Walking through the twisting and circuitous hallways inside of Madison Square Garden, you quickly get the sense that you’ve vanished into a hidden space, miles away from the glossy courts that the arena is known for. Here is, indeed, an underworld. Thus it was only fitting that it is also where I met Anna Foerster, the director who is bringing Kate Beckinsale’s Selene back to the big screen with 2017’s Underworld: Blood Wars.
Foerster is a newcomer to the franchise but has long cut her teeth around many an action set-piece, including as second unit director on The Day After Tomorrow and then as cinematographer in White House Down. More recently, she has helmed pivotal episodes of Starz’s Outlander and brings some much needed blood to the movie franchise that had vampires fighting werewolves long before anyone had ever read a Stephenie Meyer novel.
Chatting with the German filmmaker, one immediately senses she has a literate eye and a preference for acting that will likely prove useful in injecting the fifth entry with some much needed fresh blood. She’s already used it for shrewd choices that can only deepen the franchise’s very intricate mythology, such as when she cast Tobias Menzies (Outlander, Game of Thrones) as the new film’s villain, Marius, and Lara Pulver (Sherlock) as the imperious vampire Semira. We talk about those choices, as well as just how Eve (India Eisley), Selene’s daughter, factors into this story… and how her absence drives the whole world-building forward. I even give a try at deducing whether the prodigal child might appear in the picture.
How did you come to this project and the Underworld universe?
Anna Foerster: Yes, it’s really interesting. I was meeting with the producers on a general meeting, because they wanted to meet me because they liked my directing on a television show called Outlander, and we just talked about interests and new projects, and all kinds of stuff.
And then we started talking about my background with visual effects and visual effects cinematography, and my background as a cinematographer, as well as directing and shooting second units that obviously has action and stunts in it, as we were talking, they’re like, “Okay, we’re developing a new Underworld. Do you know Underworld?” And I was like, “Yeah, absolutely.” I’ve seen the first one and loved the first one. And there you go, the next thing you knew, we started talking Underworld.
Was it interesting coming into this, because at this point, it’s kind of a family business for Kate and Len [Wiseman, producer]. So you’re bringing an outsider’s perspective and new blood to the series.
Yeah, absolutely. I think after, this is the fifth one, I think it’s good to have a bit of fresh blood, new blood in it. And I truly think Len had created something amazing with the first one. So it was a great challenge. It was fun.
What was your relationship with Kate while making it and how did it evolve? Also, what do you think she was looking for by coming back to the character?
The relationship with Kate was amazing, because I think I have never worked with anyone—like she is probably the smartest and wittiest, and most intelligent woman I’ve worked with. And she has an incredible sense of humor, which I’m not supposed to pick up on, because I’m German, but she definitely has one! [Laughs]
So that helped a lot, and then she knows Selene through and through. And it started as a really amazing collaboration by kind of going to explore the new facets of the new Selene. And with the new Selene, I’m thinking, “Is this somebody who starts the story from a different spot?” In that the movie starts, the story starts, with somebody who has lost everything. She has lost everything she loves: her lover, her daughter, her coven. She’s an outcast, basically.
So her daughter will pass away between the two films?
That is not what I said! [Laughs] No, but if you just lose track of somebody or whatever. So—I can’t say that, sorry. But she definitely is probably more fierce and more strong than she was before, but at the same time, she has facets of softness. And it was really fun to develop this with her together, to kind of discuss this and figure out what those facets are.
And obviously, she’s going on this trip to the north, this quest to the north, and along that, she is picking up a few new tricks, and as you saw in the trailer, a bit of a new look as well. So that was really fun to work with her and explore that.
Speaking of the new look, the way I interpreted it in the trailer was that Selene is becoming a hybrid. Could you talk about how that decision came about?
Well, without giving anything away, it’s more like she’s venturing into an area of different vampire culture, and she experiences things there, and she meets people there that makes her pick up a few new tricks and a new look on the way.
So a new look, but at this point we don’t know if she might be taking on lycan characteristics?
Theo James is coming back in this as David. Could you talk about what his relationship is like with Selene at this point?
Yeah, it’s interesting, because David is becoming, in a classical way, he’s the reluctant hero. He has to discover who he really is in the bigger sense of vampire hierarchy, and vampire coven. Their relationship to each other is based on what happened in the previous one where she saved his life, if you remember, so there is like something in this one where it becomes, in a way he’s paying back, how do you say this?
A debt, exactly. And they’re off together as a team on this quest to find answers in the north where she will find answers important for her, and he will find answers important for his story.
One of the things fans are anxious about are of course the characters of Michael and Eve. Would you say the answers involve her loved ones and trying to seek closure?
They definitely have something to do with that, yes. [Laughs]
One of the things that look really exciting in this movie as a fan of Rome, as well as having watched the first season of Outlander, is Tobias Menzies is joining the cast. Could you talk about his character and the role he has in the movie?
Yeah, I enjoyed so much working with Tobias on Outlander, and we had some pretty difficult material to work with there for the first season finale.
That was an intense episode.
[Laughs] Exactly! So it feels like we have really reached a way where we trust each other in terms of work, because as you said, it was an intense episode and it required, I think, a lot of trust amongst us. I think it’s interesting to have a lycan leader who has layers, meaning, yes, he is a villain, but he’s a very smart villain.
He’s intelligent, he has his own laws, his own ideas about how to raise the lycan coven. This is one of the things that was so important. You’re talking about those lycans as a group, and to me, it’s like they’re essentially a pack. They’re behaving like a pack in a way, in the way the dynamic works within them. It’s like there’s the alpha male, and you have a pack.
So a lot of work, actually, went into creating the way the people react to Tobias, Marius, as an alpha leader, but not in a military way, or like how the vampires would react to a superior. Because there’s a different dynamic; it’s an animalistic dynamic.
Is it maybe more democratic?
Well, I don’t know if it’s more democratic. If you look at a pack of animals, a pack of wolves, I don’t know. You have the alpha male or female, in this case the alpha male, and I think it’s a looser way of dealing with this. But it’s still the hierarchy of pack.
I also think it continues the great tradition of really good English thespians in this franchise. Obviously Kate, but also Derek Jaccobi, Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy.
Exactly. Generally, the cast, I couldn’t have been more thrilled with Lara Pulver, who plays Semira. Fantastic. And Charles Dance is obviously great.
Were you involved in casting all of them when you came onto the project?
Yes, I definitely cast Tobias. That was something I thought was a good fit, and then I cast Semira, Lara Pulver, and then Lena, Clementine [Nicholson], for whom it was her first movie. She had never been on a movie set before.
And what is her role?
Lena, she is the blonde girl from the north you might see in the trailer today.
There’s always talk about what the franchise might be down the road. Has Kate talked to you about whether she would like to wear the black leather for another film?
She has not. I mean she has not talked to me about it.
This was wonderful, thank you.
Awesome, thank you.