The best Joss Whedon film of the year (that’s right, we said it) arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday. To celebrate we spoke to Fran Kranz, Dollhouse ’s brain-breaking genius and Cabin In The Woods ’ stoner extraordinaire, about the challenge of keeping the film’s secrets, pestering Joss Whedon for a role in The Avengers 2 and his love for The Legend Of Zelda .
And when you’re done be sure to enter our competition to win one of five copies of the film on DVD (GB residents only).
Also BEWARE, there be spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen The Cabin In The Woods yet, don’t say we didn't warn you.
Fran Kranz: “ I did my own promotion campaign, long before Lionsgate was attached. People were like: “Wow, Fran’s lost his mind. He’s talking about this Cabin In The Woods movie, it’s really kinda sad.” I held on to this beacon of hope, that it would come out and that all the work would be worth it. In order to keep people’s interest, or to keep people from thinking I was crazy, I would drop little hints. I feel like the movie has so many twists and turns that you can tell someone about one aspect, without ruining the movie. I think telling someone about a certain twist or turn actually just makes the movie seem that much more intriguing. If you showed someone a clip from the first half of the film, then showed someone another from the second half it would be hard to believe it’s the same movie. To tease people with that, with the story of the film, really keeps people’s interest. I definitely held onto that script tight, it was very confidential to me, because it was important to me that audiences, even my friends and family, got to see it as a surprise.”
How much of a relief was it for you when the film finally made it to cinemas?
“It was difficult, now that it’s on DVD, and now it’s been released in theatres, I feel that I can speak about the whole journey differently. At the time I was coached to say: “Oh, everything is great. No problems,” like everything was really fun. But the truth is that it was a real struggle, and for me in particular. I knew how good the movie was. It was one of the best scripts I’d ever read. I was there on set everyday, I cared about it and had my heart and soul in this project, unlike any I’d done before. So I knew that we did a good job, I believed that. I felt that I did a good job. I was proud of what we did. So for it essentially to go away was really frustrating, even a little heartbreaking, because as much faith as I had in the project, my belief that people would eventually see it was tested. I did have my days or moments where I doubted it, doubted that people would get to see what we did, and what I was so proud of. That was really difficult. It was such a great relief, so immensely satisfying for it to come out and get those good reviews and that great reaction, and finally be able to see it with an audience, and to hear the crowd’s reaction was really satisfying. It sounds like I’m just saying it, but it really is true, it was worth the wait. It was great to end up at Lionsgate, because they got it. There was some fear along the way that we’d made a movie that might have been too complicated for the genre. Maybe we geeked out too far and lost an audience. But then we found Lionsgate and it felt like we were all reaffirmed. The movie was reaffirmed. It was what we thought it was - this crazy, kick-ass, funny horror film.”
How much did you know about the film before you auditioned?
“I did one audition with this crazy monologue that was written just for actors reading for Marty. There was this kid who was being interrogated by the police, having just seen his friend decapitated by the Click Clack Man. It was so bizarre. I had to do that twice. I did it once for a casting director, then I did it once for Joss and Drew, which is funny because I was working with Joss at the time. You would think that I might go in for Joss and Drew immediately, especially because later down the road I heard that they had me in mind for the part. Joss told me that he had told Drew: “I think I’ve found Marty.” Before I even knew this whole project existed. I think they were trying to keep a distance and see my interpretation of the role. I don’t think they wanted to have any influence on my performance. I guess Joss was seeing if his hunch was right. Thankfully it was. I assume that’s what it was. To me it was very strange to get an audition for a Joss Whedon film, and not have him talk to me about it, because I saw the guy daily at the time. I’d met Drew once. It felt strange because in general I read for directors immediately. So to go in and do a pre-read – I asked my agent about it, I thought it was strange – but I went ahead and did it. Eventually after I read for Joss and Drew they sent me the script, before I had the part, thankfully. It’s very difficult to audition for a film when you have no idea what it’s about. Unfortunately that happens all the time in Hollywood, your projects are confidential, so you go in and do this take. So I came in with my strong take on Marty, this Shaggy meets Scooby meets Corey Feldman from The ‘Burbs , and I took elements from an ex-girlfriend. I came in with a fully developed character because the script blew me away so much that I was passionate about it from page one. I sort of got it, and loved it so much that I put a hell of a lot into Marty from the very beginning.”
We hear you’re a bit of a horror geek…
“Drew came to the Dollhouse set to show Joss possible locations for the lake in the movie. One of them was the original Crystal Lake, from the original Friday the 13th and I totally geeked out, even if those movies really go off the deep end, some are so ridiculous! The simplicity of kids in the woods and some nemesis, whether it’s a psychopath or supernatural, I think that’s great. I can’t really get enough of that. I think it’s tried and true. For sure, I love the genre but what I love is this took the genre and placed it on a landmine. It’s so outrageous, that it went into science fiction. It went into straight up action adventure. The relationship between the kids I really believed. There was real depth there, I believed they were friends. Even though they became these stereotypes, and we see them devolve into clichés, there is really great writing at the heart of it and the five of us became close. To me that reminded me of The Goonies or something – a good adventure story with five friends. There were so many elements of the script that appealed to me, especially when the Army of Nightmares shows up. You can’t not like that. There’s something for everyone!”
There’s a featurette on the DVD where you give us a tour of your drug paraphernalia. How much research did you do into that aspect of Marty?
“It was great; it was such a fun set. It was such a fun movie, that there were all these little camcorders on set just being handed out. Anyone that wanted to take it could take it. People were encouraged to have fun and create their own behind the scenes clips. Chris [Hemsworth], you see him as Thor, but he’s hilarious. He was really funny, and really wanted to come up with skits. Jesse Williams is equally funny. Those guys were constantly doing weird little things and little satires, or making fun of the movie or making fun of Joss. There’s a great bit where Joss is talking sequel to Cabin In The Woods that none of us want to be on board with because we’ve hated working with him. They asked me very impromptu to do my bit, so I can’t promise it’s very funny or even witty or intelligent or anything! They showed up and said: “Hey, will you give us a tour of Marty’s stash?” He’s got a comprehensive marijuana paraphernalia collection. It was fun to go through it because we had some real experts in the prop and arts direction department, creating Marty’s marijuana kit. I go through it, piece by piece and I remember it being pretty funny, but it’s also probably really incriminating. There’s a really fine line, talking about where I drew my experience from to play a giant pothead. I do my best to keep my parents proud.
Find out what Fran had to say about Dollhouse, The Avengers 2 and playing Link in a Zelda movie on page 2...
You trained for the stage as an actor, but thanks to Dollhouse and The Cabin In The Woods people know you best as a socially awkward misfit. Were you hesitant at all to take on the role of Marty given the superficial similarities to Topher?
I went to Yale and did a lot of acting there, but I wasn’t a theatre studies major. I was only taking classes. I’m familiar with formal training exercises, different methods and modes of thought, and schools of thought about acting, certainly aware and have studied it in some part. But I have no Masters, I wasn’t a theatre studies major. But it was my life from probably the later half of high school, I fell in love with it doing Shakespeare and the Merchant Of Venice in particular, I was playing Shylock. Doing that, in the rehearsal process, I had an epiphany, with the help of my director, and saw it all differently one night. I saw it as the art form that I see it as now. As something that is an entire life, something that can be all encompassing and fulfilling. Before that it was fun, I was in high school and screwing around. I got big roles and I liked the attention, the recognition. Then all of a sudden there was a humbling moment when it became so much bigger than all that. I like doing real, heavy dramatic roles. I was so lucky recently to be in Death Of A Salesman on Broadway and that’s where I feel at home. That play is so depressing and is such a difficult play, even though it’s such a classic. I ignorantly thought that it would be a little easier than it was – that the play would move you along. But after over 100 performances, I still found every night to be a real challenge and struggle, every night finding different thing to re-evaluate. Evaluating what I thought about the character I was playing. I feel at home doing those things. It might not necessarily be fun, but it’s meaningful, it’s challenging and it’s problem solving. Everyday there’s more to discover, I like that. That’s not to say that’s not the case with Marty or Topher. On film, all of a sudden, I might be playing stoners, or the neurotic nerdy guy or the sweet guy. There is a feeling that in a lot of film and television, the characters get softened around the edges. Their dimensions are diminished a bit. I’ve felt that about some roles that I’ve played, certainly nothing by Joss Whedon. But in general you see that, you see types. One day, I hope, as I grow and get more experience and a bigger body of work, my dream would be to cross over and be recognised as both a dramatic and comedic actor and do really meaty great roles that are fully realised human beings and bottomless.
You’re still best known as Topher among our readers. How much did it mean to you for such a memorable character to be the one that really introduced you to the world?
People ask a lot: “Is Dollhouse coming back? Are there more stories to Dollhouse ? What was Joss planning if it hadn’t been cancelled?” All great questions, but it’s funny, because for me I feel so satisfied with it. Obviously I know the second half of the second season, where our budget was wiped, feels very rough. It comes rocketing towards this conclusion that may have not been ideal, necessarily. For me, the writers were so generous. Topher has such a beautiful, believable and tragic arc. For me, it was so satisfying. It was a great crew and a beautiful ensemble. But I felt like the story of Topher was right under the spotlight by the end. I felt him as a true protagonist, a tragic figure. As an actor, I could not have asked for more out of that character in that story. For me, it was very satisfying. Those last days on Dollhouse were sad and cathartic. It was emotional for me to end it, but that’s a sign that something happened. That was the journey. That was the experience. For me it’s definitely done and stored away peacefully.
So now that Joss Whedon is one of the most powerful men in Hollywood have you started bugging him for a role in The Avengers 2 , or S.H.I.E.L.D ?
It’s funny, before The Avengers it was like: “a Joss Whedon show is guaranteed to be cancelled”. He was synonymous with a two season brilliant show. That was a joke and his actors didn’t expect more than that. Now we’re all so greedy, it’s so pathetic. We’re all like, “Well Joss will get this into cinemas.” Like Much Ado About Nothing . “Now, we’ve got to get a theatrical, because of Joss.” I feel like everyone now has these great expectations, as if yesterday never happened. It’s funny, everyone loves him so much that I think the bottom line is people will work for him under any condition. No actor is negotiating contracts for Much Ado About Nothing . I couldn’t believe that we even got paid at all. When I was asked for my Social Security I couldn’t believe it. He’s always going to have that loyalty. But it is true, it’s funny. I just want to be a cop in Avengers 2 , just for the residual checks – I’m completely selfish now. Now I see Joss, I see dollar signs. It went from being the struggling artist, now we’re all just total sell-outs.
We noticed you have a Link avatar on Twitter. Are you much of a gamer?
I’ve got an Xbox 360 and I have a Wii. The last game I played all the way through was Bioshock , but to be honest I’m much more of an old school guy. My favourite games are Final Fantasy II and III , or IV and VI depending on what country you’re in. The Super Nintendo ones. People always want to play superheroes in movies, but I’ve always wanted to be Link in a Zelda movie. But I get the feeling that will never happen. I’m 31 now, so I guess they’d get some little kid if that ever happened. A Link To The Past is still is one of my favourite games outside of the Final Fantasy series. Those were my upbringing, my childhood. Even when I was outdoors, playing outside, those adventures and those stories were in my head. Those were the sort of daydreams and fantasies I had, a world created by…
The Cabin In The Woods UK DVD and Blu-ray release date is Monday 24 September.