The Cabin in the Woods, from Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon – and opening (quite appropriately) in theaters on Friday, April 13th – is a great horror film that is just so much fun to watch. It’s creative, imaginative and hysterically funny, all while turning horror on its head and challenging anything that follows. So as not to ruin any aspect of the film, I will just include the official synopsis which says: “Five friends go to a remote cabin in the woods. Bad things happen.” And, do they ever!
During this recent phone interview with Collider, actor Fran Kranz (Dollhouse), who plays a pot smoking guy named Marty in the film, talked about what a big classic horror fan he is, his unusual auditioning process for the role (that included reading a monologue about his friend having gotten his head chopped off by The Clickety Clack Man), how he thought it was one of the best scripts he’s ever read, that the finished film is pretty much exactly what he originally read, how there could be some amazing bonus features on the DVD because of all the behind-the-scenes footage that was shot, and how he hopes people will love the film as much as he clearly loved getting to be a part of it. He also talked about he got to be a part of the backyard production of Much Ado About Nothing that Joss Whedon shot at his house, what a fun and relaxed experience it was, and how he’s looking forward to seeing it, along with what it’s like to be a part of the Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield, among other notables. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did you come to be a part of The Cabin in The Woods? You were on Dollhouse, but did you still have to audition?
FRAN KRANZ: I did. It’s kinda weird. It’s a funny story. I was working on Dollhouse, so I knew Joss [Whedon] and I did know that he was making a movie. I was filming Dollhouse and we were in the second half of the season, and I knew he was making a horror film with Drew Goddard. And then, one day, Drew came to set, and I was filming that day, to talk to Joss about possible locations. I wandered over to him and was snooping around ‘cause I’m a horror film fan, and saw that one of the locations that they were looking at was the original Camp Crystal Lake where they filmed the original Friday the 13th, and that’s just one of my favorites. I’m a big horror film guy, so I said, “You have to film there. That’s so cool!” That’s how I first met Drew. Then, I got an audition for The Cabin in the Woods. I just got an email from my agent, and I called my agent and said, “Is this weird? Joss never mentioned anything to me, and yet this is his movie. Shouldn’t he have mentioned this?” My agent said, “Look, if he doesn’t know about it, that’s fine. Just go in and do the best job you can.” So, I went in and did just that.
What did you have to audition with?
KRANZ: It wasn’t the real script. It was fake sides. I was being questioned by a detective because my friend had gotten his head chopped off by The Clickety Clack Man. I’m not even kidding. It was crazy, and a brutal monologue to deliver just ‘cause it was so silly. I knew that it wasn’t the real movie, but you just had to grin and bear it. So, I read that, and then I would go to work (on Dollhouse) and it was like the elephant in the room. I so desperately wanted to talk to Joss about it, but he was there and he never brought it up. I thought it was so odd. But then, finally, one day, he broke the ice. He came up to me and said, “Hey, you did a really good job. I want you to read for Drew.” So, I went back and read for Drew Goddard, who is the co-writer, director and producer. It was the same Clickety Clack Man monologue. And then, Joss said, “Hey, we really like you for this part. We’re going to send you the script. Give it a read.”
What did you think, when you finally got a chance to read the script?
KRANZ: I read the script and thought it was literally one of the best scripts I had ever read, but I still didn’t have the part, so it was excruciating because I knew how good this movie was, or could be. I thought it just kept getting better and better, and it outdoes itself, continuously. It percolates in this amazing way. It really ends with such a bang, literally and figuratively. It was pretty awesome! So, I knew Joss and Drew were on my side, and all three of us got together and made a tape that we could be really proud of, that was our best effort, and they sent it to the studio. At that point, it was up to the studio to sign off on me. And then, finally, I did get the role and it was great. It’s the best role I’ve ever had in a film.
Once the dust was settled and I got the role and everyone got their way, Joss told me that he actually had Drew come to the Dollhouse set that day to meet me. He had told Drew, “I think I’m working with Marty,” which is a huge compliment, and I had no idea. Obviously, I had no idea that the role even existed, but it was a wonderful thing, and it’s a huge compliment. I’m almost embarrassed at how wonderful Joss has been to me. Basically, it was great that I was such a geek about horror films that day, with Drew on set, because he saw someone just as passionate as he was about the genre. And, to bring up a movie like Friday the 13th, that’s one of the classics and one of the old horror films from the glory days, and for Drew and Joss to be frustrated with where horror films were going, I think he saw a kindred spirit in me, as someone who is a fan of the classics and would be passionate about a movie like The Cabin in the Woods.
How close is the final cut of the film to what you originally read in the script?
KRANZ: Honestly, I want to say that not a thing has been changed. If anything, maybe little things were trimmed, here and there, just to get a running time that everyone was happy with, but it’s pretty much, script-to-screen, about as true and verbatim as any movie I’ve ever worked on, or most movies I know. Movies usually go through significant changes, especially studio films. This one, I’m telling you, was one of the best scripts I ever read, and Lionsgate just believes in it and wanted it to be exactly the way it was written. You hear that a lot, but I’m telling you, a lot of the time, it’s just not true. It’s just the way they sell things. Most of the time, scripts significantly change. But, with this movie, I still have the script and it’s the same thing.
What did you enjoy most about playing Marty?
KRANZ: It was a gift, honestly. I have to thank Drew and Joss for writing such a great character. It’s always fun to play high or drunk. You get to have fun and do silly things, and you’re allowed certain freedoms because you’re inebriated. That’s always fun, but the character is so much more intelligent than just that. It’s so well-rounded and three-dimensional. He’s got all these wonderful colors to show. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the journey he goes on is just not what you would expect from that character. When I say it’s one of the best roles I’ve ever had, it’s not just for the superficial reasons that one might thing. I really saw it as a great role. I tried to really latch onto the idea that Marty is very loyal and that he really loves his friends and he has this dog like, almost irrational loyalty. It’s instinctual, primitive and animalistic. He will stick by these guys, to the end. That gave me a different angle to approach the character with, so it wasn’t all fun and clownish and foolish, even though that was a big part of it with the comedy. He was a real guy that loved these people. Playing the horror of the situation was important to take seriously as well.
KRANZ: If anything is missing, it’s little things that were more for running time. The script was so damn good. It’s rare when you don’t have to fix up much in the editing room. I honestly don’t think there’s much. But, I do know that there was a lot of fun footage. Certainly, with that third act, I’m sure there was a lot of extra footage that was left on the editing room floor. I think there could be hours of behind-the-scenes footage because we all carried around little hand-held cameras. They gave us these little hand-held cameras to do behind-the-scenes footage, so hopefully all that stuff is still around. It’s the kind of movie that could have amazing bonus features.
Typical of Joss Whedon’s work, this movie really shifts gears quite often, between broad comedy and intense emotional drama. Is that something that you enjoy, as an actor, and that comes easily for you? Do you think that’s why your styles click well together?
KRANZ: Maybe. I don’t see myself as one type of actor. I know that I’ve played a lot of comedic roles. It’s a visual medium. When you get one role, you start to get cast in that role for awhile because that’s what people have seen you do, and have hopefully seen you do it successfully. And so, it becomes an easier thing to see you as, for casting directors and directors, and they start to think of you as that particular person or type of character. But, for me, I’m just an actor, first and foremost. The actors I respect are the real character actors, who are the real chameleon actors that completely change from role to role. I love Peter Sellers, Alec Guinness and Gary Oldman. They tend to be British, I guess. People who really disappear and transform, I really like that.
Joss, as a creator and artist, goes hand in hand with hybrid genres that are always comedy and something else, whether it’s science fiction or horror or drama. He’s all over the place. He’s someone that would not have wanted to be pigeonholed as an artist with one kind of style. He is just original, and it’s creative and different, and he’s very versatile. Maybe there is something in me that he responds to. I’ve certainly been lucky to work with him more than once, and hope to work with him again. I don’t know what it is, but I do know that I love his work and I hope the feeling is mutual. I’ve been really proud of the stuff I’ve done with him. But, I like to do different things. I want the next role I do to be as different as possible from whatever I’m doing now. In that sense, I like how he’s always thinking outside of the box. I think that’s the most interesting kind of career that someone in this business can have.
He’s become known for the readings he does in his backyard. How did you end up in Much Ado About Nothing, and are you surprised at the attention that it’s been getting, or is that just a given with anything he does these days?
KRANZ: Yeah, that’s funny. You would think I should have learned by now that Joss’ fans are avid and passionate. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I am. I really was. It came about so organically. It was so relaxed and casual. He just emailed me saying that he wanted to do Much Ado About Nothing, but that he wanted to film it. I did do one of his readings. I did Midsummer Night’s Dream. Considering how nice the guy is to me, sometimes I’m so shameless with him. I heard he did a reading of Hamlet at his house and I just went up to him and was like, “I wanna be at the next one!,” just like a little baby. I was like, “Why wasn’t I invited?!” And he was like, “Okay, okay, I’ll invite you to the next one.”
So, I did Midsummer Night’s Dream and it was so much fun. You just hang out in his backyard and read a play, and it’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon and evening. It’s great. And then, I got an email about Much Ado About Nothing and he said, “I’m thinking about filming it.” Literally, he said, “I’m thinking about filming it.” Fast forward to two or three weeks later, when we started doing it, and we had a grip truck and craft service, and for a couple days, we had over 100 extras on set. He made a movie. Granted, it was shot in 12 days and it’s not The Avengers. It’s a different kind of budget, obviously, but it’s a movie.
I can expect a lot from Joss, always, no matter what the scale of the production is. It just happened pretty casually, and it was fun and relaxed. For the most part, it was 90% people that he’s worked with before and people that I knew. It was just a really fun time, and it was at his house. Every night, it kind of did turn into a small party. It was honestly a really fun, relaxed experience and, hopefully, that shows in the film and it’s a refreshing take on Shakespeare. Some people think of Shakespeare and think it will be a stuffy film, and the language scares people off. Hopefully, that’s not the case with this one.
Have you gotten to see it yet?
KRANZ: I haven’t seen it, but I have high expectations with Joss and he generally exceeds them.
What has it been like to be a part of such a classic production like Death of a Salesman on Broadway? Are you surprised at how much something like that still connects with audiences today?
KRANZ: I’m not surprised. Obviously, I’m an actor and I love theater and I’m passionate about these plays. They’re so beautiful to me, and they move me. I think, “Of course, Death of a Salesman is popular.” But, I do know that people question it. It’s a 50 or 60 year old play, so you always wonder, “Why is it relevant? Why is this a relevant revival?” There’s obvious reasons.
There are people struggling financially today. There are all those problems in the world, in a global economy. But, it’s really a play about a family that is in a state of emergency, but they love each other. Despite the tough relationship between the father and the son, it’s one of real love. All of these characters really love one another. Even the extended family and the neighbors, Charley and Bernard, and I’m playing Bernard. If you have a father, then you’re going to relate to this play. Everyone can relate to that. Fundamentally, the play is about a family, and that’s universal and timeless. The play will always be relevant and can always be performed and it’s always going to be effective. I think it’s such a powerful play. The writing is so strong that you don’t even need a great cast. Luckily, we have one. We have Philip Seymour Hoffman, at the top. I think he’s one of the best out there, period. It’s a real painful, heartbreaking play, at times, but it’s a beautiful piece of art. It’s the great American play. So, I’m not surprised at all. I just feel very lucky to be a part of it.
It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and a lot of my fellow actors in it and a lot of the veteran actors tell me that this kind of thing happens once in a lifetime. Not so much the opportunity, but all the people involved. We have a legendary director like Mike Nichols. And, having it come out when it has makes it painfully timely, just given the global and national economy and the housing mortgage crisis. It is a tough thing to have to face, with the questionable values of the play and of the family, the importance of being known and well liked, and people really trying to sell themselves in life as happy and popular when that might not be the case, or if that’s even necessarily that important, as opposed to really knowing who you are and what makes you happy. It’s a tough play. You start to see the world through the lens of it and that’s hard, but it’s good because it’s meaningful.
Do you have any idea what you’re going to do, after you’re finished with the play? When you work with such amazing people in your career, does it make you more selective when you decide what you’re going to do next?
KRANZ: I don’t know. It’s funny, I haven’t really thought about it that way. First of all, I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I did Much Ado About Nothing, and I did this movie called Lust for Love (with Felicia Day, Dichen Lachman, Enver Gjokaj and Miracle Laurie), and I hope both of them find nice homes and distribution. That would be wonderful. I hope The Cabin in the Woods is very successful. And, I hope new doors open up for me, both in film and theater. When Death of a Salesman ends, I hope I can get back on stage, somewhere soon.
There are so many creative, talented people. The more I work in this industry, the more humble that I get. I just realize that there are a million other guys that could fill my shoes. There are so many talented people in this industry that it’s no wonder it’s so competitive, but it’s kind of inspiring and wonderful. I have no doubt that this is a very flashy cast and group of people I’m with (for Death of a Salesman), and Scott Rudin is even behind the stage. There are just amazing people working on this. But, I could be in a less starry and famous cast and still be side-by-side with really talented, creative, wonderful people.
How happy are you that audiences are finally going to get to see The Cabin in the Woods, since there was some doubt for awhile that it would ever get released?
KRANZ: There are not words. It’s a bit surreal. I cared about this movie so much. That’s a real understatement. It meant a lot to me that Drew wrote me an email, at one point, saying, “I’m happiest most for you that this movie is coming out,” because I think he knew how much it meant to me. Even from that day when he came on the Dollhouse set, when I started saying, “Oh, you’ve got to film there,” he saw that I was a kid that actually loves this stuff. I did give it my all. It was a lot of work. It’s obviously a fun thing to do, but with horror films, you do get beat up, you do get exhausted, there are a lot of night shoots, a lot of blood and gore, and a lot of running around. I put all I had into it, and I’m so grateful that it’s at the right home with Lionsgate and it’s coming out the right way. People seem to be responding to it really well. It’s a little surreal, but I can’t wait for Friday. I hope it goes as well as it seems to be going. I hope that it continues the way that it appears that it will, and that people love it.