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Ariane DeVere
Frankenstein Q&A, 20 April 2011 
21st-Apr-2011 10:10 am
Spring hahaha
These are notes I took during the Frankenstein Q&A on Wednesday 20 April 2011. They’re not verbatim notes and I didn’t record every question or comment. I’m happy to be corrected on anything I have mis-remembered or mis-noted!

This was initially typed in some haste to stop CERTAIN people whinging (directs long hard stare at atlinmerrick). I’ve made some edits since then.

On stage: Danny Boyle, Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch together with an interviewer from the BBC whose name I didn’t catch.

Danny and Nick Dear started planning to do this play back in 1994. They dropped the idea when Kenneth Brannagh’s movie version came out and nobody liked it.

The interview was interspersed with clips from the NTLive versions. During the birth scene Benedict and Jonny looked totally confused because someone had thought it was clever to merge the two versions, so for instance Ben’s Creature lunged out of the cocoon initially but then Jonny’s Creature actually fell out onto the floor. Obviously nobody had bothered to warn them about this in advance.

Jonny said that the two of them worked with a movement coach before the rest of the cast joined them. Initially they found it rather embarrassing: two grown men who had barely met, being told to pretend to be oil, or glass. They also visited a couple of schools for autistic children.

Why concentrate on the Creature rather than on Victor?
Danny said that all the movies turned the creature into a monster and they wanted to redress the balance and return to the book where he is far more intelligent. He agreed that the role of Victor is not a great part in this play: he makes a fleeting appearance at the beginning, disappears off for 40 minutes and then spends the rest of the time playing catch-up.

Benedict was very embarrassed watching himself in the “Paradise” scene with the Creature and DeLacey. He said he found it very awkward to see himself on screen.

It takes two and a half hours to get the Creature’s make-up on.

Jonny said that friends of his who had seen the play told him that they feel for the Creature, regardless of the fact that he murders at least five people.

Jonny found it very difficult to watch the clip from the first confrontation scene between the Creature and Victor. He wasn’t happy that it had been filmed. He made the interesting point that Danny wouldn’t have directed it like that, and that the play doesn’t work the same on film. He’s very aware of how much positive and fantastic reaction they’ve had to the NTLive version from all around the world, but the play is meant to be seen from in the room, not on a screen.

Which of the two is your favourite character to play?
Benedict said that he enjoys playing both but that it’s “pretty bloody obvious” which is the best. He added, however, that he loves playing Victor against Jonny’s Creature. He sometimes finds himself thinking, “I hope I’m not mouthing his lines!”

Rather adorably, Jonny and Ben were sharing a bottle of water [edit: apparently it may have been a bottle of beer] on the stage, both drinking straight from it. Considering how easily Benedict goes down with lurgies, I think Jonny was being rather brave – or stupid!

Benedict said that one of the issues of the two of them reversing roles is that, on one occasion, he was sitting in the cocoon listening to the audience talking as they came in and heard someone look at their programme and the casting for that day and say, “Oh, no, is it him?”!

Jonny said that he was absolutely terrified at the idea of performing naked. Danny reassured him that the audience would think, “What guts,” about both of them. Andreea Padurariu, who plays the female Creature, was the first one to go naked in rehearsals, which gave Jonny and Benedict more reason to get on with it.

How have the performances evolved over time? What does Danny think about the evolution of the roles?
Danny said that one thing you can guarantee is if you come back a few weeks after seeing any performance, it’ll be funnier, because actors will always cast around for more laughs. He saw it for the first time tonight after a couple of weeks’ gap and thought it was amazing. He expected to have lots of notes at the end of the play but only has a few.

Jonny related the classic acting joke:
Question: How many actors does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: Forty-one: one to change the light bulb and forty to stand there, [shake their finger disparagingly] and say, “I wouldn’t have changed it like that.”

He and Ben have found that watching each other helps their own performance: some of the time they looked at what the other one was doing and thought, “I wouldn’t do it like that,” but on other occasions they thought, “I would do it like that; that’s amazing,” and they gave each other permission to share. He continued that this had been an incredible opportunity because their performances evolved not only because of the reaction of the audience but through watching each other. “I’ll forever be incredibly thankful for that opportunity ... (he points to Ben) ... ’cause he’s really good.”
(Cue an embarrassed cuddle from Ben)

How different is it directing and acting on stage and in film?
Danny said he kept walking towards the actors in rehearsals and had to keep being dragged back by the stage managers. Otherwise it’s a fairly similar experience: good actors are natural storytellers.

Jonny said that in theatre you get several weeks to explore and assimilate your and others’ roles, then you tell the whole story every night rather than doing little bits here and there like you do in film. By doing the whole story in the course of a few hours, you can tell much better whether it’s working or not. There are some days when he’s really tired but he hopes he’s so well rehearsed that with any luck it’s only him who knows that he’s not doing his best performance.

How did Danny choose the actors, and how did he direct them?
Danny wanted to do the role-swap right from the start, and wondered who would be willing to do this. He knew Jonny from working with him before but had never worked with Ben, and liked the idea of developing two different relationships.

Benedict only wanted to do the part when he learned about the role-swap. He says that you own the whole play doing both parts. Every night you’re changing – you leave one role and move on the next day, so you can’t make right what you weren’t happy with the previous night, and that’s a real challenge.

He added that during rehearsals they once played both roles one Saturday, then he decided that it was a great plan to wind down by going to see The Black Swan at the cinema. To great laughter, he pulled a rueful face and said that that was not to be recommended if you’re sharing a role with someone else!

Was the play written with the Olivier Theatre in mind?
Danny always wanted to do it at the Olivier. They were actually offered the Lyttelton Theatre by the National who thought it would be the better theatre for them, but he insisted on the Olivier.

Will the play be taken elsewhere?
Jonny said that other companies may apply to do the play in the future, but it’ll never be as good in another theatre.

Benedict said that only the Olivier could really house it; it would never work as well elsewhere. One time during rehearsals he was standing high above the side of the stage and looked down as the stage revolved; he was watching the sets sinking and rising and started crying at the sight.

Jonny pointed out that the bell is really old; it was made when Shakespeare was still alive. “The Elizabethans heard that sound,” adds Ben.

A teacher from one of the schools for autistic children which had been visited by the cast was in the theatre and asked where else they went to prepare for their roles.
Danny said that they went to an autopsy. It was Ben’s idea that they needed to understand how to be professional and to learn about that kind of environment, as a background to Victor’s character. They learned what the skin looks like, what organs look like when exposed, what they weigh. It was fascinating, and Benedict added that there was actually personality in the person lying on the table.

At the end of the session, everyone in the audience was asked to again put on the Frankenstein Creature masks which they had all been given on entering the theatre. As they did so, Ben peered out into the audience and asked, “Where are the Victor masks?!”


Author’s note: This was edited once I’d had a chance to see some of the videos which have been uploaded to YouTube. You can see some of them here.

I’ve been very touched by the comments of people who have thanked me for doing these notes. To be honest I didn’t initially intend to and you can thank verityburns for asking me to, and for weathering the hail of abuse I sent her in return, asking whether – if she was going – she would rather look at the pretty men on the stage or sit scribbling in a notebook! Despite the fact that I missed some of the jokes and gestures (and I’m glad I’ve now had a chance to see some videos!) I’m glad that people have found my notes interesting and useful.

21st-Apr-2011 09:45 am (UTC)
Wow - haven't you done well, despite the distraction of the pretty :D

Perhaps seeing him up close and personal just before the Q&A took the edge off and helped you to focus? I will tell myself that, to help with the crippling envy!

Thanks so much for this, sweetie; hope your back isn't making you pay for the late night...

25th-Apr-2011 05:03 pm (UTC)
tehee, see, it's all your fault, again! ♥
25th-Apr-2011 05:16 pm (UTC)
Blame / Inspiration... it's a fine line ;)

Hope you had a good weekend, honey!

25th-Apr-2011 05:19 pm (UTC)

I did (was sick for 1 1/2 days but had family to look after me :) ) but all is great now...I'm just stuck catching up on awesome things on lj while I should be preparing tomorrow's class haha...oh well, my students love it when I improvise! :D

hope you managed to 'borrow' some chocolate from your kids ;)
25th-Apr-2011 05:32 pm (UTC)
Hmm... I don't know if one can 'borrow' chocolate, technically - not for the purpose of consumption, anyway. I certainly 'liberated' a fair amount - will that do? xxx
25th-Apr-2011 05:37 pm (UTC)
Oi, you lot! Clear off out of my room!

*grumbles* Bloody kids, barging in, taking over my space ...
25th-Apr-2011 05:52 pm (UTC)
Sorry Ari *offers to share purloined Easter Eggs*

This is the problem with LJ... you invite people round for a quick drink and they just settle in and make themselves comfortable.

We're going... *skulks off, muttering 'she started it'*
25th-Apr-2011 06:14 pm (UTC)
Oh, now if you'd mentioned you were bringing chocolate ...

Welcome! Come on in! Chat for as long as you want!
25th-Apr-2011 07:07 pm (UTC)
Aha! Now I know what bribe to whip out when I'm trying to beg couch space with you for a London visit in the summer ;D
25th-Apr-2011 05:38 pm (UTC)

yes, for the sake of definition this will do perfectly :D

btw I am working on another drawing...not telling you of what, though :p (okay, we are also highjacking Ariane's post, maybe we should take this elsewhere...or not?)
21st-Apr-2011 09:47 am (UTC)
Hi! *waves*
Verity directed me here. :)

Wow, thanks for taking the time to write up the Q&A for everybody who is not so lucky to live in London!

What was the reaction to all the people coming in with the masks on?
21st-Apr-2011 10:21 am (UTC)
In all honesty, I think it died a death. Someone from the charity asked everybody to put their masks on just before Danny, Ben and Jonny came onstage so that it would be a surprise for them, but I'm not sure that they could even see them. There certainly didn't seem to be much reaction from the three of them.

Their reaction at the end when the masks went back on seemed to be more ... polite than anything else. I suspect that - because they hadn't been told what it was all about - they were a bit wary of what the hell was going on.
21st-Apr-2011 10:23 am (UTC)
Oh, that didn't work out so well then... Pity!
21st-Apr-2011 10:34 am (UTC)
I loved the Victor masks remark most of all!

My write-up may not appear till the weekend, I fear.
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21st-Apr-2011 05:27 pm (UTC)
Where about's were you sat.
I was in the stalls at the front, near the middle.

Fantatsic view. :)
21st-Apr-2011 05:48 pm (UTC)
thanks for writing this up! I nearly bought tickets as a bday treat, but knowing i had to be up really early today for work, I gave it a miss...
so many thanks for this!
21st-Apr-2011 07:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for this detail account! XD So nice to know what they actually said!

It's fun that they were so terrified at performing naked. So am I, SO I WOULD NEVER DO IT. How they go from being terrified to doing it is simply beyond me *g*
21st-Apr-2011 08:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks for doing this. It's like taking dictation or being a court reporter, not easy.

Also, thanks for introducing this American to the word 'lurgies.' I had to Google it. It's funny that it also means the American slang 'cooties.'
21st-Apr-2011 10:35 pm (UTC)
Oh, this sounds fascinating - thanks!
22nd-Apr-2011 12:11 am (UTC)
Here via cumberbatchfans. Thanks so much for this write-up! I loved reading about it, it sounds like it was really interesting. :)
22nd-Apr-2011 12:29 am (UTC)
Came over from cumberbatchfans. Thanks very much for writing this up!
22nd-Apr-2011 06:24 am (UTC)
It was Ben’s idea that they needed to understand how to be professional and to learn about that kind of environment, as a background to Victor’s character.

This is fascinating. I really thought it would've been Danny Boyle to think of taking the two leads to see the autopsy - I think the schools for autistic children were his idea? It just seemed like he'd have the contacts for it. So it's rather surprising to discover it was Benedict all along, but on second thought, I have no idea why I'm so surprised. Benedict's always been enthusiastic about researching his various roles, and it makes complete sense that he'd want a sort of visceral understanding into Victor's psyche, the majority of which is founded upon the man's scientific work, before diving into the part. When I first heard about their standing in on an autopsy, I just thought it was such a clever idea, very unusual but somewhat genius too. So of course it was Benedict's idea. >.< The man continues to astound me.

Where are the Victor masks?!" = <3

Also, thank you so much</i> for typing up such a comprehensive, organized, and balanced account of the Q/A!! You are amazing, lady, just amazing. :D If I'd had the fortune to sit in on this event, I'm not sure I'd have the presence of mind to remember my last name or the generosity to take notes for the numerous Cumberbatched fans back "home." (Although, I can tell you that your example truly inspires. If I'm ever in a position to attend some event other fans are missing out on, I'll remember the intense joy of a fan sharing vicariously in the experience and take notes. :P) And you've just done the write-up for the Rotterdam recording too. Sending wishes for good health and happy energy your way! <3
22nd-Apr-2011 01:03 pm (UTC)
It was wonderful to read such a detailed account of this -- thank you so much for spending the time to type it up and put it here. I loved reading all of the little insights into them as actors and as people. ♥
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25th-Apr-2011 05:05 pm (UTC)
thanks for this write up! I love the fact that the bell is so old. I adored how much it literally shook the audience, so it's great to know that it's had a long history :)

And Ben cried when he saw the stage? Bless him and his approach to his work. It's just fantastic to hear how much these things touch him.

this was really insightful, so thanks again :)
10th-Sep-2013 06:18 am (UTC)
Benedict was very embarrassed watching himself in the “Paradise” scene with the Creature and DeLacey. He said he found it very awkward to see himself on screen.

Yet another thing I'm reading over 2 years after the fact. X-) But this caught my attention because I understand 100% where he's coming from with this, and reading this line just brought back a flood of memories of my last performance ever, which was 4 years ago when I was 29 years old... now you got me thinking about it again. X-) I played a tweaker who was disturbingly high on an unidentified drug. There was no stage, it was down on the floor with the audience on different levels so they could see us, and the first row of the audience was about a meter in front of me... I had to wear a dirty Harley shirt and ripped jeans and crawl and flop around the floor like an animal, mumble and babble incoherently while slobbering and crying, and claw at specific people in the audience who agreed ahead of time to allow me to grab them so as to scare the rest of the audience into thinking I might grab them, too. X-) I did this for 10 nights in front of an accumulated total of 18,100 people. I was just about literally scared out of my mind on the first night, but that let up significantly as the nights went on. However, when I saw the recording, I kid you not, I almost died of embarrassment on the spot. I couldn't even look at the screen, I just involuntarily looked down and closed my eyes, I could feel my face on fire, and I couldn't breathe. To say it was awkward and embarrassing is truly understating it when watching yourself perform a role that took every single drop of courage you ever had... ah, memories. X-)
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