The Sydney A-lister talks to Dan Rookwood about the Hollywood remake of the classic monster horror flick.
So The Wolfman: pretty amazing cast. Did you all sign on at the same time? No, I think Benicio [del Toro] was on board from the word go, the project sort of grew with him; I would imagine that Anthony was the next on board. I wasn’t really involved in it until a couple of weeks before shooting, which was very late in the day.
I gather there were some problems with the film before you joined… Mark Romanek, who was going to be directing it, was no longer directing it. I don’t know all the ins and outs of that, but anyway Joe Johnston took over as director a couple of weeks before shooting started, and that’s when I came in. So I was told about the role, and they said: “Look this is what’s happened, and basically you need to make your mind up really quickly.” And I thought if Anthony Hopkins, Benicio del Toro and Emily Blunt haven’t jumped ship as a result of the director leaving then they must be OK with the change or they must be inspired enough by the script. So really it was those three names that drew me to it. More importantly once I read the script, I really liked the writing.
Do you go on gut feeling when it comes to choosing roles? Yeah, I do. There have only been two instances where I’ve had very little time to make a decision. Normally you have more time to re-read it, and agonise over it and then say yes or no. This time I had to make a decision quite quickly but even so the decision would’ve been the same one.
The Wolfman is a classic monster horror film and you obviously had to shoot much of it late at night in the woods. Did you and the cast get genuinely spooked at all? Yes. Being in the woods at night is a beautiful thing. We shot in the woods behind Pinewood studios in London. It’s has been used in so many films. So it was like: "Oh, now I know where From Russia with Love was shot." You can see these films come to life. The forest at night, the way it was lit, was exquisitely beautiful. It was a very evocative era: 1890s, gas-lit, Victorian London. My character, Aberline, was the real Jack the Ripper inspector. There was a very Hound of the Baskervilles feel. The whole werewolf myth and the Baskervilles myth, there are a lot of similarities.
And that was a time where people, especially in villages, would’ve bought into these myths. That’s right, so they can still be affected by those myths. The original Wolfman film in the 1940s was set in the late 1930s and so you felt the connection to that time wasn’t there, because you’ve got cars, you’ve got electric lighting, you’ve got phones, so somehow you rob it of something. But setting this film in 1890s, you’ve got the march of science and reason and Darwinism and God’s going out the window. But at the same time people are still scared, still religious and there is a darkness that can’t be dispelled with electric lighting.
Your English accent is very good in the film. Have you always been good at accents? Oh thank you. Both my parents are English and I was born in West Africa, and I moved around as a kid, lived in Bristol, lived in Buckinghamshire and Surrey as a kid, and then moved when I was 16. I used to speak [affects West Country burr] slightly Bristolian anyway. I used to have all these accents running around in my head. I had a South African accent when I was eight or nine because we lived in Johannesburg. As a kid you pick up these things. So when I go back to England it’s quite easy for me to slip back into a particular way of talking and framing things because all my relatives are there and I sort of feel in some way it’s home, or it’s a home.
My favourite scene in the film is when you’re in the village pub and you ask, very pointedly, for "a pint of bitter". I know, it’s a great scene when the sceptical inspector opens the door to the village pub and all the funny types look at him. It’s got a great humour to it. It’s a tradition in horror movies; going to the pub where all the locals are terrified of the Werewolf but the man from London doesn’t believe in it at all.
But as the film eventuates, the truth literally comes back to bite you. Now, without giving too much away, it looks like they were setting this up for another Wolfman. I guess that’s right. There was a sort of deliberation about who gets bitten, who dies, whether Emily gets bitten, whether Benicio escapes, whether he dies, what happens to Aberline. So that was kind of where they ended it. So yeah they left themselves open for a sequel.
And have you signed on for another film? Ah, no. Not yet. I guess they’ll wait to see if this makes money first then they’ll make their decision accordingly.
Well, what with Lord of the Rings and the Matrix series, you’re pretty experienced with successful trilogies so maybe we’ll see Wolfman 3… What else have you got coming up in 2010? I’ve got Uncle Vanya with the Sydney Theatre Company at the end of the year. The Hobbit was going to be going this year but I hear that it might have been bumped. I finish off a film called Oranges and Sunshine, which is presently filming in Adelaide, and we spent a couple of weeks in England. It’s directed by Jim Loach, a wonderful young director. It’s the story of the children who were sent to England and told they were orphans in the 50s and 60s and into the 70s. Then many years later, when this film is set, in the 80s, they find out that in fact they hadn’t been orphaned at all, and they still had family back home. So it’s a story about abandonment and abuse of children, and the way in which those people can heal those lives.
Uncle Vanya also has a fantastic cast: yourself, John Bell, Richard Roxburgh, Cate Blanchett. What do you make of the job Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton are doing with the STC? I think they’re really thrilling and exciting.
It must be nice that so much is happening on your doorstep in Sydney. Yeah it is, I love working with Cate, she’s a gorgeous person, she’s really smart and she works so hard. Andrew is a terrific writer and a lovely man, a lot of fun to be around. I think those two have been really brave and made some changes, to reinvigorate the theatre scene in Sydney, and some of their ideas are really great, so I’m excited about this project. It’s a beautiful play and Andrew is adapting it.