The Cabin In The Woods - Fran Kranz interview (exclusive)
Interview by Rob Carnevale
FRAN Kranz talks about playing the character of Marty in Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s genre-bending horror-thriller The Cabin in the Woods, who he based him on (including an ex-girlfriend) and why he’s relieved it’s finally seeing the light of day.
He also talks about how his career is taking shape now that he’s also completed Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing (filmed in 12 days at the director’s house!) and is appearing on Broadway with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield in Death of a Salesman.
Q. It must be a relief to finally be talking about The Cabin In The Woods now that it’s finally coming out?
Fran Kranz: Yeah, the response has been really great. It’s so nice. I’m on cloud nine right now… seeing the posters and all the previews. People keep telling me they’re on TV as well, although I don’t get much chance to watch TV at the moment.
Q. I read that you did get frustrated at the film’s delay…
Fran Kranz: It’s weird. Movies always take a while to come out. Honestly, I know about as much as anyone who reads the papers about how these decisions are made. We had two different release dates, there was the 3D rumour… but I really had so much faith in this movie, even when people thought I was crazy. It was too good a script and it was in good hands with Joss [Whedon] and Drew [Goddard]. So, whenever I was asked about it I felt sure that it would see the light of day, even though my friends and even my parents kept telling me that I was crazy.
It got embarrassing at times to bring it up people because people felt sorry for me [laughs]. But when I read the script, I thought it was one of the best scripts I’d ever read and so I was confident that it had to work on some level. And even though, obviously, it’s taken a while it’s in the right hands now. Lionsgate get it, they love it, and they’re putting it out in the way it should have been put out. So, now it’s all sweet and everything is wonderful. I’ve finally been able to see the movie with a real audience and the response was overwhelmingly positive. So, there’s no hard feelings now.
Q. I read that you had to audition even though you were working with Joss on Dollhouse…
Fran Kranz: I did! [Laughs] I had to audition because Joss didn’t even mention it to me at first. I just got a regular email from my agent like I do for every audition. It was weird because I couldn‘t help but wonder if he [Joss] knew whether I was even auditioning at all, so when I went to work for Dollhouse it was like the elephant in the room. I was too shy to ask him about it. So, I went in and auditioned for the casting director and a day or two later, Joss pulled me aside on-set and said that I had done a good job and that they were going to get me back. So, then the ice was broken a little bit but he was still my boss. I wanted to be candid with him and ask what he thought… so for me, it was still pins and needles. He also let Drew [Goddard] be in the first reading. It was only when I got sent the script and we made a tape that both Joss and Drew were in the room with me, trying to make the best tape possible. I knew then that they wanted me, but the studio still had to sign off, so we did a long session and multiple takes in order to get it right and give the studio what they thought it wanted.
I remember one day when I was on the Dollhouse set having lunch and Eliza Dushku asked Joss how the movie was going and he said ‘we’re putting together a second rate cast’. I still hadn’t got the role officially yet, so being the insecure actor that I am, I remember thinking: “What the hell does that mean?” I also knew how good the opportunity was. So, really, it wasn’t until I had it, and when I was actually on set, that I was able to relax. But you learn that as an actor… until that thing is actually out there, don’t get your hopes up.
Q. Is that something that you learn to cope with over time as an actor? Or are you still the same insecure guy now that you’ve got some incredible things in the bag?
Fran Kranz: I hope so… the cliché is ‘don’t count your chickens’…. But the more experience I get, the more I know to relax and let go of things because there’s so much that is out of your control. So much needs to happen to get a film made nowadays and star power doesn’t even matter anymore. So, me being what I am, I have to realise that to an extent. It’s always hard. You always get your hopes up. When I read The Cabin in the Woods, of course, I thought this could be my breakout role, so I started questioning a lot of things when it got delayed. But it’s the same with every job. You always worry. Maybe there might be other actors that are better at it than me, otherwise we’re all basket cases [laughs], but I do think I am getting better at it. Now, it’s do your job, give 110 per cent, but definitely always be on the lookout for the next job and never take anything for granted.
Q. Now that The Cabin in the Woods is out there for people to see, it must be great to finally be able to talk about some of its secrets. Has that been hard for all this time? Is it kind of an M Night Shyamalan thing where you can’t reveal why people should go and see it even though you know it’s great?
Fran Kranz: Yeah, I think it’s easy for people to say The Cabin in the Woods has a great twist because it’s a nice way to put it in a box and sell it. But it’s so much more complicated than that. And the movie doesn’t really hide the twist, it just takes a while for you to figure out the big picture. The first scene is not what you’d expect a all… you don’t meet the teenagers first. And I’m not spoiling anything by saying that! So, the movie isn’t hiding something like an M Night Shyamalan movie would and it’s not like I can tell you who Keyser Soze is. It unravels organically.
Obviously, it is trying to hide things and it wants you to be one step behind all the time. But I couldn’t tell you one twist and ruin it. In fact, if I could tell you something, you’d probably be more confused [laughs]. When I describe the movie, I find myself becoming inarticulate and sounding crazy. It’s not neatly packaged and yet it is… it’s brilliantly written and structured. And it’s not one twist so much as a lot of mini turns. I could tell you the first scene and the last scene and you’d have a hard time believing it’s the same movie.
Q. So, what did you like about playing Marty?
Fran Kranz: Well, without giving too much away [laughs]… When I read it, I thought he had so many opportunities and so many colours. It’s a character that makes a major transformation. When I first read it, I got halfway through the script and I thought he was the best character I’d ever had the chance to play on film, and then when I finished the script I thought it was too good to be true… he was the greatest character ever – period! He’s a stoner, a slacker and a shaggy type of character but he gets his heroic moments and he’s a loyal friend. He’s this completely wild, crazy, fun guy and I couldn’t believe how lucky I was.
Q. How much fun did you have creating him? Did you base him on anyone?
Fran Kranz: Well, playing a stoner is fun because you can make all kinds of ridiculous choices and you’re uninhibited. So, I got to play around on set quite a bit and I got to improvise as well. Drew and Joss got me to come up with new lines, so there was room to have some fun with him. I remember, everyone brings some luggage to the cabin for the weekend and Marty has a big brown paper bag! But at the same time we were thinking about the contents of his luggage and one of his items was a really nice dress shirt on a coat-hanger. I loved that because maybe he thought they’d have a nice dinner during the weekend, so he should pack a nice piece of clothing. It was weird, weird little things like that you could have fun with. Even though I don’t think it made it into the movie.
But nothing was too ridiculous for Marty to do and for an actor that’s a dream because I knew that no matter what I wasn’t failing. And even if I gave it too much sometimes I had faith that Joss and Drew could sculpt the character without going too far. I also have a lot of friends that I sort of drew on for Marty. I love James Franco’s character in Pineapple Express and Brad Pitt’s in True Romance. I also have an ex-girlfriend who, though not necessarily a stoner, had these wonderful twitches to her. There was something about her energy that I channelled for Marty – even though he’s a guy and she’s a girl [laughs]. Maybe it’s because I missed her! It was my way of healing from the break-up [laughs].
Q. Has she been in touch?
Fran Kranz: Oh, I told her that I was doing it and I can’t wait for her to see it. Hopefully, she’s not offended. But we’re still good friends.
Q. Moving away from The Cabin in the Woods, you’ve also since worked with Joss on Much Ado About Nothing, which was shot in 12 days?
Fran Kranz: The more time I spend with Joss, the more I’m starting to think there’s something super-human about him. Much Ado was supposed to be his vacation from The Avengers! He was talking about going to Italy with his family or something and then he decided to make this movie, which is the most stressful thing you can do, at his house! He did the opposite of taking a vacation and held this giant stressful party at his house!
Q. How was the experience of making it?
Fran Kranz: It developed so organically. It felt like Joss just got some friends together [Nathan Fillion, Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Jillian Morgese], decided to set it in the modern day and to shoot it at his house, and just told us to memorise the lines because we didn’t have time to figure out each other’s lines. So, it was a very casual production. We did a bit of rehearsal but it was pretty spontaneous. The best case scenario is that it’ll be wonderful and lovely. But you don’t see Shakespeare done that way very often! It’s usually great big production values and rehearsed to death, people need to study the language, whereas we didn’t get that chance – when in doubt, we’d say our line and move on! There’s a very strong possibility that it’s going to feel very real and natural.
It’s in black and white – or at least it was when I last checked – and it’s done using a lot of hand-held shots. We shot it with two red cameras and a 5d, so it will have a very casual and independent feel to it. But you never know. I think there could be something lovely about it. The play is great. He cut it a lot but it’s spirit remains, the story is intact, and the cast is wonderful. When we started I had no expectations and now I hear people talking about maybe [taking it to] Venice and Toronto. So, now I’m really cocky about it, like: “Yeah, I’ve just made Much Ado About Nothing with Joss Whedon!” But if you had asked me 24 hours before the shoot, I would have had no idea what was going on. It was just about showing up and giving it my best shot.
Q. You play Claudio…
Fran Kranz: Yeah and I had a lot of fun with that too. The one major direction Joss gave me… because, again, we moved so fast and there wasn’t a lot of time for intimate discussions, so he wrote me an email to say that I should play Claudio as ‘a temperamental jock and not the wet he normally is’. So, that was my crystal to run with and I did. Usually, Claudio and Hero are the romantics to Benedick and Beatrice’s anti-romantics, so we turned that on its head and I ran with the idea that he was this jerk of a jock. We weren’t foot-soldiers like in Shakespeare’s play so much as CIA operatives. But I loved the idea of giving him that sort of frat guy entitlement mentality. Joss had to pull me back at times and say: “Fran, we still have to like this guy!”
But it was a lot of fun to play a jerk and a bit of a meat-head. Physically, it goes against who I am, so it was good to be able to throw in elements of that. And I trust Joss completely to be able to sculpt the performance in the editing room, so even if I did take it too far at some points, he’d get the best take. I hope it stretches the range I’ve shown in my past work.
Q. You’re also on Broadway starring alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield in Death of a Salesman?
Fran Kranz: Yeah and that’s different again. It’s still surreal at times. I feel so blessed to be working with that cast and with a director like Mike Nichols and a producer like Scott Rudin. When I got the part, my dad said: “You’re playing with the Yankees now”. And it really feels that way to me, no matter where I am in the line-up [laughs]. It’s crazy. The more I do it, the more I’m really learning is that all you have to do is show up, listen and tell the truth. The job is so easy because the actors I’m working with are so wonderfully talented. I have my own way of preparing, there’s these weird things I do to keep my routine, to stay sane and focused… and on stage I have a wonderfully playful scene with Hoffman, who plays Willy Loman.
But more and more I find myself just clearing my head, walking on and letting him do the work. He’s found such a three dimensional, deep, wonderful character that I just have to listen. I know my lines well enough that they come naturally now. So, it’s been a lot of fun to be able to watch him work and just absorb it all. It’s now March 29 and we close on June 2 and I feel like that’s just around the corner, which is kind of sad. We’ve all become so close… it’s like summer camp. It’s just been an amazing experience and I might never have another one quite like this, with this collection of people on such a great play. It’s one of the greatest plays ever written.
Q. Would you like to bring it to the West End? Or perform in London in something else one day?
Fran Kranz: Oh man, I’d love to. I saw Olivia Williams, who of course is one of my friends from Dollhouse, when she was doing a Neil LaBute play I believe about a year or two ago – In A Forest Dark And Deep with Matthew Fox. We all went and saw it and it was awesome. I was so blown away by Matthew. I still need to watch Lost – I haven’t yet – but you could feel in the audience that everyone was a little sceptical of this US TV actor coming into the West End, which I sympathised with. But he was wonderful and gave such a powerful performance. I know he’s done theatre before but I believe that was his West End debut, so absolutely I would love to come over and do that too, I knew before then that I wanted to do a play in London but after seeing that it’s something I must check off. I love it out there period. There’s so much going on. In New York, it [theatre] seems more centralised, but in general I had no idea of how much theatre is going on in every part of that city.
So, if I have the opportunity to live and work there one day I know I’m going to really fall in love with that city. But it’s an exciting time for me right now with The Cabin in the Woods and Death of a Salesman. To a certain extent, I’m protected by Death of a Salesman because I don’t have to worry about what’s next for the immediate future. And then I also have a movie about to come out that may have a lot of opportunities attached to it, hopefully.
Q. Have you noticed more offers coming in?
Fran Kranz: Yeah to a certain degree. I’ve been able to pick and choose a bit but they’ve been obvious things to pick and choose from. I mean I’m not picking between scripts from Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan [laughs]. But I have sort of started to be more discerning with projects. I’m still relatively unknown, though, and as an actor you just want to work. So, if you get a job, it’s hard to turn it down, even if it’s something you don’t believe is great, you still want to put your stamp on it. And you really believe that by saying yes and bringing your best, you can help it out a little, or improve on something. But the hope is that you can get to a position where you can start to shape your career.
Philip Seymour Hoffman told me that he decided after Scent of a Woman that he wanted to do only esteem-able works. And that movie gave him his breakout role. He got projects after that which he could start to choose from. So, I’ve taken that to heart… to do things I care about, that give you a career, and that can be respected amongst your peers. It’s not that I’m basing my decisions on what other people think, but I want to do projects that further my profile as an actor and really give me great experiences such as the ones I’m going through now.
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