IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Filmmaker Stuart Beattie Talks 'I, Frankenstein' and Possibly Returning to Write and Direct a Sequel

Friday, 24 January 2014 22:03 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Filmmaker Stuart Beattie Talks 'I, Frankenstein' and Possibly Returning to Write and Direct a Sequel

Screenwriter Stuart Beattie is best known for writing such popular films as Collateral, 30 Days of Night, and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, as well as creating the characters in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. He made his directorial debut with 2010’s Tomorrow, When the War Began, which he also wrote. Now, the writer and director returns with his latest movie I, Frankenstein, which opens in theaters on January 24th. 

The film is loosely based on the graphic novel of the same name by actor Kevin Grevioux (Underworld), and follows the original monster of Victor Frankenstein. Adam Frankenstein, played by Aaron Eckhart (Erased), is the only force that stands between the human race and an uprising of supernatural creatures including gargoyles and demons that are determined to overthrow the world. In addition to starring Eckhart and Grevioux, the film also stars Bill Nighy (About Time), Yvonne Strahovski (TV’s Chuck), Miranda Otto (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers), and Jai Courtney (A Good Day to Die Hard).

I recently had a chance to speak with writer and director Stuart Beattie about his work on I, Frankenstein. The accomplished filmmaker discussed his new movie, the graphic novel it is based on, what he added and changed when writing the screenplay, working with comic book creator/actor Kevin Grevioux, reinventing the character of Frankenstein, casting Aaron Eckhart, the rest of the talented actors that appear in the film, what he’s looking for from an actor on set, and if he would be interested in returning to the franchise for a possible sequel. 

Here is what Stuart Beattie had to say about I, Frankenstein, and returning to write and direct a possible sequel:

IAR: To begin with, what was it about the initial concept of Kevin Grevioux’s I, Frankenstein graphic novel that you liked and made you want to adapt it for the big screen?

Stuart Beattie: It wasn't Kevin's comic book. Kevin had written 30 pages, but it was only a first act of a comic book with a completely different premise. What I was given basically was the title of the graphic novel, which I thought was a great title and the premise of a modern day action movie centered on Frankenstein's monsters. So that gave me my marching orders basically. I didn't end up looking at the graphic novel until after we made the film. It really just came from an initial meeting and then I started from scratch creating a world from there and characters and story from that.

Can you talk about your screenwriting process on this film? Did you work on the story with Kevin and then create the screenplay, or did you just write the script off of the original material that Kevin conceived?

Beattie: Kevin wrote a bunch of screenplays for a couple years and for whatever reason they didn't want to use them. They hired another writer who did versions of what Kevin did and they didn't want to use that either. So when they came to me, they basically didn't want to do anything like what Kevin had done. They were looking for something different. That's when I came in with the “Monsters of Men” story and designed it from page one upwards. The Writer's Guild basically had to find the credit and then they gave Kevin story credit because he was the one who kind of came up with the title and really the concept of a modern day Frankenstein monster story. For that he gets story credit. The story I created was my story, my characters and my screenplay. So basically when I was hired I just kind of wrote my own script for about a year and a half before we made the film.

Based on the initial premise that you were given, what was it that you wanted to do with the screenplay and eventually the film to reinvent the Frankenstein character for the big screen?

Beattie: What they wanted was the Frankenstein character out there protecting humanity from some kind of dark evil. What intrigued me was, why? Why does he want to protect us? To me why someone does something is always much more interesting then what he or she does. I said why would this guy who was abandoned by his father, run out of every town and kicked in the shins his entire life by mankind, why would that guy want to protect mankind? That to me is rise to the whole story. That was the story I wanted to tell. So that means he's starting off in a place where he's like, “No, I'm not going to do that. He's offered that opportunity at the beginning of the film and he turns him down. The story is more about him getting to that place by the end of the film. It's that idea of the character doing something at the end that they never would've done at the beginning, but it makes sense because of everything he's gone through in between. So by the end of it that's how you answer the why. It's like Oskar Schindler. Why would a Nazi party war profiteer go bankrupt to save 1,100 Jews in World War II? Well here's the why. The why is what's interesting. That's why I get into the why of the character. Why is he doing this and then what leads him to make these commitments? I think that's fascinating. Why do any of us do anything? What is it driving us to do this stuff? Especially for him, he has a great reason not to and if he does, then why? That to me is the movie. That's the heart of the movie. That's a good story.

So you wanted to explore the humanity inside the monster, is that right?

Beattie: Yeah exactly, and realizing we choose. It's a choice. You choose to be a monster or you choose not to be a monster. It's an act. He’s Frankenstein! He's the physical way he was born alive. Is that what makes the monster? Well, no it doesn't. What makes you a monster is your actions, and as soon as you change those actions that's when you stop being a monster. That's when you earn your humanity. That's really the whole journey that he goes on.

Can you tell me about casting Aaron Eckhart as Adam Frankenstein? Is he an actor that you've wanted to work with for a while?

Beattie: Yeah, he's one of those actors that are just fantastic in everything he does. With Aaron, I knew I would have an actor who could commit 100% to being this famous character. I knew everyone coming to the film would have their own preconceptions of what they thought the character was so I needed someone to get over their own preconceptions and then say, “No, this is Frankenstein!” So I needed a guy who would commit and who would go 100% everyday with makeup, training, and whatever he had to do to make you believe that he was that character. When Aaron came up it was like jump on that, jump on that and pray to God it works. We were fortunate enough that it all worked out. Day one on set, when he came in with that makeup and that hair, everybody just went quite. It was like, “Wow, there's Frankenstein!” It was amazing. He transformed himself, he really did. He went way over and it was just a joy to watch, and a joy to direct.

You surrounded Aaron Eckhart with a great supporting cast that includes Bill Nighy, Yvonne Strahovski, Miranda Otto and Jai Courtney. Can you talk about the rest of the film’s actors?

Beattie: Well, you know if you're going to have a villain and you cast Bill Nighy he is going to be great. With the rest of the film I was able to cast all Australians. We shot the whole film down in Australia so I was able to get in some really cool Australian talent. Miranda is just the best. She was in The Lord of the Rings films and she's got some of the most fantastical dialogue in the movie. She does it so well that you believe it. Jai I think is amazing and he has such a great presence. I wanted to give his biceps their own credit in the movie. Yvonne is just an absolute joy, so fantastic and she's so smart. You believe her. You actually believe that she actually knows what she's saying. She's got all that technical speak, which is hard to do. Do you know that scene where she's stitching him up? She's literally really stitching him. He had the makeup laceration, but she's stitching with needle, thread and holding the needle. She taught herself how to do that because that's how you do that. She kept her hands in the exact same position with each take at the exact moment of the dialogue so that I could actually cut it together with different takes. These are all the practical things that you don't even think about until you get there and you're like, oh, thank God she's doing that or else it would never work. The thing with Australia is that there is a lot of great acting talent. We've got a lot of really good actors down there and it's a real joy to be able to work with them on a Hollywood film.

I often ask actors what they are looking from a director when they are on set. So let me ask you, as a director, what are you looking for from an actor while shooting on set?

Beattie: I’m looking for 100% commitment. Unless the actors are selling it with their performance, visual effects, score, soundtrack, nothing is going to make it work. The actors are the ones to make it work. They're the ones the audience identifies with, that are who they experience the story through. What I look for in an actor is 100% commitment to their character and that they are going to be that character for this length of the shoot. That's most you can ever hope for. I'm grateful for the actors in this film because I just think they are amazing. None of it would work without them.

Finally, if this film is successful, is returning to write and direct a sequel something you would be interested in doing?

Beattie: I would love to do a sequel. I'd love to work with all these people again. There’s a lot more that I'd like to dig into with Adam now that he's made this commitment. There's much more in the whole demon world, in gargoyle mythology that I'd like to explore and get into. I'd love to make a sequel, that'd be awesome. This is a standalone film. That was very important to me that this story ended and I think it does. He completes his journey from monster to man.      

I, Frankenstein opens in theaters on January 24th. 

To read our exclusive interview with comic book creator and actor Kevin Grevioux about I, Frankenstein, please click here

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