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Sunday, 24 June 2012

WholeLottaSoleapalooza #4 - Actor Brendan Fraser introduces Gods and Monsters

**Spoiler alert**   **Spoiler alert**   **Spoiler alert**   **Spoiler alert**

This contains spoilers that give away the story and ending of the 1998 film Gods and Monsters (if you’ve not seen it - and I recommend that you do - you can get it on DVD at Amazon: 1999 version | 2011 version - in which they spell it Brendan Fraiser...). 

**Spoiler alert**   **Spoiler alert**   **Spoiler alert**   **Spoiler alert**

This post is part of a series about my trip to Belfast for the Belfast Film Festival. I wrote this one first because I didn’t take notes at the event and needed to get it all down! It’s actually the shorter version – it was getting a bit unwieldy so I cut some bits out but if you were there and think I missed something important my email address is above, thanks. I’ve tried to keep the swooning to a minimum ;)

Brendan Fraser attends film premier at belfast film festival
Brendan Fraser attends film premier at belfast film festival” - by fluterirl on Flickr, creative commons licensed. This photo was taken a few hours after the lunchtime Gods and Monsters event, at the premiere of Terry George's film (in which Brendan stars) Whole Lotta Sole.
Hearing about the event
The event was a last-minute addition to the festival programme, announced on the Friday afternoon of the Belfast Film Festival and spotted by me much later that evening as I caught up with the festival tweeting. I’m glad to have spotted it as I’d have hated to have missed this.

The introduction
Once we were in the theatre Brendan came in and said ‘Hi, I’m Brendan’ to everyone which made me chuckle but it was nice to hear his voice directly, obviously I’ve only ever heard it through cinema or TV speakers before! Then he was properly introduced by one of the festival people. 

Before he started to tell us about the film he explained that he was in Belfast for the Whole Lotta Sole premiere and hoped we’d all come along. He was also very complimentary about Martin McCann around whom the film's story revolves – having seen the film later on that evening I’d agree, he’s excellent and the film is hilarious. I may have mentioned that my friend Amanda Hurwitz is in the film, she plays Mary Ellen and is hilarious too :-)

Stupidly I left the notebook in which I’ve made notes at every event in my bag (…I was a bit distracted) and didn’t write anything down, so while Brendan’s comments made perfect sense I might unwittingly mangle the order of things a bit here.

He mentioned that around the time of casting discussions for Gods and Monsters he met with Terence Malick who was working on the Thin Red Line – everyone in Hollywood was in it or wanted to be in it, so there was a fair bit of competition. Brendan had a copy of the ‘script’ though he said it was less of a script and more a thick book full of thoughts and ideas, but apparently that’s how Malick works. Brendan seemed quite chuffed that Malick had really liked Encino Man (known as California Man in Europe). I can’t remember the exact phrase Brendan used in describing what Malick had said about his performance as someone who’d just ‘landed’ on the planet but I thought it was perceptively complimentary, not just ‘oh well done, that was good’.

In any case nothing came of that meeting but by then Brendan heard about Gods and Monsters which was to star Sir Ian McKellen as James Whale (the film director) and Lynn Redgrave as his housekeeper Hanna.

He talked a little about the source material (a book, written by Christopher Bram, called the Father of Frankenstein) but the film’s name comes from the line – “to a new world, of gods and monsters”. The book and film are about a particular point in the later life of James Whale who directed Bride of Frankenstein (he mentioned that this was his favourite) among others.
"I knew that this film had no money, very little time and its working title was 'The Untitled Piece with Ian McKellen' and that's all I needed to know." 
Brendan Fraser at the March 1999 premiere of the film (source).
He’d been really excited about the project as Ian’s one of his heroes. As a student (BFA in acting I think he said, but it may have been theatre; it was a four year course) he’d worn out the library tapes of Ian doing a series on Shakespeare [he asked us if we’d seen it and quite a few had, though not me] and said that he’d learned from this, more than from his course, that Shakespeare’s words should be spoken as naturally as when anyone speaks or writes to someone else.

After he was cast he went to see Ian McKellen in a play (can’t remember what it was or where it was being performed). At the end Ian did a Q and A and in answer to a question about what he was doing next, said he’d be working on a film with Lynn Redgrave and Brendan Fraser. At this point Brendan did that clutching your chest and ‘oh my god, did he just say my name’ thing haha, so it’s nice to know that he’s not immune to being a bit swoony too.

After the performance the two of them met and the photographers were doing that “pretend like you’re talking to each other” thing while trying to get a shot and Brendan (brilliant mimic by the way) did a great impression of Ian saying, mildly exasperatedly, “but we are talking to each other”.

When filming began they had just a few weeks and it was relatively low budget (about $2 million) and they were a bit stymied by aircraft flying over fairly regularly. At one point they were close to running out of film and Brendan joked that he was all for nipping down to the shops to get more film, or send someone out to get more – “hey, just bill me!”. Fortunately they got everything they needed.

He also mentioned something about the notes on his character’s name (Clayton ‘Clay’ Boone), on the character being a ‘boone of contention’ and the name ‘clay’ implies ‘moulding’ (in terms of whether James Whale is trying to mould Boone as one of his monsters, there’s a point in the film when Boone yells “I’m not your monster”).

At some point I realised that I should get my notebook out as I knew I’d want to write this up later – although it seems my memory without notes is quite a bit better than I’d imagined, although I don’t remember exact phrases. In doing this of course I missed a little bit of his story about a scene that takes place at Whale’s swimming pool – he referred to a bit when Whale is found dead in the pool and then said “oops, hope I haven’t spoiled the ending for you” and we all laughed.

Then he unfolded a bit of paper from his shirt pocket, explained that he’d been in touch with Ian (to let him know that he was introducing the film to us in Belfast) and that Ian had sent him a letter (I seem to remember the word ‘cable’) to read to us – isn’t that lovely? He said Ian’s quite the letter-writer and that also he’s really into email. (He’s also on Twitter too @IanMcKellen).

Brendan read out the letter and I think it began ‘My dear Brendan’ which is a nice way to start letters, Ian also addressed all of us in the auditorium directly. He’d written about the enjoyment of making the film with a lovely bunch of people (and acknowledging that Lynn Redgrave has since died – “may she rest in peace”), and referred to a line which comes from the film (Ian says this, as Whale): 
“Making movies was the most wonderful thing in the world. Working with friends. Entertaining people.”
His letter also talked about the importance of the film in the gay community – I think Brendan said (from the letter) that at the time of the film (‘98) Ireland still had a different age of consent so it was pretty heartening that the film was so successful – it won an Academy Award / Oscar for Bill Condon (the director and writer) for best adapted screenplay, here's his acceptance speech, and you can get hold of a copy of the ‘shooting script’ from the links below. Lynn Redgrave also won a Golden Globe for best performance by an actress in a supporting role in a motion picture and she gives a very sweet acceptance speech here.

He (Ian) then said he wish he could be with Brendan and us but that "Middle Earth has ensnared me once more". And with that, he returned the letter to his shirt pocket (“this is for me”). It was only when watching the ending of the film that it struck me that it’s quite nice that Brendan’s kept up the tradition of keeping bits of paper in his shirt pocket from Ian McKellen ;)

There was also something he said about James Whale in terms of ageing (Whale’s in his late 60s when we meet him in the film, and retired and unwell) and of finding yourself not useful anymore when the next crop of people come along. He also said he’d not seen the film since its premiere at Leicester Square (I hadn’t known that Ian McKellen had taken Monica Lewinsky as his guest! - see the link to Ian's pictures below) and hoped we’d enjoy it. 

The film
I’ve seen the film a handful of times before. One of those times was years ago with my parents – I think it was one of those things we watched by accident and really enjoyed. At the time I probably noticed the relationship between the two men, which seemed slightly more predatory when I first watched it but seems a lot more vulnerable on later watchings. What I really picked up from this screening though was also the misery of losing your health and knowing it’s not going to get better. Ian, as James Whale, has just returned from a spell in hospital having had a stroke which has left him with normal motor function (movement is fine) but dreadful headaches, olfactory hallucinations (a sudden experience of smell) and what I guessed were absence seizures – and he conveys it all brilliantly.

I’m not going to go through the film (go and watch it!) but the ending is quite touching. Boone, now married with a kid, takes a drawing of the monster that Whale gave him from his shirt pocket to show his son. It’s an original drawing to illustrate what the monster in the Frankenstein films should look like and on the other side there’s a short but sweet note to Boone from Whale on it. Boone then takes out the rubbish and it starts to rain, quite theatrically, and he staggers about in the downpour doing Boris Karloff’s monster walk. It’s nicely done.

At the end credits I could hear the doors opening and I assumed that Brendan would quietly disappear without fuss so I was pretty surprised when I gathered my things together as the lights started to come up and turned to see him sitting the row but one directly behind me, so I took the opportunity to say how much I’d enjoyed that and thanked him for doing it. Couldn’t tell you what he said in reply - I may have had temporary star-struck induced amnesia :) Someone else asked him, given that he’d not seen it for a while, how he’d found watching it – but it seemed a bit cheeky for me to hang around listening to someone else’s conversation so off I went. He was still chatting to people and having his photo taken when I left the loo and went to have a look at the Botanical Gardens just up the road from the QFT.

Thanks to Brendan Fraser and the Queens Film Theatre for putting this event together, it was just lovely to have been there and the film is fantastic.

I slightly regret not having had my wits about me at the time to ask if we could record him reading out Ian's letter, that would have been cool... although he might not have wanted to do that of course. By the time I got to chat (very, very briefly) later in the pub it was far too loud for my iPhone to have picked anything up and I certainly didn't ask. 

Further watching
The theatrical trailer at IMDB and embedded from YouTube below.

Further reading
“Father of Frankenstein” by Christopher Bram
1996 edition | 1998 edition | 1999 edition (acknowledges film explicitly).

Gods and Monsters official website, and on IMDb and Wikipedia.

The shooting script is available in book form from Amazon with a foreword by Ian McKellen, however they’re currently out of stock. By googling for filetype:pdf gods monsters screenplay I found this shooting draft (pdf) or web version.

Clive Barker's (executive producer) website is full of quotes from people involved in the film.

Ian McKellen’s e-post in which he answers questions about Gods and Monsters on his website , he also has photographs of the film in production. See also his e-posts on Shakespeare. He's brilliant :)

Edit: Later in the year I went to see Ian McKellen speak at a London cinema - Gandalf at the Genesis cinema - The Hobbit, Ian McKellen and a Q&A in aid of Step Forward

Further listening

Nothing to do with Gods and Monsters but people* have kindly pointed out to me that if you visit the flash-enhanced version of Brendan's website (itself a Retronaut-y time-capsule delight seemingly untouched since 2004) you can listen to the full-length version of the BBC R3 version of Tennesee Williams' "Vieux Carré" featuring Brendan as 'the writer'. His voice is lovely. I wonder if anyone's asked him to do an audiobook of TH White's Once and Future King...

Go to then click on Vieux Carré and then click on it again and an embedded mp3 player pops up.

*Since I wrote this post a bunch of Brendan's fans have been in touch, which is rather lovely (hello!). Woefully some of them were actually in Belfast for the evening premiere and fairly miffed to have missed hearing about this lovely last-minute addition to the afternoon programme. Sigh.

Edit: 7 September 2012
While packing for another mammoth trip (Orkney Science Festival) I found my ticket in the pocket of my suitcase :)
Imagine that Blogger had a 'rotate image 90 degrees left' option, or turn your own head 90 degrees to the right.

Other posts in this series
WholeLottaSoleapalooza #1 - Epic journey to and from Belfast Film Festival
WholeLottaSoleapalooza #2 - Director & Screenwriter Terry George talks film (coming soon)
WholeLottaSoleapalooza #3 - Film editor Nick Emerson talks about editing (coming soon)
WholeLottaSoleapalooza #4 - Actor Brendan Fraser introduces Gods and Monsters (this post)
WholeLottaSoleapalooza #5 - Premiere of Whole Lotta Sole (coming soon)
WholeLottaSoleapalooza #6 - Some thoughts on advertising and marketing


  1. Great revue of the session, Jo. Thanks so much for sharing. Made me feel like I was sitting there next to you!

  2. That was me asking him about watching it back after so many years! And we did end up getting our photo taken with him too. I was kinda embarrassed and half apologised, and he said 'what is it they say in the film? This is what it's like to be famous!' He was a cool guy. Thanks for posting this!


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