‘Insidious: The Red Door’ Star-Director Patrick Wilson Daydreamed About His Directorial Debut While Filming ‘Aquaman’ Sequel

‘Insidious: The Red Door’ Star-Director Patrick Wilson Daydreamed About His Directorial Debut While Filming ‘Aquaman’ Sequel

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Insidious: The Red Door star-director Patrick Wilson thought he was done with the Insidious franchise, but The Further wasn’t done with him or his character quite yet.

In 2019, Wilson was quietly looking around for an opportunity to make his directorial debut, and when franchise co-creator Leigh Whannell happened to come up with an idea for a fifth Insidious film involving the return of the Lambert family, Wilson’s agent asked Blumhouse if Wilson could direct and star. One thing led to another, and Wilson found himself brainstorming for his first directorial effort in his backyard with screenwriter Scott Teems. But then the global pandemic derailed the entire world and entertainment industry alike, and so Wilson kept busy as an actor until Insidious 5 got back on track. 

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However, The Further wasn’t far from his mind, as Wilson daydreamed about his future directorial debut while filming Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall (2022) and Insidious co-creator James Wan’s Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (due out Dec. 16). 

“There hasn’t been a day in the past four years that I haven’t thought about this movie. That’s the honest-to-God truth. Every day on the sets of these other movies, including Aquaman 2, I was reworking things and rewriting things,” Wilson tells The Hollywood Reporter.

The Red Door reconvenes with the Lamberts a decade after Insidious: Chapter 2, and because of their hypnotism at the end of the latter film, Josh (Wilson) and his now-18-year-old son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), still have no recollection of their astral projections to The Further and subsequent duels with the Lipstick Demon (Joseph Bishara). Their father-and-son relationship has also become strained as a result of Josh and Renai’s (Rose Byrne) divorce, as well as their missing backstory. So, in an attempt to mend fences, Josh drives Dalton to his East Coast art school while their past demons begin to resurface.

Wilson has a whole new appreciation for his past directors, considering that he now understands just how much compromise comes with the territory of being a filmmaker. In fact, Wilson had to go to bat for an early shot in the film, because he did not want to do anything that might overly resemble or repeat the franchise’s greatest scares.

“You’re never gonna repeat Joe Bishara’s Lipstick Demon behind (Josh’s) head (from Insidious (2010)),” Wilson says. “It’s never gonna happen again. So you want to say to everyone above you: ‘Get over that. That kind of jump scare is not gonna happen. I’m not gonna do that. It can’t happen twice.’”

The feature is off to a solid start at the box office, collecting $5 million in Thursday previews.

Wilson is also offering a brief update on his character, Orm, in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, as he participated in reshoots just a couple weeks ago. 

“Orm is awesome. I was with him last week,” Wison says.

Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Wilson also discusses his directorial influences and how he ended up singing on Ghost’s end-credit cover of the Shakespears Sisters’ “Stay.” 

Well, when I last interviewed you for Midway in 2019, I asked you if anything was happening on the Insidious front, and you responded with a dramatic pause and a bit of laughter. So has this been taking shape for quite a while? 

Yes, it has, and it’s awesome that you remember that. It was exactly four years ago. June of 2019 is when I was pitched this idea. We didn’t have a script yet, but we had an idea. “We had a dream! We had a vision!” So we only had 20 pages and a dream, and then I started thinking of some ideas and the kind of movie that I would want to make. It was a little different from what Leigh (Whannell) had pitched, but the nuts and bolts were the same. Dalton (Ty Simpkins) goes to a college somewhere far away from California, and he also had a little light and dark theme in there. 

And then I started crafting it in my head, and we brought on Scott Teems to write it. Scott flew to me in the fall of 2019, and he just sat in my backyard and asked me, “What kind of movie do you wanna make?” He’s a filmmaker, too, and he couldn’t be a sweeter guy. He’s a super skilled writer, and I expunged all these ideas on him. I said, “This is what I want to do. I want a father-son relationship, and let’s have Dalton go to art school.” And so we just started kicking around these ideas before he went off and wrote it.

And then the pandemic hit, and the world collapsed. So I went and did Moonfall and Aquaman 2, but there hasn’t been a day in the past four years that I haven’t thought about this movie. That’s the honest-to-God truth. Every day on the sets of these other movies, including Aquaman 2, I was reworking things and rewriting things. I would then send it all to Scott, we’d talk about it and he’d put it in his words. So I had a really great collaboration with Scott over the past three years of writing.

Patrick Wilson on the set of Insidious: The Red Door

Patrick Wilson and Ty Simpkins on the set of Insidious: The Red Door

Boris Martin/Sony Pictures

I profiled your Insidious producer and Aquaman director James Wan recently, and I’m thankful for your participation in that.

Yes, absolutely. 

Anyway, when I asked James about how your directorial debut came to be, he made it sound as simple as you making a phone call and asking. Was it actually a little more complicated than that? 

It was literally my agent asking. It got pitched to me. They came to me with an idea for a story. Before they wrote a story about the Lamberts, they wanted to know if the Lamberts would do it, because I had left this franchise behind. There was no Ill will. It was fine. It had just run its course. So they wanted this movie to be about Dalton, but they asked if I would come back for a couple scenes. To be honest with you, I probably wouldn’t have done that even though they’re my friends, but it was actually my agent who said, “What if Patrick directs it?” My agent and I had been looking for things to direct, and at that point, Blumhouse didn’t know that I even wanted to direct or that I had a desire. So when my agent asked, “What if Patrick directs it?” Blumhouse went, “Of course, yes! That’s a great idea. We didn’t know he wanted to do that.” And so it really was that easy. 

Once I thought about the movie that I wanted to make, it was very personal, so I didn’t feel like I had to pitch myself. My agent asked, they said yes, and then I went to L.A. to meet with (President, Feature Films, Blumhouse) Couper Samuelson. I also talked to Steve Bersch at Sony (President, Screen Gems) on the phone and just said, “If you don’t want to make this kind of movie, that’s fine, but if I’m gonna do this movie, I’m gonna go back and deal with what happened at the end of Insidious: Chapter 2. That’s the movie I want to make. I want to deal with this family’s trauma through the eyes of a horror movie. That’s the story I’d like to tell with a father-son relationship.” And they said, “Great, go for it.” So it really was that much of a blessing.

I have to imagine that you said to yourself over the years, “If I ever get the chance to direct, I’m going to try x, y and z.” What would you define as your x, y and z? 

That’s a great question, and I can say that I wanted scope. I wanted it to feel expansive. Specifically, I like a lot of symmetrical shots that can make a scene really uncomfortable, but I like starting from a place of symmetry. So I do that a couple times throughout the film, and I intended to do that from the get-go. I like that. I’m equally Coen Brothers, as I am Wes Anderson, as I am Steven Spielberg. Those are all the guys that I enjoy watching. I also wanted an emotional ending. I wanted to make sure I had a lot of emotion in my film. I like the highs and lows of movies. I like the melodrama of movies. So, regardless of the genre, I didn’t want anything to be boring. So I know that seems a little general, but certainly between the symmetry of shots and the emotional highs and lows, those are definitely the things that I really wanted to put in my movie.

Insidious: The Red Door

Patrick Wilson in Insidious: The Red Door

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Conversely, what was something you didn’t anticipate? What caught you off guard despite being on sets with other directors for the last 20-plus years?

You’re right, and there is stuff. I’m sure every filmmaker that reads this would laugh at this, but it really is true. The amount of compromise that comes in making a film, you start to wonder, “How does anything ever get done?” I don’t know what the term “green light” means. You hear these words: “My story is greenlit. We got greenlit. We start pre-production.” And then you get in there and they’re like, “I need you to cut this, this, this and this.” And you’re like, “But you greenlit the movie!” And they’re like, “Yeah, well, we don’t have the money to do that.” And you’re like, “But you said you’d do the script.” So, from the get-go, you’re playing catch-up.

And then you start to wonder, “Oh, this is why directors get really angry and really prideful and borderline arrogant. This is why they’ll say, ‘No, this is what’s happening.’” And I get it from a production standpoint. It’s like, “Hey, can we save money this way? Is there a way you can do this quicker? Is there a way you can do this easier? Is there a way you can do this cheaper?” And that’s fine. It’s their job to manage money, but it’s my job to make the movie. 

So the business side of that and how it funnels down into the images you have to put on the screen, I don’t know that I expected that much of it. Luckily, I’ve got a great group of people that I feel very comfortable with, saying, “I don’t like this, or thank you for that.” They really have my back, and I really do believe that, but it’s difficult. It’s just hard to get anything done, certainly in this climate. And when we were shooting in Covid, it was even harder. So I get all of that, but it’s a lot of compromise.

In terms of process, would you say you borrowed the most from James’ way of doing things? Or did you pull from a number of your directors over the years? 

I pulled from a number of different people. Because I’m an actor, I direct differently than James, for sure. I mean, it goes without saying, but I love working with James. So I look at it through the script inside out, not like some directors who would just say, “Make the scene happen in this space.” There are a lot of very visual shots that I had in my mind early on and are now in the film. So I probably am closer to either Todd Field or Mike Nichols, who are totally different people by the way they act, but they are people that come from a performing side. So, in the way that I communicate with actors, I think that’s probably closer to what I am, not by any choice. It’s just how I grew up. It’s how I understand text. So, when talking about how I direct with actors, I think that’s probably closer.

Insidious: The Red Door

Patrick Wilson in Insidious: The Red Door

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

I loved the way you used shallow depth of field, especially that impressive shot outside Josh’s Land Cruiser. Was that among those early shots you conceived?

No, that was a late-game edition. I needed more of Josh, honestly. I overlooked the importance of Josh’s storyline early on, so that was a late-game addition. And to be honest with you, when I saw the scene, I saw it very clearly in my head, and it was hard to convince other people of what it was gonna be. (They asked), “Well, where’s the big scare at the end? He comes in and he’s right there in the car?” And I was like, “No, it’s not that type of scare.” And this is no disrespect to my coworkers, but trying to convince people that you want to do something different, even in a genre that you know works … James did so many different types of scares in the first film. Some of his best scares ever are in the first film, but you’re never gonna repeat Joe Bishara’s Lipstick Demon behind my head. It’s never gonna happen again. So you want to say to everyone above you: “Get over that. That kind of jump scare is not gonna happen. I’m not gonna do that. It can’t happen twice.” 

So I tried to pick different types of scares. I knew I wanted to get into the Insidious title, but not with the same musical sting. I didn’t want to feel like I was overpromising and under-delivering on a scare, so I wanted that shot to be more of a tonal scare. I wanted to show the balance of a guy looking at a video, and I’m actually looking at a video of me and my son from 17 years ago. So Josh is looking at a video, and while it should be a joyous moment, there’s an image behind him that is anything but joyous, coming towards you. That’s the balance of positive and negative, light and dark that I wanted throughout the whole movie. 

Also, nobody wanted me to put the text (messages) on the screen either, and I was like, “No, this is what I want. It’s cool. I don’t want it to be defined by whatever the iOS format is right now.” So the texting conversations alone were weeks and weeks and months and months of that. I wanted your eyes to go here and then here, and then it’s like, “Oh God, what’s that!?”

Footage from the first two movies is utilized in a new way, so did you gain access to the dailies for both films in order to blend your own new footage?

Everything, yeah. I knew I wanted to do that device or gimmick, whatever you call it, but I wanted to take it a step further than what James had done in the second film. I also have the benefit of the actor (Ty Simpkins) being older and seeing his younger self. So, before I started looking through the dailies, I just combed through Insidious: Chapter Two, and I saw a couple shots that were behind bookshelves. And I thought, “That’s Dalton’s POV. I can get him back in that room and turn the camera around. That’s him.” So then I gave that assignment to my editor (Derek Ambrosi), who I’m sure gave it to an assistant editor to comb through hours and hours of dailies, some which were shot on a Red and a Canon. So there were all different types of footage and stock, really, and trying to track down the dailies from the first movie was a feat in itself. The second movie was shot on the Red, so they had those files. But (Derek) came back to me one day and said, “Hey, I found a shot where Ty was looking right at the camera.” And I thought, “Oh, that’s perfect. Please tell me it’s in that back corner of the room.” And he goes, “It is.” And I was like, “Yes!” So I knew I could use that. I know it seems kind of flippant to be using something that was never used in the second film, but those were those special moments. When do you get that kind of opportunity? So then I just started crafting the scene from there.

When you eventually screened the movie for the franchise architects, James and Leigh, what sequences were you most excited for them to see?

The (aforementioned) basement and laundry room sequence was one I was really proud of, and the emotional scenes. The dramatic scenes. They knew that I was having a different tone than their films, so that was exciting to them. Leigh was super helpful with the MRI sequence. I said, “I needed this kind of scene. I want Josh to be active. He needs to find an answer for this.” And so I thought about an MRI or a doctor sequence, and then Leigh was like, “Let’s make an MRI scene.” So Leigh came up with that idea, which was awesome. We just really saw eye to eye on it. And then as soon as you hear that idea, you’re like, “Oh, I know exactly how to shoot it. It’s symmetrical going into the tube with all these static angles. It’s gonna be perfect.” So he was a tremendous help on the day.

So, knowing that you were now steering the ship, I did wonder if you were going to give Josh a moment to sing, and I thought one was coming when REO Speedwagon started playing during the road trip. It’d be another opportunity to annoy Dalton. Instead, you saved your pipes for the end credits, in a collaboration with Ghost. Did it take a lot of restraint to save it for the credits?

(Laughs.) No, I usually have to sing badly in films, to be honest with you. I’m usually half-assing it. I’m not really singing in movies. But I wanted to sing the end-credit song; I really did. I didn’t know if it was gonna be just me or me and a band, but I just had this feeling it was gonna work itself out. And so that was something that I worked on with one of my producers, and really, when it came down to it, it was just me and my music supervisor because I didn’t think anybody was gonna be on board with it. The time was getting close. 

I also knew Ghost very well. I love that band, and they worked with Blumhouse on Halloween, so I knew I could get to their label and their manager. We kept going back and forth, and ultimately, the choices that they kept sending me just didn’t really work and I didn’t want it to be a gimmick. And then I said, “I don’t know if this is even gonna work, but these are the themes that I’m working with.” And then Tim Bickford at their label said, “There’s a cover of the Shakespears Sister tune ‘Stay’ that Tobias Forge of Ghost is gonna release in a box set in October. It’s all done. So he doesn’t need to record anything, and if you wanna sing on it, you could do the first two verses. Tell me what you think.” And I listened to these lyrics and thought, “Oh, it’s fantastic.” It fit perfectly, and it has that push and pull of a beautiful song with haunting lyrics. I really love that balance. 

So I talked to Tobias, and I went and recorded it with a guy that engineered a couple of Ghost’s albums. So I sang on it, and I did my own little stuff at the end, channeling my inner Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden. (Laughs.) And it worked out great. It’s gonna be released next week.

Do you have the directing bug now? Are you itching to do it again?

For sure, yeah. This never seemed like a one-off. It just seemed like the first step. So I’m already looking at other things.

Lastly, how’s our buddy Orm doing? (Writer’s Note: This interview was conducted on 6/28)

(Laughs.) Orm is awesome. I was with him last week.

Insidious: The Red Door is now playing in movie theaters. This interview was edited for length and clarity