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INT: Len Wiseman

09.18.2003

Interview #1 Len Wiseman
Interview #2 Kate Beckinsale

Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with husband/director Len Wiseman and wife/actress Kate Beckinsale to talk about their upcoming film UNDERWORLD. I knew lots about Beckinsale from my time spent ogling her many pictures, but I didn't know Wiseman from a hole in the wall. All I knew was that he met and married Beckinsale while working on this film. So the man's gotta be doing something right. Here's my chat with newbie director Len Wiseman who gets to do at night what we all dream of: make vampire/werewolf movies (what were you thinking of. naughty boy?)

Len Wiseman

So this is a surprise. You decided to join us?

Yeah, I was upstairs watching CHARLIE’S ANGELS on pay-per-view just hiding. I was thinking I would just hang out here with Kate and have a bit of my own vacation. But no. Work. Work work work.

So what were you doing here in the first place?

I was just hanging out. Just on vacation. I already have done my thing. We just got done doing a press junket in Toronto. I wasn’t really scheduled to be in New York, but I came with (Kate) anyway.

Did you watch a movie with audiences in Toronto?

Yeah, we had our first audience screening cause we hadn’t done a traditional screening yet for this film. Toronto Midnight Madness was the first time any audience members have seen it.

Does that freak you out, sitting there and watching it with an audience the first time?

Oh yeah. Yeah, it’s really nerve-wracking. The suits and the executives is its own fear, but the fans…I feel like I’m one of those guys who’s a big fan of this genre so that’s important to me.

Why Scott Speedman and why Kate Beckinsale? They’re not who you would normally think of.

No, and that’s part of the reason why. There’s a level of intrigue in casting actors who haven’t done this kind of role before. I think it’s a draw. It would bring me to go see a movie. I remember the first time I heard Angelina Jolie was signed on to TOMB RAIDER. I remember hearing that and thinking, “Wow, they’re actually going to take that movie seriously.” It just put a certain tone on the movie. And you’re thinking, I wonder how Angelina Jolie would be as an action star cause she had never done an action film. There is a level of intrigue that comes along with picking someone who isn’t just a typical candidate. Also I love the idea of taking Scott, someone from “Felicity” who’s a very, warm, guitar-playing, poem-spouting character on that show and put him in a very dark, creepy movie where he’d be gritty, slapped with blood all the time and put him a really dark film. I like that kind of contrast.

Was he someone you thought of originally or did he show up and audition?

He was somebody I thought of. I’ve seen…a few episodes of “Felicity” [scattered chuckles]…and he did stand out from a lot of the shows that were going on at the time. I wasn’t a fan, but my wife was into the show and she’d see him and really like him, I just thought he had a certain charisma about him. And we needed someone to play Michael that people connected with. I think there’s something about Scott that you see him and you like him. He’s just a likable guy. I wanted someone you could connect with and wouldn’t put anybody off. For some reason I just think he had that. He’s really our only human character in the movie. And he’s our only real connection to the audience and you needed to feel you could connect with the guy.

How hard was it to secure your two leads?

It actually…Kate, it wasn’t difficult when I was involved in the process. I didn’t know what was going on and how much back and forth there was with Kate and her agent. She had been sent the project and wasn’t all that interested in the beginning because it was vampires and werewolves and its not her typical thing and nothing she’d really be into per se. It sounded like a straightforward horror flick as it’s pitched. She said, “it’s not really something I’d be interested in,” and she gave it back. Luckily her agent kept sending it back and saying, "You should take a look at it, it’s a really good story and I think you’ll like the character".

And I had sent her some production drawings that I had done about the style and the tone of the whole thing. I found out later through her that seeing those drawings was what got her to crack open the script and take a look. Then she did really respond to the story. So once I was involved…I didn’t know all this was going on, I just got a call from her agent and said Kate’s interested. So that’s how quick it was with me.

This is a lower-budget film right?

Yeah…OH yeah.

How did you stretch your dollars because the film looks great.

I started in this industry doing storyboards then doing production design and I had production designed projects and commercials for a while. That’s my background. And we all knew, we sat down with the script and said, We’ve got what easily reads as a $60 million movie that we’re going to attempt to do for $20. We knew that was a task. If you plan things out creatively you can get away with certain things. Cause I worked in the art department on some production design stuff and I had worked in the art department for many years, I had done props and etc., and what you learn doing that is that you’re that guy that actually bids the set to be built, or props, or costumes or whatever.

So you get an understanding on what things cost and what’s actually seen. Where the money actually shows up on screen. If I’m on GODZILLA or MEN IN BLACK as a crew member, I know that there’s a big statue/monument-type thing that we had constructed that cost them $17,000 for them to build but the camera never even turns on it. You don’t even see it. That’s not a big deal for a big-budget movie, but if that happened to me on this movie? I would lose sleep. So understanding all that, if you’re really focused on what your shots are going to be you can put everything into what counts. There are just production value tricks that you concentrate on.

Your shooting day – if you look at what’s the production value of the day, let’s speed through everything else… the quick cuts, the grabbing the gun, the little moments out the door, all the little moments: don’t make a meal out of it. Just get in and out. They’re going to be quick cuts. And with the one that you’re going to make your hero shot, then take your time. It’s a bitch though. Incredibly difficult. Cause you don’t have the luxury of saying, Oh yeah we did build this prop $7,000 but we’re not going to use it. It’s not a big deal on INDEPENDENCE DAY but it’s a big deal for us.

Did any other of the legendary vampire or werewolf movies inspire you as you were making this film?

Not so much. I wish I had more things to say like I wanted to pay homage to this or that. But it’s more like selfish filmmaking to me. It just looks like my music video/commercial reel. It’s a personal style that I happen to really like. If you were to see a bunch of my music videos, they kinda look like UNDERWORLD. I do just gravitate towards more comic-book style images. I grew up with comic books and I’ve been illustrating myself for quite some time. I thought UNDERWORLD should look like a leaving, breathing graphic novel. I wanted the audience to just sit down and with the exception of turning the pages themselves, be able to watch a comic book play out. And when you read a comic book you see the blacks and blue, the blacks and greens…it’s fairly monochromatic. That’s what I wanted to try and pull off.

There are a lot of animatronic effects as opposed to a lot of the CGI stuff.

By far. There are budget restraints of course but even if I had $120 instead of $20, I’d still do practical creatures. I’m not a big fan of CG at all. I think it’s great to enhance, to help, to hide. I do consider that if I’m using CG, it’s because I failed as a director to do something practically. I will push myself to do it practical and I think that a guy in a creature suit, you can light it and it always looks more realistic. I do understand now, directing and working with creatures myself, why directors go to CG cause it’s a pain when you have to deal with the animatronics when the break down, then you have the guys in the suits and it takes them 4 hours to makeup and you can only have them on-set for two hours at a time.

It’s like working with real animals or children on set. I would want the world to move forward then I’m told the actors in order to move forward the jaw has to be open so they can see, if the jaws are closed they can’t see, therefore they can’t move forward. If we can’t have the jaws closed we have to put wires on them and do a tracking system… So I can understand why a director would say, Forget it. Shoot this place shot and we’ll do the CG and move on. But I think if you take the time to do it, it looks more realistic. I was telling everyone on board when I was pitching to the company that I was trying to bring back what they did in ALIENS. I don’t think in James Cameron’s ALIENS with those creatures, I don’t think anything was going wrong. Why did people move to CG? Cause that looked fantastic and I wanted to get back to that.

Was there ever any pressure to make cuts to the gore, violence and language to make this a PG-13 movie?

Yes. Absolutely. I think there always is. I think with a studio they see the potential and the really young audience so they say, let’s make this PG-13. I…this may sound pretty, bad but if you’re making a movie that’s vampires vs. werewolves and you hear it’s PG-13 it just doesn’t sound cool. I hate to say that, but I’m a fan of this genre and I have since I was a kid. Even if I had to sneak into a rated-R movie, I knew it was going to be a hardcore, cool movie. I think that now, if it’s PG or PG-13 and it’s a film like UNDERWORLD, especially if it’s got vampires and werewolves and it’s PG-13, you just consider that it’s a bit watered-down. It’s not going to be scary, it’s not going to be cool, it’s going to be a bit more like…family horror. And that’s gonna turn some people off.

How do you convince the people that really matter at the studio that that is what’s best for the movie creatively?

You actually convince them a bit like that. Just like a true fan. Cause I do feel like I’m a genre geek for a longtime and I can sit before them and say, Look, I am the age group we are going after. I am the fan base for this film. So just please trust me, if you make this thing PG-13 you’re going to have a large percentage of the people that say, I’ll wait for video. It’s not gonna be hip, it’s not gonna be cool, it’s PG-13 for God’s sake. There’s that mentality. I’m the same way. I just pitched to them like that. They’re thinking if it’s PG-13, look at all this – they kinda do this scale – from this age down there’s all this cash you’re leaving on the table.

They talk about it that way. What you don’t realize is that yes, there is all that cash you’re leaving on the table, but by doing PG-13 there’s all that cash on the backend of the older crowd that you push off the table. You exclude them. It is still a hard fight though. I’m glad we hit it though. Cause I can’t remember the last vampire movie that was PG-13. Or werewolf film…other than TEEN WOLF. And that’s not the kinda film we were going for.

Did you have a hard time with the MPAA getting the R-rating?

No, it was pretty smooth sailing cause what I’ve found is even though they crack down on violence and gore and everything, if you do something that’s fairly surreal - because it’s creature fighting creature - they’ll be a bit easier on you. If you show the same shots and gore and violence and it was a gang war and it wasn’t lycans and vampires and it was actual Crips and Bloods, they would absolutely crack down. But they do give you a bit of freedom because it’s surreal, comic book-y.

The ending seemed like a setup for a sequel. Have you been thinking about that?

That’s just financial stability for me, to be able to do a sequel. Of course, there’s a sequel and a prequel mapped out when we sold this film. Cause [writer] Danny McBride and myself realized that there was so much we wanted to tell in this story that it was getting confusing for us to talk about all the history and the war and stuff. [So we said,] You know what, let’s take the time, let’s map out a very long story that could span like three films and then tell our film as the middle. But we had to map out the whole thing to get to where we are now cause it does have a lot of layers in it.

But we do want to tell a lot of that story and I’m kinda obsessed with going back to the dark age and showing the war when it was just legions of werewolves fighting an army of vampires in armor on horseback. I think that would be some insane visual. So that’s some of what the sequel is. We are already in the deal for the sequel. The studio is incredibly excited about it. So the sequel will probably become…the first 15 minutes will probably be a prequel for the sequel, much like INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE.

[SPOILER BELOW!] Have any of the actors committed to returning?

We were such a family; we had such a good time the actors and myself. Kate and Scott are the only really people that survive in this one, so they’re all for it. [END SPOILERS]

I got the impression from the movie that vampires don’t feed on people like we’re used to them doing. Why did you make that decision?

A couple of things. One, we knew we needed the audiences to connect with Selene and she was going to have a form of a relationship, not a loving relationship, but a start of a relationship with a human. Since there was that romantic involvement it would just put people off if in between those scenes you see Kate running off to tackle some human in the street and suck his blood and kill him. And we needed people to identify with her more as the quote-unquote good guy as much as you can be as a vampire. So that was an interesting thing to deal with. And also, it didn’t really fit our story. We didn’t have time for it really. We just decided that, What would you really do as a vampire that was trying to exist in our society.

You would find a way to bypass killing humans, which is just going to draw so much more attention to you. That’s part of the reason. We weren’t able to get a lot of the details in the script that we wanted to, which is why we mapped out these other films. I thought it was a cool idea that that’s part of the reason why the vampires were trying to eliminate the werewolves cause the werewolves had not progressed to that point yet. They will kill humans. And that just draws attention to both races. It’s not an age now where they’re going to come after you with pitchforks and torches; they’ve got automatic weapons and helicopters. They’ll just wipe out their species. So it’s all about staying low-key.

The big news the last couple of days has been the lawsuit. Can you comment on that at all?

God, I literally just heard about this yesterday. It’s just…phenomenal. It’s this project out there…I don’t even remember the name of it. Something I never even heard about but I’m told that with any film, once you get something out there everybody comes and they try and sue you. But I hadn’t heard about this project, or book or comic book or whatever it is until the Comic-Con. And people say, Was it inspired by this? Or, was it inspired by this? It’s really not, but once you do something that gets out there, people are going to say, "That was my idea".

But it’s strange because there are so many instances where someone will ask me in an interview, "That scene where Kate shoots through the floor, Wiseman copied that from some 70s Japanese movie"…And that’s something I’ve never even seen. It does shock you and it does upset you because you put all this time into something. It was me, Danny [McBride] and Kevin [Grevioux, co-writer] sitting around a dinky little apartment going, "What do we think is cool? What if we did this? What if we did that?" Then all of a sudden, people present it as if you’ve ripped it off. It takes the fun out of a lot of it. I don’t think it’ll go anywhere. I don’t even know what that.

CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...

Source: JoBlo.com

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