Fran Kranz interview: The Cabin In The Woods, Shakespeare, and fake blood

As The Cabin In The Woods arrives on DVD and Blu-ray, we caught up with star and Whedon collaborator Fran Kranz for a chat…

NB There are spoilers for The Cabin In The Woods and Dollhouse in this interview.

Before I talked to Fran Kranz, I thought I was one of The Cabin In The Woods’ biggest fans. I saw it twice at the cinema – and would have gone again if it had been showing anywhere near me – and I can’t wait to get my hands on the Blu-ray so I can pore over every detail of the movie. I have the novelisation and the visual companion and I just really, really, really love it.

But Kranz loves it more. He can’t stop raving about how great it is, how great everyone involved is, and how glad he is that it’s finally out so he can talk about it. He’s also a massive fan of Joss Whedon – and he ought to be, considering he’s now worked with him on three separate projects: Dollhouse, The Cabin In The Woods, and Much Ado About Nothing. It’s kind of hard not to find his enthusiasm contagious. Here – read it for yourself.

The Cabin In The Woods is coming out on DVD and Blu-ray soon – how does it feel talking about it now, so long after you actually made it?

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You know, I love that movie unlike any other movie I’ve been in or been a part of, so I’ll talk about it all day. You’ll be the one who ends up walking away, like, “wow, that guy is obsessed with his movie.”

I’m pretty obsessed with it as well, so you’re okay.

Oh, good. It’s incredibly satisfying; as much faith as I had in that movie, and as much as I stood by it even when my friends and family thought I was a crazy person for babbling about this movie that either would never come out or may not even exist at all, people really doubted this movie and its future once it disappeared. You know, once it missed the first release date, and then the second release date, people thought it was done for, but to me it was the best thing I’d ever done. 

It was the best script I’d ever read, so to talk about a theatrical release was exciting, but to talk about a DVD release is actually even more exciting because in today’s world, DVDs reach more people. That’s the way people are watching their movies now; on demand, online, or on Netflix, or whatever, so I feel like, in a way, this is our wide opening. It’s very exciting and now the real journey to cult classic status begins – I’m really hoping that’s the way it goes! 

So, let’s go back to the beginning: how did you get involved with the film?

I was on Dollhouse, and I basically saw Joss all the time, but I got an audition for it like any other movie. It was strange to me because I was working with Joss, and a lot of times if you’re familiar at all with the director, or the director is familiar with your work, you sometimes go straight in [to audition] for the writer and director or the producers, but this was just a regular pre-read. And I thought that was strange, because I knew the guy, you know; I was looking at the guy!

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But my agent said, “don’t worry about it, just do your best work”. And I found out later that Joss was actually thinking about me for the role, and he’d told Drew [Goddard], “I think I’ve found our Marty”. I haven’t ever talked to him about it explicitly, but I think he probably backed off on purpose. He wanted to see my honest take on the role, without having any preconceived idea that this was something I was going to get. And thankfully, I think it worked out for the best that way.

Anyway, so I read these crazy fake sides that now I wish I’d kept. I bet they have them, because they had a fake monologue for every character, and mine was my friend’s head had been chopped off by the Click-Clack Man, and I was being questioned by the police, and it was totally nuts. So once they saw that and saw that I could do this for real, I got the script and then the rest is history.

Are you a horror fan, generally?

For sure, for sure. That was the big attraction of the movie for me, I’ve always wanted to be in a horror movie. When I was a kid, I would make these incredibly bloody movies in my back yard. I was constantly making weird blood concoctions; Jello and milk was a good one. I was constantly ruining clothes and staining my parents’ walls and stuff. I’ve always wanted to die a bloody death in a movie, I feel like that’s a rite of passage. So I just love the idea of a horror film period, and if Joss and Drew are involved then it was sort of too good to be true.

I was such a big fan of Cloverfield; I didn’t know Drew that well but I loved his work so I had such high expectations for the script. And then the fact that it had such a banal title, you know, ‘Cabin In The Woods’, I had a hunch, I thought “they’re up to something”, and even going in with those expectations I was blown away. I put that script down and had to walk outside because I knew if I didn’t get this part it was going to haunt me for the rest of my life. It was so good it was disturbing; it was like it put a bomb in the genre, it sort of blew it up. From now on, horror films can be anything and everything, there’s no limits on the setting and the situation and the villain, whether it’s a psychopath or the supernatural; Cabin In The Woods throws it all in. I was obsessed.

The audition process was nerve-wracking because I wanted it really badly. I would sit around brainstorming actors that I thought might be better for the part than me. It’s a rare thing when you read a role and have this immediate ownership over it, you have this take and this connection, and it’s not even that you feel that you’re gonna do a good job, it’s that you feel like you’ve found it. It fits, it’s natural; it’s like putting on a good shoe or something. 

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It’s so much fun to watch, so it’s kind of nice to think it was that much fun to make, too…

Oh, it was the best. I was a kid in a candy store. If I wasn’t working, I was on set. We shot it in Vancouver, and I bought a bike up there, and I would ride it, even when they were shooting the stuff with Bradley [Whitford] and Richard [Jenkins] in the control room, I would go to set. I was so into the movie I just wanted to be there, and I’m glad I did, because to have it go through that long journey, I feel so much validation for being so passionate about it.

And I think Drew respected that. When he was working on the first cut, he said to me that he could see in my performance that I’d put my heart and soul into it, and that meant the world to me. His passion was so contagious, you know – he was the guy showing zombies how to eat intestines, and getting his clothes bloody and dirty, and that’s how I felt. They had to hold back on putting blood on me, I just wanted more and more. It was a dream come true.

There’s that fantastic whiteboard in the movie, with all the monsters listed on it – what was your favourite monster on the board?

It’s so boring, but I’m a big zombie fan. I mean, Dawn Of The Dead, Night Of The Living Dead, I’m a big Romero fan; and I love 28 Days Later, I thought was genius that they hit the fast forward button on the zombies. I thought they did the Buckners so well that that really was great and special for me.

And the ballerina in the elevator, I think Bradley dubbed her ‘ballerina dentata’ – that was a good one.

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There was one name on the board that just says ‘Kevin’, and everyone was really curious about that. Drew told me that he’s this guy that exsanguinates people when he kills them: basically, he drains the blood from them. And I think he does it from their head, I think he basically would eat someone’s head, and suck their blood, it’s this awful hellish death from this really sort of plain, obsequious looking person; I’m sure he made the cut, but I’m not sure how prominent he is in there, but I thought Kevin was pretty cool.

And the merman, the love affair between Bradley and the merman, that almost steals the movie. There’s no shortage of monsters! When we were filming, they realised there’s that line about ‘an army of nightmares’ and that meant we needed an army of nightmares. We really scraped the barrel – we had so many ideas but we couldn’t have enough, the idea was to have an infinite stable of monsters, so there was one day people were just lined up around the set with random things, like a lizard, a tarantula, a falcon, and there was a guy with two German shepherds… It was kind of embarrassing, but it was like, why not? Let’s get everything someone might have a fear of or have a problem with and shoot it and get some footage, and we’ll be glad we have it. 

It’s kind of like there’s nothing left for any other horror movie to do ever again now.

Yeah, that’s the thing – it’s the horror film to end all horror films. I’ve seen some horror films since – I’m a horror fan and I’m always gonna go – but there’s this A-to-B storyline, and it’s a possessed girl, or it’s some kind of farm tool-wielding psychopath, and that’s great and I’m all for it, but Cabin In The Woods stuffs it all in there and then the box kind of explodes, you know? I hope people will try to surpass it – the real challenge is to push the envelope even further.

It’s almost like we need to reinvent the way we think about horror movies now. Like there’s nothing left to say in the genre now; this is the final word.

Yeah, absolutely. I’m glad you feel that way, that’s how we feel. I love the way the movie ends because of that, destroying the Earth – it’s like it’s Drew’s hand, destroying the genre. Drew and Joss are the giant evil gods, and it’s like a genre apocalypse. Horror is like a wasteland right now and it needs to be built up again.

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Speaking of destroying the world, with Dollhouse and now Cabin In The Woods, you’ve been responsible for ending the world twice. You’re like Joss’s favourite apocalypse instigator.

I know, it’s good! I’m trying to encourage him to do some reshoots on Much Ado now where Claudio blows up the world. [laughs] I don’t think it was intentional but I’m so happy to be that guy.

I think Joss’s voice sometimes comes through more clearly than others, you know what character he’s speaking through at certain times, and I think there’s similarities there between Topher and Marty; that kind of wit, the guy who can laugh at the contrivances and point them out, a sardonic character, you know the type. As an actor, I want to disappear into each role and have them be very distinct, and I pride myself on having range and versatility, so I don’t want to see shades of Topher in Marty but maybe it’s inevitable just because I shot them so close together. So I’m sure that they bleed into one another but I did my best to have them be different people. 

What is it like to work with Joss Whedon?

I’ll do anything for the guy. He’s obviously brilliant and funny… I guess, for me, in general, I feel a debt to my director – and maybe I shouldn’t, maybe that’s an insecurity in my acting that I should get over, but it’s something I bring to the set, or the stage or, you know, the process; I have this debt, ‘how do I repay the director?’ He’s my leader and I’m the follower, and that’s more true with Joss than with most directors. He’s everything better and wiser than me.

Our relationship is a very friendly one and we’ve known each other a while, but to me he always will be a teacher, and mentor, and expert, and someone that I will always look up to. So when I go to set there’s a great deal of reverence and respect for the guy. We joke around, for sure, but I take it very seriously and try to do my best – he’s not demanding it from me, but when I’m there working with Joss I’m quiet and focused and determined to satisfy him.

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Let’s talk about Much Ado About Nothing for a minute – how did that come about?

It started as a casual, small, fun thing; Joss emailed me and said, “Hey, would you come over and do another Shakespeare reading” – you know, he has these readings at his house – “only this time I’m thinking of filming it.” And then all of a sudden we’re here and we have a theatrical release with Lionsgate, but it could not have been more of a party. Joss and Kai [Cole], his wife, they entertain a lot, and all of the Whedon family has been over to his house many times, either reading Shakespeare plays or just hanging out. This felt no different – granted, there was a crew, but the crew were all people we know: a lot of Dollhouse crew, a lot of friendly people, so it never felt like work.

Making a movie is often such hard work so when it comes out and has success, you feel you’ve earned it, whereas Much Ado About Nothing was like having our cake and eating it. It’s like all those clichés, like we’re getting away with murder because we had so much fun and we would have done it anyway, we would have done it for nothing… well, we basically did, but this was something that felt so natural and fun and relaxed so to get that success is really unbelievable and we’re all so thankful to Joss.

It’s really cool how he’s had so much success this year; there have been so many disappointments along the way, with Firefly and Dollhouse being cancelled, but now this year he’s had Cabin In The Woods, and The Avengers, and he’s, you know, the guy.

I know, it is very satisfying and I feel like… we were all good, loyal, struggling actors doing these cancelled TV shows and now we’re gonna turn selfish and start demanding our tiny bit parts in Avengers for our residuals!

But no, he deserves it. The guy is one of the most creative people working in the business and just the sheer versatility of his year – he’s had a horror movie, a superhero blockbuster and a tiny black-and-white no-budget Shakespeare film – it’s like, who is this guy? It’s hard to believe those three movies came from the same mind, let alone his television work. He really is a genius. We’ve all known it for a while, but now the world gets to see that.

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And he’s got so much left in him, it’s almost scary to think what good stuff we’ve got on the way. The guy is so prolific; he’s got so much going on and he takes it in stride, it’s pretty incredible.  

Do you find that being part of the Whedonverse means you’ve got a lot of super obsessive fans now?

I love it. I love the Whedon fans, because I’m a geek too and I like to geek out with them. I’m always there and ready to talk; I’m never fazed by that, so for me the loyal fanbase is great. You go into Comic-Con, or some other convention, and everyone is so friendly. I think it’s indicative of Joss and his work that the people who love it are good, fun, creative people. He attracts that kind of positive person: all the people who work with him are lovely, if I meet someone who’s worked for Joss I assume I’m gonna like them, and it’s the same with the fans.

Finally, what’s your favourite Jason Statham movie?

[Laughs] My favourite Jason Statham movie? This can’t be right, but I think I’ve never seen a Jason Statham movie. I mean, I know who he is… Oh my God. Bear with me, can I IMDB him? I’ll look through it.

[scrolls through IMDB]

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Oh, come on, Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels! I’m gonna say Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels. Wait, I want to be the guy who says Pink Panther. Yes, it was the Steven Martin Pink Panther, and he was playing Yves Gluant. He was brilliant in The Pink Panther.

Fran Kranz, thank you very much.

The Cabin In The Woods is out on DVD and Blu-ray today in the UK.