"The most beautiful bird I have seen is the pileated woodpecker. Did you ever see the cartoon Woody Woodpecker when you were little? It’s sort of based on that. It’s 16 inches tall – it’s big – and it's black with a huge red flaming crest, like a crown, on its head and a huge beak and it makes a really wild sound; it's gorgeous. It sounds like someone’s hammering in the woods when you hear it, they’re digging so deep for insects. My favourite bird, that I haven’t seen but I really want to see, is the albatross. What I like about them, and about pelagic birds generally, is that they live on the sea. They only go on land to breed and I’m just in awe that they can do it, that they can live on the sea for 90% of their lives, in the most tough, difficult landscape.
I love watching birds because it takes me out of myself, because it's something bigger than me that’s happening – my life can feel small. Let’s say on my lunch break in the park, I can look up and I can see a whole other world that’s happening, a whole struggle. I might see a hawk that’s coming in and trying to catch a little chickity or a sparrow. They have these birding apps, there's a tonne of them, and you can find out what’s near you, so I always see if there’s a pileated woodpecker near me and I try to go find it."
"I love watching birds because it takes me out of myself, because it's something bigger than me that’s happening" — Lili Taylor
Acclaimed American actress Lili Taylor – of Mystic Pizza, I Shot Andy Warhol and Six Feet Under fame – is passionate about birds, a pastime she indulges in as part of an online community of "birders" who track all kinds of birds and their migration patterns and share their discoveries via social media and smart phone apps. "Birds are a gateway to other things," she extols, "because if you start learning about birds, and you can start learning about trees, you can start learning about the environment, about global warming, about just about everything."
But for her latest film The Conjuring, Taylor was forced to confront a more sinister side of her favoured species. Based on a true story, the box-office hit by Saw director James Wan tells the tale of the Perron family (headed by Taylor and Ron Livingston), who upon moving to Rhode Island find themselves the object of increasingly disturbing hauntings in their lofty, isolated farmhouse. Becoming more and more desperate, the Perrons call upon paranormal investigators Ed and Lorrain Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) to help expel the demons, but even the experts struggle in the face of such evil and a heart-stopping series of events follow before order is finally restored. A recurring event in the Perron house is the spattering of dead birds against the windows in an eerie echo of Hitchcock's classic. "I tell you, lots of birds flying around like crazy is scary," Taylor says of the experience.
Chillingly, shortly after finishing filming Taylor found fact mirroring fiction: "I was going out of my house and all of a sudden this crow started flying in and attacking me, it was so scary, and then another one joined in like in The Conjuring. What had happened was one of its friends had been killed in the street and I think it thought I had done it and so they started attacking me. But I still like crows," she adds generously, undeterred in her avian affection. "That’s not a reason to not like crows."
The Conjuring is out now on DVD.