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Van Helsing: An Interview with Hugh Jackman & Kate Beckinsale

April 30, 2004   |   Written by Wilson Morales

Article taken from Blackfilm.

In Hollywood, most actors don’t want to play characters that are similar to a role they recently played and became more popular because of it. But since Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale are not from Tinseltown, they don’t have to follow that unwritten code. Having played Wolverine in the X-Men film and coming off of “Underwold” has its advantages. In a recent press conference to promote their latest film, Van Helsing, both Hugh and Kate spoke about their reasons for being in this film as well as the rumor of Hugh Jackman being the next James Bond.

The director told us you had some reluctance for this character because of the connections to Wolverine. Kate you had done a movie with vampires in it as well. How did other films relate to your choice of roles and how you overcame that?

Hugh Jackman: I read this script and the movies and characters are very different. My reluctance was that after X-Men 2 I was going to do a smaller independent movie so I was a bit reluctant to be in another big franchise type movie summer popcorn movie in a way. I feared to go down that road. Also they take a long time; it’s a year of your life. Then I knew I was coming to Broadway for a year so do I really want to be doing that. Then of course there could be X-Men 3 then Van Helsing 2 that could be my film life. It could be a bit of a treadmill. I know that Van Helsing was going to be great. I love the character Stephen Sommers told me that I am probably the only actor to worry about being in two successful franchises. It took a little more convincing but next I am doing a movie called The Fountain with Darren Aronfosky. I kind of had in my head that would be my next movie after X-Men but the cards fall where they fall.

Kate Beckinsale: I was so surprised to do any vampire movies at all because I’m not into them at all. When I first got sent the script for Underworld I didn’t even want to read it. I’m doing so many press junkets that people secretly think differently. I remember when I got the script for this even though it had vampires and werewolves in it my character was so different because first of all I’m not a vampire myself. She’s a gypsy, passionate and human. It just seemed like a different role. I don’t have a big career plan so I like to see how things turn out. I want to keep going in different directions.

I understand that there is an unwritten law that if you’re making a movie you already have to be working on another movie. You’ve been doing Broadway so how do you feel about your career now that you’re a superstar?

KB: It’ll be over because of the play [laughs].

HJ: First of all those rules only become evident when you break them. It’s a cliché to say there are no rules in Hollywood. I think in the end if you do things you believe in and think you are right for then it comes to you. Some actors are good at it but I don’t think many actors are the best judges of careers. Generally I think we have good instincts about what we can do with our acting. Some can be good directors, which I don’t want to do, get a really good instinct for the film. I get a very strong feeling about what I can do with a role in a film. Apart from that I have to have faith in the director. When I met [Van Helsing writer/director] Steve [Sommers] I immediately knew in my gut that he was going to make the best version of that film. He was going to leave no stone unturned.  I had every confidence in what I could do with the role but not for a second could I pull off all the special effects work. The more I know about the more miraculous it is when I see what Steve has done with it. This was a step up for me because our names are above the title and I’m playing the lead character and that’s the first time I’ve done. That was a deliberate choice and I would have only done it with someone like Steve because I’m not going to be one of those lead actors who comes to set and says “This is my movie, I hate the script and I’m rewriting it.”

KB: He’s so bad.

HJ: Please don’t talk when I’m talking [laughs].

When you’re on Broadway or in a $150 million movie does your sense of responsibility change?

HJ: With a stage show if I’m sick the show is off. If I am having a bad day while filming I say “Steve I’m not feeling well can we reschedule?” But theatre gives you the discipline to work everyday. But my experience is that when you are actually filming it’s all the same because when I did my first movie which had a budget of $70,000 I had exactly the same feeling. The anxiety comes after you are done filming because it’s out of your hands because they’re editing it and your career is contingent upon them. Stage show is probably a little more responsibility because reviews affect the show. If the reviews sucked we would have closed in week. Summer movies are on a whole other level.

Kate has described you as the nicest guy in Hollywood.

HJ: Kate, you’re going to ruin my career.

KB: I checked you out. Believe me I watched you for six months.

HJ: We had a great time and it was the most fun I ever had on a set. Stephen Sommers is an old fashioned director because he sets the tone. He ends the day at 7:30 with the same energy he had in the morning. He never goes a minute past 7:30. He goes 100 percent everyday. He pops his head in your makeup trailer everyday to see you and ask if you have any questions. Trust me. That doesn’t always happen. He made it really easy. It was an almost frighteningly free of tension and there were no breakdowns.

That’s how we felt a bit about you. You arrived with this “Gone Hollywood” label. The set was full of nasty English and Australian people and we wanted to find out what’s going on there. He could be wearing women’s underwear or diddling animals. We were peering in his trailer and popping in unexpectedly, but there was nothing.

HJ: Steve actually came into my trailer when I was practicing for Oklahoma. I was wearing my Van Helsing costume but with tap shoes on. I felt this presence behind me, I turned around and Steve said “Do not tell anyone!” He was genuinely frightened. He thought it was the end of his movie.

Kate, how did you get into the whole physicality of the role?

KB: I had a whole training period called Underworld, thank god. I didn’t have any training for this movie because I started it right after I finished Underworld. But I would have been in huge trouble if I hadn’t done Underworld. We had a great stunt coordinator who would tell me to jump off this 80 foot tall building so I knew how to do it. I found it really helpful and sometimes it’s really helpful to be around friendly people who you trust. Some people will go further for those they trust. It was a very comfortable set. The only stunt I hurt myself on was when running up to a window and banging my elbow.

HJ: Occasionally Kate would pull the English rose thing but then as soon as action is said she’s tougher than all of us. one stunt I was nervous about was when we were on wires about 50 feet up in the air and as close to real as possible we’re supposed to land on a mat with Kate astride of me with her knees on either side of my head. I did it once with the stunt double and she nearly landed on my shoulder. I thought “Just a few more inches and I’m going to get a knee in the face.” We did it three times and Kate got it right every time like an Olympic gymnast.

KB: If you tell an English girl you want a crotch in the face you’re going to get a crotch in the face.

Hugh, there have been quite a few Van Helsings before you in Dracula films. Did you take from any of those performances?

HJ: They weren’t really relevant. I read Bram Stoker’s novel. I play a much younger Van Helsing. According to Stoker he is much older and very enigmatic. I do take the Dutch accent mildly and there is mystery around him but not much else. He is still an expert on the occult and has a window into this other world.

Could you talk more about The Fountain?

HJ: I play three characters. It is really extraordinary. I think Darren Aronofsky could become another Kubrick. He’s an amazing director. I’m honored to be part of it.

Pretty much every one had a transformation process except for you.

KB: I was in makeup for three hours a day. It was a nightmare. The boots took 25 minutes to get on. Every tiny curl took so long.

What special skill or idea did you learn from working on this film?

KB: For me I was having all kinds of interesting personal things going on. I really did find that working with people like Stephen and Hugh made it possible to get through what I was going through. I had such a profound experience on this because they gave me freedom to just go. It was really liberating. Doing Van Helsing made me feel like I was prepared to work on The Aviator with Martin Scorsese. It sounds ridiculous but it was true. In a theatre it’s a given that everyone is supportive but it’s quite difficult on a film but we really became a family.

HJ: I know everyone says they love making the movies but in reality there is a lot of anxiety and even though it’s always challenging but its not always fun.

KB: Because Steve is this highly enthusiastic almost child-like excited person the people that he chooses have an element of that as well. We all responded that to him as well. You only have to watch him watching the monitor. He’s twitching, moving and saying all the lines along with everyone. It’s extraordinary. He’s like a kid with his very expensive Barbie and Ken.

Kate, what can you say about the Underworld sequel? And Hugh, what about X-Men 3?

KB: Were I not marrying the director I’m not sure I’d know anything about the Underworld sequel. I know he’s reading scripts in the bathroom while I’m supposed to be doing something else. The first draft is under lock and key at the moment.

HJ: I think they’re in discussions about X-Men 3.

Are you in discussions about playing James Bond?

HJ: No I’m just starting rumors about it.

KB: I’ve been carrying it on.

HJ: I mentioned it in Australia and they’re taking it as gospel. I don’t think there is man in this room who would not want to play Bond one day. But there is nothing official and I haven’t been offered.

Kate, both you and Uma Thurman have done costume dramas and now some action films.

KB: I think we both have the ability to move in a corset. I moved away from England to get away from corsets. I’ve done quite a few things so if you can keep your hand in independent films and do the odd bigger one. There are a lot of action films involving women at the moment. One of the reasons I like this one because it was a genuine one where the man and woman collaborate. There hasn’t been a movie that’s really been fun like this one for a long time. I haven’t found the movie that lies between costume dramas and ass-kicking. That would give you a lot of leeway.

We’ve heard from everybody but David Wenham, so what can you say about him?

KB: He’s not here because he’s filming in Melbourne.

HJ: David and I used to compete for roles so when I heard he was cast I was worried he was going to be Van Helsing. Steve said “As Carl.” David plays leading men as you saw in Lord of the Rings. David came in with his hair down and did his thing. Steve later saw his show reel and said “Who is this guy?” David played it very differently than it was written and if you can convince a writer that it should be done that way because it’s ten times better you’re doing a great job. He does 80 percent of the exposition in the movie and it never feels like exposition. He works with every character and he’s so brilliant.

KB: He’s the nicest guy as well.

Hugh, how do you juggle everything you do?

HJ: B-12 shots man. Doing a big movie and a play can kill you. I’m in the play through September.

Do you have your Tony speech ready?

HJ: As the host! That’s all I’m going to tell you.