Exclusive: Producer Talks Wolfman

No CG. Expanded Story. Character secrets

It’s no secret that we consider The Wolfman one of the most exciting movies coming in 2009. The alchemy of Benicio Del Toro, Rick Baker and one of cinema’s greatest monsters has our geek-o-meter swinging to dangerous levels. So we have a lot of questions about it. We spoke to Scott Stuber, one of the producers on the Joe Johnston directed re-vamp to ask him what the movie has in store.

Empire: Everyone’s now seen the first look at Benicio Del Toro as the Wolfman (see below) Why did you decide to release the pictures so early?

Scott Stuber: Well, a big part of it is just how excited we are about the film. Also, the film had some changes in director that went down (from Mark Romanek to Joe Johnston), so we just wanted to reassure all the fans, who have been really supportive, and give something to everyone who’s been talking about Rick Baker (who did the make-up). So we thought, let’s show everyone. We have something we’re really proud of an excited about and which I think is very iconic and very indicative of the film we’re making and kind of honouring the original.

How closely are you following the original? The 1941 film has a very bare bones plot, so have you decided to expand on that?

We’ve added a lot of complexity. There are some great twists in this movie that were not in the original. But what we have done is stuck to a similar story about a guy who comes home and we’ve changed a few things. Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) is someone who went through a family tragedy and now has come back to England to see his father, played by Tony Hopkins, and face up to some of the problems with his family. So it’s a family that’s got very dramatic issues when he returns. What we’ve tried to do is honour the original in a number of different ways, so you’ll see some fun things in the movie that hark back to the original.

In the original, the troubles in the family’s past are only really hinted at. So how are you expanding on that?

Well, I don’t want to give it all away, but there’s some pretty heavy stuff that happened during their childhood that has been a thing that fractured the family and was one of the reasons that Lawrence left. So, it’s something that hangs over father and son.

And are you keep the same period setting?

We’re set in the late 1880s to 1890, right around there.

How much do you see this as a horror movie? The George Waggner film was arguably more tragedy than horror.

Yes, it obviously has horror elements from the gothic nature of the movie and the inevitability of – the one thing the Wolfman does is he kills. So there’s got to be some scares and gore in the killings and the things he does while he’s the beast. So there’s that aspect of horror and we’re really trying to be true to that iconic horror stuff. I think the virtue of the movie and the reason we’ve got actors like Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro, is the writing. The quality of the storytelling is really interesting.

How did you entice Benicio Del Toro to this? He’s not generally a blockbuster man.

Benicio’s a huge Wolfman fan. He’s kind of the origin of this thing. The Wolfman is one of his favourite movies of all time – he’s got Wolfman memorabilia all over his house. He’s just someone who has a real passion for this. I think what’s great about the Wolfman is that he’s a complex character; he’s not just a guy who has a superpower and runs around with it. He’s a tortured soul. The ‘superpower’ of the Wolfman is damning to your soul, it’s not freeing. A superpower is usually something that sets you free, like letting you fly or giving you X-ray vision, and giving you something that people dream about. The Wolfman’s extreme power damns his soul. That’s a great complex character to play and that’s what gives Benicio a lot of opportunity to do different things as an actor.

What has he been filming so far?

We’ve seen some great stuff. We’re about three weeks into production and we’re currently doing night shoots on some of our killings. There have been some really fun sequences. It’s kind of early, but there’s some really terrific stuff with he and Emily and he and Anthony. Hugo Weaving plays a Scotland Yard detective who’s on his trail and there’s some great third act stuff with him getting ready to go find our man.

You mention Weaving as a Scotland Yard detective. Does that mean you’re widening the geography beyond the original, which was all in one village and only seemed to use about four sets?

Yes, the best thing is that telescope across the street. (laughs). There’s some great stuff in the original. But, yes, we are widening it. It still takes place in a village, called Blackmore in our film, but London gets incorporated into the film as well.

And Emily Blunt is playing Gwen Conliffe, Talbot’s love interest. Have you changed her part much from the one played by Evelyn Ankers in the original?

She’s definitely a big part of some of the problems in the family. She’s really in the midst of it. Benicio and her have a relationship that has a pretty big hurdle in the middle of it. She’s someone who’s trying to deal with all these emotional aspects as a person and at the same time having to go through this kind of unrequited love that is problematic and ultimately doomed, because he’s got this disease that’s dooming him.

Has the change in director from Mark Romanek to Joe Johnston changed the course of the film particularly?

In some ways, yes. Every director brings a different thing to the movie. The movie had a pretty solid aesthetic that we had all kind of worked towards – the writer and the producers and everyone – and we kind of knew what we were going for in terms of it’s a period movie and it’s got a gothic nature and we’re honouring the original and sticking with some of that stuff. Joe has a real love of these movies, which is great. He has a real passion for the history of the monster movie and making these kinds of films. So he’s really got an enthusiasm and love for it, which is just infectious.

Joe’s not known for this type of movie, so why did he win the job over all the directors who wanted it?

The great thing about Joe is that he’s such a diverse filmmaker. Whether you look at his family films or something like October Sky, which I thought was a great film. Then Jurassic Park III, he did a great job. That’s really hard, to come in and take a Steven Spielberg franchise and do new and different things, which I thought he did. He really brought a sense of tension and anxiety to that movie. Any good horror movie exists on how much you pull the strings before you let them go. It’s all about how far you can take the audience in tension and anxiety and I think he’d shown the ability to do that as a filmmaker, and then he really got underneath the skin of the script and understood it. His excitement about it was exciting for everyone involved.

The look of the Wolfman is vital on this film. The Lon Chaney Wolfman had a very distinctive look, which Rick Baker looks to have kept elements of, but make-up restrictions of the time meant that he was very much on the man side of wolfman. How have you found the right balance of paying homage to Chaney’s look while also making the most of everything that’s possible now?

When you make a film, casting is vital. In this, casting Rick Baker was actually one of the most important things you could do. He’s the equivalent of an A-list movie star. So, getting Rick Baker was like getting Brad Pitt, in a lot of ways. He loves The Wolfman so much and has such an affinity for it, so it was months of trials and tribulations and misses and Rick trying to figure out the hair and the snout and the teeth and the brow. It’s a constant thing that he refines and his team is amazing.

The process of transformation is almost as important as the final monster. Rick’s work on that in American Werewolf in London hasn’t been bettered, so how does he want to push that further?

We haven’t shot that yet, but we’ve done a lot of research and development on that and had a lot of discussions about it. I think the hope and opportunity is to outdo something that was so iconic. As you say, when you think of werewolf transformation you think of that moment. The hope is that we can expand on that and, for those of us who remember it, just blow our minds, and for the new generation to have their version of what American Werewolf was for us back in the day.

Does having Rick Baker mean that all Wolfman effects will be physical, rather than CG?

We really want to stick to the physical stuff. So much of what we’re trying to accomplish is that when Benicio is the wolf, you really know it’s Benicio Del Toro and you have the eyes and the emotion of what he is. That way you don’t disassociate your emotion and you realise that the person, Lawrence Talbot, who you’ve got to know in the daytime is still Lawrence Talbot at night. That way you’re empathetic towards him, you’re angry towards him, you feel for him. You wouldn’t get that with a completely CG creature who you disassociate from Benicio Del Toro. There will inevitably be some CG work to help with some of the transformation, but it’s a Rick Baker-centric film and that’s what we wanted from the get-go.

There hasn’t been a really good Werewolf movie for a couple of decades. Do you think they’re harder to get right than a Dracula or Frankenstein?

Yes and no. The interesting thing about those movies and the reason we’re all so compelled by them is that it’s the monster and trying to understand what he’s going through. That’s why we’re looking to the original. What’s great about that movie is that it’s based in character. You can’t let the idea that you have monsters mean you just go for spectacle without tying it together. The hardest thing about the Wolfman is that he’s one and the same – he’s a Wolfman. So it’s tough to bring complexity to the beast and the human.

You mention spectacle. In the original we see very little of the Wolfman, probably due to budget as much as anything. Is he more present here? Is this also, in part, an action movie?

He’s definitely more present and you’ll definitely see him have his night to roam the hillsides. It’s definitely something that’s out there more than the original because we do have the opportunity and the tools at hand to recreate it in a way that feels more real than you could do back in those days.

If this proves a success, are there plans to resurrect other Universal monsters?

Yeah, I think so. We’ve talked to the studio a bit about it. I know [Universal President of Production] Donna Langley and [Co-Chairmen] Marc Schmuger and David Linde have talked a lot about that. One of the great pedigrees of Universal is its monsters. You go on the tour and Frankenstein and the Wolfman are still hanging around. To recreate those with different visions and different cast is something that everybody’s excited about doing.