It only takes a few minutes of talking to Corin Hardy to know that he’s a monster kid at heart, and he got to live his dream by filming The Nun in Romania. As part of the press event for the movie, I had a chance to join a handful of journalists for an interview session with Hardy to discuss working with James Wan, changes made to the script, working with Taissa Farmiga, Demián Bichir, and Bonnie Aarons, and he told us about his on-set paranormal experience.
What was your relationship like with James Wan during the making of The Nun?
Corin Hardy: He’s a fan of this stuff. Anyone who's a fan of a certain thing, whether it's a band, or a style of music, or a film, or a genre, you are immediately on a level with them. So, once you've met someone that you admire, you just find yourself talking about stuff you love and you’re passionate. We’d talk about other movies, and I’m like, “There's this bit and it reminded of Salem's Lot,” and he's like, “Yeah, and I thought about Dracula…” So, it was very comfortable and supportive, and he encouraged me to go with my gut instinct. I knew I was going to respect the world of The Conjuring, and I accommodated certain aspects I've seen in his movies so that [The Nun] felt like it was part of the same universe.
Can you talk about your process to bring Gary Dauberman’s script to life?
Corin Hardy: I knew that what I was going to do wasn't going to be radically changing anything. What I read in the script excited me. I changed it from certain aspects, maybe it was some camera angles, or elements of the story, or rules.
For instance, Gary Dauberman, who wrote the screenplay [based on a story from himself and] James, had this concept called perpetual adoration, which is something I'd never heard of, but immediately was fascinated by. They (the script) talked about it, but we never saw it. It was this concept that the nuns have to pray 24/7 to keep the evil at bay. I could imagine that and yet it didn't actually take place as a sequence, so one of my gut instincts was, "I really want to see that happen." And everyone's like, “Yeah, absolutely, let's go with it.” Everyone is excited about telling these stories and seeing them through. So, it was quite a collaborative process.
You're a big fan of horror and I read that, since you were a teenager, you were playing with monsters. How was it going to these castles in Transylvania [Romania]? And what do you think that they brought to the feel of the movie?
Corin Hardy: It was everything. It's actually gradually dawned on me, both during the shoot and then almost now, how unique an opportunity and special experience it was to get to make the movie, as a child growing up on horror and being fascinated with Gothic horror and classic horror. Dracula has this sort of adventure journey into the unknown, to the castle on the hill. It's such an iconic staple of horror. Certainly I found myself making a movie in 2018, which embodied this classic setup, and yet was also timeless and contemporary at the same time. When we first did the shoot, and I saw Demián [Bichir], Taissa [Farmiga], and Jonas [Bloquet] in their costumes coming into the set, which was the foot of the castle—we had a real castle in Romania, in Transylvania—I was like, “God, I'm in Transylvania making a horror movie. This is perfect, a dream come true.”
This reminded me of Horror of Dracula. You've got the villagers, the castle, and Father Burke, who is halfway between Van Helsing and The Exorcist.
Corin Hardy: Bang on. Yeah. A little bit of Dirty Harry thrown in. You've had different exorcists [in The Conjuring cinematic universe], and you've had different Count Dracula's, and in some ways our demon nun is our Count Dracula. And in some ways Burke is certainly coming from a Van Helsing or a Father Karras [place]. I thought what Demián did was really subtle and brought a sort of eccentric quality to Burke. I love watching his performance and the way he carries himself, because he looks like a man who's got this experience.
He's done this before, but it's also unnerving him, and as he starts to see these signs, he doesn't want to show his doubts and fears, but you can tell they're coming through. And he starts to really care for Irene and fear for her, and he doesn't want to let her fall foul of a fate that has happened to someone else.
How did you know that Taissa Farmiga would be perfect for Sister Irene?
Corin Hardy: Well, I had a number of auditions. It was already a great part for a young actress to have, this novice in training, full of self doubt and not sure if she's going to take her vows, and having to go through and face this greatest fear that's going to solve her own life in some ways.
We held a number of auditions for international actresses. We got some incredible options. And then Taissa, I had sort of put on the side, only because I didn't want it to look so obvious that I'd gone, “Vera Farmiga… let's use her sister.”
But when I saw Taissa's audition, she was just phenomenal and streaked ahead, and she just had something unique in her eyes. When you're casting, you're just trying to find those special people that will translate into something special [on screen]. She was filming against a gray background, and in her eyes it was like she could see some supernatural entity that wasn't on screen, and I bought it completely.
Can you talk about working with Bonnie Aarons and bringing Valak to life, because she gives such a great performance as well.
Corin Hardy: When you look at classic horror movie characters and actors who have embodied those iconic villains, Robert Englund for instance, as Freddy Krueger, or Christopher Lee as Dracula, they sort of hypnotize you and they own that character. In The Conjuring 2, I'd seen the demon nun there, and it stole the show.
I just felt [that] she has got such a unique presence, and her face, the physical look of her face, is so cinematic and terrifying. Bonnie's extremely striking and beautiful, and without the makeup, she's almost got this sort of classic Hollywood face about her, which is what makes her so special. She's got a really unique, cinematic face. But also, she's got the steely look and these pale eyes. So I really wanted Bonnie back and she's also just a kind of real character herself.
She loves scaring people and she loves horror. They're all different. Demián and Taissa are not big fans of horror, but really applied themselves as actors. Of course you don't have to like horror to be in a horror movie. And then you've got Bonnie, who's playing this evil, demon nun and she relishes it. She would be there on set, in between takes, constantly scaring Taissa or keeping her on edge.
What do you think is the magic behind The Conjuring and the success of the franchise?
Corin Hardy: “The magic of Wan.” He's very clever in tapping into attractive stories that are mysterious. I think it was in the creation of The Conjuring and telling the story of the Warrens, who are real. I think we're all fascinated by stories of the unknown that appear to have happened, and you can back it up and Google it and see there are actually photos of demonic possessions that have happened in real life, and then we're telling a truthful but fantastical story of that. So I hope that with The Nun, we've continued the elements that people find exciting and terrifying.
Following up on that, what is your relationship with the supernatural? Do you believe? Are you open to it?
Corin Hardy: I would never want to crush the idea of other entities existing, but I'm also pretty grounded. I believe what I can see, experience, and touch, so you could call that being kind of skeptical. Actually, though, when I shot The Nun, I had a real experience which I can tell you about…
It was genuinely the first sort of supernatural experience I’ve had. I was in this really ancient fortress in Romania, and we were filming the sequence of the corridor of crosses when Sister Irene is there and the doors just open.
When you're making a film, it's very technical. Of course you're relishing creating the atmosphere, but also, you're being very technical and you're worried about time and budget. So there's not really room for this kind of thing to happen, which is what made it so strange.
It's a 200-foot-long tunnel underground. The only way in is you come down these steps into it. It's dank, dark, and it's a fortress. It had war and death and it's muddy. It was authentic. And the only way for me to have a place for me to look at my monitors was a room off of this corridor. So if there’s the corridor here, there's these little cell blocks, and there's a room maybe double the size of this, with one door and no other way in and out. So imagine out there, there's a corridor.
I came in, my monitors are just over there. As I walked in the room, I saw what I thought were two crew members sitting in the darkness, and it's quite normal when making a film like this on location. You have crew members scattered around there. Everyone kind of hides when you call action. So I came into the room, I saw these two guys sitting in the dark and I said, “How are you doing?” I thought they were sound guys.
I continued looking at my monitors, and I was gripped by trying to pull a scene off of the camera rotating and tracking Taissa's performance. It took about half an hour and I finally got the take, and I was really relieved. I was like, “Yeah, we got it!” And I turned around to see if these guys had spotted seeing the shot. And I said, “Did you see that?” And there's no one there. There was no one sitting in the room in the dark.
I looked everywhere. And they couldn't have gotten out, because there was nowhere to go out. I couldn't explain it. I had experienced it, and I wasn't tricking myself, or making something up. I walked in the room. I'd seen these guys and said "hello."
But also, when I came [in], it was very dark, and as I came in the room, we had lights up on the floor that looked as if moonlight was coming down through the ceiling in that corridor. So, as I walked into the room, the light kind of went up into my eye and slightly dazzled [me], and that's what allowed me to see these two guys. So, I think that there was some kind of strange, almost scientific, phenomenon that may have allowed me to see the two Romanian soldiers that were there.
In case you missed it, watch Daily Dead Editor-in-Chief Jonathan James and other journalists evade Valak and navigate through creepy catacombs in The Nun immersive experience in Mexico.