January 20th marks the return of everyone’s favorite sexy Death Dealer, Selene (Kate Beckinsale), as Underworld Awakening hits theaters and we find out just what’s been going on for the past twelve years. And she gets more emotions, more personality (?) as she tries to figure out just what’s going on in this brave new world after waking up from cryo.
In this conversation with co-directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, the two talk about the advantage of starting fresh, what Selene has to deal with now that everyone knows about Lycans and Vampires, and what mystery lies behind the missing Michael…
JPH: We are talking with Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, the co-directors of the new Underworld Awakening, the fourth installment in the Underworld franchise. This one being the return of Kate Beckinsale, I think, is probably the biggest selling point of this film. Now, you guys have been co-directing since the very beginning. You’ve been collaborating pretty much your whole careers. What difference has it made – I guess let’s start with your process. How much has your co-directing process changed since you first did Disco Kung Fu?
Mårlind: That’s a really good question, actually. We got that question earlier. You know what? Not a whole damn lot. We still have the same idea that we do pre-production back-to-back, next to each other, holding hands, kind of. And then we do the actual shooting every single day, you know –
Stein: Every second day.
Mårlind: Every second day. When Bjorn is directing, I’m his best buddy. The next day, we turn it and I’m the director and he’s my best buddy. And we came up with that idea during Disco Kung Fu, and we actually haven’t changed it at all since then.
JPH: How much of a difference has it made in terms of budget? Because your more prominent film, that got you noticed, Storm, had a budget of only three million and now, with Underworld Awakening, you’re in the big leagues, sort of. You’ve got seventy-five million dollars to play with. How did that affect your approach to your filmmaking process? What differences did that make in – now you’ve got all of these resources on hand – how did that affect your process? What did that do to you?
Mårlind: Well, first thing, I mean filmmaking is very traditional. So there’s a lot of … It’s very conservative, and so a lot of people become like… they question us. “What do you mean, directing every second day? What do you mean, you’re two?” So, in that sense, we haven’t changed anything in how we work. What has been different is that we get so much more resources, as you say, so it’s easier to make your visions come true. But filmmaking’s always the same in that you’ll never have enough resources. Because, I mean if we’d had seventy-five million to do Storm, yeah, that would be great. But we’re making Underworld Awakening, and that’s a film that also demands a whole lot of money. So it always feels like you’re always out of money, kind of.
Stein: Yeah, the basic approach is always the same. We just try to tell the story the best way. For us, I think the change is more that after we got the assignment and the job, we were told “Oh, by the way, guys, it’s 3D.” And that changed more, in terms of how we need to conceive a story visually.
JPH: So, the 3D. Did that affect just the way you were going to shoot things or do that in fact the actual story itself?
Mårlind: More the way you shoot it, I would say. Not the actual story. Stuff like, you know, running around the pillars, just to get the cool 3D situation. But the way you tell the story is different. You know, it’s not immensely different. But it’s kind of, in many ways, limiting in the tools you have. You kind of go back a little bit in time and say, well, the camera’s much bulkier. And there’s also some stuff that aren’t pleasant to watch in 3D, like when it’s hand-held cameras, stuff like that. You just get, you know, seasick seeing that. So you have to rethink that a little bit. And it was also interesting because we had no real experience in what the end result would be in 3D. I mean, nobody did.
Stein: Right. We just had a … our DP, our photographer had done one movie, and that was about it in the experience of team that – of course, there were technicians who knew their stuff – but in terms of being kind of a storyteller, it was very uncharted territory. So that was a challenge.
And we were trying much more to do single takes, you know. Long takes instead of fast editing, because the 3D is more prominent in longer takes. Because you can feel it. You’re in the room more. So I think we pushed that much more than we would in an ordinary film, a 2D one.
JPH: You mention the crew having to make adjustments to your “every second day” style of directing. What kind of adjustments do you have to make, coming into a franchise, as opposed to creating something out of whole cloth, doing an original picture? Because you’ve just been handed the fourth movie in an established story universe. How did you have to make any adjustments in your approach to the story itself?
Mårlind: Well, the thing is, that it’s both a blessing and a curse, because we all know what we want to do and… we are fans of the Underworld movies, so that was easy. We really wanted to do this one. That was good. The bad thing is that everybody knows… everybody has done the films more than we have, so we were, like, the new kids on the block. Then again, everybody was very on board the fact that this is number four in the series. It’s not number three, which means we are taking it somewhere else. It’s not concluding a trilogy. We need something new. Most of our ideas of how to change and revamp – ha ha – the series was embraced very warmly.
JPH: How difficult was it to get Kate Beckinsale to come back to play Selene? Because she wasn’t in the last one.
Mårlind: Well, it wasn’t difficult at all because she’s married to Len Wiseman, who’s the creator of the series. And I think he just convinced her. I think that was solved in Len and Kate’s kitchen. “I think it’s time you make another Underworld movie.” “Yeah, yeah, I think you’re right.” And that was it.
JPH: How easy was she to work with on the set? Being the star, having gone through this a couple of times already, playing this character. How much conversation did you have in the development of where Selene goes in this story, as opposed to just letting her do her thing because she’s played the character before?
Mårlind: Well, the thing is, the scenes speak for themselves. The thing is that I told Kate once, while we were shooting, “Wow. I’ve never seen any actor who so easily can just step into a role as you do.” Because she’s Kate Beckinsale, who is charming and she’s always laughing, she’s always very funny and quirky. And then – wffft! – she’s Selene. Death Dealer. And that happens in a half second. So she said, “Well, it’s because, you know, I’ve done it so many times, so I’m so close to this character.” But then there are so many scenes in this movie that are not like … there haven’t been scenes like this in the other movies, that are more sensitive and more emotional. So, I think … I mean, we talked about, to Kate, about these scenes, how shall Selene come across and so on. It was kind of obvious, we followed the script and Kate is … she’s a wonderful actress. She followed her instincts and she’s… She’s that perfect, perfect, perfect mix of being very true to her emotions and touch you, but she also knows the film medium, which is a very technical medium. So she can combine those two, which is – for a film director – she’s lovely to work with.
JPH: Take us through the story. It’s twelve years later. Selene wakes up, I’m assuming after being in some sort of suspended animation. And I’m guessing we’re going to get some kind of explanation as to where she’s been. And she wakes up to a world where humans know about the existence of both Vampires and Lycans. And there’s a little bit of conflict, I guess you could say, about that circumstance. So, what is she stepping into?
Mårlind: Well, here’s the thing. Here’s where the film’s mystery starts. Compared to the other movies, I think this one is driven much more with the mystery. She wakes up, yeah, but before she wakes up from her cryo, Man has already found out about the creatures of the night. The Lycans and the Vampires are being eradicated in a most ghastly genocide way. It’s not a war, actually. It’s more … it’s a wipeout.
Stein: You can say, well, the Vampires and the Lycans are so much, so superior to Man. That’s one thing that they don’t have, and that’s numbers. They’re (Man) truly just outnumbering these creatures of the night.
Mårlind: And so she wakes up, and she starts having these visions, and the last thing she saw before she got shot down or taken out or what one should say, was Michael. So she gets convinced that the visions that she’s having are Michael’s.
Stein: They’ve done something to her brain to connect the two.
Mårlind: Because she wakes up in a lab. So she gets sure that “I’m seeing through Michael’s eyes.” So she starts following these visions. And they take her through a journey…
Stein: … of finding Michael.
JPH: That leads to a question that has been burning up the Internet for a while now: whether or not Scott Speedman is playing Michael in this movie. There’s a lot of hints that she’s looking for him. Is that one of the surprises in the film? We’re going to find out what’s going on with Michael?
Stein: That’s the mystery Mans is talking about, so let’s keep it a mystery, eh? Yeah, there’s actually … that’s a mystery. There’s other mysteries. There’s not a simple answer to that question, I can say.
JPH: The movie comes out January 20. What are your plans after that? Are you doing the next Underworld film, or are you moving on to something else?
Stein: You never know if there is a next Underworld film. This one has to come out first, I guess. So no, we don’t know yet. We’re literally scrambling to finish this one right now, so …
Mårlind: As we’re speaking, we’re doing the final dubs of the music, which was supposed to be done the day before yesterday. But there’s so many sounds, there’s so much, we’re running late. And we have a really, really short delivery date. So we’ve been working, I think, thirteen months with this movie, and our agent and managers are dying to send us stuff. But our whole devotion has turned to this movie. I mean, we have been reading stuff, but there’s nothing… there’s nothing that really spoke to us. Or there’s things that we do like, but we don’t know anything yet.
JPH: All right. Well, we will let you get back to work on it. Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein, thank you very much for your time today and good luck with the film. It is Underworld Awakening. It opens January 20th in both 3D and IMAX 3D. We’re looking forward to seeing what happens to Selene and finding out about Micheal.
Mårlind: Thanks, man!
Stein: Take care.