Director Stuart Beattie had his hands full when bringing the classic Mary Shelley creature born in Frankenstein to the modern age. We could tell that he was well on his way to achieving that the moment that first I, Frankenstein trailer landed. We talked to him about that and more for an exclusive interview when Beattie phoned us from New York.
We wondered what was so special about star Aaron Eckhart that he was the perfect choice to be Frankenstein’s monster and the challenges involved in bringing the classic monster into the 21st century. Beattie also talks about the challenges of simultaneously staying true to the Shelley monster, while still having him break into new territory. And most of all, we asked Beattie why we’re still so fascinated by Frankenstein after two centuries.
Movie Fanatic: What was it about Aaron Eckhart that he was the guy to be Frankenstein’s monster, here known as Adam?
Stuart Beattie: It’s his level of commitment to all the roles that he plays. Think about a bad Aaron Eckhart performance. There isn’t one! I knew that everyone that is coming to see a Frankenstein movie is coming in with their own preconceived notions of what Frankenstein is. So, I knew that whoever was playing that role had a job to get everyone over their own notion of the monster and then, making audiences believe that this is what the character should be. It was double duty. The only way to do that is to commit to the role. If you look at the six months of training he did for the role, all that, that first day when he walked on set in the hair and the makeup, he was the creature. The whole set went quiet. It was like the birth of Frankenstein. It started day one, and went through the very end. It was one of those amazing performances to be watching it, and for me to be directing it.
Movie Fanatic: The idea of bringing Frankenstein into modern day is a fascinating venture with I, Frankenstein. What were the unique challenges of achieving that while keeping him true to what has come before?
Stuart Beattie: The first part was staying true to the character that Mary Shelley created, keeping it that guy. It’s the classic, “what does the character want and why can’t they have it?” He’s a character who is alone and wants a companion. That’s what he’s after -- keeping that as the major drive, even 200 years later -- that had to keep it current with Shelley. If anything, the years have made him harder and more bitter and more determined to get this. Also, showing that things never change, people still look at him because he’s got scars. It’s a matter of showing that human nature hasn’t changed in all the years in recorded history. We are alone. We search for companionship. Then we pass away, and what do we leave behind? All those things are wrapped up in that character, whether it’s 1795 or 2014. We didn’t want him using a cell phone [laughs]. In a very connected world, it’s very hard to do.
Movie Fanatic: Helming this journey had to be a momentous effort. What particular moments do you feel that you learned the most about yourself?
Stuart Beattie: Each day had its own merits. The stick fight scene was a big thing. There was a year and a half of convincing people that it would look really cool. No one believed me, until we got there on the day and everyone went, “Whoa!” Also making the gargoyles look cool was a big deal for me. No one could believe that they would look as awesome as they did. When we got them to fruition, I could not have been prouder. There was a lot of fighting for something that I wanted, and one day having the doubters realize you were on to something, that was powerful. There were a lot of new concepts, and I get it, it’s hard to embrace new concepts.
Movie Fanatic: We’ve talked about how you kept Mary Shelley’s story alive, but how do you feel you’ve stretched it and taken it into new places?
Stuart Beattie: We show how the monster has really earned his humanity. This is really about how he becomes human and what makes us human, the idea of serving a higher purpose and he does that. That represents the best of the human condition.
Movie Fanatic: What do you think it is about the Frankenstein story that we’re still fascinated with the big guy after centuries?
Stuart Beattie: I think the story of Victor Frankenstein is the ability to cheat death. Because, we’re all looking at that and we all would love to cheat it. In a way, Victor’s obsession is our obsession. That will never go away because it’s part of the human condition. When it comes to the monster’s story, I think it also stays with us because he has that great universally relatable character trait of feeling alone. He always feels that there’s no one out there in the world for him. He’s doomed to be alone for the rest of his life. In this case, it’s literally true. For us, there is no one on Earth who doesn’t know what that feels like. We’ve all had that longing to spend our lives with someone. It’s part of human nature to connect. That’s all the monster wants.