"She's got a great scary energy on set," says director Michael Chaves
When she's not terrorizing The Conjuring universe fans as demon nun Valak, actress Bonnie Aarons is the "complete opposite" offscreen, says director Michael Chaves.
She "always brings it," Chaves, who directed The Nun II, tells PEOPLE. "Bonnie is such a horror icon and she's been in so many great horror films. This is obviously her defining role; this is the one everyone knows her for."
Aarons, 62, first played Valak in 2016's The Conjuring 2, in which she haunted Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga's Ed and Lorainne Warren. She's popped up in other Conjuring entries, and her character's 2018's Nun spinoff (also starring Vera's real-life sister Taissa Farmiga as Sister Irene) became the biggest box office performer of the franchise.
Five years later, she's back in The Nun II, and taking the spooky role as seriously as ever.
"She's got a great scary energy on set," says Chaves, 38. "When she gets into makeup and steps on set, it is really chilling. She's really in it and it brings an energy, and I think everybody responds to it. The crew responds to it and the actors respond to it."
"There were actors that were fans of the original film, and there was this kind of terrifying, almost celebrity quality to it where they're so excited to see The Nun and be in a Nun movie — but they're also really scared of her. I know I got that feeling the first time she came on set."
Chaves, who also directed 2021's The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, clarifies that Aarons is perfectly delightful when not in character.
"She is, it should be said, a lovely person outside and just the total opposite. She's very fun and lively and easy to talk to. Just a great person," he says.
And, says Chaves, Aarons doesn't go Method and stay in character at all times during production.
"She can break. She's not an actor who isn't reasonable. She's not like — you don't need to call her Valak or douse her with holy water to get her on set," he jokes. "She's great to work with. When she turns it on, she turns it on."
"I think it's the same thing that you see with Vera and you see with Taissa: They can turn it on and they can get fully there and fully engaged in the moment and the character. But then when you cut, they take a breath and they're back to normal," Chaves explains. "It's a level of professionalism. Only certain actors can really do that. It's really hard to be able to shift into that zone and then be able to come back to reality. They do a great job of it."
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In recent weeks, Aarons has documented on Instagram her days picketing during the SAG-AFTRA actors' strike that began July 14. The actress sued Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema, the studios behind the Nun movies, in August claiming she hasn't been properly compensated for profits brought in from using her likeness as Valak. PEOPLE has reached out to Warner Bros. for comment.
About transforming into her characters, Aarons told We Got This Covered in 2018, "I love all of the characters that I play and I so much enjoy releasing myself into the character."
The Nun II is in theaters Friday.
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