SAN FRANCISCO — Lili Taylor had to work herself into physically and emotionally demanding fits of fear, then madness, and maintain them at a fever pitch through many a harrowing take during the filming of “The Conjuring,” director James Wan's fact-based hit film about demonic possession.
And the 46-year-old actress admits she was drained at the end of the day.
“Well, I knew what it entailed, and I thought it was only going to be about two weeks to get back up to speed, but I realized I needed about a month,” Taylor said during recent roundtable interviews with reporters, hosted by New Line Cinema at the Ritz Carlton Hotel.
“I was fine, but I wasn't really quite as fast as I usually move,” she added with a laugh.
Taylor plays Carolyn Perron, a woman who is targeted by a dark presence after moving into an old, secluded, rural Rhode Island farmhouse with her husband, Roger (played by Ron Livingston), and their five young daughters.
Wan (“Saw,” “Insidious”) directs from a script by Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes (“The Reaping”), which is based on an actual case from the files of real-life paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren, portrayed in the film by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson.
The Perrons are at first delighted with the old house and the peace of country living, until a series of strange occurrences begins to upset their happy home. Whispers are heard in the night, then footsteps, and the growing feeling of another presence. Carolyn awakens each morning with new bruises on her arms and legs, having no idea how they were sustained.
Then there's loud banging on the door in the middle of the night, but no one's there. A hidden basement is discovered, containing evidence that something horrible may have occurred in the house many years ago, leaving an evil, invisible stain on the residence. Then incidents escalate from disturbing to terrifying when family members — particularly Carolyn — are subjected to physical harm.
“We banged her up a little bit,” Livingston said, when a reporter asked if Taylor was ever hurt during filming.
“No,” she said, “Joel (Kramer) the stunt guy was fantastic, and we went in on a couple of our off days and choreographed it together and worked out some stuff. So I felt like I was well prepared, physically.”
Emotionally, maybe not so much.
The Glencoe, Ill.-born actress has played all kinds of roles since her debut in the 1988 award-winning indie film “Mystic Pizza,” with a resume that includes “Say Anything ...” (1989), “Short Cuts” (1993), and “I Shot Andy Warhol” (1996), as well as the acclaimed TV series “Six Feet Under” (2002-2005). Her more recent films include “The Notorious Bettie Page” (2005), “Starting Out in the Evening” (2007), “Public Enemies” (2009) and “Being Flynn” (2012).
But few have been as demanding as “The Conjuring.”
As for the supernatural phenomena that are depicted in the film, Taylor expresses very little skepticism.
“You know what it is? It's a respect,” the outgoing and animated actress said. “It's a respect with anything that's dealing with this. I'm not talking just supernatural ghost stuff. I'm talking about possession stuff, a darker energy like that. You want to respect that.
“On a darker note, I had to look at some exorcism tapes on YouTube,” Taylor said. “I didn't have to. I chose to and needed to. But I don't recommend those. I have a stomach for heavy stuff, and I was sort of like, ‘I have to actually put this down right now. I think I've had my dose for the day.'”