Conjuring: Lead Characters–Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson

At first, the strange occurrences at the Perron house seem like nothing more than unrelated events for the new residents. But by the time Carolyn Perron seeks paranormal specialists Ed and Lorraine Warren out after one of their lectures at a local college, the subtle disturbances that suggest a sinister infestation in her home have taken on a more destructive role. And once the Warrens observe the unusual activity, it is clear to them that the poltergeists co-existing on the Perron property have progressed to oppression: they are now targeting the family and invading their days—and nights.

Safran affirms that the script had a similar effect. “The first time I read it I loved it, but I discovered that I couldn’t read the script at night, I literally couldn’t sleep. I had to read it first thing in the morning, because I needed the whole day to pass for it to dissipate. When we started sending the script out, so many people had the exact same reaction—they wished they had not read it at night.”

Vera Farmiga

Farmiga, who portrays Lorraine Warren, admits she was one of those people. “I read it in fits and spurts, because it brought on overwhelming feelings: terror, awe, shock. I didn’t ever want to read it at home. I figured the safest thing for me would be to read it somewhere else during the day.”

But safety was elusive. During one of her reading excursions, Farmiga reveals, “I opened my laptop and the screen had these five claw marks scratched across it. I don’t know how to explain it. I do know I hadn’t dropped the computer, my children hadn’t stepped on it…so I gingerly closed it, put it away and then my brain just went berserk.”

Farmiga says the research process was equally disquieting but intriguing. She read numerous books on the occult and watched footage of Warren lectures before ever meeting Lorraine. The actress found Lorraine’s work with every denomination—from evangelical pastors and Jewish rabbis to Indian chiefs and shamans—fascinating and her unwavering purpose inspiring. “Lorraine has a very concrete concept of God, her Catholicism is her toolbox and her shield,” Farmiga explains. “The first thing you realize is she believes that this ability of discernment is a God-given gift. And if you don’t use it, he’ll take it away. So this is not an occupation, it’s not a job. This is a vocation, a calling. The balance between taking care of herself and Ed and Judy, and taking care of everybody else—making sure that they had peace of mind when her own mind wasn’t always at peace—was challenging for her and challenging for me to delve into.”

Farmiga adds that, for her, it went beyond the singular personae of Lorraine, noting, “I found the partnership of Ed and Lorraine exquisite. They were a dynamic duo; I just loved how they complemented each other—her sensitivity and empathy, his street smarts and matter-of-fact approach. They had a very great and unique love, and a respect for one another, and it resonates.”

Wan remarks, “Lorraine deals with this nebulous world of death and the afterlife, but, she’s full of life and that’s so amazing. I really wanted someone that could do her justice. Not only is Vera a remarkable actress, but she wanted to honor Lorraine as much as I did, and that is truly reflected in her performance.”
“Ed and Lorraine came from a place of integrity and so does James,” says Farmiga. “That was evident in every aspect of his approach to their story.”

Patrick Wilson

Embodying the role of Ed Warren, Patrick Wilson observes, “Lorraine is such an interesting person, and Vera picked up her little eccentricities. It was exciting to watch and to play off of.”

Farmiga has equal praise for her on-screen husband. “I adore Patrick,” Farmiga states. “He was one of the deciding factors. If Patrick was going to be by my side, I was in.”

Lorraine was also an important link to her husband for Wilson, who unfortunately never had the chance to meet Ed, who passed away in 2006. Wilson was able to gain invaluable insights and stories from Lorraine, which added dimension to the Warren footage and archives he studied. Wilson was as drawn to Ed and Lorraine’s vibrant relationship and unorthodox calling as Farmiga.

“They were soul mates,” he describes. “They also shared a passion to figure out what the disruptive energy was in a given situation, whether good or bad.”

Wan relates, “Lorraine says that when things got really terrifying and unbearable, the crutch that she leaned on was Ed. That’s very romantic and in a lot of ways, Patrick’s version of Ed is a romanticized one, which I felt was a pretty interesting way to approach it.”

Ed was also versed in the religious aspects of demonology and, as a result, was eminently well respected by clergy. Wilson asserts, “Ed believed that there are wonderful, great spirits in the world and some very evil ones that have been around for thousands of years, and he was going to do the best he could with his wife to fight them and to help people. Ed honestly believed it through and through, so I had to believe that through and through to play him.”

Ed knows that each and every time Lorraine opens herself to interpret the corps of darkness, she is exposing herself to more than physical harm; she’s in danger of losing a little piece of herself. “We see that Ed has this great balance of charm and lightness and humor, but then can go into protective mode. He’ll stop at nothing to defend his wife and his family,” Wilson says. “I certainly can relate to that, so it was easy to tap into that side of the character.”

In the film, even though Ed is aware of the potential danger to his wife, both he and Lorraine also realize the gravity of the Perrons’ dire situation and agree to take on the case.

Lili Taylor

Taylor portrays Carolyn Perron, the down-to-earth mom who discovers that her family’s new start in a new home instead leaves them shrouded by the house’s bleak history.

Taylor offers, “Raising five kids is a lot of work and my character is working hard at it. Carolyn’s doing a good job. She’s got great girls, and their safety and health and well-being mean everything to her. She was hoping for something nice and slow, a sweet, rural life, by moving to the farm, which is not at all what they get.”

What they do get is perpetually cold temperatures, objects manipulated by something surreptitious and unseen, ethereal whisperings and eerie sightings. Taylor had faith in Wan’s fresh take on the subject matter, saying, “I knew James was an expert in this genre, and his approach to the demonic realm was unlike anything I’d seen.”

Aside from being a fan of Wan’s, Taylor thought the script was “very good and very scary, with rich levels. The story is constructed so well, I liked the strong, intertwined relationships.”

The relationship with her on-screen family proved to be equally robust. When the producers dropped them all off at a restaurant for lunch and to shoot “family” photos, which take on greater importance as the film progresses, Taylor says, “From the start there was a total flow. There was no working to make conversation, it just happened naturally. That’s really rare for seven personalities to instantly coalesce like that, so we were lucky.”

Even so, Taylor admits the mental terrain was sometimes as grueling as the physical demands of the role. “I love the genre, but the psychological aspect of thrillers is hard to do—and this was extremely intense and primal.” For some of the more treacherous sequences, Taylor pronounces, “I realized I wouldn’t be able to get through it without blowing my vocal chords if I didn’t learn how to scream from a very, very deep down, dark place for this film.”

Wan says, “Lili has, perhaps, the most challenging role in the film. Her character goes on a physical and emotional rollercoaster and Lili did such a phenomenal job, we felt fortunate to have her.”

Ron Livingston

Livingston was cast as Roger Perron, the father and working-class husband whose truck route often keeps him away at night. “Ron’s a terrific actor. He is so affable and created such a sympathetic character, wanting to protect his family but thwarted by overwhelming forces. You empathize with Roger, which was crucial,” Wan continues.

Livingston says, “To this day, Roger Perron believes that what he felt and saw in that house was real. I’m not an arbiter of the universe or the truth; I’m the actor playing Roger, so my job is to tell his story to the best of my ability.”
He adds that Wan’s “off the charts artistry” was the driving force on that psychological journey. “I think for something to be creepy, and really affect an audience, it has to go beyond just the mechanics; it’s got to connect to something we all understand…and it can be something as simple as moving to a new environment, getting everything you’ve always wanted, and realizing it’s far more than you ever bargained for, or could ever even imagine. So be very careful what you wish for,” he smiles.
When the director showed the cast some of the early footage, Livingston remembers it was “scary as hell, and I was there when we shot it. I knew what was going to happen, and it still got me a couple of times.”

Wan’s choice to shoot chronologically elicited an organic process which also impacted the actors’ bond and performances. Taylor attests, “It was brilliant. At first the house was empty, because we were moving in, then it became more lived in. And we hadn’t seen anyone else at all for two weeks and then, boom, the Warrens show up, which is exactly how it happened in real life.”

The Perron Children

Wan credits his casting director, Annie McCarthy, with helping find an ensemble of talented younger actors to play the Perron children, including Shanley Caswell as 18-year-old Andrea, Hayley McFarland as 15-year-old Nancy, Joey King as 13-year-old Christine, Mackenzie Foy as 10-year-old Cindy, and newcomer Kyla Deaver as 8-year-old April. “These kids were incredible and we had a great time,” he says. “When you look at Ron, Lili and the girls, you believe them as a nuclear unit. Off-camera, they played around and even quarreled amongst themselves, just like a real family.”

Another younger performer is Sterling Jerins, portraying the Warrens’ daughter, Judy. Rounding out the main cast are Marion Guyot playing Judy’s grandmother, Georgiana; Steve Coulter as Father Gordon; Shannon Kook as Drew, the Warren’s investigative assistant; and John Brotherton as Brad, the local cop who is skeptical of the Warrens’ abilities and methods…until he, too, is caught in the unearthly crossfire one night.