Horror fans couldn’t get enough of creepy doll Annabelle in Now the fiendish figurine is back to scare the daylights out of rising British star Annabelle Wallis
ANNABELLE WALLIS swaps history for horror in The Conjuring spinoff Annabelle. She may be one of Britain’s rising stars, but Wallis is rarely recognised on the street. Her best-known roles are in period dramas, which require layers of historical costuming and era-specific hairstyling.
Wallis rose to fame as the bodicewearing Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s beautiful and delicate third wife, in hit television drama, The Tudors, in 2009.
Since then, she has starred as doubleagent Grace Burgess in post-World War I English gangster TV drama Peaky Blinders and as one of Ian Fleming’s women, Muriel Wright, in recent biopic Fleming.
“I’m lucky I do a lot of period stuff, so I’m never recognised in the street,” she says. “I don’t dress like any of my characters normally, so I can shapeshift into whatever I want for my personal life.”
Things might change for Wallis with her new role as young mother Mia Form in Annabelle, a spinoff of last year’s hit horror flick, The Conjuring, which made $318 million at the box office worldwide.
The Conjuring depicted “real” cases looked into by paranormal investigators Lesley and Ed Warren, including one of the most terrifying jobs they have undertaken – a Rhode Island house said to be haunted.
The opening subplot in The Conjuring concerns a creepy-looking doll, said to have a demon spirit, called Annabelle, which is locked up in a glass cabinet in the Warren’s occult museum.
“I was aware of The Conjuring. It was a refreshing piece of genre. I like the style of that era of classic horror of the 1970s and around that time zone,” Wallis says.
Annabelle covers the origin story of the doll and features young couple Mia and John Form (Wallis and Ward Horton), who buys the doll as a gift for his wife.
Wallis says the actors had access to the Warrens’ original notes to help them research their roles.
“The character of Mia was pitched to me as a homage to iconic heroines such as Mia Farrow’s character in film classic Rosemary’s Baby (1968),” Wallis says.
“Even though I had this reference, the director made it clear he wanted me to play the role with an original take.
“The thing about the genre is that you have to have your audience care about you. You have to be lovable and believable so they believe in you throughout the movie.
“Mia is a very layered character, she’s no cardboard cut-out.
“I didn’t want to be a hysterical female that you often see in a horror movie. I was happy with the trajectory of my character.’’
Annabelle is directed by John R. Leonetti, cinematographer on The Conjuring, which was helmed by Australian James Wan, a co-producer on Annabelle.
Wan directed and wrote 2004’s horror film Saw and 2010’s Insidious, about a family haunted by an evil spirit. Before Annabelle he was at the helm of Fast & Furious 7.
“James was very hands-on. He came from directing Fast & Furious 7 and he would come after work and stay all night,’’ Wallis says.
“He has such a passion and love for filmmaking. He is a real connoisseur of the genre. He knows a lot about what audiences want, he has the skill to give the movie the right tone.
”He is incredibly giving and collaborative. He very much jumps around on set and has more energy than all of us together and simply blazes the way.
“He has had a very colourful career, so it’s great to be part of one of his films.’’
It was Wan who designed the human-like features of the doll Annabelle rather than use the original Raggedy Ann-style doll.
Wallis says every scene in which the doll appears is scary.
“I could have gone to see the real doll, but it’s something you don’t want to indulge in… you can indulge too far in the spirit world. I’d rather keep far away. I believe in the spirit world and I don’t want to conjure anything up,’’ she says.
“Towards the end of the film there are some really scary scenes, but it’s important you keep your performance genuine.’’
Oxford-born Wallis is the maternal niece of acting legend Richard Harris, the original wizard headmaster Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films. Wallis, who speaks several languages, grew up in Portugal, so rarely saw her British relatives.
“I lived in Portugal, so I didn’t grow up around Richard Harris and my British family,’’ she says. “I always knew acting was a genetic thing in my family. You can’t be in acting for the wrong reasons. You have to enjoy performing. It’s been nice to know a few of my cousins are actors and to have that family element in my background.’’
Wallis has finished the film shoot for a second season of Peaky Blinders, which will air on Foxtel’s BBC First in Australia.
She is now working on the movie, Grimsby, starring alongside Australians Rebel Wilson and Isla Fisher, along with Sacha Baron Cohen, who co-wrote the script. Cohen plays a football hooligan who teams up with his brother (Mark Strong), a top spy, on a new assignment, while Wallis plays Cohen’s girlfriend.
“It’s exciting to be working on the new Sacha Baron Cohen movie,’’ Wallis says. “I like to shake things up and to know anything is possible, which is why I like acting.’’
Annabelle Wallis as Grace Burgess in TV series Peaky Blinders