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SYFY WIRE The Curse of La Llorona

The Curse of La Llorona's Linda Cardellini on strong female roles in horror

By Heather Mason
The Curse of La Llorona - Linda Cardellini

You might recognize Linda Cardellini from any number of places. Maybe Freaks and Geeks. Or her role as the surprise wife of Hawkeye in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Or maybe as Velma in the live-action Scooby-Doo films. (We personally also enjoyed her performance on E.R.) But as we made our way into a creepy cabin in an area called "The Jungle" in a back corner on the WB lot to interview her, it was to talk about The Curse of La Llorona.

The tale of La Llorona is a prominent Latin American legend that tells the story of a woman who killed her own children before killing herself. La Llorona then went on to haunt the Earth and steal children.

Directed by Michael Chaves (who will also helm the upcoming third movie in the Conjuring franchise), this film from New Line Cinemas and Warner Bros. Pictures tells the story of Anna Garcia (Cardellini), a social worker who goes to check on a pair of boys who appear to be abused by their mother, played by Patricia Velásquez. La Llorona then begins to haunt Garcia and her children as well.

SYFY FANGRRLS had the opportunity to chat with Cardellini about her love of horror, how the genre provides roles for strong women, and what Velma would do if confronted with La Llorona.

Your co-star Patricia [Velásquez] grew up with the story of La Llorona. Did you have any stories or ghost tales from when you were growing up that really freaked you out?

Yeah, definitely. We used to play "light as a feather, stiff as a board." I remember the Ouija board really freaking me out. That's not a specific person, but the idea of those things really freaked me out. Bloody Mary freaked me out. I'm trying to think of all the other ones that there were. Also, just real-life things would scare me too. Like, I remember kidnappings being a big deal in my area as a kid, and just being terrified of that.

But did you believe in the supernatural things?

Yes. As a kid, I did.

As an adult, do you believe in it?

As an adult, I actually didn't, because I felt like so many, some people that I loved who passed away, who also were very good at pestering people, didn't come back to me. And I thought, "Well if anybody could, they would." And that didn't happen, so I thought, "Well, maybe there's nothing. Maybe there's no supernatural happening. Maybe there's no limbo, or in between."

But then every once in a while something strange will happen to me, like that weird stuff happening to me at the hotel in Austin. Some things will happen and you let your imagination go, and you think, "Well, I don't know anything. I don't know the answer to this life. I don't know the answer to any other life, or who knows what can happen? Who knows what's possible?"

You mentioned earlier that you've liked horror for a long time. What do you like about horror as a genre?

I love actually what Patricia [Velásquez] was talking about [in an earlier interview]. I love the idea of sitting in a crowded movie theater and everybody yelling at the same time. The adrenaline of it, the release of laughing afterward, the yelling at the screen, the tension of it.

I love going through haunted houses at Halloween time. I love Halloween Horror Nights, Knott's Berry Farm. This stuff, this whole set, is so much fun. I really enjoy it, and I'm easily scared. It's so easy to get me to jump-scare, and when I was a kid my brother did it constantly to me. He would just hide around the corner, and jump out and scare me.

And I have a knee-jerk reaction to scream, and to grab other people, so sometimes when I go see a horror movie I end up grabbing the person next to me, which is oftentimes a stranger.

I thought the relationship between yours and Patricia's characters was really cool, because it could've turned out differently, but instead it came full circle. It was like you understood each other. What do you feel like we can kind of learn from seeing that kind of relationship?

You know, not all things are what they seem on the surface. I think the same goes for La Llorona's character. You think that she's just this evil monster, and you realize she's got this sort of tragic past. She's a tragic figure, not just an evil figure. So it's a heartbreaking psychosis that she goes through. And then you look at my character who's trying to do the right thing, and she does the wrong thing. I think everybody makes mistakes.

Motherhood can bond people. Patricia's focused on her own grief once what happens happens, and she sort passes that on to me. And her coming to her senses about that is a really interesting character arc that you don't necessarily expect.

Do you feel like being a mother yourself influenced your character, and how?

Oh, absolutely. I feel like it influenced everything. I think about what somebody once said to me, "Once you become a parent, until then, you see everything from the child's perspective because you relate to the child in you. And once you become a parent you see everything from a parent's perspective." Somebody said that to me in regard to Freaks and Geeks. And they said, "Now, as a parent, how do you think of Lindsay's behavior?" And I thought, "Oh my God. I would kill her."

But, playing the character, I understood everything that she did and why she would do it. I think your perspective shifts once you become a parent. And the idea of protecting your children at all costs is something that most every parent can relate to. So that was something that was very, very easy, because ... I mean, nobody should ever want a child to be hurt in any way, but I think in becoming a parent there's this protectiveness about it where you put your body before your children, and that helps and you're taken first.

How do you feel like horror as a genre gives a way to tell stories and show perspectives in a different way than maybe another genre would be able to?

It's so heightened that I think that it allows for people to experience something. And also there can be a message underneath it, that you're entertained while you're sort of getting the message of what's trying to happen. I think about this story about three different mothers trying to protect their children or to save their children. And, you know, unfortunately, La Llorona damns herself by doing what she did to her children, but she laments it her entire life.

Horror has great female roles. I think that a lot of times they put the female at the center. This film has, if you count the daughter, four good female parts. And they all have an arc to them, and that isn't necessarily usually the case. There's usually the four male parts, and one or two female parts, you know? And I think that's something horror has to offer, and I think that women become the heroes in these films.

Horror is having such a great moment right now too. They go from wildly entertaining to award-winning now, and I think that's something that's really fantastic. It's hard to get audiences out into the theater. Everybody has the capability to watch so much at home, and horror is one of those things that people really enjoy going to the movie theater and doing together.

What do you feel like your character learned, or the transformation she's gone through by the end of the film? What does she walk away with, do you think?

I think she thinks she knows what to do. I think she's a trained social worker. I think she feels like she's trained to know what to do in troubled situations. I think she walks into Patricia's house knowing that she's going to try with her best to be compassionate, but also, to draw the line and to take those children and protect them. I think she knows how to protect children.

It isn't until she realizes she has no idea what she's getting into — she's ignorant of the legend completely — that she learns that she doesn't really know as much as she thinks, that her training doesn't matter in certain circumstances, and that some things in life don't come from the textbook and or the training. They come from generation, and generations of legend and passing down, and relying on others, and sort of fate. She has to search within herself and have some kind of faith.

I liked the Scooby-Doo easter egg in the movie. I'm a big fan.

[laughs] Thank you.

So, how would Velma investigate La Llorona?

Velma would've tried to take that mask right off. Try to figure out who was underneath that. She would've looked for more clues. She probably would've done a few things different. She probably would've been better at following the scent, and figuring things out. She would've tried to take those kids away right away. She would've believed in the supernatural a little bit. She would've been much more scientific about it all.

The Curse of La Llorona creeps into theaters April 19.