Articles Interview: Shuler Hensley

Shuler Hensley: Frankenstein's Monster

Q: How did you approach this role?

HENSLEY: More from the human aspect. Not so much as a monster, but as someone who is an outcast. The monster label is basically the physical appearance. I think this more of a creature you can relate to. The look is what makes him the monster. If you separate that, he's really just a human being who wants to be loved and to be a part of society. He's more of a tragic hero.

Q: This movie gives the monsters more of a defined role in the goings-on?

HENSLEY: Yeah, they're defined. Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein. So, you don't have to play to the stereotypes and I think it makes it much more interesting. It adds something unique to the creatures. We all have this preconceived notion as to what they are. In the story, obviously, they're all together and interconnected. That makes their relationships really unique so it's sort of like, 'We know the creatures, now we're going to run with them.'

Q: Do you take a bride in this movie?

HENSLEY: He wants one, but no, it's just nonstop action and the characters are developed through interaction rather background, because we all know the background of these monsters.

Q: What does your makeup entail?

HENSLEY: Four and a half hours. It's mainly the face. I think it was closer to six hours when we started and the face consists of nine to twelve pieces of a unique... it's not really latex, it sort of molds, so you have features of my face, dimples and that sort of thing, but it's really an intricate, detailed piece of work and it takes probably four hours. And then you have the body suit and leg extensions so I'm about 7'2".

Q: Can you walk with the leg extensions?

HENSLEY: Yeah, they're great. They were designed by a man who does artificial limbs for amputees. So, it's actually a metallic foot and it works like a normal human foot. It's real easy. I don't think I could run, but Frankenstein's fast walk would be like a run, I guess.

Q: What was the audition process like for you on Van Helsing?

HENSLEY: Well, basically, I was performing Oklahoma on Broadway, playing Judd. I like doing villains or outcasts but I try to give them human qualities so that it's not so clearly defined that they're a bad man, but have good qualities within. I mean, it just makes it more interesting. So I think that's along the same lines that Stephen was looking for, for these characters. They're not so clearly defined as we would think, you know, of all these characters. So, they came and saw me in Oklahoma and that was when they had the idea that it would be a good mix.

Q: I know you've worked together before, so did Hugh tell them about you?

HENSLEY: No, and that's the thing: I've worked with Hugh on maybe three films and it always seems to be by chance, and uh, it was after the audition that... It went well, and I said, 'Can you tell me what this movie's about and who's in it?' They said, 'Well, Hugh Jackman's in it.' And I was like, 'Oh, awesome!' So it was perfect. A perfect connection.

Q: Is there a lot of physicality to the role of Frankenstein's Monster?

HENSLEY: Yes. It was more about getting in shape, because I'd say the whole costume and bodysuit and everything is close to 70-75 pounds. Moving in it, and living in it, I've sort of tried to work out for endurance and a cardio workout.

Q: Is it Greg Cannom who did the costume and bodysuit?


Q: How much of your character is CGI?

HENSLEY: I'm the one actor who's mostly real.

Q: Do you think that helps you as actor, having to actually wear the prosthetics and heavy costume?

HENSLEY: I do. You live it, yeah. You are it. Honestly, it's the perfect scenario for a man made up of seven men to be putting on artificial limbs. You have to pretend to walk differently; it's a matter of staying on balance.

Q: Is it hot in there?

HENSLEY: It's extraordinarily hot.

Q: Don't you have some kind of built in ventilation or air-condition system?

HENSLEY: Well, in Prague it was perfect. Thirty below, and I was the only one outside. It was great. Here, we've added a cooling vest to go underneath, because there's just no ventilation. We're learning as we go.

Q: What are the design changes in the Monster himself?

HENSLEY: The design is really going back to the book. I mean, there's references to things that maybe we're accustomed to, but I think the look of the monster is completely unique.

Q: What's the difference in the Monster's attitude?

HENSLEY: Without giving too much away of the story line, I mean because you've added all these monsters together, there's going to be a liberty as to what happens within the story. But Victor is much more of a father figure. Dracula is someone I don't have direct contact with, but he's very much a part of the psyche of Frankenstein because of what he does in the story, and the fear factor involved. It's such a great story, that I don't want to go into too much of that.

Q: Is this Frankenstein above average in physical strength?

HENSLEY: Yes. In the script, he's described as 7 to 8 feet tall, 400 pounds. The suit adds an enormous amount of width and size to the monster, so without a doubt, there's a huge difference in size.

Q: What was the most difficult scene for you to shoot?

HENSLEY: Well, coming up is most of the action, so we haven't done a lot of the big stuff. But I'd say dramatically, it's the introduction to the Monster. When you first see him, you have that opening which is a tribute, and then when Van Helsing and Anna actually meet him for the first time, it hits him where he lives. And it's beautifully written. He's a very intelligent, lonely person.

Q: Are you going to be strung up on wires pretty soon?

HENSLEY: Oh, I'm sure. Everyone else gets to. They're flying around and I'm like, 'Please?' So that will come.

Q: Do you have a background in dance?

HENSLEY: Well, my mom is ballet director, so I grew up partnering. But the Wolf Man is real dancer. [It does help] for wire work, especially. It's very balletic. It's going to be interesting to do all that with the suit, because it is like a new body which adds like 7 inches or so.

Q: In your fight scenes and such, are you acting with CGI?

HENSLEY: Yeah, yeah. [The CGI werewolf and I] do interact. It's really well set up, so it's never just nothing there, you know, pretending.

Q: How do you know how to position yourself?

HENSLEY: I'm not sure how it works, honestly. But there's a lot of sensor tape put on the body and it references their machines or whatever, that allows them to create around what you're doing. There's nothing like: 'You have to keep it 6.3 inches apart.' But you try to be consistent with it. And that's what they do best, is to sort of mold it into looking real.

Q: What's it like working with Kate and Hugh?

HENSLEY: It's uh, well, great! (laughs) Surprise! You wanted scandal. No, they're fabulous. Well, Hugh and I have basically grown up together. He was doing Oklahoma with me when he got Wolverine, so I was there from the beginning of his action superhero kind of life. And Kate... my wife is British, and Kate is British, and I met all these people in England, so it's sort of an extended family. I'm American, and I think Kevin J. O'Connor and I are the only Americans in this cast. Oh, wait: One of the brides, Josie Maran, is Californian.

Q: When you were in school, did coaches try to recruit you for football?

HENSLEY: I had the best of both worlds. My father was an All-American Football player. Sam Hensley, he played for Georgia Tech. So I grew up with theater and sports, and I always thought you could do both. I went to college on a baseball scholarship – I was a pitcher. I've always done both, which I guess is a bit odd. I still enjoy sports quite a bit.

Q: Are you now trying to balance your career between film and theater?

HENSLEY: I am. The secret in this business is to not be pigeonholed into one or the other. So, I try to do a little bit of everything. Film is a different animal. It's more subtlety and detail with film work, which I like.

Q: Did you use anything a point of reference to sort of get your character composed for this?

HENSLEY: No. I think my introduction to the monster was reading the book. I read the book first before seeing the movie, and as we all do, we create the monster in our minds. That's the one that's the most vivid to me. I've seen the other versions, but this something that I've always sort of just had with me. It was one of my favorite books, growing up.

Q: In the book, the monster has a lot more dialogue than most people associate with him. Does he have a lot of lines in this movie?

HENSLEY: I don't think he ever goes, 'Rrrrrr!' Except maybe when he wakes up – I don't know. He's very eloquent, and a bit sexy (laughs).

Q: Speaking of sexy, are you surprised that Hugh's become this huge action star from a stage actor?

HENSLEY: I'm not surprised at anything in this business. Hugh is honestly the nicest guy, and he's never changed. If that kind of person can do it, that's what you can get really excited about. I mean, he is what he is and he doesn't try to be sexy and everything. I find it fun to see that. 50 Most Beautiful People in the World, and that.

Q: Does the monster have an accent in this?

HENSLEY: There's an influence in the Transylvanian type thing without going overboard. I think it's just mostly insinuated. It's not, obviously, Middle American or anything. It's Middle European without being obnoxious.

Q: Did you do anything to make it more real to yourself?

HENSLEY: Yeah. Yeah. I try to look at the character from how he's described in the book or in the screenplay. There's a sense of innocence, and putting yourself in the situation. I mean, obviously it's the 'What if?' story but he's basically born anew. He's a child in a monster's body. There is sense of innocence. He doesn't have so much a sense of history of these parts that are him, so because of the size and the look, it's more interesting to play against that. You have a huge beast, but you give him childlike qualities – which can be very dangerous, too. And four and a half hours of makeup is incredible, because by piece six, all of sudden your face is lost and, with your characteristics, the Monster comes. It's interesting. You sort of drown into it.

Q: So you watch yourself being made up?

HENSLEY: I always do. I don't go to sleep because I like watching the process. The nose goes on, and you have 10 minutes with a new nose and you sort of study that.

Q: You said he was childlike. What kind of brain does he have?

HENSLEY: Hm. That's a good point. The way he's designed – without giving away too much – there are apparatuses that suggest something other than maybe a human brain, but there is a human quality in it. It's interesting. It's unique. It's a melting pot. I mean, it's literally, seven or eight people.

Q: Do you wear contact lenses in this?

HENSLEY: I wear one.

Q: Do we ever see the monster's body?

HENSLEY: Yeah, you'll see him in various stages of undress. Well, not totally undressed! It's PG-13. That's a different story. Triple X Frankenstein! (laughs)