Victor Frankenstein presents an entirely new take on Mary Shelly’s classic novel.
The film re-imagines the characters so ingrained in the public consciousness. After a recent screening of the film, James McAvoy (Victor Frankenstein), Daniel Radcliffe (Igor), and director Paul McGuigan held a press conference in which they discussed the process of finding and creating the characters and the world of the film. A warning, however: some minor spoilers are ahead. Proceed with some caution.
Victor Frankenstein hits theaters November 24th.
This is a fascinating dynamic between Frankenstein and Igor. How did your [McAvoy and Radcliffe] working relationship mirror these characters. And for [director Paul McGuigan], can you talk about your decision to cast Mark [Gatiss] and Andrew [Scott]?
Daniel Radcliffe: Thankfully it didn’t mirror the relationship of the characters at all, in the sense that it’s quite an abusive relationship . . . I think we’re fairly similar in our work ethic in that we take the job seriously and we’re focused, but also, we’re not saving lives. It is about having fun, and we get to work in an industry where we can have a lot of fun while doing our jobs. So yeah, it was great.
James McAvoy: For me, the roles were reversed in one tiny way. In one big way, actually. Daniel is the most professional actor I’ve ever worked with in my life, and I was kind of— and I’m quite a professional actor. I pride myself on being very professional. But to be kind of like, “Wow,” and learning from him, it’s kind of nuts. Just ’cause like, you’re ten years younger than me, if not more. But I was like, “You’re way more experienced than I am.” And hugely professional. Way more professional than some people I’ve worked with who have been in the business for forty years. It’s nuts. It’s to be admired, man.
Paul McGuigan: As far as Mark Gatiss and Andrew Scott, obviously I worked with them on Sherlock. I’m a great believer in working with people that you admire and like, because you’ve worked with them before. So you know exactly how they work, and you know exactly what they’re capable of. Like I would work with James and Daniel in a heartbeat because, you know, just seeing the amount of effort. And the talk about being professional, it goes beyond that really. If you want to be smart, you just get your favorite actors that you like to work with.
Can you talk about your roles and how different they are than the preconceptions we have from the Frankenstein universe? We’ve never seen an Igor like this, and Victor Frankenstein seems to be a lunatic — a happy lunatic — through the whole movie.
McAvoy: I think Victor’s always been maniacally obsessional way back from Mary Shelly’s original. What I felt we really went for, we went for that in a true sense, and we tried to investigate that in a real sort of post-Freudian world, and not just go like, “Well he’s a bit energetic, and he’s a bit obsessed.” And then halfway through the book, he goes off for a vacation for a year, and comes back completely healthy and sane and goes, “Oh, what? The monster’s alive? Thank goodness I’m really healthy now that I can go kill it.” Whereas we tried to stay in a post-Freudian world, which is like, “All right, why is he so maniacal, why is he so hyper, bi-polar? It’s not just ’cause he is. It’s not just ’cause he’s a mad scientist.” And find the reason for that, and then run with that through the whole movie, not let him off the hook halfway through the movie, so that when he has to do the bad thing at the end which is kill his own creation, that we’re not suddenly onside with him because he’s a good guy. Try and keep him discomforting, try to keep him that mercurial character all the way through.
Radcliffe: And for me, something that I liked about the script so much is that it took a lot of different preconceptions of Frankenstein and ideas people have about the story or think that they know, and twist with them and play around with them and have real fun with that. And part of that was giving Igor a back story and giving him more depth than we’ve seen in terms of that character before and finding out why he would have this incredible loyalty to Victor and why, despite how badly he’s treated a lot of the time, why that never wavers at all. So to have him be this little creature living this abject horrible life at the beginning of the film and then saved from that and brought into this world where he’s empowered, in terms of he’s got a say, and he’s got a purpose in life. And for me that was very key to how you can suddenly understand his insane devotion to this man, even when it’s being tested.
McGuigan: And also, [screenwriter Max Landis’s] script starts off in a very interesting place. Because we don’t actually get to the point people are familiar with until very late on in the film. So it was interesting to give Victor Frankenstein back his name a little bit. Because you talk of “Frankenstein” you think of the monster. So it was nice to actually play with that a little bit. And of course, at some points of the film, he does become the monster in the movie. So there was kind of an interesting through-line. In the beginnings of reading this script, you go, “Oh! That’s interesting. I never thought about that.” And it’s not just a monster movie — it’s a relationship film. It’s a film about two men who have a commonality in science. And that was interesting to visualize in the beginning of the film so that people understand where the commonality is between them. And then it just became about this relationship.
McAvoy: Well, the book is sort of a book of two halves. The first half’s about obsession, it’s about a scientist’s obsession. And the second half is much more of a Pinocchio story, a sort of existential development of a monster, “I want to be a real boy” story. And we still get that Pinocchio story, but we get it through Daniel. But the film is about people. It’s about human beings, the people who actually exist. And it’s about scientists. And Max said the reason he was inspired to write this was the advent of Facebook. Just people at the forefront of technological capability using that to implement a massive change in the way that we live our lives. And that’s why he was inspired to write Victor Frankenstein, because it was about two guys with the keys to the kingdom, or the fire of the gods in their hands, really doing stuff that could be terrible or could change the world for the better, you never know and how they’re always vilified, and then five years later we’re doing stem cell research anyway. That’s what it’s about: it’s about those people rather than just the monster. But it’s still got cool monster s**t as well.
Can you talk about the process of redefining these two very iconic characters?
McAvoy: It’s about two things: Kind of trying to marry up what Max wrote, and… Well, actually Max wrote a lot of it in his script as well. He’s writing something that’s not just an adaptation of the book, it’s not just a remake or an adaptation of the previous films, cartoons, comic books, Halloween costumes. It’s a combination of the entire zeitgeist-driven, collective consciousness perception that we have of what the world of Frankenstein means. And that’s why there’s an Igor in it when he was never in the book. But for me, it was trying to marry up the entertainment value, because this has to be an entertainment, in the same way Mary Shelly’s book was, and it has to be slightly sort of dicey at times, controversial. And it’s harder to do these days, of course. People aren’t disturbed as easily. You know, well not as disturbed by a movie that shows two guys trying to become God, as much as when she wrote that book when it would bring massive public outcry, and, you know, revolutionary. Apart from the fact that it was a f**king woman writing the book, that was another level of like, “What?” That was the stuff that was controversial back then. It’s going to be hard for us to be controversial. But we still want to make people a little bit shocked sometimes, and a little bit grossed out, and make a piece of entertainment, make a piece of solid fun at the theater, at the same time as making it about somebody who is so driven by what it doesn’t really alliterate in the book. In our case, what we find, in what Max wrote, it’s loss. Grief. And that he’s got this big massive hole inside of him no matter how much he tries to fill it it doesn’t get any smaller. It just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. So, of course his ego compensates, and he becomes a sort of a god in his own head. And he’s very close to achieving the qualifying factor for becoming a god, the prime requisite of becoming a god was creating life. And he’s nearly there. So he feels pretty massive and godlike. So those are some of the things that really formed in my head: trying to marry up the manic energy that was needed for the entertainment value of the film, along with the whole truth that fueled it, apart from just having fun.
McGuigan: I also think before Daniel says anything, what I also think is interesting is if you take these guys as actors and you think about it as a filmmaker, and you go, “Well, what does James bring to this, and what does Daniel bring?” And if you look at an analogy of a human or a person and you see that James is the heartbeat and Daniel’s the soul of the film, you know? And I think that was interesting. There was a certain dynamic that happened straight away from day one of the filming. You’ve got two very smart men who got that completely. And for a filmmaker watching it and observing it as a filmmaker, you can see that energy, and you can see that compassion, you know? And they both flip over at one point as well. And so it was interesting when you look at casting the film and go, “Well, who’s going to do what?” you can actually swap them around. I mean, it’s kind of interesting, you know? Because of the journey that you go through in the movie itself.
Daniel: Yeah, I don’t think I have a huge amount to add, but the thing I loved about the script when I read it is that it was this big, bold, unapologetically entertaining, cinematic action movie, that also had at the heart of it this great, really interesting relationship story between these two guys that is quite a toxic relationship in some ways. They’re both essential to each other. Well, you know, I get damaged by him at times, but there was something I really loved. There was a sweetness to Igor the character as it was written. There’s no side to him, there’s no edge. He’s just what you see is what you get. I don’t know. There’s a sort of honesty to how grateful he is to have been taken into this world that I found very appealing, just trying to make that as real as possible.