gaining two Tony nominations for Broadway performances in The Full Monty and Oklahoma! he made a splash in HBO’s Angels In America opposite Al Pacino before breaking into film – notably in Hard Candy, Little Children and Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen.
He’s actually come full circle recently, working again with director John Lee Hancock, who cast him in 2004’s big-budget western The Alamo, the first major film of his career. Hancock’s latest is The Founder, an intriguing-sounding drama about Ray Kroc (played by Michael Keaton), the man famed for establishing fast-food empire McDonald’s after purchasing a small-scale franchise from originators Dick and Mac McDonald.
“It is the perfect American movie, and I mean that in every way possible,” says Wilson, who plays Rollie Smith, first husband to Kroc’s eventual wife Joan. “It’s capitalism at its best and capitalism at its worst. For about half the movie, you’re like, ‘He can get anything. You gotta get that, Ray! Get your money and be a great businessman!’ And then all of a sudden, it’s ‘Oh but don’t hurt those people on the way.’ And, ‘Oh wow, at what cost?’”
Wilson, who believes it’s a film with both commercial and critical appeal, is curious to see how it will play out in America. “Look at the state of our country right now, and the presidential nominees,” he says. “I think a large part of the country could watch The Founder and go, ‘I thought that was fantastic. What a great guy!’ And some people will go, ‘Are you kidding me? What a horrible man!’”
Born in Norfolk, Virginia, he was raised in Florida, where his father John Wilson was a news anchor for WTVT. Politics is practically in his DNA. So how does he view the current electoral cycle? “I’ve watched nearly ever debate. I watch the undercards. Every debate, I’ve watched at least part of. I think like most Americans, I’m curious how this is going to shake down.” He pauses for a second. “Am I worried? Yeah. Yeah.”
Does he think that Donald Trump will be America’s next president? Could that happen? “I don’t think it will,” he says. “Then again, how many people said, ‘He’s not going to last four months?’ I think, very simply, if the Bernie Sanders supporters don’t support the Democratic side, and he doesn’t get the youth vote, then I think you’re in trouble. Those disenfranchised people that really went with Obama, I think a lot, sadly, will go the other way.” And that’s a lot scarier than ghosts and ghouls.
The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Case is in cinemas now.
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