The Wolfman (Benicio Del Toro) in London © Universal

It’s May 2008, and in Pinewood studios howls echo between the large buildings and across the detailed sets inside. We’re here to meet some of the cast and crew, as well as experience the remarkable studio constructions; the interior of Talbot Hall is realized so well it could be the real thing.

The fortunes of the film will have their ups and downs. Executive producer Bill Coraro tells us, “We are about two thirds of the way through principal photography. We’re told by Universal to aim for a Spring ’09 release”. It’s now a year after that, and the film is almost here.

So how long was the film in pre-production, and why decide to make this new version of the story now?

Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro), transforming... © Universal

Sean Daniel The studio [Universal] has always wanted to do the best event version of the Wolf Man from [its] experience with The Mummy, which comes from the same great Universal era. Then two or three years ago Benicio [del Toro] and Rick Yorn brought the idea of developing the script.
Bill Coraro The spark of it was really Benicio’s enthusiasm for the genre and for that particular character. He’s a huge fan; he’s got so many of the old magazines and posters and it’s a real homage to Lon Chaney in some ways, with a modern twist on it. Obviously it’s pretty big and the fantastic make-up will impress everybody.
It takes the transformation everyone is expecting to the next level. Benny was really very, very enthusiastic about this role and it’s a great character study, but is basically his version of the classic monster and what we can do with today’s tools for the visual effects.

In January 2008 the director Mark Romanek left the film for “creative differences” and Joe Johnston was then hired. Did this cause a change in the direction of the film?

Sean Daniel I came onto the project really as Mark was, for whatever his own reasons, departing. So my experience has been with Joe, and Joe has definitely overseen a draft of the script. Obviously a lot of great design work had been done. Joe came on after about a month of prep.

Bill Coraro This is very much a Joe Johnson film, and he’s obviously the perfect fit for this type of big budget commercial vehicle where you’re really trying to reach out to a mass audience,

Inspector Aberline (Hugo Weaving) © Universal

Sean Daniel He was very involved in the casting; he cast Hugo Weaving, and I have to say, when you see the movie…

Bill Coraro Hugo nails it. He has really been phenomenal in supporting the principle roles that are in the film, and he’s really wonderful. [He plays] Abberline the detective that comes in…

Sean Daniel …couldn’t solve the Ripper case, but now attempts to track down the Wolf Man.

Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) with industrial London behind © Universal

Bill Coraro Our London, our setting, is that post-Ripper period, industrialized, soot-filled, dark, edgy, always thick with blackened smoke, of course, mostly at night, the Wolf Man doesn’t come out any other time. Shelly Johnson, our director of photography is doing a phenomenal job complementing these sets and fantastic locations. I think people will be really impressed with the scope and type of location we’ll be shooting at in Devonshire and Greenwich.

So how faithful is this to the original 1941 movie?

Sean Daniel It’s very faithful to the spirit of Lon Chaney’s performance, to the spirit of the great original Universal movie. A lot of effort has been put into that, and I don’t think that’s hype; I think it’s a really cool 21st Century version of a 1941 release. We’re using a huge amount of craft, but some of it in wonderfully traditional ways.

Bill Coraro Obviously we give a nod to the original, which is obviously the classic brand that so many people are familiar with. But at the same time we go to the next level and give audiences what they’re expecting. We’re out in practical locations and the scale of the film is such that it really opens up the environments that are real. Its not a ‘stagey’ film, its got a feel, like you’re being tracked by a werewolf out in the moors, and obviously, that interface between our stage work here complements those practical locations.

At the end of the day we’re going to make a film that’s hopefully going to scare people to the point where they’re somewhat disturbed by this…

Sean Daniel … But have a great time! In a much bigger way and more dramatic, and more fun way with the genre.

I remember going as a nine-year-old kid and seeing a print of that [1941] movie projected in the theatre. That was really scary! That image was really powerful then, and remains powerful. So much has happened to movie making, but there’s still something really scary about Lawrence Talbot becoming the Wolf Man.

Rick Baker is in charge of special make-up effects, so how much of the effects will be practical or computer-generated?

Sean Daniel There is not a transformation into a digital creature. The creature is real.

The Wolfman Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) © Universal

Bill Coraro The Wolf Man has been created in a manner so that you can still enjoy the performance of the great actor we have playing the Wolf Man. Yes, there will be enhancements during certain sequences that will take this creature that Rick Baker has worked painstakingly at – and there aren’t many people who can do what he does – and when you see the life-like likeness he brings to this character you can see why it’s not necessary to develop this character as a CG character.

In some of the specific moments where you want to be able to see the Wolf Man do something with its jaw that a Human would not be able to do as an actor, but that will be done seamlessly because of what we have available, the visual effects technology. But it’s still coming from a character-driven, actor’s version.

Jan Vincent-Rudzki

UK editor of Film Review Online More by Jan Vincent-Rudzki