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May 31, 2010

Classic horror revisited – interview with ‘Wolfman’ Benicio Del Toro

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During the 1930s and 40s, Universal Pictures released a long-running series of monster movies, creating a successful niche for the studio. Affectionately dubbed “˜Universal Horror,”™ these films imprinted the studio with a certain stamp of B-grade filmmaking. While somewhat schlocky and sensational, movies such as Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Wolf Man ushered in a whole new genre of American cinema and set the cinematic standards for horror moviemaking.

Unearthed from the vaults of Universal Pictures, dusted off and re-tooled, The Wolfman is a 2010 remake of the 1941 classic horror film of the same name. This lavish and expensive franchise “˜reboot”™ promises to breathe new life into an old legend.

Set during the late 1800’s in the British countryside, Benicio del Toro (Che, Sin City) stars as Lawrence Talbot, a haunted nobleman called back to his family estate after his brother vanishes. Upon his return to his ancestral homeland, Talbot is reunited with his estranged father (Anthony Hopkins), and sets out to find his brother. Talbot is bitten, and subsequently cursed, by a werewolf and discovers a horrifying destiny for himself.

Also starring alongside Benicio del Toro are Emily Blunt and Art Malik. Hugo Weaving plays the suspicious Scotland Yard inspector named Aberline (a character that also figures in the contemporaneous Jack the Ripper legend). Joe Johnston (Hidalgo, Jurassic Park III) directed the picture.

Benicio del Toro says there was a lot for him to explore with this role. “He”™s an outcast but he”™s still a man with a soul, like the Phantom of the Opera. It”™s a fantasy movie, too, and in terms of acting, you go into these movies and it”™s kind of freeing to do a “˜fiction”™ fiction.”

Drawing on a childhood fascination, del Toro says his earliest recollections of movies and acting were these monster flicks, in particular watching Lon Chaney Jr. playing “˜The Wolf Man.”™ As he explains it, “The monster thing starts with the aesthetics, which I loved, as a kid. Then it goes into a place of how all those monsters were misunderstood, like King Kong and Frankenstein. This is an homage, you might say. With all respect to the original Wolf Man, our approach is to bring it up to a new generation.”

Growing up during the sixties, del Toro was interested in collecting re-released movie memorabilia. “There was a magazine called Famous Monsters. It would come out every month and the covers were these paintings of all the classic movies. The colors and the artwork were amazing. The memorabilia the original movies, like The Mummy, Frankenstein, Dracula – that”™s hard to get. My memories were based on a throwback. And now we”™re throwing it back to the original story.”

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When asked if there a dark side to his personality that is attracted to a role such as this, del Toro throws back a flippant reply, “Yeah. Why not? I like Heavy Metal!”

According to the actor, it was his idea to breathe new life into the old material. “My manager and I approached Universal with the idea of what did they think of us trying to do a remake. I was doing Che at that time, so my beard and my hair were really long and I think that helped.”

According to an interview in Entertainment Weekly with Rick Baker, who created the make-up for The Wolfman, Baker claimed transforming del Toro posed certain difficulties because he already is a hairy man; “Going from Benicio to Benicio as the Wolf Man isn”™t a really extreme difference. When I did An American Werewolf in London, we went from this naked man to a four-legged hound from hell, and we had a lot of room to go from the transformation and do a lot of really extreme things. Here we have Benicio del Toro, who”™s practically the Wolf Man already, to Benicio del Toro with more hair and bigger teeth.”

Del Toro laughs when he hears that quote, responding with, “I gotta talk to Rick about that. Here”™s the deal, I think he means that I understood those movies, too. Rick and I – we had a vocabulary, we could talk about all those horror movies. As I got into making movies, you can”™t help but trace it back to these movies that I liked as a kid, and then you learn more about it all, as you get older. I remember a few years ago they had a horror movie marathon on TV over Hallowe”™en, and I stayed home and watched them and it was great.”

Del Toro describes the transformation process, recalling how he sat in the chair for around four hours each time. “Rick Baker is one of the best in the world and there”™s maybe no one better to do this movie than him. As he was putting it on, and you”™re looking at the mirror, you see the magic happen, so it”™s fun. Yeah, it”™s not easy to eat or drink during the day. It”™s tough to talk – you gotta take out your teeth. So you have a team of people chasing you around all day, but that”™s okay. The tough part is taking it off. It takes about two hours and it”™s being scraped off. Everybody”™s at home already, sleeping.”

Inspired by the classic Universal film that launched a legacy of horror, The Wolfman brings the myth of a cursed man back to its origins and introduces this iconic character to a new audience and younger generation.

Interview by Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek
Pauline Adamek
Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.

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