With Wolfman mania reaching a fever pitch in anticipation of the film's release this Friday, we sat down with some of the film's key players at the Wolfman's Los Angeles press conference last weekend. After the jump, find out what Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and makeup-effects maestro Rick Baker told us about remaking a monster movie masterpiece for today's horror audience.
Benicio Del Toro
On taking on the role of producer as well as star:
We proposed the idea, Rick Yorn and myself. We went up to the studio and proposed the idea of the original Wolf Man movie. With the intention of really paying homage to those Universal classic horror movies like Frankenstein. And by paying homage I mean staying close to the story, and also have the makeup be a big component, have the actor in the makeup being a big part of the movie. They liked the idea. I think Andrew Kevin Walker came in, and then Rick Baker came in, and we were moving. I'm a big fan of all these horror movies. As far back as I can remember, these were the first movies where I knew the title of the film and I also knew the names of the actors in those films. I knew that before Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Doctor Dolittle.
On how he got into horror films:
It was my cousins, they were older. Sometime in the early ‘60s there was a throwback to those horror movies. There was a magazine called Famous Monsters. It was in my house as far back as I remember. The movies that I saw when I first saw The Wolf Man or Dracula or Frankenstein – this was before VHS, before DVD, before cable TV really – there were these Super-8 films. And these Super-8 films came out some time in the ‘60s. Then the other thing that I remember as a child were these model kits. You'd get the model of Frankenstein or King Kong, and you'd glue it together and you painted it. I think it was a great pacifier for kids. [Laughs.] Some of them were really gory. I remember the model of the Bride of Frankenstein – you had to paint a limb, a brain. They were really cool toys. They were made by Aurora; it was a company based in Illinois. And the movies were made by a company called Castle Films. So I think there was a throwback in the ‘60s before my time. I came in towards the end of that, because the kids that I grew up with didn't have older cousins. They didn't have that connection to the monsters. I got the tail end of it. And I remember that some of these model kits, they didn't make them anymore when I was growing up. I would have dreams about these model toys. Because my cousins had them and I didn't have them. [Laughs.]
On convincing the studio to go for the makeup, as opposed to CGI:
Rick Baker wanted to do it. You don't have to do much convincing. I don't think the studio had any problem with Rick Baker doing the makeup. I think that CGI can enhance a picture. I think it enhances this one. The transformation, in CGI, it helps… The makeup artists on a lot of [those classic monster movies] was a guy named Jack Pierce. Part of the attraction to a lot of those monsters was not only were they scary, but they were cool. Frankenstein is a cool makeup. Boris Karloff is fantastic in the makeup, but the makeup was also cool. That's something that I think Rick Baker understands more than anyone. When I had a couple of meetings with Rick Baker about this we were on the same page. Rick Baker turns you into a canvas, and paints all over your face. The problem is taking it off – it takes about two hours. You could say it's painful. All of the sudden I stopped like Rick Baker in the process of taking it off. Then the next time I come around, he starts putting it on again. It was a love-hate relationship. [Laughs.]
On the importance of the British nature of The Wolfman:
Well, it's an American movie, and it's an American subject. It got its start in America. It's not a British subject. But what's interesting about it is that it's an American gothic movie filmed in Britain. The locations give it another reality… It's like a western in an English setting. I said on the first day of shooting to Joe Johnston, "This is a big American gothic." The Claude Rains was set in England, but it was filmed in Hollywood. The sets all looked wrong. They're terrible sets. [Laughs.] My favorite was Abbot and Costello Meets Frankenstein. I love those because they're funny. But the Claude Raines' film was set in England; but in those days Americans didn't pay much attention to architecture, so the sets were terrible. This one is more authentic because it's set in English villages and on an English set. But the interiors were American sets, so it gave it that extra largeness.
On whether the confidence shared by Hannibal Lecter and his Wolfman character is the basis for his portrayals of aggressors:
No, it comes out of expediency, I think, a certain coldness. The relationship between fathers and sons for example is very interesting in the whole of literature, from Death of a Salesman to The Brothers Karamazov – that coldness, that harsh brutal business of being a father and a son. Most men know about that, the pain of that, the "Oedipal wound" as they call it. But I think in this case… My own father was a tough man. He's a red-hot guy, but he's also cold. He was also slightly disappointed in me because I was not a good kid as a schoolboy. But I learned from it. I liked that coldness. Because it was harsh, and he taught me to be tough. So I know how to be tough. I know how to be strong. I know how to be ruthless. It's part of my nature. I wouldn't be an actor if I wasn't. You have to be pretty tough to be an actor. And you have to be pretty certain in what you want – you can't waffle through this business. So I use all that power in me as an actor. It comes to me easy. But I'm not evil, and I'm not a cruel person. But I don't have much time for wimps. The yes-but merchants of the world. I have no time for that. Life's too short to screw around like that. So I understand that personality trait. When he says, "Your brother's body was found in a ditch. Have you got the right clothes?" he doesn't waste time saying, "I'm sorry about that. I'm sorry your brother's dead." He's dead. Dead is dead. So it's an interesting foundation to build from. I am drawn to those characters. Those hard characters. I've played a few of those, people who are like that. And in a way I admire it, because we are living in such a nutty age now. Everyone's so coddled, and we've lost strength. I come from Wales, and it's a strong butch society. We went to war and all that. People didn't waste time feeling sorry for themselves. You had to get on with it. So my credo is "Get on with it." I don't waste time being soft. I'm not cold, but I don't like wasting my time. Life's too short.
On the look of the new Wolfman:
Benicio and I came from the same place. We're fans of the original movie. What was so great about working with Benny is that he's a classic horror film nut. He had poster of the Wolf Man in his bedroom. He used to play the Wolf Man as a kid. His brother would be Frankenstein. So we hit it off right away, we came from the same place…
If it was totally up to Benny, he wanted to look like Lon Chaney Jr. That was it. I kind of was on the same page with him, but I thought it needed to be amped up a little bit. I was just so excited to hear – in this day and age – that they really wanted to use an actor in makeup. I was so afraid it was just gonna be an entirely CG Wolfman running around. I think you really get a benefit from an actor with some hair glued on his face.
On balancing his respect for the original with a desire to frighten today's audiences:
Where I didn't agree with Benny was that if we just did the Lon Chaney thing I don't think audiences would be frightened by it. There was always the talk of the film being bloody to some aspect. We were always kind of wavering about it, whether it should be gory or not gory. I did some stuff a lot gorier than what's in the movie. We did some horrible thing to people. But I thought as much as I love the Lon Chaney makeup, the teeth that he had didn't look like they could do a helluva lot more damage than what a normal person could do if they bit you. And if we're supposed to be tearing these people up, I thought, "Give him some big-ass teeth." It can be really difficult when you put big teeth in an actor, but Benny's attitude is "More is more"; he kept saying that all the time. He's way into it. He was like, "Can you make the teeth bigger? Can you put more blood on my mouth?" [Laughs.] He played the Wolf Man as a kid and now he's playing the Wolf Man with makeup on.
On whether an American Werewolf in London or Twilight type wolf was considered:
Well, it is The Wolf Man. Everybody from the beginning was saying it should be more like the Wolf Man then what people tend to think of as werewolf in this day and age. Frankly I was a little bit concerned. I thought, "Are kids going to accept a guy with some hair glued on his face when they're used to seeing CGI werewolves climbing up the ceiling. And 40,000 of them." I've been quoted as saying, just because you can make 40,000 werewolves climb up the wall doesn't mean you should. [Laughs.] But the more I thought about it, I thought, "This could be brand new. Kids haven't seen stuff like this. They see computer games." I was worried they wouldn't accept it. But people seem to be. I'm really glad. I'm really glad to see a movie called The Wolfman being made, a classic, gothic horror film instead of a slasher movie. This is what I like as far as horror films go, and I'm hoping this makes a bunch of people start to like these kinds of movies.