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An Interview with Stuart Beattie

I, Frankenstein writer/director, Stuart Beattie, recently shared some thoughts with INFLUX Magazine about having helmed this project.

INFLUX Magazine: How is this different from the Mary Shelley novel?

STUART BEATTIE:  It’s a whole new chapter of the Frankenstein story.  We literally start where Mary Shelley’s story ended and I don’t think anyone’s ever really done that before.  People have done Mary Shelley’s story many, many times and done it very well, and that is the reason why I didn’t want to do that.  Let’s do something different that people haven’t seen before.  It starts with the question, “what would happen if the creature survived and he kept on living?”

He was created in a lab, so who’s to say how long he would live?  He basically has to come to terms with this isolation and his immortality, which would drive anyone nuts.  We also wanted to bring him into the modern world and see how he reacts to that.  Again, that hadn’t been done as far as I knew, so it was a lot of fun doing something different with a character that everyone already knows, which I thought was a really cool idea.

INFLUX Magazine: With the monster as the protagonist, was it important to make him/it more human?

SB:  Yeah, that was the whole point – to humanize him.  The journey that Adam goes on in this film is one from monster to man.  He’s earning his humanity.  He’s a very relatable character, as long as you stick to what Mary Shelley created.  That’s why I took the job.  You couldn’t call it Frankenstein if it wasn’t that character.  Even though none of us know what it’s like to be brought to life in a lab, we all know what it’s like to feel lonely; we all know what it’s like to want to share our lives with someone; we all know what it’s like to feel like there’s no one else out there for us.  And, that’s what drives him.  That’s why he’s an endlessly relatable figure.  What he feels – the essence of his being – is something that we all feel.

INFLUX Magazine: How did the story evolve?

SB:  It changed a lot.  Kevin Grevioux’s version was more like a hard-hitting noir, private detective story, whereas mine is much more of an action film, firstly.  Also, Adam is completely disconnected from mankind and his whole journey is about him being reconnected.  About him learning to give a shit, basically.  To care about something other than himself.  So, it really was like a page one rewrite.  They pitched me the title and the concept – a modern day action film centered around Frankenstein’s monster and I kind of took it from there.  I had to decide what kind of a world I could put him in to force him on this journey of seeking his humanity and his purpose.  It all kind of came from that.

I’ve also always loved gargoyles.  I think they are wonderfully cinematic creatures that don’t often get seen in film.  Everyone knows what gargoyles are and I kind of knew that they protected us from demons.  I just kind of started from that and built a whole mythology and history, biology and biographies for months and months and months, fleshing out the world and making it real, so I could set a story in it.

INFLUX Magazine: What was the genesis behind Adam's appearance?

SB:  It really came from saying from the beginning that this film is going to be set in the world of Mary Shelley, so that meant everything in there would be treated absolutely real, as if it really happened.  So, that meant no bolts in the neck, no green skin, and no eight-foot-tall creature.  If someone really reanimated a corpse, firstly, it would be a regular body.  You wouldn’t take pieces from different bodies and stick them together.  Why would you when there’s perfectly good in-tact corpses lying in the morgue, right?  The internal organs are damaged, so you would replace those from other bodies.  That’s the part of the creature made from multiple corpses.  You’re taking lungs, hearts, and whatever it takes to make the innards work.  And, you’d pick a good looking corpse.  You’d pick Aaron Eckhart.   If he’s lying in the morgue, you’d pick him.  You’d want to pick the best specimen to make your creation.

Scarring-wise, I knew I wanted more than the Hammer film, with just the one scar on the forehead, but not as much as Robert DeNiro in Kenneth Branagh’s version, which was horrifically scarred.    I wanted it to be somewhere in between.  Again, we were trying to make it more real, so we hired the woman in Jordan who visited a bunch of refugee hospitals and studied the stitching on war victims and refugees and really got a sense of how those scars looked and what made them work, to make it all more real.  We developed those scars with her and put them on Aaron.

INFLUX Magazine: This is a story with expectations now combined with modern day sci-fi.  How did you find balance?

SB:  The key for me was staying true to Mary Shelley’s character; defending that.  We had an action hero that wasn’t trying to stop a bomb or any real heroic deeds to him.  All he really wanted was love.  You never see an action here where all they want is love.  It’s almost a wimpy action hero who just wants love.  The Rock never just wants love.  Arnold Schwarzenegger never just wants love.  But, that’s Frankenstein.  That’s the monster  - he’s alone.  I thought that if I defended that, then the Mary Shelley purists would be happy.

But, as far as the action goes, I thought there are enough car chases, shootouts, and fist fights in action movies these days, so I’m not even going to go near that.  I barred guns, I barred cars – all these things that we’ve seen before and tried to think of different things.  So, there’s a lot of gargoyles and demons in it, and hand-to-hand weapons and Kali stick fighting.  I was just trying to make a different action film to what people have seen before.

INFLUX Magazine: How did you approach the action in this movie?

SB:  Right from the beginning, I said to Aaron that he is going to have to learn Kali stick fighting, which is a really hard art to learn, because it’s two-handed.  You’re either left-handed or your right-handed, not both, and it’s a lot of work to make that look real.  But, he trained for six months, every day for about 3 – 4 hours, to get that down.  So, when it came to shooting, I pulled the camera back, put it low to the ground, and let the action happen.  You’ll see that it’s Aaron doing it.  You’ll see it all play out in front of you, head to toe, because our actors can do the moves.  And, if they can do the moves, then you show them doing the moves.  One of the things I hate in action movies is that loss of sense of geography because everything is so close, with quick cuts and all that stuff.  It was a very deliberate act to pull the camera back and let the action unfold.  To me, that’s part of the price of admission.  One of the things that you’re giving me your money for is to see Aaron Eckhart do these incredible moves and swing those sticks.  If he misses, he’s going to kill someone or he’s going to get killed.  They are very hard sticks – I was clubbed with one and almost got knocked out.  To see them actually doing that is really part of the fun of an action movie.

INFLUX Magazine: What made you decide to direct this film?

SB:  Probably that I’ve written it (laughs).  I feel like I know how I can tell that story.  It’s personal to me.  It’s something that I want to say about who we are in the world.  With I, Frankenstein, it’s that thing of “you’re only a monster if you behave like one.”  It’s something that you can say with that character.  I would have loved to have directed Collateral or any of the others, but, at that stage of my career, I just wasn’t that guy that they went to for that.  Hopefully, more and more, I’ll get the chance to direct more of my scripts.  But, I’ll also keep writing scripts for other people – I love doing that, too.  I just love telling stories.

 

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