Taissa Farmiga on why The Nun will be a thrill ride, full of screams this Friday

In 2013, The Conjuring came out of nowhere and earned more than $300 million worldwide with its story of paranormal investigators probing a witch’s curse. The film has since spun off a franchise, and the fifth instalment is The Nun. Taissa Farmiga, the younger sister of The Conjuring star Vera Farmiga, plays a novitiate who joins a priest (Demian Bichir) on a mission from the Vatican to look into the suicide of a young nun at an abbey in Romania. There they encounter the titular twisted sister.

What drew you to the film and to the character of Sister Irene?

When I read the script, I just fell in love with the writing. [Screenwriter] Gary Dauberman has such an interesting way of drawing you into this world and making you feel like you’re right there in the abbey with those characters. He makes you feel like you’re a part of the story.

I adored the character of Sister Irene, particularly her strength to pursue a life of sacrifice and dedication to become a nun. Though she hasn’t yet taken her final vows, Sister Irene has persevered through so many personal struggles to be the person she wants to be. She sets a high standard, which I really responded to.

The Nun is part of the larger Conjuring universe of films, whose primary architect is James Wan — who directed your sister, Vera Farmiga, in The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2. Did Vera offer any advice when you landed the role of Sister Irene? 

One of the first things I had asked Vera was: “What do you do when you go home at night, after a day of filming scary scenes, and you’re alone?” I was thinking about how I would deal after a day of battling the demon nun in our film, who’d be bloody and roaring at me. Vera told me to make sure to pick a house to live in that felt pure, so I wouldn’t return home with any lingering supernatural feelings from the set. But most days I would shake with fear under the sheets (laughs).

Is it true that you watched the movie The Nun’s Story before beginning work on The Nun?

I always want to bring authenticity and truth to a role. So I spent hours researching and prepping to play Sister Irene, and part of my preparation was watching The Nun’s Story. There are so many rules and regulations and rituals to learn when becoming a nun, and part of my research involved figuring out what that entails. I had learned that being a nun was a minute-by-minute challenge of self-perfection. There are many rules: Don’t talk loudly; don’t engage in non-essential conversation; close doors quietly; and to always walk humbly with purpose. That was interesting to explore. Sister Irene is going through many extreme struggles in the film, but she’s also thinking about the countless internal challenges: Is she performing at her best? Is she being the best nun and person she can be? I really wanted to incorporate those things in the character and in my performance. 

Talk about working with Demian Bichir, who as Father Burke, partners with Sister Irene to investigate the apparent suicide of a nun in remote Romania. What does he bring to the role?

I really enjoyed my time with Demian because he is such a fun-loving guy, with a wonderful and joyful energy. He walks into a room and makes everybody smile. Most people might think of priests as being rigid and proper, but Demian always made sure that Father Burke had a twinkle in his eye. On the surface, Father Burke is proper and everything he’s supposed to be. But a closer look reveals there’s a way to break through his outer shell. 

What was it like working with director Corin Hardy, who is a big fan of the horror genre?

Corin is overflowing with knowledge, imagination and creativity about horror films. His enthusiasm is contagious. His passion for the horror genre really gets you fired up and makes you want to be a part of it. I was immediately drawn into his world and his love for the genre. I really respect him as a filmmaker, and I love the level of respect he gives his art. Corin is also a talented artist, and drew many sketches about scenes, sets, and characters in the film. 

What was it like working in Romania? 

Romania is a beautiful country with towering castles and gorgeous landscapes. The Nun is set in Romania, in 1952, and much of the country feels like it did 60 years ago, so it is the perfect setting for the film. I was fully transported into the world of this story. 

In addition to its horror elements, The Nun also has aspects of an adventure film. Can you talk about that?

Father Burke and Sister Irene are on an adventure. The suicide they’re investigating take them from Philadelphia to a remote abbey in Romania, where they must deal with all kinds of obstacles and challenges and really scary things. Corin said one of his inspirations for this was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and I could definitely see that. There’s a lot of action in The Nun. 

Corin and James Wan love using in-camera and practical effects, which helped us visualise the action. I filmed a big action scene in a water tank, where I could fully experience the demon nun that Sister Irene was fighting. It was right in front of — and haunting — me. I didn’t have to imagine it against a green screen. 

Amidst filming these horror, action, and adventure scenes, was there any time to enjoy some on-set levity?

One of the things I love about filming something so intense and physical, is that once they call cut, the set instantly becomes so much lighter. It’s more fun than it would be on a dramatic film or even a comedy because the actors and crew compensate for the scares of the scene they just captured. That lightness and fun is important because otherwise it could be a very long two months of filming. 

On any day I was working with Demian, who is such a fun-loving, joyful person, I knew it would be a good day. We could be in the middle of shooting a big action scene, attached to wires, and after Corin would say cut, we’d just start laughing. Demian loved when I whistled, so I’d start whistling and he’d mimic me, and we’d be laughing for no reason other than the fact that we were having a wonderful time working together in this gross water tank.

What do you hope audiences experience when they see The Nun in cinemas?

Corin Hardy and James Wan really know how to scare audiences. You are going to experience true fear and a real thrill ride with The Nun. 


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