You can finally welcome Dermot Mulroney to the horror movie club.
After a nearly three-decade career in film and television working in just about every kind of genre imaginable, the veteran actor admits he's pretty stoked to have found his first full-blown, traditional-style horror film in the form of "Insidious: Chapter 3," which opens Friday nationwide.
Set prior to the events of the first film, the latest "Insidious" installment sees Mulroney playing a widowed father struggling to raise his two kids even under somewhat normal circumstances. However, his struggles enter a whole new supernatural realm when his teenage daughter (Stefanie Scott) becomes the apparent target of a malicious supernatural force.
In a candid conversation with Spinoff Online, Mulroney explains how he finally came around to embracing the long-avoided horror genre (despite having a genuine enthusiast living under his own roof), the successful dodges and weaves he's made in recent years to give his career a flourishing second act and why you may never see him and Dylan McDermott in the same place at the same time.
Spinoff Online: After having not done horror for so long, I'm thinking this film specifically must have come with all those kinds of fun things that originally attracted you to acting?
Dermot Mulroney: Yeah. And I put off the pleasure of doing a horror movie for almost 30 years, so I don't know what I was thinking. I mean, our thinking changed. The whole industry changed. So in all seriousness, there was a time where I wouldn't even consider doing a horror movie, so it's nice when that time changed because there's no restrictions. It's much more fun now.
I was looking at that 30-year filmography and you've done so many different kinds of movies. I'm thinking you have a pretty good sense of how the industry has changed and evolved. How are you applying that wisdom to the choices you're making?
Well, it's easier now, I think, because the choices are more varied. Through all those years that I worked only in films, one of my sort of side goals was always to try and find various different parts, explore the range of what you're capable of, what you're capable of being cast to do. And did a pretty good job of that. Now, it's even wider and even more of an open playing field. Obviously, the old conventions of not crossing a line into doing television and all that are long gone, so I'm reaping the benefit, really, is the way I look at it.
And having made my really satisfying moves into television, whether it's sitcom with "New Girl" or a conspiracy series with "Crisis" -- and really the great shows I got on like "Enlightened," "Shameless" -- it's been a blast over there. If I had only known that it was that rich in material, but it took the economy to change for the business react to that. Then it even took me another couple years to adapt my own philosophy to what the reality is. But once I did, I started working more because there are more types of jobs to take, and I found that I could still prioritize quality.
So what was it about this "Insidious" film that made you say, "OK, I really dig this role"?
Up until now, I guess this is the first time I worked on a film that has such a specific formula to achieve in order to actually join the ranks of the genre. I knew I was working with somebody who was really experienced and had great instincts. I could tell that right away with [writer/director] Leigh [Whannell], but it kind of just dawned on me slowly, more slowly, that this is fun. It's such a specific assignment -- to deliver on the expectations of what a horror movie should be, but then also, of course, our own franchise, mythologies and popularity factor.
So, once I realized we were doing one thing and one thing only, it was very satisfying. It's great to have an assignment. A lot of times, it's a little more vague. Like, "Let's make a drama." Well, that could be anything. This is, "Let's make an 'Insidious' movie for horror fans that are standing by waiting for it." It's really satisfying.
Is it cool for you to see somebody like Lin Shaye who is this tireless, prolific character actress, who's been so great for so long, now get this franchise where she's the superstar?
It came back around in spades for Lin Shaye! It's really cool. You recognize that in "Insidious," she gets killed. And in "Insidious 2," she's revisiting from the other side, from the Further, in a dream sequence or something. But now, we go back six years in time, she's alive and well and living in Highland Park. [Laughs] And she's a badass, as it turns out. So little did we know, when we saw "Insidious," how truly badass Elise is -- and that's a toned down version of the real Elise.
So it must have been so fun for Leigh to deconstruct two storylines that he'd already come up with and then take all the puzzle pieces and plant them throughout "Chapter 3" which predates the action of 1 and 2. I mean, just that assignment alone... really, I've developed this theory that -- they already know -- it's a very specific canvas. It was kind of satisfying once I recognized that.
What was the day on set where you were like, "I'm definitely in a horror movie"?
The day for me is when Leigh's character, Specs and I -- whom I just met after all -- are forced to struggle the writhing body of my teen girl down on the bed, tie her down with an extension cord, and get quick glimpse of the eyeball in the back of her throat [Laughs]. And then just that action sequence, the tug of war between the Further and the Demon through her dad through the window.
Those were real exciting days only because it's fun action. All the actors are doing it all, so it's not a stunt movie. Yeah, that day in particular, with that sort of frantic struggle in the bedroom, I think, plays great in the movie and was sort of bizarre and fun to shoot. After all, I'm like, "Yeah, a battle royale with a 17-year-old actress. It's not a thing that men my age do every day." [Laughs]. This is a little strange... a little strange.
Do you watch horror movies very often?
I've been forced to a little, and I've commented on it recently, but my son is a horror fan, so I was dragged into it, literally, kicking and screaming. But somebody had to carpool the kids to a Thursday midnight screening of "Evil Dead" -- why not me? And so this has actually been fun in my house, just because we do have a fan under the roof.
So you've got some real street cred at home now.
I do! I do! I'm like the cool dad with his friends. For now. But believe me, they'll grow out of me soon [Laughs].
What are the sort of things you're still looking forward to doing in your career?
There's still stuff left out there: full-on action movie I haven't done. I'm just crossing the Ts on a job for the summer where there'd be elements of that, with Jamie Foxx and Michelle Monaghan in a movie called "Sleepless Nights" that Open Road's going to make -- sort of a "Casino"/"Die Hard" type of movie -- an enclosed interior, chase-down movie -- and that has some real action-type elements. I'm touching into that world.
I never got to play my "Army grunt in the trenches." I long ago aged myself out of that, so that's a miss [Laughs]. For any of the sport stories, I'd have to be the coach or the owner. I'm off the field. And it's true: all professional athletes are off the field by 51, so what's the difference? The difference is that I have to keep working out, and they don't! [Laughs] They're in full retirement. I'm still in training. Just to stay on my game.
Would you want to do a Marvel movie?
Oh, that would be a heck of a lot of fun! Like with this [film], I've seen that industry kind of blow up like I saw the horror industry blow up. And I kind of elbowed my way to the front of the line. Maybe there's a little room, too, in the superhero world. Yeah, I've never done one of those either.
I never thought I'd say it, but as I'm aging out of the romantic leading man now, I'm like, "Hey, where are the romantic comedies?" But that may not happen again. So while I was only being viewed as that type of actor, I had my days where -- not that I ever resented it -- but I wondered why I couldn't be viewed in a variety of ways, especially since I was doing a variety of roles all along. But now, I look back and I don't mind it so much. It was good business. I had a little heyday there for a while, so that was pretty satisfying.
You got to work with some pretty top-flight actresses on their way up, too.
I sure did. Somebody just pointed out the other day that I've worked with all the Australian leading ladies, maybe except for Naomi Watts: Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, Rachael Taylor, Isabel Lucas, Abbie Cornish. There's like a lengthening list of Australian actresses. One day they're going to finally run out of actresses for me to work with, but there's still others out there yet.
Did you ever worry things were going to go away?
It's like a full table, and a guy saying, "No, no thanks. I'm full." I've never really had that problem. I'm always hungry. But I did get a really good start. That will never change, so I never really felt like I'd never work again. Just to be able not feel that is an accomplishment as an actor, and I felt that early on. I thought, "I actually have a chance of riding it out."
But that being said, I had very slow periods in my career, for sure. And one of which coincided with the economic downturn and conversely, the expansion of my family. So you wouldn't even think it, but we actually went through, like, lean times -- or at least, our version of it, like many did during like 2009, 2010 and 2011. It does kind of time out to once I got my traction again, after that down period. When you see things tight in your own household it will change your perspective.
So I really came out of that period gunning for bear. I was ready to really pursue work again. Fortunately, my adjustment timed out, really. The industry rebooted, too, in a way that made all these different types of roles more accessible to me. Instead of being limited by your achievements, my achievements actually then expanded my work opportunities.
So it's been easier to find better quality material across the media landscape.
Yeah, we all watched television kind of bloom recently, at the same time that the variety of the types of films being made was contracting. Television seemed to offset that. And then it took me about a year or two to adjust to that new balance and identify how to -- again, like any businessman -- how to adapt to the marketplace. I feel like I really did a good job of that and came out of the end of that period of really five or six years much better for it. So I learned from this cycle. There are other cycles in the past in my career, I didn't adapt fast enough to or adjust to or read properly.
So, there was that "Saturday Night Live" sketch with you and Dylan McDermott…
It still has a little [staying power]. You know, that particular skit, people bring it up to me. It has its own little space, to my experience. This has been an ongoing thing from the very beginning. We've had, like, a dual situation. So what I found funny about "Saturday Night Live" finding that funny in 2014, is that it's about the fifth cycle of it being funny. It just keeps coming back every couple of years. Someone will invent another joke about it. And then we'll all laugh, as if we haven't heard that joke before [Laughs]. So I guess it's just... that's my path. I can't complain.
When did the two of you first have an exchange about it?
I haven't seen Dylan in person in years, really. But in the past, we've crossed paths. But, well, so we've never really been seen in the same room at the same time [Laughs, let's be honest. There's no photographic evidence. I mean, that hasn't been doctored. People mash pictures up, but we don't have a picture. There's no proof that we aren't the same guy.
Some big Hollywood awards night, we'll get you both on stage together.
I don't know what I'm going to do that night! I've actually thought through that night, and I might just wave out of camera range and give him a hearty thumbs up and do that at a distance. I don't know. I don't know if that's going to help either of us, to have us photographed. We might just keep the thing alive a little. Just keep the ember burning under that hilarious joke about the misspellings and the misplacements [Laughs].