You never know when geek-culture streams will cross. Just ask Fran Kranz.
Kranz, of course, made his mark as part of the acting ensemble on such Joss Whedon projects as Dollhouse, Cabin in the Woods and Much Ado About Nothing. In the midst of his Whedon work, Kranz caught the eye of emerging filmmaker Gillian Greene, who tapped him for her short film Fanboy and then for her debut feature Murder of a Cat, both of which are produced by Greene's husband, another giant in the world of Hollywood horror and superheroics, Sam Raimi.
Murder of a Cat falls in neither genre; in fact, outside of its comedic tone it's a film so eclectic it's difficult to accurately categorize. But as Kranz explains, as much as he's enjoyed spreading his acting wings, he's not ready to be finished with the fantastic.
Spinoff Online: So, this looked like it must have been just a blast to make. Can you tell me how this project came your way, and what was the first thing that made you want to say "yes" to doing it?
Fran Kranz: I did a short film [Fanboy] that Gillian Greene directed and Sam Raimi produced … and I’m a big Sam Raimi fan, so I was all in on the short film – I really wanted to do it! It was a funny idea: It was about a kid obsessed with Sam Raimi, and Sam was going to play himself. And I got that job, even though I had the worst audition. I don't even think I got through the scene – I kept breaking and laughing – but we had such a fun time. I think sometimes what's important is, "Do you get along with everyone? Do people have fun together?" And I guess they just sort of assumed I could actually say lines when it counted, so I got that part. We had a great experience, and I became friends with Gillian, and we kept in touch.
One day she sent me a script, just as a friend: "Hey, check this out. I think it's really good. Give it a read when you have time." And it was Murder of a Cat … I thought it was great. I told her I thought it was great. It wasn't even necessarily meant for me, the role of Clinton. Sam was going to produce it, and their friends – you know, the cell phone of those guys is just full of talented, great actors young and old – so I never expected it to go my way, and long-story-short, it did. It did go my way. And then Gillian eventually was like, "Look, I've always sort of thought of you in this role." And it was a big honor for me, and so then we all sat down and started approaching it like a movie that we were all going to make.
It was a surreal moment, actually, when our first day of shooting arrived, because personally, I'd never been so involved in a movie for such a long time, in sort of pre-production, as it were. Normally, I got cast and I do some fittings and maybe some rehearsals, and I show up and it wraps, and maybe go to a premiere. But this was one that we talked and developed, and I did voice-overs for animatics. And I would do voiceovers. We walked about wardrobe. All kinds of things, and I was much more involved in this movie than I had ever been before – and I think I even have a co-producer credit, which I don't know if I deserve that!
So this was something I was honored, lucky to do, fortunate to be a part of; but also something that over time, became my own passion project. Just by virtue and nature of working and thinking about it for so long, it became something of a collaborative effort. I really felt like this was something we had worked on together and that we all – with hard labor – pulled off and are all very proud of. When you working on something for the entirety of a film, from its conception to the day it premieres, that's a long time, and I'm not used to that. I'm generally just an actor. So this is really special and sort of surreal. But I hope sort of the beginning of things. Hopefully this kind of hard work on a film is something that becomes more normal for me.
Tell me about Gillian, watching her come into her own as a director. How would you describe her style, and how was the involvement from Sam – obviously a great director, himself – as producer?
Gillian is this wonderful spirit and personality. You can drop her into any kind of social circle or party or social gathering, and she is sort of the center of attention. She has this wonderful warmth and energy that never subsides. She's always in a good mood and always positive. And for a director, I don't know how you do that. First of all, it just seems so exhausting to direct a film, period. And it's all about letting go. It's all about sacrifice and solving problems.
The job description is something of a nightmare, and so to come into it with a smile on your face and a positive attitude and that kind of energy, daily and without fail, is really, really special and so encouraging for an actor. Because – especially on an independent film – it's really hard work and challenges you as a whole new set of challenges every day, based on locations or anything. It's the nature of doing a smaller film on a smaller budget, is that you're constantly trying to solve problems, and to do that positively is rare. I'm not used to it. There's generally a lot of frustration on set, whereas this was just a lot of fun. We laughed way too much. I'm sure I hurt this movie immeasurably due to all the laughing I was doing, on and off screen.
But that makes it fun to go to work every day. This was a super short shoot and it just sort of happened really sort of sweetly. It's really good memories, despite all the challenges, it was a lot of fun to do. It's a whole crew of people that love to hang out, and that trickles down. That's all about Gillian, and that's all about her work ethic and how she manages the day and the set.
Sam being there was obviously a huge boost of energy and support – because he was there quite a bit. He wasn’t always there, but he was there quite a bit, and he would step in and give his advice. He was always there holding a pair of sides in rehearsal. He was involved. And it was just a sort of boost of moral support that we had him, but we never relied on him: he was someone that you could ask questions to.
He was someone that gave advice. He had a lot of great ideas about scenes. He solved things for me a lot, just in talking to him at craft service or something. He would have some insight into something that would really go a long way, in terms of how I approached not just the character, but everything. The guy is one of the greats. So to have him around helped everything in the sense you could keep your head up. He always kind of strengthened the situation in a positive way, just his presence.
You're well known for your genre projects, and this is really not a genre project – I thought it felt like the kind of role that Michael J. Fox would have played back in the ‘80s. What was it like for you to be able to have this kind of opportunity to break away a little bit from some of the genre material that you've been known for?
First of all, I think it's such a bizarre movie, in a wonderful way … To me this movie is very hard to compartmentalize or label. It's really all over the place and kind of wonderfully bizarre and funny and dark and a strange kind of romance and has so much going on that – it's not just stepping out of the box of something of the sort of roles I've played in the Joss Whedon universe, but into many different roles, and to kind of look at the film as eclectic made it a big challenge.
At the end of the day, I have to just focus on the character, and I talked a lot to the writers and Gillian, and we sort of developed this character of Clinton. A lot of inspiration from The Long Goodbye, Elliot Gould's character, and Ignatius Reilly from Confederacy of Dunces, and we kind of shaped this character. When it comes to shooting, as an actor, in many ways, you just keep your head down and focus on telling the story through your point of view and your character's perspective.
And once we sort of managed that, genre and whatever box I'm usually placed in, all that stuff goes out the window, because you just sort of focus on character and story. I don't want to necessarily look at him, even though he's technically a lead of the movie – he's not a leading man – he has very specific traits and qualities and attributes or shortcomings. Those are the things, as an actor, that I can make sense of, as opposed to think of it as the hero or anti-hero. So those were the things that I relied on and basically used as crutches to sort of get through, if there were challenges that I struggled with.
After working on a few different projects with Joss Whedon, what's the best thing you learned from your professional and personal association?
I had been fired from a network pilot and after we shot it, and it was obviously very disappointing, and the show was picked up, it went to air, so it was obviously a super disappointing, frustrating, and painful experience. People obviously come to your aide and support and tell you sweet things like "Everything happens for a reason." And Joss just looked at me and said, "Hey, shit happens. You just gotta roll with the punches." I think that's really wonderful life advice: creative advice. It is quite literally good on-set advice. It's all a bunch of takes. When you get to set as an actor, you have a number of takes, and you have to keep going and roll with the punches and not look back and kind of keep trying new things, forget about the last take and keep trying to do your best work.
That was some pretty basic advice that came at a time when I was vulnerable that I actually take very, very seriously. Especially coming from him, which is a guy that in this business, I owe probably more to him than anyone. So it's not very literally acting advice, directing advice, on-set advice, but it was good life advice that I think works very, very well in a creative industry, when your best effort is obviously criticized and can feel personal. So you have to be able to wipe the slate clean and retain the information that is positive and has been helpful and has sort of lead you to where you are, and forget the rest of the noise.
What's next for you? Now that you've got this one under your belt, and I know you've got some projects that are in the pipeline, but what do you think is the next stage, or is there a particular project you're excited about down the line that's coming out?
I am doing a show on Broadway right now, which we are right in the middle of the run – I'm going to be here through February. I'm doing You Can't Take It With You on Broadway with James Earle Jones and Rose Byrne, Annaleigh Ashford – this is a really incredible cast. If you know the play, you know it's a big, big cast. That's why it's so popular in high schools, because everybody wins. [Laughs] It's a lot of fun, and it's an incredible education, because I'm working with essentially 19 of the best actors I've ever worked with it.
What I've learned about doing a play on this one, more than any one that I've done before, is what an incredibly tough mental game it is – you know, the length. It's not just physical endurance. It's not just taking care of your body. It's staying sane, because you are getting up there and being judged in real time and putting forward an incredible effort in real time every night in front of people, and it's a lot to bear when things go wrong, or even when they go right, the highs and lows of it are very extreme. You don't have the safety of cameras and editing. You're just out there. So that's all I really think about.
But I've got some movies that I'm really, really proud of that will be coming out. Specifically I just finished one called Bloodsucking Bastards, with Joey Kern and Pedro Pascal, who's like my new favorite actor, and it's sort of in the Cabin in the Woods vein, it's kind of horror-comedy, but it's really, really funny. It's kind of like Office Space meets Shaun of the Dead, and it's a super-cool movie and there's going to be some exciting news about it coming soon, so I'm excited about that. But as opposed to projects spring and summer, I am just sort of looking right now. It sort of is what it is. Once this play is over – It actually feels like there's quite a bit of time before the play ends – but when it does, hopefully I'll just walk right into something.
Well, you know, Joss has got another Avengers movie to make, so maybe there's a good superhero part for you.
Yeah, you know, I mean obviously people ask about, I get – somehow, supposedly, I started a rumor about me being on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I had all these friends and tweets about, "Oh, are you playing so-and-so?" or "I heard.” Even a good friend of mine called me or texted me and said, "So what's the deal with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Who's this character?" So I asked Jed [Whedon] and Maurissa [Tancharoen], who run the show, "OK, what's going on, because people are asking me?" and they said, "Yeah, you started the rumor."
And I don't know what they're talking about, and I'm not sure what I did, but you know I tend to sort of answer tweets sometimes with some degree of humor and sarcasm, so maybe potentially along the way I sort of inspired some rumor that I'm going to be on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but for the record: I'm not, but I would like to be. And even more, I always told Joss from day one that I just want to be killed by Thor in an Avengers movie or a Thor film. I just want to be a goon – an anonymous goon that Chris Hemsworth hits with his hammer, and that's fine. I don't even need to be credited. But obviously it'd be cool to have a line or two.
Murder of a Cat is available now on iTunes.