PopHorror Interviews Horror Icon and Character Actor: Lin Shaye

Although Lin Shaye has been in horror classics such as Nightmare on Elm Street (her brother founded New Line Cinema!) and Critters, the first film I remember her from is There’s Something About Mary. The gross-out comedy from 1998 created a life-long fan in me. Since then, Lin has become an indie favorite, while continuing to dabble in not only her comedic side but also bringing her back to her horror roots. With over 200 credits to her name, Lin has been in everything from television shows, made for TV movies, films, you name it. I was lucky enough to speak to Lin, and we discussed her latest project, her career, what she has coming up, and of course, horror movies.

PH: Thank you so much for taking the time Lin, I appreciate it.

LS: Well, thank you too, for taking the time. I appreciate it very much. So thank you.

PH: What was it that intrigued you about Room for Rent, and made you want to be a part of it?

LS: I think it was Tommy Stovall, who directed it. I had done a couple of other films with him, and he’d sent me the script at one point. I didn’t really like it, and I said I’m not really that interested. I was in the middle of something else at the time, and he re-sent it to me about a year or so later, and I reread it and I thought, what don’t I like about it? Because I love Tommy. He lives in Sedona with his partner. They’re not Hollywood guys. They’re really, really wonderful. Not that Hollywood is not wonderful, but it has its own charm. But these guys, aren’t on that grid. They sort of live a different life, and they’re good storytellers.

What I sort of came to the conclusion was… she was written originally, right away as a psychotic killer. I thought that’s so not interesting to me, particularly. But what we started to talk about on the phone together was, I said “What if this is a woman whose husband has just died, and she’s one of these disenfranchised people whose husband pretty much controlled her whole life. And she’s left with nothing when he’s gone, and she has no idea how to navigate the world or her own life in the world. And that started to be a really interesting story to me because I think there are a lot of women like that still, who are controlled by their men, who really don’t understand life without them because they’re not allowed to. And that became an interesting character to me. So very slowly, we sort of built this idea and sort of adding in moments where it’s revealed that her husband was not somebody she wanted to be with. Even the dealing with the ashes in the beginning, you start to understand her hatred of him and her lack of skills that she has. And she’s a survivor so she tries to figure out ways to live. She doesn’t know where the bank is really. She’s never been to a bank. Actually, that’s one of my favorite scenes, is that little scene with the banker. She came to get money, that’s all she knows is that the bank has money in it. She doesn’t really understand the world as we live in it. So that became a really fascinating idea to me, and I’m very grateful that Tommy was open to reconstructing the idea of the main character. That was how that happened. So I said yeah, let’s go. Let’s do it.

PH: It’s nice to have that creative control.

LS: It really is. I guess that’s why I’ve always found a place in the indie world because there’s more opportunity for that than in classic, machinery television, and even bigger films sometimes. Usually film in general though, at least through opportunities that I’ve had, welcome your input as an actor. Not as much as this, but this was special.

PH: You’ve done basically every genre. The first movie I remember seeing you in was There’s Something About Mary. But being a huge horror fan, we see you in so many horror films. What draws you to the horror genre?

LS: I think that I’m not as much a genre… I’m drawn to story and character. Those are the two elements that fascinate me the most. And it doesn’t really matter the genre for me. The fact that people come to me with horror films and ideas, I’m not even sure I really get it 100%. The first, “horror” film I was in was Critters, which was kind of a funny horror film, but it was still a horror film. And then A Nightmare on Elm Street, the very first Nightmare on Elm Street, but I don’t play a scary… I’m not like a murderer or a scary person in any of those movies. I just happened to sort of play whimsical characters. I’m grateful for good stories, and good characters, and I am not as committed to one genre or another.

James Wan with Insidious, really re-elevated my career. People love those movies, and Elise is not a scary person either. I think the attraction to that character is she is such a giver, she’s not a taker. And she’s interesting. She’s a real empath that cares about other people, which we seem to be lacking right now in general, in case you haven’t noticed. I mean like, what is going on with our world? And I think almost subliminally, a character that is sort of from the old days, that’s someone who feels for other people, who cares about them, and is willing to put her life on the line for them is a very appealing character, and I often think that’s one of the attractions to Elise. So for me, it’s not so much genre, it’s a good story, a good character, and good people. 

PH: That always makes it much easier. 

LS: It does, it really does because I don’t steer myself one way or the other. I never know what’s going to happen next. As none of us do. We can try to control our lives, but the bottom line is we don’t have that much control. Hopefully, you make good choices. I think that’s the most you can ask of yourself.

PH: I read online that you were an Art History major in college. What made you want to be an actress?

LS: I didn’t really put that on my plate to be 100% honest. I always loved being in plays, from when I was little. I liked to pretend to be different people. I realized I was good at it because I would get rewarded by applause, even in school plays. I was just good at pretending to be somebody else, which I don’t know what that said about me really, but anyway. Sort of giving up your ego as best as possible, and it’s a relief to do so. It didn’t occur to me to be a professional actor until I finished college. Again, I was an Art History major. I came home, and I got a job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the registrar’s office, filing. That was my first sort of entry-level job. I wasn’t smart enough to become a curator. I really wasn’t. That’s a particular kind of skill and brainpower that I just didn’t really… it wasn’t that attractive to me to make that work, so I thought what am I missing? And I kept thinking, “Geeze, I wish I was in a play.”

And here I was, living in New York. I ended up applying to graduate school in theater and I went to Columbia University for three years in their Theater Arts program. I have a Master’s in acting from Columbia. It was a fabulous experience. It was 12 hours a day of what I love the best. Rehearsing, conversation about theater and character, voice lessons and movements, and putting on plays. Joe Papp was very much a part of our life at that point. He was one of the guest directors at Columbia so I got to work with him and work at the public theater. I really was a theater person. After I finished school, I stayed in New York and did every off-off-Broadway show I could possibly get my hands on. Honestly… I never thought about film even at that point. Ever. Theater was my thing. And again, sort of following one foot in front of the other, it’s a long story of how I came to LA. I actually flew out here to meet Jack Nicholson for one line in Going South, which was pretty crazy. I’m proud of myself, and to this moment, cherish that part of my personality, where I leap off the bridge. Just go, “Okay, here we go! Let’s see what’s going to happen.” Because if you don’t leap, you stand there terrified. That’s no good either. So you might as well be terrified falling, as you take that leap into hope. It’s really, “Oh, wouldn’t this be great?” If it doesn’t, and people get mad at you for a minute, well fine. This is something I always say. Always be elegant and empathetic to other people. Be courteous. Be bold but courteous. Prudent aggression. That’s something my big brother taught me. My brother, Bob Shaye, started New Line Cinema. He did pretty well for himself. But that’s a really great way to think. You have to be prudent but you must be aggressive to take what you want.

PH: That’s great advice. And you found what you love doing, so it was definitely worth it for you.

LS: It really did. And I’m so grateful that I became an actress. No one is more surprised than me of where I am right now. And I honestly mean that. I’m not being humble. I’m just sort of awe-struck. It’s like, “You really like what I do?” And I just hope I always stay in that place. Again, if you’re courteous, just please yourself. And you’ll do the right thing.

PH: What do you have coming up?

LS: The Grudge is coming out on January 3, which is going to be turning the horror world on its tushie. A better word than ass. It’s a horrifying story. Horrifying not just because it has a lot of blood and guts in it, but because it’s a horrifying story of these three women. Not just them, though. There are a lot of wonderful male roles in the film as well. I play a wonderful character who is struggling with dementia, and the infection of the grudge is something that is not just mythological in many ways for me. Infection of evil is when you open yourself up in negative ways and bad things happen. I really believe in that. And this has to do with that. These people who are trying to live their life, but sort of make odd decisions for themselves, so you’re sort of in control but out of control at the same time. I’m very excited about the film.

I’m also in Penny Dreadful, the new season of Penny Dreadful on Showtime, which is not Victorian England anymore. It takes place in Los Angeles, 1938, which is a fabulous era when Nazism was alive and well in California. The Hispanic community was being displaced. It’s a fabulous story. John Logan, who created the original Penny Dreadful also created this series and is a master. A poet and a master. I am so excited to be a part of this project. So that will start airing next year. I’m in six out of the 10 episodes. I play a wonderful character who’s basically hunting Nazis with Nathan Lane. He’s not so funny in this one. He’s definitely a powerhouse of a character and I’m thrilled to be working alongside him. He’s real royalty to me.

Lin Shaye in Screen Gems’ THE GRUDGE.

PH: I think you’ve sold me on this one.

LS: It’s really special. I think it’s going to be spectacular, and the period itself is so fascinating. We don’t know what was going on here then. We don’t know what’s going on here now, either. Bunch of train wrecks.

PH: I have one last question for you, Lin. What’s your favorite scary movie?

LS: I always say The Shining. The Shining is one of the scariest movies for me. There was something cloying in there, that imagery has never left my mind in many respects.

Thank you so much to Lin for taking the time, and be sure to check out Room to Rent, available wherever you stream video.

About Tiffany Blem

Horror lover, book worm, foodie, dog mommy.

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