Watch: Trailer for The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
Patrick Wilson doesn't have a Funko Pop! figure of his Conjuring character — and he's not happy about it.
"It's so stupid, in my personal opinion. They've got little Annabelles and stuff," he says, as co-star Vera Farmiga joins the discussion: "Warner Bros, come on! There are no action figures yet? Get on it."
Action figures aside, there's no denying the reach of Ed and Lorraine Warren in modern horror cinema. Since James Wan's summer spookfest The Conjuring arrived in 2013, there have been eight films in the multi-stranded franchise, based around the case files of the couple, grossing the best part of $2bn (£1.4bn) at the worldwide box office.
Read more: Explaining the tangled Conjuring timeline
Five years after The Conjuring 2 and two years after their brief appearance in Annabelle Comes Home, Wilson and Farmiga are back for The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.
Rather than investigating another haunted house, this latest tale follows the notorious 1981 murder trial of Arne Johnson. Several months after being present at an exorcism carried out by the Warrens, Johnson — played here by Irish actor Ruairi O'Connor — killed his landlord, with demonic possession cited as his defence.
"The goal was to blow the doors off the haunted house, to shake up the experience while staying true to what makes the Conjuring movies awesome," says director Michael Chaves at a roundtable interview to promote the new film. Chaves replaces James Wan — director of the first two Conjuring movies — in the hotseat, after shepherding 2019 spin-off The Curse of La Llorona.
He adds: "This is a case that centres around a real murder with a real victim. There's a lot of really fascinating complexity to the case when you get into it. It's also one of their most controversial cases. This is a point in their lives, it's late in their careers, when they put it all on the line in this very public forum of a court case.
They stood by Arne Johnson and his claim of demonic possession. Every step of the way, you're just trying to find the emotional truth. Everybody has their own take on demons and it becomes this question of faith, but what always grounded it was the emotional truth of what these people were going through."
Wilson and Farmiga have played the Warrens multiple times now, but they're very keen to avoid simply going through the motions from film to film. "We don't want the audience to rest and we don't want to rest either," says Wilson.
"Each time we step foot into these matching outfits, we try to show different aspects. We don't want to retread the same ground. There are some events in Ed's life that we could pull from, and the main event that happens with this really does set him up physically for the rest of the film, so that was fun to play and different to play. We're constantly trying just to push the limits, whether it's emotionally, physically or spiritually."
Farmiga says the "message of love" between Ed and Lorraine is a key part of what makes the movies work, beyond their ghost train scares. "It's a story which reminds us to surrender to love because love is the only way. It's the greatest power on the Earth and what will defeat all things negative and evil, no matter how deep-set the trouble is. Love will fix it. That's super special."
She adds that her portrayal of Lorraine seems to be shaping a new generation of people fascinated with the paranormal. "The other day I got an email from a previous director of mine who got a text from his sister whose eight-year-old son told her he wanted to be a demonologist when he grows up. Isn't that cute?"
Read more: The real-life story behind The Conjuring 2
Farmiga's inspiration — the real Lorraine Warren — was a key sounding board for the first few Conjuring movies, but sadly passed away in 2019 at the age of 92. "I miss having her friendship and I miss bouncing ideas off her and asking her questions and receiving answers," says Farmiga.
"But I think that the time we did spend together is so resonant to me and it was so impactful. Having the moments that I did with her will always be so vivid and so clear in terms of what I am to convey with her aura and the beauty that she emanated. It had to do with loving people. She was so loveable and she loved to love. That stays with me. I cherish those moments."
The role of Arne Johnson is a difficult and complex job, portraying the turmoil of someone who has been through trauma and doesn't even know whether they were responsible for committing a horrifying act of violence. For actor Ruairi O'Connor, though, he sought inspiration from rather less demonic sources. "I tried to take inspiration from real things. There's very dark videos you can find on the internet, but it was less that and more Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and reality TV."
He adds: "You see people in these programmes under the most incredible stress, crying, screaming at each other, wanting to kill people. You can tell it's real sometimes because if these people were acting, I'd be out of a job. You can really see what people are like when they're genuinely angry or scared or terrified. I think reality TV is a really great resource for actors, or at least that's my excuse for why I watch it."
For O'Connor, the step-up in scale from indies like What Richard Did to Hollywood's biggest horror franchise was a huge one, aided by the movie's approach to its gory stunts. "The great thing about the Conjuring movies is that so much of it is practical," he says. "I'm just not a good enough actor to work with a little green dot and make it be Frodo Baggins or whatever happens. The scale is huge and you know it's a big monster of a movie, to use a poor term, but it still feels really intimate and grounded and that comes from Vera and Patrick."
He says the opening exorcism scene was a real baptism of fire for him on set. "We did it hundreds of times, over and over again, CGI plates flying around, all sorts of stunt doubles coming in. It was really demanding, but we got to work together."
That sequence might have been daunting for the stars, but producer Peter Safran says Chaves "came in with total confidence", despite stepping into Wan's sizeable shoes. Safran says: "If Michael had any nerves coming in, he never showed them. He was the only director we ever spoke about directing Conjuring 3. We never even talked to anybody else about it. We knew he was the guy and I think he knew he was the guy. He came in and really put his own imprint on it in a beautiful fashion."
Wilson is keen to keep on coming back to Ed Warren for as long as he is able. "I haven't had another role that I've lived on and off with for eight years," he says. "This relationship of Ed and Lorraine is something extremely special to me because it's rare you get this opportunity to come back to something. Usually that means it works and that people went to see it and it made money, so they want more of it. So that's a good thing. And I'm fortunate to have a fantastic ally and partner in ghost-y crime with Vera, so I wouldn't have it any other way."
Read more: Ranking the Conjuring universe
As for Farmiga, she's keen to do something very different next time she disappears into the world of Lorraine Warren. "I would love to stretch the limits even further. I would love to do this as a musical."
So get ready for The Conjuring 4: The Curse of La-La-La Llorona. A terrifying toe-tapper coming to cinemas everywhere.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is in UK cinemas from 28 May.
Watch: The true story of the case behind The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It