For director Paul McGuigan, “Victor Frankenstein” (November 25th) reclaims the mantle for the mad scientist, who’s historically been overshadowed by the monster thanks to Boris Karloff. But this film also explores another twisted friendship between co-dependent, kindred spirits: Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) and Victor (James McAvoy). “Victor Frankenstein” is told from the hunchback’s point of view, only he’s a near intellectual equal to the scientist obsessed with bringing the dead back to life.
“When he meets Victor, Igor starts out as a hunchback in the circus but he mends people’s bones and is knowledgeable about medical science and is treated like a freakish kid,” McGuigan explained. “And actually when Max [Landis] wrote the script, his influence was ‘The Social Network,’ the idea of two men on the cusp of breakthrough technology and how this brings them together and bonds them and also rips them apart. And he immediately saw a correlation with 1860 London on the cusp of change as well.”
And the parallels with “Sherlock,” which McGuigan has directed episodes for, are obvious as well.
Holmes and Frankenstein are both genius sociopaths befriended by two other lost souls, Watson and Igor, who are loyal but honest. “Daniel’s the audience, the way that Martin Freeman is as Watson. They tell Victor and Sherlock what needs to be said: ‘You’re an asshole, mate.’ Benedict [Cumberbatch] gets the showy part and he’s great and, in a way, James is like that as well.”
It was also important for McGuigan to flesh out Frankenstein’s motivation since author Mary Shelley didn’t provide any for his Prometheus crusade. He has a dark past and more than a passing acquaintance with tragic death. “James plays it with layers and also I think that Max’s script taps into things that a modern audience will understand about the morality and life after death. And Andrew Scott [‘Sherlock’s’ Moriarty] plays a police inspector who also questions Victor’s ethics. He doesn’t say anything wrong. He actually has a good comeback.
“We also had to figure out the science,” the director continued. “I wanted it to look real and looked at thunderstorms on YouTube. We built this 80-foot tower for the castle; we swing the monster all the way up and we see the physicality of it. There’s also the physicality of James and Daniel. The two of them are very physical actors. These guys don’t walk in a room — they barge. I wanted it to be a lot more physical than on the page being thrown around a lot because they’re fighting for their lives creating a monster.”
To make the movie more relatable, McGuigan discarded the buttoned-up Victorian ethos while still paying homage to the Gothic roots of the James Whale classic, while tossing in humorous asides to Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein.” “We still have a reverence for it while having fun, so we went for a vibe with Bohemian on the edge of society, with great men and women.”
And what about the monster? You can’t hide from their creation when they cobble him together and shout, “It’s alive!”
McGuigan credits “Sherlock” showrunner Steven Moffat with inspiring his final look. “He said, ‘Please promise me one thing: Don’t deviate [from Karloff]. That silhouette, that thing, that’s what it’s all about.’ He’s right. We made our own version but we didn’t deviate.”