Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt, and Anthony Hopkins at The Wolfman premiere in Hollywood.
Audiences will watch Benicio Del Toro bring to life an inhumane primal beast in The Wolfman, directed by Joe Johnston and produced by Del Toro. The actor/producer plays the legendary character Lawrence Talbot, a noble man who reunites with his estranged father (Anthony Hopkins) following the death of his brother. Seeking answers about his brother's death, Talbot sets out in a journey only to face a horrifying destiny.
Here, Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt candidly discuss the ups and downs of making The Wolfman.
Q: You're a co-star in this film and a producer. Why take on the double-duty?
Benicio Del Toro: Well, I'm a big fan of all these horror movies. As far back as I can remember, the Universal horror movies are the first movies where I knew the title of the film and the names of the actors in those films. My earliest recollection of acting was watching Lon Chaney, Jr. play the Wolf Man. We wanted to honor the classic movie [by] giving it some twists and turns and a modern edge.
Rick Yorn (Del Toro's manager and fellow producer) and myself went up to the studio and proposed the idea of doing a remake of the original Wolf Man movie with the intention of really paying homage to those Universal classic horror movies, like Frankenstein. They liked the idea. Then, [writer] Andrew Kevin Walker came in, and [make-up effects artist] Rick Baker came in, and we were moving.
Q: Emily, how was it to work with someone as intense as Benicio Del Toro?
Emily Blunt: It was intense. He's such a rare actor, in that he has a real unique approach to a scene. He's quite raw and instinctual, so you don't really know what he will do in the scene. He's a great guy. He's a big teddy bear. People don't know that.
Q: Anthony, it's interesting to watch you and Benicio play father and son. How did you and Benicio create these characters and that relationship?
Anthony Hopkins: I just learned my lines, he learned his, and we showed up on set. There's nothing more to it than that. I think the healthy way to live is to make friends with the beast inside oneself that is the dark side of one's nature. Have fun with it. We should accept everything about ourselves. In this case, it's a highly fantasized version of the shadow and the imperfections. This is a monster growing inside of him, like the alien in Ridley Scott's Alien that pops out of John Hurt's stomach. This is more of a Grimm's fairytale.
Q: What past experiences did you use to bring your character to life?
Hopkins: I thought I'd play a much quieter man, based on someone I knew when I was a little boy who was an old farmer that was eccentric and he used to come to my father's bake house. The kids all built up this fantasy about him, that he was a demon or something, but he was just a harmless old man. He didn't speak very much.
I based my character on him and on that coldness. There's one line in the script when I say to Benicio Del Toro "By the way, I'm sorry to inform you, your brother's body was found in a ditch on Priory Road. Do you have the right clothes for the funeral?" That was so cold. I like that about it, so I pulled that coldness right through the character. He's not particularly crazy or bad, or anything. He's just eccentric, distant and ice cold. He says at one point, "Look into my eyes, I'm quite dead," because he is already dead. He's the living dead.
Q: The coldness and mystery of the character might be inspired by the old farmer, but where did the firmness and stealth come from?
Hopkins: It comes out of expediency…The relationship between fathers and sons is very interesting because, through the whole of literature, from Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman" to D.H. Lawrence's "Sons and Lovers" to Turgenev's "Fathers and Sons" to Dostoyevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov" there is that harsh, brutal business of being a father and a son. Most men know about the pain of that, or the Oedipal wound, as they would call it.
My own father was a tough man. He was a pretty red-hot guy, but he was also cold. He was slightly disappointed in me because I was not a good kid as a school boy, but I learned from it. I know how to be tough, strong and ruthless. It's part of my nature. I wouldn't be an actor if I wasn't that. You have to be pretty tough to be an actor and you have to be pretty certain of what you want. I'm not evil and I'm not a cruel person. I just don't have much time for wimps and people who say, "Oh, I can't do it." Forget it. My credo is, "Get on with it!" I don't waste time being soft. Life's too short.
Q: Emily, what was working with Anthony Hopkins like? Did you call him Sir Tony?
Blunt: No. You call him Tony, and he's very, very cool. I would sit around and talk to him between takes, and he'd tell us wonderful stories. He's a great mimic. When you're acting with him, he's got such a simplicity to what he does. He's quite an economical actor, in a way, but then he puts on layer upon layer upon layer upon layer, and he's simmering beneath the surface. It's masterful to watch and it's distracting. I'd watch him in the scene and be like, "Oh, sh*t! I forgot my line."
Q: Director Joe Johnston took over this project a bit unexpectedly…
Del Toro: In the beginning of this film, we had a different director. It was going to be Mark Romanek. Then, two weeks into pre-production, Mark stepped out and we had no director. The movie was already rolling, and the character of Lawrence Talbot was a little bit darker and a bit more violent. He was more of a reluctant hero, if anything.
Then, Joe Johnston came in, we had to decide on a director fairly quick, and he was ballsy enough to jump in and take the helm of this picture that was already moving. So, when he came in, that angle that we had before started to change a little bit. It was Joe Johnston's idea to keep him a little bit more of a noble character, who was a more straight-up, straight-forward character.
Q: How difficult were the asylum scenes to film?
Del Toro: The asylum sequence was difficult to do. The idea of the asylum is to prove that he's not a werewolf. It's a trial. I was really strapped to that chair and, as you're dunked backwards, it's supposed to be ice cold water. They used to do that back then. Maybe they still do it.
When you've been thrown in ice cold water, the instinct is to scream. When you're upside down as you're screaming, your mouth is open, so you're letting most of your air out and your sinuses get clogged with water. As you're coming back up, you're out of air and you can only exhale. I was lucky to have a good set of stunt guys around. If something happened, I would make a sign, they'd jump in, undo me and I'd just roll over. We had to do that once, when it got to the point where I couldn't breathe. I panicked for a second and made the sign, and they jumped in and unhooked me. So, that was difficult to film, but looking at the result, I think it worked.
Q: Did you practice howling?
Del Toro: No, I never did any howling because it's very hard to do the howling with the teeth. You can't get your mouth around them. It's like having a plastic spoon in your mouth and trying to talk.
Q: Emily, did you encounter any difficulties while making The Wolfman?
Blunt: I really found the action scenes in those clothes really tricky. In the scene where the Wolfman jumps on me and Hugo [Weaving] and I have to get up, he actually yanked my skirt down, as I was trying to get up. That was probably the hardest stuff we had to do.
Q: With the Oscars around the corner, for both actors, how much did winning the Oscar transform your lives and your careers?
Hopkins: I still have to look in the shaving mirror in the morning and see the same old face there, so it doesn't change your life that much. It was fun to get the Oscar and it was fun to get a Knighthood, but you wake up in the morning and reality is still there. You're still mortal.
It's a great symbol of success, but you can't become the Oscar. You can't become what you think you have to become when you get the Oscar. If you do that, that's the road to madness, and the movie industry is full of crazy people who think that they are God. So, you have to take it with a sense of humor and stay sane.
Del Toro: I don't know if I'd be here without that Oscar, to be honest with you. There's something about the Oscar that gives you stripes, where you feel that you can dare to walk into a studio like Universal and say, "Hey, guys, how about the idea of me playing the Wolfman?" I think that the Oscar gives you some guts and the illusion that you can do it.
Q: Did you relate to your character's struggle to be an actor, when his father didn't want him to?
Del Toro: Yeah, I've heard a lot of people say, "Oh, this is a biopic of your life." But, the elements of the actor in this picture were brought in by Andrew Kevin Walker. Making my character into an actor in the movie is subtle. He's doing "Hamlet," who is on a journey of revenge to take down his uncle, who killed his father. Walker made Lawrence Talbot into an actor, so that when he goes home and tries to investigate what happened to his brother, he finds out he has to go on a journey similar to Hamlet to break the chain.
My dad was a tough, strict guy, but he was also present. I did go away to school, but I had breakfast and dinner with my dad every day. That's not the case with Lawrence Talbot.
Q: When did you tell your father you were an actor?
Del Toro: When I won the Oscar, so I didn't have to tell him anything. [Smiles]
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