Underworld: Our very Chris Monfette recentlt got a chance to go one-on-one with, Kevin Grevioux, writer and star of the upcoming horror fantasy flick Underworld! Take a look!
Given the story of Underworld, you're bound to get comparisons to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Was this ever your intention, to re-tell the classic story in an entirely different light?
KG: Yes and no. This was not a "re-telling" of Romeo and Juliet as much as it as a template from which to formulate a pitch and illustrate our high-concept idea. Are they lovers born to different "families" bound by traditions? Yes. Do they long for each other hoping to catch a glimpse at each other across the room and melt in each others arms? No. This isn't a "lovey-dovey" type of love story. Len, Danny and I are genre guys, and fitting a love story into a guy's action flick is on of the hardest things you can do. We wanted the feeling to be there without falling into the trap of having to deal with them needing to touch each other. How do you show that and still be cool, you know?
In creating the cultures of the Vampires and the Lycans did you focus on any specific rules or reference points laid down by past literature? What did you accept or reject and to what degree did you add to these worlds?
KG: Yes, rules are always important when dealing with genre. My first order of business was to find a way to make vampires and werewolves cool and "believable", in so far as you can make these fictional fantasy characters believable. Given I have a background in microbiology and genetic engineering I wanted to base these legendary creatures of the night in science rather than mysticism. Even as a kid I had a hard time understanding why vampires couldn't see themselves in mirrors. It just didn't make sense. Plus, mysticism can also be a bit of a cheat at times when creating fantasy characters. If you can't quite figure out how to make something work, say, "It's magic". Problem solved. Not quite, but you get the idea. We didn't want to do that.
In our world, Lycanthropy and vampirism are caused by a virus, one carried by wolves the other by bats. A super-rabies or malaria of sorts. This caused a plague that ravaged Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages and caused a mutagenic gene-splice between some humans who were infected by the animal carriers of the virus. Some bitten by infected wolves became werewolves, others bitten by diseased bats became vampires.
That said, we still kept sunlight as the historically ubiquitous vampire kryptonite. Our rationale is that vampires are extremely photo-sensitive like some species of bacteria. For werewolves, which we call "lycans" they are allergic to silver, a metal, in much the same ways heavy metals such as arsenic and lead are poisonous to humans and other biological systems. The moonlight, which is essentially reflected ultra-violet light still provides the catalyst for the change, but they are not slaves to it like in the old myths.
We also had a symbiotic history for the two races which I don't think had been done before. The way we have it the lycans used to watch over the vampires while they slept during the daylight hours. Protecting them from vampire-hunting humans who were trying to exterminate them. The vampires in turn, would watch over the lycan at night during cycles of the full moon when they were in their more feral and uncontrollable states.
What are your feelings about Kate Beckinsale, usually known for playing very soft, feminine roles, being cast as this tough, action- oriented "death dealer"?
KG: Honestly, I can't say enough about Kate and her ability as both an emotional actress and a physical actress. I thought she was the perfect choice for the role. She's a high-profile actress and she really brings a sense of legitimacy to the role. Remember, we're talking vampire and werewolves here. It's hard to get people to take genre seriously, even for us at times. Her prowess as an actress is really unparalleled and we were glad to have her.
Any future sequel or franchise possibilities here, and if so, where do you see this world and these characters going?
KG: Of course there will be sequels barring nothing catastrophic at the box office. The world that we created is simple endless. We can go prequel, direct sequel the possibilities are endless.
What did the film's director bring to project in terms of detail and style that wasn't previously in the script?
KG: Well, I'd have to say his degree of improvising. There were scenes that we couldn't quite shoot the way we wanted to given time and budget constraints, but Len is an amazing visualist. He can see the whole film in his head as a mosaic and rearrange the pieces if things don't go quite according to plan and still maintain a cohesive story and visual style.
Could you describe the experience of being both a writer on the film, as well as an actor within it, especially in context of having to take direction from a director who is, in many ways, creating a world that you've already envisioned?
KG: In a word: SURREAL. Having seen a world you initiated and helped to create is nothing short of surrealistic. You have to understand from our initial conversation to writing the script to Danny coming aboard and him finishing his version to shooting it was a little over two years. That's a really short period of time the way Hollywood measures it. I remember when Len called me over to the office to take a look at the storyboards I was like, "Wow". To see scenes that you've help write or your image being drawn in the storyboards is a dream come true. It's been a long time coming.
As far as taking direction from Len that was no problem. I've worked on several of his music videos and he's a genius director and he knows exactly what he's doing. He's going to be a top five director in the next five years. Watch.
Did you write the character of Raze with the intention of filling the role, and, either way, how did that character then evolve once the casting decision was made?
KG: I wrote the part of Raze for myself. It's so hard for struggling actors to get roles I write myself a parting in everything I put on paper. As far as the evolution of the character, I think a better term is "devolve" or "de-evolve". My role in the film was actually quite bigger when we first started out. But I remember telling Len and Danny, if we make the part too big I'll never be able to play it. They would get a name actor with more clout to play the role and I would be out like a light. So we had to pare the role down so it wouldn't attract too much attention so I could play it.
Given that both the vampire and werewolf genres have been so fully developed, what are your thoughts on the more modern takes on these ancient creatures? What films have gotten them right, and which films have simply gotten them wrong?
KG: Like I said, I don't like mysticism so I have somewhat of an aversion to that. However, I thought Interview With A Vampire was good. I also liked the Blade movies. David S. Goyer did an amazing job of taking an obscure Marvel comic book character and breathing new life into it. Razor Blade Smile was interesting and I even liked Lifeforce. Lastly, although it wasn't quiet my taste, I thought that The Addiction was interesting. As far as werewolves are concerned there are no modern takes. That last cool werewolf movies were American Werewolf In London and the Howling and those were over twenty years ago.
As far as which movies got it right, I'll have to say there is no right or wrong. From my research there's so much out there in folklore that everything anybody's ever done can be linked to some myth or legend in the past. As such, it all works.
Further, do you think that it's any longer possible to make an original take on these genres -- a vampire of werewolf film that has simply NOT been done before? And if so, was that your intention when writing Underworld?
KG: Yes I do, definitely. The bigger question is: are you going to be brave enough to do it? Let's face it, there is a horde of purists out there who love the old myths and legends. These guys go ape if you get one aspect of the mythos wrong. What's strange to me is that no one can ever decide which legends to keep and which ones to through out. From my research there is a wealth of information about vampires and werewolves that most people haven't even heard of. Most of what we see and know we get from Hollywood. But if you hit the books and the library and flip through books that are like seventy years old, you'll find more information than you can shake a stick at.
That said, it was always our intention to create something new and fresh based upon our research. I mean, lets face it, Hollywood thrives on it. The tricky part is trying to figure out what you can get away with and what you can't. Or more to the point, what your audience will accept and what they won't. We also took out vampires' fear of crosses. One, I didn't want to be sacrilegious, two, what about crosses is going to make a vampire cower in the face of them in the first place? No one could ever decide on what it was exactly. And don't even get started on werewolves and wolfs bane. So all this glut of information we found gave us the freedom to make up our own mythos and bend the rules because they change from culture to culture. Like I said, you're going to have your purists who love the old myths, but why adhere to the old when you can create something new. That's were the fun of writing comes in.
When a film has been stylized and advertised in such a manner, comparisons are bound to be drawn to films such as The Matrix or Blade. What are you feelings about this? Are these flattering comparisons, or are they rather mis-imposed?
KG: No problem at all. The Wachowski's and Steven Norrington did great jobs with those films. I think they, along with Alex Proyas' The Crow, changed cinematic genre style. But you have to remember, we're all genre guys so we're all pulling from the same sources. Comic books, Japanese animation, kung fu movies, old monster movies etc.. What matters is that you create a new twist and take on these influences. Something that sets you apart that draws people in. I think we've done that.
Any plans for a sequel? If so, can you give us a taste of the direction you'd like to take the story in?
KG: Definitely plans for a sequel. The only thing I can tell you at this point is: HISTORY.
Thanks to Kevin for the great interview!