Even before she really did anything, you could tell the nun was bad news. Played by actress Bonnie Aarons, the demonic entity from The Conjuring film universe made its first appearance in 2016’s The Conjuring 2, and the villain proved so effective that it received its own spin-off movie, The Nun, in 2018.
A strikingly disturbing-looking horror monster, the nun is only one of the many faces used by the antagonistic demon from the series known as Valak. The entity uses Catholic imagery to incite terror in the hearts of its more spiritual victims, but while Valak has taken a number of forms throughout the Conjuring movies, its most memorable form is the ghostly, habit-wearing specter that Aarons so capably portrays. Though the nun draws comparisons to the Gothic shock-rock look of musician Marilyn Manson, the performer behind the beast is much more gorgeous in real life than the monstrous face she’s famous for. Let’s break down the life and works of the actress who plays the Nun.
As one of the monsters that connects the separate stories of the Conjuring franchise, Bonnie Aarons has been more of a front-and-center presence in the series than even some of its main human characters. First appearing in The Conjuring 2 and making a cameo appearance in Annabelle: Creation before nabbing her own movie, Aarons and her demonic nun have arguably become The Conjuring series’ own version of Freddy Krueger, who was memorably played by actor Robert Englund in the original Nightmare on Elm Street movies.
In an interview with Rue Morgue, The Nun Director Corin Hardy said he never considered recasting the role of the demon sister when it came time for the villain’s turn in the spotlight. “Once I got the job of directing The Nun, I immediately said, ‘I hope we’ve made sure that the actress who originally played her is available.’ I didn’t want to think of casting anyone else.”
The Nun isn’t her first rodeo
The movies of The Conjuring universe aren’t the first horror films to use Aarons’ striking facial features to great effect. The only difference is, up until now, the parts she played have been fairly small or in low-budget movies the masses didn’t see. She appeared in the Lindsay Lohan-starring psychological thriller I Know Who Killed Me in 2007, a movie whose most remarkable feature is its notoriously poor reviews. Aarons made a brief appearance in the Sam Raimi-directed horror movie Drag Me to Hell in 2009, and also appeared in the 2010 horror-comedy movie Dahmer vs. Gacy, playing a fearsome general in an unorthodox military scheme.
She says horror moves are good for you
Actors don’t always get to take projects that match their personal tastes. Sometimes they have to go where the work takes them, but Aarons’ biggest role to date happens to be in a genre she truly appreciates.
At the premiere of It, Aarons spoke about the unique positives of the horror genre. The way she sees it, the scarier and more disturbing a movie is, the better it makes the viewer feel. “Horror films are really good for people’s health,” she said. “You have an adrenaline rush — I’ve had lots of people tell me that, with depression, that it gets them out of depression, because you get so much adrenaline going, and so [many] endorphins going.”
Aarons “loves scaring people and she loves horror,” The Nun Director Corin Hardy told the Daily Dead. “She would be there on set, in between takes, constantly scaring [co-star Taissa Farmiga] or keeping her on edge.”
When the bum steals the scene
Even if she had stopped acting in 2001, Bonnie Aarons would have retired as a key part of one of the scariest scenes in cinema history. That year, Aarons played a tiny-but-very-key role in David Lynch’s surrealist masterpiece Mulholland Dr., a movie regarded as one of the best films of all time.
Starring Naomi Watts and Laura Harring, Mulholland Dr. centers on the relationship between an aspiring actress and an amnesiac woman in danger, and its dreamlike story takes several genre-defying twists and turns. One infamous scene about a nightmarish entity that lurks behind a diner is a sequence of pure horror, and Aarons is the linchpin of the moment. During the sequence, Aarons plays an enigmatic character credited only as “the Bum.” The scene is constructed in such a way that her sudden appearance is one of the most terrifying things you’ll ever see in a motion picture. According to Vulture, Aarons didn’t know her part in the movie was supposed to be scary until she saw the film, but when she did, she even scared herself.
Don’t do drugs, sweetie
Outside of horror movies, Bonnie Aarons’ more noteworthy roles have been salt-of-the-earth characters from the Northeast. She plays the charmingly-named Crackhead Bonnie in David O. Russell’s The Fighter and a minor character’s mother in the Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook. May we suggest that this particular part of her acting portfolio could suggest an amusing skill set? She plays either a monstrous demon whose very face strikes fear into the hearts of men or a hard-nosed townie from New England. Two sides of the same coin, really.
Fun fact: Following her stint in The Fighter, Aarons also played the role of a disgruntled teen — yes, teenager — in this don’t do drugs public service announcement.
There’s a (slightly) lighter side to this villain
While Aarons has become associated with the horror genre on a potentially permanent basis, thanks to the record-setting box office performance of The Nun, scary movies aren’t the only sorts of films she’s known for.
One of her best-known roles outside of the demonic nun Valak is that of the Baroness Joy von Troken in The Princess Diaries series. In those two movies, Aarons’ character is a scheming political operator from the fictional nation of Genovia, plotting against Anne Hathaway’s princess-in-training Mia to keep her from ascending to the throne. Aarons puts her severe features to work to create a more human villain — the kind of lady that you go out of your way to not cross, lest she give you the worst and most withering dressing-down of your life.
While no plans for a third princess movie have been announced, a script does exist, and Aarons has said she would return — perhaps to take the Genovian throne once and for all. Why not? Call it Princess Diaries 3: Reign of Terror. We’d watch it.
Critics didn’t think she had the looks for Hollywood
Working in the entertainment industry can be a savage experience for anyone who deviates from Hollywood’s unrealistic standards of beauty, and Bonnie Aarons has had to contend with her share of that adversity. She said some industry pros have encouraged her to find another line of work – advice that she, thankfully, ignored.
As Aarons told Vulture in 2014, her distinctive features have helped her land plenty of high-caliber projects. Speaking about her casting in David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., she said, “I don’t mean to brag, but David Lynch said he was looking for the most incredible face he could find. I actually met him at a Twin Peaks party, and he was like, ‘Look at that face!'”
“I just felt [that] she has got such a unique presence, and her face, the physical look of her face, is so cinematic and terrifying,” The Nun Director Corin Hardy told the Daily Dead. “Bonnie’s extremely striking and beautiful, and without the makeup, she’s almost got this sort of classic Hollywood face about her, which is what makes her so special.”
She knows who you are, and you could use a ‘little correction’
When not acting in others’ projects, Aarons also creates vlogs with her friends and family under the title And You Know Who You Are. Uploaded to her YouTube page, the self-produced videos are casual call-out sessions on what she sees as the world’s most annoying, irksome types of people. Topics cover questions as diverse as “Are You A Smart Ass?” and “Are You Deranged?” Our personal favorite? “Are You A Didactic Imbecile?”
The videos are described on YouTube as being produced in order “to help make the world a better place by encouraging those people who need a little correction, by letting them know that we know who they are.” It’s exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from your most fun aunt — except this aunt is most widely known for her work as a monstrous demon of pure sacrilege and terror, so that certainly adds a little edge to the call outs.
Breaking the habit
By so ably taking on the role of Valak the demon nun, Bonnie Aarons has reached a new level of professional visibility in her career. We can only hope it leads to more opportunities for the actress in both horror movies and beyond.
At the time of this writing, Aarons has two projects in the works for release in 2018: a superhero-themed video game homage of a series called Adi Shankar’s Gods and Secrets; and a role as “The Chrone” in the fantasy film Wizardream. Those projects began well before Aarons’ villainous Valak role anchored its own horror movie. Post-The Nun, the star has yet to publicly attach herself to another project. It’s been clear for some time that she has acting chops, but now she has options — the kind that inevitably arise after leading a hit movie.
While nothing has been announced to date, a sequel to The Nun feels like a foregone conclusion. If it happens, we bet we’ll see Aarons back in the habit again, terrorizing the Conjuring universe with style and a toothy snarl.