I was very excited to meet director Kevin Connor in August 2003 when I went out to Slovakia to the set of the Hallmark production of Frankenstein. Part of this was used in the resulting Fangoria feature.
How did you get this directing job on Frankenstein?
"I’ve been working for Hallmark for many years now, another division of theirs - Larry Levinson Productions and Robert Halmi Jr. I had a call from Nick Lombardo, their production supervisor: would I be interested in doing Frankenstein as a mini-series? He said they were going to follow the book very closely, so I said as long as it’s not a horror film per se, I’d be very interested in doing it. I read the script, it was a very good script, pretty close to the book - as close as you can get - but it was more human. The challenge was going to be the creature, being sympathetic to the creature after all the horendous things he does of course. So it had more characterisation which was more interesting than just trying to do a straight, scary horror film."
Are you playing down the horror and playing up the romance and the adventure?
"Yes, the gothic tragedy. And the romance side of it, but at the end of the day it’s a gothic tragedy."
How many other Frankenstein movies have you seen? Are you familiar with what’s been done in the past?
"I made a point to see the De Niro/Branagh one which was ... interesting. But I found it so distracting that I didn’t feel a lot of sympathy with anybody particularly. It was just so frenetic, the steadicam just drove me giddy - but that’s a choice. The Karloff film I saw many, many years ago. I didn’t see the David Wickes one with Patrick Bergin. I’ve seen some of the Hammer ones. But the best one is Young Frankenstein, that’s my favourite, though it’s tongue-in-cheek. But the actual book itself has not been done that often. Everybody think that every Frankenstein film is about the book but really they’re all spin-offs. I didn’t see Ken Russell’s Gothic, but that was about how it came about. Andy Warhol did one too. But I hadn’t really read the book before and it was just the history of it, how it came to be written, that’s just fascinating to me. I was very excited about being able to have a go at doing the book properly."
So preparing for this was the first time you actually read the book?
"Yes, I have to be honest."
How did it meet your expectations?
"It was a great surprise. You just think it’s a horror story but when you realise how beautifully it’s written, and how far ahead of the time she was, and what she was saying, it was quite an eye-opener for me, and really triggered off a lot of thoughts and senses, I must say."
It’s a daunting prospect to turn that into something accessible for modern audiences. Apart from the age, you’ve got the concentric structure of the narrative. How has this been turned into something that TV audiences will appreciate?
"American audiences don’t really like gloomy films, and whichever way you look at it, at the end of the day this is a bit gloomy! It’s a very dark piece. But it’s a good tale, and I hope that will come through, and you will be sympathetic with the creature and, up to a point, Victor - what he has created, what he’s done. But the script’s structured very well, it’s almost a mini-series. It keeps moving backwards and forwards, intercutting the story, which has always been a problem before. In the book it’s just great big chunks - you stay with Victor for a long time then you stay with the creature for a long time - but Mark Kruger the writer has very cleverly woven it backwards and forwards. So I think the structure of this works very well indeed. The dialogue is good. He has picked the right pieces, the right parts."
Did you have any say in casting?
"Yes and no. Usually in television the main leads are picked by the network, the channel or the producers. So Luke Goss and Alec Newman were chosen, but I spoke to them. William Hurt - it obviously was a great honour to be working with someone like that, and also Donald Sutherland and Julie Delpie. We haven’t got our blind man yet. The supporting cast are just excellent. So a lot of the lesser parts I did cast, and all the locals from Bratislava I cast. They’re really good, great faces."
How are you finding shooting in Slovakia?
"It’s delightful. I’ve shot in Morocco and in Budapest so I enjoy shooting in these places. These are absolutely wonderful people, very enthusiastic and dedicated. I’m enjoying it."
How does it compare with the fantasy films that you’re best known for, the Doug McClures?
"Well, there’s more money obviously, and you’ve got a longer time to tell the story. This isn’t as superficial, shall we say, as the Edgar Rice Burroughs stories. They’re pure adventure and hokum, they are what they are, slightly tongue-in-cheek. But I can treat this seriously. There’s no tongue-in-cheek with this, it’s a very strong piece with a lot of character in it. There wasn’t a lot of charcter in those other pieces. They were good fun in their day and it was wonderful to be given the opportunity to do them and to learn a lot of the craft of this genre."
You’ve had a busy and long career but it’s quite a while since you directed a fantasy picture.
"Yes, I suppose Motel Hell was the last horror film I did. they just haven’t come my way, but that’s showbiz. Although I’ve tried to develop some of my own stuff, it’s very difficult to get your own things going. Nobody wants to do the things that you want to do. So a lot of the time, the subjects that come along, as long as they appeal and the subjects are good then I’ll do them. but I haven’t had any offers for horror films for quite a while. I’ve done some Dickens adaptations, which are period but not horror films. I thoroughly enjoy those sort of pieces. I’ve got a couple of Victor Hugos that I’d like to do that are relatively unknown, but they won’t do them unless the public will recognise the title, so it has to be the Hunchback or Les Miserables or something like that. It’s very difficult to get any other Victor Hugo, an unknown piece, done. but we keep trying."
What about the special effects here?
"There’s a lot of CGI in this Arctic sequence. We’ve got a wonderful storyboard artist from Paris and we went through all the Arctic stuff basically. There’s a lot to do here in the CGI world, but otherwise it’s pretty straightforward."
They key to any Frankenstein film is the creature. How involved were you with the design?
"The design had been done by a company in LA for the producers and they’d come a long way with designs and sketches when I was brought in. They were well on the right track. I think I asked them to have fewer scars. There were more stitches and stuff in the face which I think would have been a mistake to have too much of.