'Victor Frankenstein' Set Visit: A Different Spin On Mary Shelly's Classic Story

Victor Frankenstein has been just about everything a man can be in the course of many film incarnations: inventor, scientist, madman, lover, villain. He's not someone we often think of as a friend, however, and so the new film Victor Frankenstein might be pretty weird simply for indulging that concept. James McAvoy plays Victor in the movie, which co-stars Daniel Radcliffe as Igor, and features Jessica Brown-Findlay as a former circus performer named Lorelei and Andrew Scott as a Scotland Yard inspector suspicious of Victor's projects.

There is a monster in the film, but he's a mysterious sort. On the film's circus set during a March 2014 shoot, the filmmakers refused to reveal any details about his nature, or even the actor playing the creature. Surprisingly, those details remain hidden even in the last weeks leading up to the film's November 25 release.

The relationship between Victor and Igor, however, which is a different thing than we've seen in films featuring the characters before, is on full display as the film rolls in a detailed circus tent set, complete down to the dirt floor and rank odor, built on a cavernous stage in England's Shepperton Studios.

Not that this movie is as simple as "friendship!," like some My Little Pony-ready rendering of the old gothic tale.

"Igor is [Victor's] real patient," says McAvoy. "But he also sees him as a means to an end. Igor has something that he needs, so he harnesses him. He's a user, Frankenstein is very selfish and personally driven, so he's always using, but something of Igor gets through to him."

The script takes elements from many interpretations of Frankenstein, beginning with Mary Shelley's novel and going through the many filmed versions. "The storyteller, Max Landis," explains director Paul McGuigan, "has been brave but also smart enough to realize that if you create a monster you take different parts. You take all the good bits. I guess that's what he's done with the movie, he's taken all the good bits of movies and the book, and put it together, and this is what we have here."

McGuigan isn't a big fan of the book, however. "It's got a fantastic premise," he says, before continuing "I don't know if you've ever read it, but it's dull as dishwater, in my opinion." So... this isn't going to be a by the numbers adaptation? Apparently not. "There's not a reverence to the book," McGuigan notes. "I think sometimes people are over-reverent about the book."

The sum of his thoughts on adaptations in general is casually offered without significant emphasis: "My catchphrase is always 'if you love the book you'll hate the movie.'"

McAvoy sounds more accommodating towards the novel, even as he admits that's not really what this movie is. "I read the book, but I think we've got something that is definitely harnessing all the great stuff about the book, and padding out parts of the book as well. It's not a film about the existential crisis that a newly formed monster goes through."

If this isn't a faithful take on Mary Shelly's story, what is it? Exec producer Derek Dauchy sets the stage.

It's 1860, London. The Victorian era, as we're moving into the Industrial Revolution. And realistically, what the movie — tonally — is trying to say, too, is that this was cutting edge, what Frankenstein was doing at the time was something that was a precursor to the industrial era. The things that you'll see portrayed in our movie, anyway, showed his vision for the future, what could be done in terms of battling death, for instance; not just life-saving techniques, but ultimately what he tries to do, which is create life from death.

The characters in a period piece shouldn't exist in their world as relics — to the residents of a Victorian movie, that era, dusty as it may seem to us, now, is thoroughly modern. McGuigan, in fact, seems as concerned with replicating day-to-day Victorian life as he is making a word-for-word adaptation of Shelley. That is, not at all. "We're making it very irreverent to the time period, so it's modern to us in some ways, energetic, very colorful," he says.

There remains a core of horror, however. "It's quite dark," the director insists. "We still keep to the Gothic nature of it."

Victor Frankenstein

The central idea appears to really be the interplay between Victor and Igor. The doctor "creates the man, i.e., Igor, well before he creates the monster," says the director. And it's that two-hander approach — almost a buddy picture, as some around set are calling it — that may give this film its heart, especially as brought to life by a pair of very different actors. As Mcguigan says, "James is a very energetic, very physical actor. Dan is much more cerebral."

Radcliffe reinforces that idea, and is enthusiastic about the collision of his tendencies and McAvoy's.

In my experience in doing various physical scenes with people, half of your energy that day is just spent in getting the other actor to engage physically with you. Most actors don't do it, don't want to hurt you, but James and I have enough confidence in each other that we're not going to hurt each other. It's amazing working with James on that level; he gives 100% every time. He just throws me around.

So what about the monster? "There'll be a monster in the movie," says Dauchy. "You'll build up to him. There are various creations along the way that lead us up to the monster, and we're hoping that monster will pay off all the hard work these characters have done together."

McGuigan says the creature is of an appropriate scale, too. "The monster is big, yes. I love the James Whale movie [1931's Frankenstein], you can't really beat that monster, to be fair. So we went back to that, but made our own version of it."

And in keeping with the carefully recreated dirt of the set and costumes of the extras, the monster is real, or real-ish at least. "It's not a CGI monster," the director reveals. "There's an actor in there. We liked the idea of creating it in front of ourselves. Creating the monster, and letting people who are really good at their job do their job, these prosthetic guys. I'm not saying there's no CGI in the movie, but it's for augmentation rather than a green screen kind of movie."

It is still a movie about weird, possibly even mad science, and the potential it holds for humanity. "It's very much about industry," McAvoy says. "It's about the forefront of science, and science being very much concerned not with Higgs Boson and protons and electrons, but gears and manpower and rust and sweat and blood and tears and big levers that make whole cities go."


Victor Frankenstein opens in theaters on November 25. Watch the latest trailer below.