WARNING: Contains some Cabin in the Woods and Dollhouse spoilers
Fran Kranz seems like a nice guy. So it’s interesting then that in two of his best known roles, one way or another he’s brought about the end of the world twice. While he was in Melbourne for Oz Comic Con, we spoke to him about horror, theatre, bongs and total world annihilation.
Kranz is well known to Joss Whedon fans for playing programmer Topher Brink on Dollhouse and the stoner Marty Mikalski in Cabin in the Woods. He explains “it was nothing but Joss Whedon for like three years or something!” Kranz was originally working on Dollhouse, and “then in the hiatus between the two seasons we shot Cabin in the Woods.”
His pathway in to these two unconventional projects was actually pretty conventional. “Dollhouse I just auditioned for… in fact Cabin in the Woods I just auditioned for… I had never met Joss before. I obviously knew who he was, but I went in and read for Dollhouse and he responded to me. I loved the material, I loved the script and that worked out.”
“The first season was going very smoothly and wonderfully and we were all getting along” Kranz explains. “I had heard that Joss was making a horror film with Drew Goddard – but I hadn’t actually read it or seen anything about it. I was a big fan of horror films so I was interested in getting involved… On set one day Drew Goddard came to set to look at locations with Joss and they were looking at different lake locations, and I kindof wandered over to them to sort of (laughs) eavesdrop and snoop…and I saw that one of the possible locations was the original Friday the 13th lake and I remember saying “oh you’ve got to film there, that’s so cool.”
He then heard no more about it until he got an audition through his agent months later. “I read for Joss and Drew even though I was working for them, like any other actor, and it wasn’t until much later when I had the part that Joss actually told me that he had Drew come to set that day specifically to look at me – and that he had told Drew that he thought that he was working with Marty.”
For those who have (sadly) not yet seen Cabin in the Woods (and who have chosen to ignore the spoiler alert), Franz’s character Marty is a constant source of amusement, is the sole voice of reason and has an introductory scene to rival Captain Jack Sparrow’s in the first Pirates of the Carribean. Rolling on to screen driving whilst smoking a huge bong, Marty is immediately chastised, and informed by the other characters that the device will not be allowed on the campervan. Not a problem. Marty telescopes the bong in to itself, and converts it in to a convincing thermos. So, skipping past potential questions about horror movie references, challenges to a genre and social commentary, the interview turned towards this one prop.
Kranz laughs and explains “the bong was real, yes. And it worked. I guess the prototype cost like $5000 to create, I know that sounds insane, but you, know, the guy [who built it] was brilliant, and he developed this thing because he wanted it to work. He wanted me to be able to drink out of it and smoke out of it, and he pulled that off miraculously. It was kind of a stainless steel and airtight rubber device that you could fill with a liquid like water or coffee, and you could also smoke out of the stem which was stuck on like a magnet, but you were able to pull it off and hook it up and make it like a coffee handle.” He pauses then continues “I mean the one thing is, after smoking out of it, your coffee would taste like shit, but you know, it was still a working bong. And it was pretty amazing.”
His characters on both Dollhouse and Cabin in the Woods are very different, but who both in their own way bring about the end of the world – and respond to their respective situations very differently. When asked about this, Kranz tells us “yeah, that was sort of a joke, I mean (laughs) I guess I kind of destroy the world in both of those projects, but uh, no. It’s sort of intentional, one it’s unintentional. One he sacrifices to save, and one he doesn’t.”
He goes on to explain “I was told early on that Joss has a character that sort of has ‘the voice of Joss’, or at the very least there’s always a more sardonic [character] and a role filled with more humour and a kind of a meta-awareness – and that’s sort of the ‘Joss role’ or the ‘Joss voice’. Topher and Marty seem to be that kind of character in these stories, and I guess that’s a lucky role to have for sure. “
Kranz continues “I’m really thankful that he sort of sees me as being capable of speaking that voice, but I guess it comes with some responsibility because he has such good, loyal fans, that if you’re not up to the task, you’re certainly going to hear about it. I think early on with Topher I couldn’t help but go online, and once I realised just how intense the fan base was and to hear (laughs) the harsher judgement of my performance…I think as time went on I think even my worst critics softened a little bit towards me. I think with Marty, I think it’s hopefully gotten more of a unanimous positive response. It certainly is a position of scrutiny, to be that kind of character in Joss’s work. But also, I’m definitely very lucky and thankful for the opportunity.”
Lately though, Kranz has been focussing on theatre work. At the time he spoke to us, he had recently finished up performing Death of a Salesman on Broadway. He tells us that ”there’s a movie I’m doing in the fall called Murder of a Cat, and then otherwise I’m hoping to get back on stage.”
When asked about which forum he prefers, film or theatre, he explains that “it’s a hard question. They’re both good. They’re both so fulfilling and I think it depends if the story’s good and you’re behind that then that’s all that matters. If the work is good you know? But there’s something I think fundamentally thrilling and fulfilling about doing stage work and being on stage in front of a live audience, it’s how I fell in love with it. So it kind of feels like my first love if you know what I mean. It’s something I hadn’t done for a few years and now I’m doing it again and kind of want to keep it around.”
In the meantime though, keep an eye out for Kranz as Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing, a film about to hit the festival circuit which sees him teaming up again with Joss Whedon and an impressive cast of Whedon alumni including Nathan Fillion, Sean Maher, Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, and Tom Lenk.