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Gods and Monsters

ABOUT JAMES WHALE

Q: I must have watched, "Gods and Monsters," 25 times in the past 2 months, because of my love of Whale Movies and a fan of James Whale. Your portrayal is exquisite. What did you learn about Whale, what feelings did you get portraying him and what did "Gods and Monsters" do for you personally?

A: Gods and Monsters was one of the most enjoyable films I have been involved with -- partly because of the crew and cast whom Bill Condon (director and Oscar-winning screenplay writer) gathered together but also because of the subject matter.  I knew nothing about James Whale until I started reading about him for the film and meeting some of his old friends.  I admire his talent and his achievements as a film director and his honesty in being openly gay in the Hollywood of the 1950s when honesty of that sort was not thought to be the best policy.

I was of course very pleased with the critical approval of the finished film.  25 times indeed!  I am only sorry, by the nature of the story, that there can’t be a sequel!

WHOSE IDEA?

From: Susan Koehler-Steiner

Q: You are superb in the role of James Whale you even look like him it is uncanny...Whose idea was it for Brendan Fraser to walk off like the Monster, in the rain???... Why is it that composers are always left out of the acclaim...I thought Carter Burwell's score was very appropriate to the action on the screen.

A: Any praise for Gods and Monsters should be forwarded to the director Bill Condon whose screenplay won the Oscar®.  It was his idea for Brendan to close the movie so effectively.  Condon and Burwell are together again with Kinsey, another superb biopic.  I was always pleased that I have the same-shaped face as Whale.  There are a number of very telling portraits but I wish there were film too, to hear his voice and see him move.


James Whale (L) and Ian McKellen (R)

THE TRENCHES

From: Gary Nash

Q: Although Gods and Monsters is visually stunning throughout there is one that particular image that is so beautiful it always moves me to tears: it is the shot where The Monster/Clayton leads Whale down to trench to be 'reunited' with his lover. Do you have a favourite image from a film that affects you in similar way?

A: Yes that is a very moving passage. Odd that filming it on that empty platform and carefully shinnying down the ladder I had no idea of the impact in the finished film. I was too busy trying not to tread on the living corpses in the trench.

Condon movies are packed with memorable set pieces. I always like the sight of Whale floating in his pool at the end.


Rehearsing the pool scene

More photos from Gods and Monsters

THE POOL SCENE

Q: In the "Gods and Monsters" movie , how long did it take to complete the final scene where Brendan Fraser (Clayton Boone) recovered from the swimming pool the body of James Whale? Was it difficult for you to stay in the water for such a long time?

A. The scene was shot in one day fortunately a hot one, so after each submersion I dried out quickly on the edge of the pool. Under my three-piece tweed suit, I wore the protection of a rubber wetsuit. This also helped with buoyancy. The resulting effect as Whale elegantly floats, waving goodbye almost, is my favourite shot in the movie. The camera is far enough away not to detect that I was shallow breathing, the usual trick for convincing stage corpses.

GAY FILM

From: Sandra Gramsch

Q: I have noticed that most films that deal with homosexuals tend to be parodies rather than serious approaches to the topic. Is the world 'ready' yet to not only laugh about such matters but also to cry, worry and maybe also change intolerant opinions? The reason why I'm asking is because I am working on such a story right now, set in Scotland, 1736-1746).

A: Over the last two decades there has been a considerable revolution in the treatment of gays and lesbians in plays and films.  For too many years we were portrayed as villainous or stupid.  I am proud to have been associated with Bent (onstage and screen) and Gods and Monsters which boldly treat homosexuality as a fact of life, worthy of the same serious approach as any other aspect of human nature. I look forward to discovering about gay life in 18th century Scotland!

QUALMS?

From: Edward Tyndall

Q: My girlfriend and I are great fans of your film work and after watching Gods and Monsters a few times have a question. In regards to the powerful scene where James Whale deliberately antagonizes Clayton Boone (hoping Boone will kill him) by groping and kissing him, did Mr. Fraser have any reservations about this scene?

A: We shot that scene very rapidly in one day and Brendan and I were on edge but there were no problems, though he was adamant never to be shot full-frontal. I offered to do that instead but no-one was interested.

DUDLEY

Q: Despite what James Whale says in Gods and Monsters, Dudley is NOT in the north of England.

A: I now know you are right and apologise because I seem to remember I suggested the line which got it wrong. The original line referred correctly to Dudley being in the "Black Country", an industrial area of the Midlands of England. I had wanted to avoid any confusion from non-Brits, who might think "black" referred to skin colour rather than to industrial grime.

WHALE IN DUDLEY

From: Dave Fox

Q: Have you had hear about a memorial/statue of James Whale that is being designed to honour him in his (and my) home Town of Dudley. It will take pride of place at a new cinema complex there. Good idea do you think??? And if you were asked really nicely do you think you would come and see it or even unveil it?

A: Thanks for the splendid news. I have yet to visit Dudley.  James Whale's nieces and family were not best pleased that Gods and Monsters accepted that their relative was gay, so perhaps I wouldn't be the best person to do the unveiling.

Public monuments are a bit out of fashion but I have always been taken by statues of my favourites. In my teens I loved the bronze Gower memorial to Shakespeare, outside the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. He is seated above the attendant figures of Falstaff, Henry V, Lady Macbeth and Hamlet with Yorick's skull. I kept a plaster reproduction for years until his foot broke off and the fake metalisation faded.

I also admire the Victorian actor Henry Irving's statue alongside the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Yorkshire playwright J.B. Priestley's energetic figure in front of the Film and Television Museum in Bradford. Maggie Hambling's recent representation of Oscar Wilde, "Conversation with Oscar," is well worth a visit behind St Martin-in-the-Fields in London just by the gay bar "Kudos."

HEARTBREAKER

From: John Sheahan 

Q: I watched Gods and Monsters for the first time last night and I just wanted to say that it was superb. Not that it matters in the slightest but I am straight, but love, friendship, and loneliness are what motivate us all… James Whale broke my heart last night.

A: I always thought that Whale's story, as told in Bill Condon's brilliant screenplay could appeal to any audience, regardless of sexuality. Thanks for the confirmation!

BRAM AND MANNERS

From: Jerry G.

Q: Since Gods and Monsters I have been thrown into James Whale's life. I bought Christopher Bram's novel "The Father of Frankenstein" and have finished it in 2 days and am reading it again. It is fascinating and a great work. What do you know about James Whale now that you have been in his shoes? Did you ever find anything out from the Actor David Manners, about Whale? I know he passed on at 98 years young and did not grant interviews to many after he left acting, but if you did meet him, what was he like? I can't seem to find much about him.

A: During filming we often referred back to Bram's book. You should try his other novels.

I met David Manners (who was in Whale's first movie Journey's End) shortly before his death in an old people's home north of Los Angeles.  He had long forsaken Hollywood, perhaps because he resented his studio's suggestion that he should marry for the sake of the sexual conformity demanded by Hollywood's publicity machines circa 1940 (plus ca change).

Mr Manners was gay, although he chose not to talk about private matters even when I met him. He did confide that "Jimmy took a shine to me." He said he found Whale's direction helpful but otherwise was reticent about his acting days. He was curled up on his bed with just a television and some birthday cards for company in his sunny room. He was a little deaf and I had to kneel close to his ear and twinkling eyes. When I left he whispered with a smile "You can tell them, that you met David Manners on his deathbed." A prescient joke.

THE HOUSE OF JAMES WHALE

From: Jim Corbett

Q: Did you notice how Goldie Hawn tried to take credit for Gods and Monsters because she used to own the house?

A: I didn't, but approve of anyone who approves of Gods and Monsters. Goldie had the house before its present owners. I don't know which of them was responsible for erasing all trace of the interior that was mocked up in a Pasadena villa for the movie. Even James Whale's fatal swimming pool seemed to have vanished at the bottom of the slope, which was much gentler in the movie. Then from a bedroom window I spied the pool and its studio through the trees where it now seems to be on someone else's land. We didn't go down to it but it was enough to get the glimpse. It prefigured the moment when Clay Boone, just up, sees the pool and dashes for it. He couldn't, though, have dashed down the steep terrain of the actual location. As for the studio, I've seen Whale's painting of it but prefer to think that the G&M designer Richard Sherman got it exactly right.

CLIVE BARKER

Q: How was it to work with Clive Barker? 

A: I met him very little on the film - he never seemed to interfere, only to encourage. His name was certainly an added attraction when I read the script. He has since asked me to direct a short film for a compilation he is producing. I was too scared to accept. 

JOB QUALIFICATIONS

Q: How were you approached to play James Whale? Was it because of your homosexuality not that you didn't have to screen test but were they looking for a gay actor to add reality to the portrayal? 

A: My being gay (and the writer, producers, designer, director and at least two other actors) meant I joined a like-minded group who knew the social importance of honoring James Whale. Brendan Fraser and Lynn Redgrave on the other hand are both straight. We all benefited from the bonhomie and purposefulness of the project. Maybe being gay helped me understand James Whale but then Bill Condon was there before me with his script and would have guided me through anyway.

UNHAPPY GENIUS?

Q: I had long been a fan of James Whale, I loved the movies he probably would have preferred to forget his Universal horror work. You portrayal of the man gave me a lot of insights I did not have previously, and would have been happier not to have gained, but, that's life. Genius seems to extract a hard price from it's victims. I have read all to many bios of the actors, directors, and producers that I love the work of, who have been severely dysfunctional. What is it about success and genius that leads to such unhappy people? Someday maybe that will be answered. 

A: I don't think the point of Gods and Monsters is to insinuate that James Whale was unhappy all the time. Certainly, after his mild stroke he was disaffected with the life of a semi-invalid without an outlet for his former talents. But this brief period seemed to him all the worse because it was preceded by a hugely fulfilled life in which he made his mark at every turn - as a stage designer, as an actor and then as film director. His suicide note confirmed that he had a wonderful life.

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