In Part 2 of Assignment X’s exclusive interview with Fran Kranz, the actor talks more about THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, plus the making of Joss Whedon’s film version of Shakespeare’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, being on Broadway in DEATH OF A SALESMAN and working with Mike Nichols and Andrew Garfield.
ASSIGNMENT X: The Shakespeare readings at Joss Whedon’s house have been talked about for years. Were you already part of that group, or did MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING kind of come out of the blue for you?
KRANZ: No, I had done a reading of MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. I heard they’d done a HAMLET reading, and I think I was a bit of a baby about it. I think I just went straight up to Joss and said, “Why wasn’t I at the HAMLET reading? I want to be at the readings.” I’m pretty sure I just invited myself [laughs], so I was at MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. I describe [where the readings are done] as a beautiful little Greek amphitheatre in his backyard. It’s kind of overgrown, there’s grass and moss on these stones. It’s unbelievable. It’s gorgeous. And we all sit around and there’s wine and cheese and it’s a blissful way to spend your day, and we’ll read a Shakespeare play. And I did MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, and I played Francis Flute [who plays Thisbe in the play within the play]. Alan Tudyk was Bottom, and we got up and sort of improvised/performed or improvised/staged the PYRAMUS AND THISBE, the play within a play. And it was great.
Alexis Denisof was the Wall [aka Tom Snout], one of the mechanicals. It was so much fun, it was great. And then when I was in New York, I was doing a workshop for DEATH OF A SALESMAN, and I got an email from [Whedon], and it started off just saying, “I’m thinking about doing another reading, but this time I want to film it.” And then he started asking us to memorize lines and it sort of developed organically, and he asked me to play Claudio. The project moved so fast, it was really much more technical in memorizing the lines. In Shakespeare, you can get so in depth and analyze forever and ever and ever that we really had to sort of focus on [making sure it got filmed in the allotted time]. So it was memorizing the lines and getting the blocking. [Whedon] gave plenty of direction, but one wonderful direction he gave me that stuck with me was, “I want you to play [Claudio] as a temperamental jock, and not the wet he normally is.” And I just ran with that.
But I was part of the Shakespeare reading community and very proud of it, and so proud to be a part of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, because it could be really awesome. It was so much fun to make and we found so many wonderful things, even though it was as run-and-gun a movie as I’ve ever done. It developed so organically, I don’t even think Joss felt that this was a film festival movie when he started, and now that’s what I hear he wants from it. As a movie from its inception to what it is now, I think is a whole different beast and I think we might have something really wonderful on our hands.
AX: DEATH OF A SALESMAN is your Broadway debut. With everything else going on, was a Broadway play something that you had been aspiring to do all along, or was this something that just came up?
KRANZ: Well, doing theatre in high school is how I fell in love with acting. That’s where I got the bug. I was doing Shakespeare in high school, I was doing theatre in high school, and after a couple years, I did start to take it seriously, I really started to believe in it, not just as an art and a passion, but as something I could really make a career doing. I got the confidence, and my love for it just grew deeper and deeper. But that was all doing theatre. But I did grow up in L.A. and the film and television world was something I wanted. I went to high school with Jake Gyllenhaal and Jason Segel and I watched them get success in film and television and I wanted it. And so I did go to college [Yale], and I did lots of theatre in college.I was doing plays, I was doing a sketch comedy group and improv group and that was my life, but when I graduated, I went home to L.A. and I focused on film and television, and it wasn’t until five years later, just about a year and a half ago, that I did this play BACHELORETTE off-Broadway.I just happened to be in New York and I got the audition and I got the part.
[At that time] CABIN IN THE WOODS was sitting on a shelf and DOLLHOUSE had been canceled and it just felt like the right thing to do for where I was at that time and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, because it reminded me why I got into this in the first place. It kind of reset my values and re-energized me and made me remember why I love acting to begin with. And that’s not to say I had so many bad experiences in film and television that I was starting to get turned off from it, but it was reinvigorating. It just added on to my existing love I had and passion I had and drive I had for acting. I had forgotten about theatre, I really had. I’d been [away from it for] five years, and it wasn’t like I consciously was avoiding it – I just hadn’t done it. And then to reintroduce this wonderful community and world back into my life – it was so beautiful and overwhelming, I immediately knew I had to do another play as quickly as possible and I couldn’t have asked for a better follow-up.
It was a year later or so when I heard about [SALESMAN], but it wasn’t about timing so much as doing the right thing. [Director] Mike Nichols, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Andrew Garfield, it was a no-brainer, and I flew back out to New York and auditioned for [the role of] Bernard, and Scott Rudin, who was producing, I’d worked with before and he specifically said he saw me as Bernard, which was a smaller part but a great part. And with these actors, it didn’t matter. DEATH OF A SALESMAN is a perfect example of, “There are no small parts, only small actors.” It’s such a beautiful play that you carry it around with you, you see your life through the lens of SALESMAN. It’s beautiful but it’s painful, but that’s because it’s meaningful, and I can’t say enough about this experience. It’s not over yet, so it’s hard to articulate, because each day just brings so much more rich experience, adds so much more to what I’ve already been building on. It’s going to take many months before I can just sort of sit down and talk about SALESMAN or summarize the experience. I might never be able to. It’s just been so meaningful and rewarding.
AX: How does Mike Nichols direct you? Is he very hands on, does he let you go and just give you a note to set you on course …?
KRANZ: He’s a bit of both, but it comes at different stages. I’ve only worked with Mike once and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s worked with him three times. [Nichols has] been around forever, so I can only imagine his style has changed or adapts to the project he’s working on and the people he’s working with. Early in the process, it was a lot of table [reading], it was just talking. Mike can tell stories. He tells stories about his life or we would talk in relation to the play about the play, or things about our lives that we felt related to the play. And so much of the rehearsal process was like a therapy session. And it wasn’t always personal, it was national stories, global stories. We talked about the world and where it was and where America was, and the economy, but also families. It’s such an all-encompassing, universal play that so much of the rehearsal was talk, and it felt like I was taking a great seminar, because we all had things to share. And then when we got on our feet, Mike didn’t block us. He let us find it, and that’s where I think that idea of “Ninety percent of directing is casting” [comes from] – I think he found the right group of actors that he trusted, and he found the perfect alchemy for where he wanted to go with this play, and he just let us play and I think we’re all good enough actors that we knew what didn’t work, and that when we found something that [worked], we’d hold onto it.
We were using the original set design, we had [original 1949 production director Elia] Kazan’s notes and we had skeletons and guidelines to work with, but for the most part, we got up and did it ourselves, and at a certain time, that almost seemed worrisome – it was like, “Hey, this is Broadway. We’ve got to perform in front of audiences for a long time and a thousand people a night,” or whatever, and being a more inexperienced actor than the others, I almost was worried that, “When are we really going to nail it down?” But you’re working with Mike Nichols, you trust him. And sure enough, we never had to [nail it down]. Once it was right, we just knew it, we all felt it. But when we got right up until opening, Mike would be very hands-on. He would say, “You can’t cross there.” He would say, “That doesn’t work.” He would give very specific direction. He would shorten pauses. He’d be like, “Connect these two thoughts.”
And it was a little jarring at first, because here’s the guy that never got up from the table, all of a sudden, to have him so detailed was a little alarming, but then I realized that, no, this is the artist putting the final touches on his masterpiece, this is the engineer tightening the specific bolts of the machine. The big picture was there and he was just putting the final touches on it. And you just trust the guy, because he’s done it time and time again. I think the guy’s been nominated for eight Tonys and won all eight of them. So I have two scripts just full of scribbled notes of pretty much everything he’s said in this process. I’m going to carry those around with me forever, because he’s a bottomless well of good thoughts and information.
AX: Do you and your SALESMAN costar Andrew Garfield discuss at all the experience of dealing with fans? You both have them from different genre projects …
KRANZ: Andrew’s so wonderful to his fans. I mean, he’s on a whole other level [laughs]. I walk out of that theatre and I don’t necessarily sign autographs, but people are there for him. They’re not even there for Philip Seymour Hoffman – it’s all about Andrew. But he takes the time to do everything for them. He’s such a dedicated actor – his level of dedication is kind of alien to most young actors. His work ethic and his sense of purpose is something I really admire. I look up to him quite a bit. But we’re in different leagues, trust me [laughs]. I love all DOLLHOUSE fans and Joss fans, and so I’m always excited to talk to them and share ideas with them and just geek out about it, because I’m as big a fan of Joss as anyone. But Andrew’s really wonderful. Even though he’s a peer and I think he’s even a couple years younger than me, I look up to the guy. I think what he does is so special. On and off stage and camera, he’s a remarkable guy.
AX: Back to CABIN IN THE WOODS, are you happy with how the final version of the film turned out?
KRANZ: Oh, yeah. One hundred percent. I love it. I thought it was one of the best scripts I’d ever read and I think it’s just one of the coolest movies I’ve ever seen. [laughs] I can’t tell you enough about it. I’m trying to just sort of just enjoy it. I’m so proud of this movie, because I love it. It’s great, I think.
AX: Is there anything else you’d like to say about any of your projects?
KRANZ: Oh, gosh. Just go see CABIN IN THE WOODS – twice, at least. Because you need to see it twice – there’s a lot to pick up on. I’m constantly having people that have seen it ask me questions that can be answered in a second viewing, or at least can be sort of elaborated on and enjoyed even more in a second viewing. I’m more proud of this movie than anything I’ve ever done, and I’ve put so much heart and soul into it, so it’s so gratifying that it’s coming out.
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Article: Exclusive Interview with THE CABIN IN THE WOODS and DOLLHOUSE star Fran Kranz on MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and DEATH OF A SALESMAN – Part 2