Late last year, I was invited to the set of UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS, the fifth film in the franchise that has grossed over $450 million theatrically. Shooting in Prague in order to capture an Eastern European vibe that harkens back to the first film, UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS promises to be the most epic movie in the series yet. (The first film is the one producers and cast alike compared this one to the most.)
Below you'll find interviews with three of the main castmembers - including Kate Beckinsale - and director Anna Foerster.
Beckinsale's Selene shouldn't need an introduction, not if you've been following the UNDERWORLD movies since the first film debuted in 2003. (Yes, it has really been that long.) Throughout the films she has, as Beckinsale puts it, "fallen in love, lost her lover, had a baby without realizing it... It's like a telenovella!" In BLOOD WARS, as always, it seems as though Selene doesn't know who to trust, caught in the middle of a never-ending war between her own kind and the Lycans. This is Beckinsale's fourth time playing Selene (she sat out 2009's prequel RISE OF THE LYCANS), and the question looming for her, and us, is whether or not it will be the last time. Here, Beckinsale weighs in on a few key matters at hand.
On what makes this film stand out from the others:
"I'm not sure I'm allowed to say because of spoilers. I love the stuff that goes on but... There's a lot that goes on for the character in this movie. She has stuff happen to her that hasn't happened before and, you know, we have a lot of new cast. It feels like a very different universe and world this time."
On having a female (Anna Foerster) in the UNDERWORLD director's chair for the first time:
"It's great! My very first professional job ever was with a female director. She was guitarist from The Slits. I did a short movie with her, Viv Albertine... I've worked with Lisa Cholodenko, but I haven't worked with that many female directors. In general, whether it's not, I think it's great to have a woman. But it's especially nice given that Selene has some fairly emotional twists and turns for an action star. It was a very nice thing to work with Anna and I felt like she had a good understanding of the character."
On whether or not she trained differently for this film as opposed to the others:
"Training has never been as extensive for the first movie because I'd really not done anything ever before in my life and had to be taught how to run, how to throw a punch, all those things. But it's never been on the level of that. But there were a lot of different weapons, it's a bit less gun-heavy for Selene and a lot more swords and medieval type weapons, so those were things that were new to me this time."
On how Beckinsale envisions Selene's story coming to an end:
"I think I envisioned it coming to an end after the first one. I never really planned on doing four movies playing the same character. And it's an amazing privilege because there's not that many girls that get the opportunity to be in a long-running franchise, especially an original story."
On whether or not she'd come back for another film if the script were good enough:
"No idea. Can't possibly answer. I've always said 'not' but I think I've cried wolf a few too many times to properly answer that question."
On whether or not she will miss Selene when the day comes that she won't be playing her anymore:
"It's a character that I've played I really enjoyed playing that people dress up for on Halloween, which is wild and cool and I really liked that. It's not something that I necessarily miss in between. I think Selene really exists on her own and in her own world separately from mine.
Here's a new actor to the franchise that looks like he fits right in. A veteran of Game of Thrones and Outlander, Menzies already has a significant fanbase who recognize him wearing extravagant costumes and navigating the politics of a fantasy world strewn with battle and strife. Plus, chicks really seem to dig him. In UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS, Menzies plays Marius, the new leader of the Lycans and Selene's main antagonist. Like others before him, Marius seeks to squash out Selene so he and his kind can finally conclude their war against vampires and claim ultimate victory. But (like others before him), Marius will soon learn that messing with Selene doesn't usually go well. Here Menzies speaks about joining the franchise, his character and more.
On how Marius fits in to the UNDERWORLD franchise:
"He's new into the mythology of these films. He's a more-efficient, more-impressive foe for the vampires than maybe they’ve had to date. He's out galvanizing this group of slaves into something a bit more robust and something that is actually out to threaten the status quo.
On the face of it, yes, he is just sort of the main villain, but we have tried to tease some stuff in around the issues of blood, because throughout the film he is hunting Selene's child, who is a hybrid child and he is appearing to try to get ahold of her to get her blood. We tried to sort of fold into that a little more about why that is and make him that he is dependent, almost sort of a drug addict on this blood, for his survival. Yeah, I suppose I just try to make it a story about an underclass seeking for equality, which I suppose we can all relate to, and feels in its own way relevant to some of the stuff we are seeing around Europe. So (there’s an) attempt to kind of fight from a position of subjugation, but that is what it was in essence. In between quite a lot of punching and shooting I'm trying to give him a bit of sympathetic-ness."
On watching dogs and wolves to help prepare for his character:
"I did a bit of going to London Zoo, and there was no wolves sadly, but there was an African dog, some African dogs. They slept most of the time I was there, but I had a look at them. I really wanted to, in little, subtle moments have (elements of that)... So, for instance, there was a shot when we first meet the character. We meet him from behind and the camera follows me and this character comes and tells me a bit of information. I tried to be quite tactile with the men in my troop, so there is something sort of dog-like about that, about how they interact, how they assert dominance with each other. There’s quite a lot of intimacy. Those were sort of the thoughts about the physicality of it. Less in the sound, I suppose. There's moments where there is a roar in the sound and stuff, but in the performance I tried to make it too not like that, but maybe try and bleed some into the physicality, and I suppose just really watched lots of footage of dogs and wolves."
On not getting to actually suit up to play the werewolf version of Marius himself:
"It will be CGI. There was some talk early on of trying to shoot some in-between state where I was part prosthetic (creature). The farthest we go is that there’s these beats where lenses go in, and the yellow eyes and the teeth go in, and he is starting to go. So we have some sequences of that, but no, the full wolf will all be done without me. I haven't seen anything, although I think they have been taking a lot of images and doing this sort of surround photography, where they take images from every angle. So I think they will build it from my physicality and this will be a part of it. So I think they’re keen, particularly with Marius, to make him identifiable once he turns."
Naturally, Selene won't only have to worry about werewolf foes throughout her latest adventure. Most of the time, her fellow vampires are the more formidable opponents. This round sees Selene tussle with Semira, an elite member of the vampires who has a major beef with Selene. According to actress Lara Pulver, you can forget about Marius, because Semira is the real villain of the piece."
On who Semira is:
...she’s on a very small, elite council that run these covens which is under threat from the lycans. Semira has a slight issue with Selene, being that she was the person who killed Viktor in the previous movie, and had a lot of love and respect for Viktor, so there’s revenge that she feels might be necessary... She’s a badass. Yeah, I’d say she is the villain of the movie. She’s very dark and very twisted. But weirdly, I hope, you have kind of empathy for her reasoning behind things. She just has no moral compass."
On what drives Semira to be so bad:
"Interestingly, it’s her thirst for power that drives it. There’s a revenge element to that, but I think when you feel like you’ve been abandoned for someone else, you know Viktor has chosen Selene over Semira, and then she has killed the man I admired and respected, it’s almost like morally she feels like she’s doing the right thing by going, Right, I’m going to correct these wrongs. It makes her totally narrow-minded, it’s almost like she’s blinkered, and she has one intention and nothing will stand in her way. So yes, she’s defending her species and making sure they’re safe from the lycans and yes, she’s trying to correct a wrong, but it’s almost like she’s got laser focus and don’t be the one that gets in her way.
On being a conflicted character who is also so thirsty for blood and power:
"Actually, she is riddled with doubt, and what’s so lovely is that when you’re so conflicted because you feel so vulnerable and yet you’ve got this drive and this determination, it becomes almost a little crazed. There’s a moment when Selene’s blood is on my body, I literally can’t get enough, I’m salivating at the thought of drinking this woman in and becoming as powerful, if not more powerful, therefor living in Viktor’s memory and serving him and all that stuff. It was a wonderful scene that on the page was literally her drinking Selene’s blood, and yet what’s so wonderful about working with someone like Anna, she gives you the freedom to be an artist. I have no idea what that scene will look like, but it was crazy to shoot, and our wonderful camera operators were both on steadicam kind of doing 360s around me as my entire body was convulsing. It was interesting, it was a whole kind of dance."
Another new addition to the franchise is director Anna Foerster. The first female director the series has had, Anna comes with an impressive list of television credits, including Criminal Minds, Madam Secretary and, most crucially, Outlander (which stars BLOOD WARS baddies Tobias Menzies). Foerster climbed the ranks as a close Roland Emmerich collaborator; she worked as second unit director on THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and 10,000 B.C., and was also the director of photography on ANONYMOUS and WHITE HOUSE DOWN. BLOOD WARS is her first feature as director, so she obviously had her work cut out for her, but from talking with the cast and producers, she fit right in on the long-running franchise."
On enjoying the series so far... with the exception of UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING:
"To me [Awakening] became more like a futuristic science fiction piece and what missed for me is that balance with mythology and history, it was too one-dimensional and clean for me. What I love about the other ones, and what I love about what we're doing right now, is that they're really interesting characters that have layers, and even if it's an action film there is quite a lot of character stuff going on, and I felt that [Awakening] wasn’t quite as developed as it could have been. There’s a lot of interesting stuff; the mother daughter stuff, a lot of heavy stuff, but I'm not sure if it actually worked as emotionally impactful as it could have."
On putting her own stamp on the fifth film of a franchise:
"It's actually interesting because this is the question you have to ask yourself before you step into this. How can I or will I be able to navigate this because obviously there is a very specific set of rules of what Underworld is and you have a certain obligation to the fans and the franchise and you have to stick with that. Yet I think you have the possibility to create new rules within this universe of Underworld, and it was pretty clear for me in the beginning when I spoke with all the produces involved kind of comparing the movies, the fourth one and the first one, and we discussed what I liked and what I didn’t like... It became clear pretty quick that they were very open and excited about getting a relatively strong vision to kind of build on what Underworld is and that got me really excited."
I think it starts with the input for casting which I was very happy to have some great people I was hoping for in casting everyone agreed in which is great that’s already one step and then I think the idea of working with the production designer and the costumes. In a way, when I first put my look book together of I how I imagined it, I went pretty far in terms of the looks and the fashion and the designs of everything, and I was scared that somebody says stop, but they didn’t."
On collaborating with Beckinsale:
"First of all she’s an extremely, extremely intelligent woman to talk to generally and she obviously has a clear idea about Selene. We had some really deep and good conversations once she came on the movie and fortunately we're pretty much on the same page with that. She brought up certain things that we changed in the dialogue, for example, and I came up with stuff that I was not sure she would like that idea; Selene coming back from the north wearing white or beige or fur or whatever and having the hair tips white. That I had no idea how she’s going to feel about that for Selene. It was a good collaboration."