Sometimes you learn really surprising things in an actor’s biography. In the Demot Mulroney biography included for Insidious: Chapter 3, it reveals he is a cellist who performs on movie scores. He’s not credited on Insidious: Chapter 3 though. He stays in front of the camera for this one.
Set before the first two films, Insidious: Chapter 3 focuses on a new family. Widowed dad Sean Brenner (Mulroney) is just trying to hold his family together when his daughter (Stefanie Scott) tries to contact her mother. Now to rid their family of the evil spirit who comes after her instead, Sean has to call on Elise (Lin Shaye) to fight them in The Further. I spoke with Mulroney about his role in the film. Insidious: Chapter 3 opens Friday, June 5.
Nuke the Fridge: I understand you are a cellist who plays on movie scoring sessions. Which ones might we know?
Dermot Mulroney: Yeah, I just recently played on Jurassic World. Five days in the scoring stage on that, maybe a couple weeks ago. That’s turned into this incredible side gig for me. Michael Giacchino’s is the orchestra I play for. The ones that I did with Michael are Dawn of the Planet of the Apes last year, that was a really fun score, John Carter, Inside Out, Tomorrowland. So I book myself maybe five or six weeks of music recording, union scale making recording gigs.
Nuke: Would you ever want to compose for a movie that you’re a part of?
Dermot Mulroney: Oh, I’d love to. I think that’s a great idea. Can’t say more than that. I’m ready to go any time on that, absolutely.
Nuke: Was working the Blumhouse way very different than other productions you’ve been on?
Dermot Mulroney: There used to be a big difference between television and film or high budget and low budget. What I’m finding is that even the high budget movies now are working just as fast, fewer takes than we used to get. They’re on digital now too so there’s that element that adds speed to the shooting of a movie. I love working with this company. I worked with Jason years before Blumhouse even really came to be so I knew that he was a caring and quite a meticulous producer to begin with. So when I got the call to join the new horror trend, I was very enthusiastic.
Nuke: Take us through the oner where you’re looking out the window, and then it comes back.
Dermot Mulroney: Oh, I’m so excited that you asked about that. I thought I was the only one that thought that was genius. It turns out that people are curious. Really cool shot. Designed down to really the frame. There’s really nothing in this movie that’s accidental. It just doesn’t operate that way. Leigh knows so well, as having been writer of the Saw series and the previous two Insidious films, he knows precisely what he wants it to look like and what the timing should be.
So in fact, they built a platform that included that part of the room and the window, so that there was elevation looking down. On the floor below us probably 25 feet below us was green screen. So when you first look out the window with me, that’s the one effects part of the shot. They added the street below with the figure on the sidewalk in post-production. But that sense of vertigo and falling, coming back in and they pick up the girl and she goes out and the demon’s right there, all of that’s practical.
So it’s a great combination of camera timing with no cuts. A stunt because the actor playing The Man Who Can’t Breathe is being held off screen for that first look. When the camera comes back in, they move him into position, all very precisely. He only has about two seconds to get in and to be that close to the camera. He’s suspended in a very uncomfortable position. The whole thing was a really complex rig and we couldn’t get it at first. The timing was off, the camera had an issue. I wasn’t taking the right position. It just kept not getting quite what Leigh wanted.
And of all the shots in the movie that I was involved in, that was the most complex and that’s the one that Leigh took the most time to get. As it turns out, it was well worth it and once he finally got that one take that had everything perfectly timed out, we moved on but it was a very meticulous process to get that and it pays off great in the movie because I think that show is going to really stand out for a long time.
Nuke: How many times do you think you ultimately did that shot?
Dermot Mulroney: It was probably 20. It was certainly more than a dozen times easily. Probably 20 times before we got it which, in this day and age, is a lot, for everyone except for like David Fincher. There was a day when even on film we’d get a lot of money and time worked a little different 20 and 30 years ago. You’d have just normal scenes where you could get 10 and 15 takes and improve each time and tweak it and all that. In a lot of ways, those days are kind of gone for everybody. That would be my own complaint about how things go now is there’s so much pressure to get the thing done, the last thing you should be hurrying up is the number of attempts to get your footage.
Nuke: Were there any sequences that were comparably complex?
Dermot Mulroney: I know that constructing the more complex shot in The Further, those are difficult conditions because they’re literally working in the pitch dark. But I wasn’t in any of those. I just got to enjoy those reading it and then seeing it in the movie so I wasn’t there on the days. My character never crossed over into The Further so I wasn’t involved in those but there too, I know that Leigh had an incredibly precise plan in place.
Nuke: Even in the apartment it’s a dark, moody set. When it’s that dark, is it difficult to get and hit your marks?
Dermot Mulroney: No, the thing I was most afraid of was just tripping on the way to the set because he kept it dark even for the technicians. It wasn’t like there was an area lit for the grips and the equipment. It was really a good choice because we’re still talking about it now, about the making of the movie that he created that atmosphere deliberately again. So that our protective instincts as people and actors were kind of on alert. I say I was worried about tripping. That’s kind of funny I guess but really what it means is I was ultra aware of my surroundings because I can’t see as well. So it got me in that mentality of being ready for anything. You get a really strong sense of that when you watch the movie.
Nuke: What are your favorite horror movies?
Dermot Mulroney: I can say that everybody involved in the making of Insidious: Chapter 3’s favorite horror movie is The Shining. If you ask Leigh or Stefanie, they will both say the same thing. Leigh unabashedly used that movie as an inspiration for this, so we love it because Leigh loves it. We watched it together when we were prepping the movie. When you look closely or see it again, you’ll recognize images that are really a legitimate homage to Kubrick’s framing and some of the design. The carpet in the hall of the apartment building is strangely familiar. All those things are deliberate and unabashed. He has no shame. He wants to reflect other great filmmakers and use what worked in new ways. I thought it was really cool that he was inspired by that movie. I also remember seeing Halloween in the movie theater when I was in high school, maybe a junior or senior. I was so scared in that movie that I accidentally pulled the braces out of my teeth. I had to go to the orthodontist the next day.
Nuke: That’s possible? You can pull them off your teeth?
Dermot Mulroney: This is 1980s braces. I literally broke my orthodontist’s hard work.
Nuke: That’s awesome. When you talk about how sped up filmmaking has gotten, I notice it too. Have crews gotten better at, I don’t want to say getting things right the first time, but keeping up with the pace?
Dermot Mulroney: Yeah, good question. I think they must have. I would hate to accuse all of those film crews from the ‘80s and ‘90s of being less precise.
Nuke: Exactly, I didn’t mean it to disparage them.
Dermot Mulroney: But there is a different rhythm of work that happens now. With this company, obviously they keep their budgets really tight and everyone on that crew knows that we have a great deal of work to do in a day. So nobody’s slacking, which is a great energy to have on a set. That’s an improvement of course. But, um, yeah, I think film budgets are just making companies do more work in a day. Maybe take a day or two off of the production schedule in the long run and save the money.
Nuke: In my business too, everyone is trying to make you do more work in less time.
Dermot Mulroney: I was going to say that. All the industries are doing that and this is a result as much as other industries had to adjust to the economic shift too. There just isn’t quite the same amount of production money as there was.
Nuke: I’ve noticed now every big budget tentpole movie is shot handheld, and I figured out that’s the only way they can make a $100 million movie anymore is if they don’t have to spend half the day setting up a complicated shot. They can just run around with a handheld camera.
Dermot Mulroney: What I miss really is the weight of the old cameras, because things wouldn’t move quite as easily and we had those shots. I think things are faster, more agile, all those things are good. The image doesn’t compare, if you ask me, to film stock so that’s a big detraction but the other one people aren’t talking about yet is the mobility of that camera adds all those wonderful things you can do. But you’re losing that gravity and that sense of density that old, bigger, heavier dollies and equipment would give you that feel. I miss that feel.
Nuke: I’m glad there are still David Finchers and Christopher Nolans who have the clout to keep taking that time.
Dermot Mulroney: Me too, and Tarantino shooting on 70mm right now so God bless him.