Neil Pearson has to be one of the UK’s best known and most popular actors whose varied C.V includes roles across a variety of genres from comedies such as Trevor’s World of Sport, and the classic Drop the Dead Donkey to heavyweight thrillers such as the Kindness of Strangers and The State Within. Now with Frankenstein, he turns his hand to horror. Speaking about his latest on screen role Pearson says:
“Waldman runs the lab at which Victoria is conducting her research; a brilliant scientist, she is pushing at the limits of what is ethically acceptable and he is very much there to supervise and be supportive.
However he is always mindful of the fact that he has a job to do and that’s where the difficulty lies for him. On the one hand he’s keen to see where the work of his most brilliant scientist will lead and on the other hand he has to look over his shoulder at his own employers and make sure that he keeps both sides happy. Waldman is very much caught between the proverbial rock and hard place.”
Having read Shelley’s original what would he say are the over-riding themes explored in the novel that have ensured its longevity and our continued fascination with it?
“I think it’s a work which transcends its own time and speaks to successive generations. Obviously with scientific advances taking place at the speed they are today it remains just as relevant now as at the start of the nineteenth century. The Victorians were making so many advances in so many fields; the arts, engineering, medicine and of course science.
It was an extraordinary time in history, and then as now, there was curiosity and wonder but also a deep rooted concern about where these huge scientific advances would lead. And I think that really comes across in Jed’s adaptation.”
He goes on to explain,
“Of course, there should be a healthy review of where science is going at any particular juncture but ignorance breeds fear. The assumption by the lay community at times that scientists are evil geniuses with nothing but bad in their hearts is clearly ridiculous, but what Shelley is writing about still persists today.
Whenever a tabloid reports on a scientist whose research they disapprove of, the word Frankenstein comes up. It’s a word that’s passed into our language and we know what it means and there are very few of those, Orwellian is another one. We know what we mean when we talk about Frankenstein scientists and the word itself taps into something into the psyche of our species that makes us afraid.”
Discussing this modern telling of Shelley’s classic, when asked if he feels with Frankenstein now a woman, a natural creator of life, and the nature of the research on which this is based, does he feel it somehow makes the possibility of the monster seem more plausible?
“Well I don’t think the sex of the geneticist has anything to do with it really. I think that war is won; there are brilliant minds and less than brilliant minds and they exist in both sexes. But in terms of the research, yes I do. For instance, I’m looking at the front page of The Guardian today and it says ‘Human-animal embryo study wins approval.’
With cloning, the deconstruction of the genome and with these tremendous advances in genetics, I think yes, Jed’s setting absolutely makes you feel that what Victoria creates is entirely feasible.
And of course where there is such advancement, there is also an ethical consideration and with that comes fear. So I really can’t think of a more timely moment for this drama. And the thing is I don’t think Jed has merely adapted the original, he’s completely updated it and placed it within our own social media and consequently, I think it works extremely well.”
“This is a recognisable world, set only slightly in the future. Unfortunately it seems to be a world where no ones has read Frankenstein which could have saved a great deal of unpleasantness but apart form that obvious omission, I think Jed’s done a fabulous job” he laughs “I had a good time on it, apart form the fact that I had to spend an entire bank holiday getting pissed on by torrential rain, red rain in the middle of the night!”
When asked about the red rain, Pearson goes on to explain:
“As this version set not too far in the future, the climate has gone even stranger than it has so far! As it comes down, the rain is interacting with the dust in the atmosphere from a huge volcanic eruption. So when the heavens open, all looks extremely filmic and horribly portentous!”
Not only will visual effects be used to portray dramatic shifts in our climate on screen, but the all important monster, will be in part, a CGI creation. How did Neil find working with the effects team?
“With visual effects, unless you’re being suspended in mid-air in front of a blue screen or something, it really doesn’t affect the cast. Its only special effects like explosions, setting things on fire and car chases that have a real impact on the way you work.
When it comes to CGI stuff it’s not really a work of self-preservation but a work of imagination. You need to have a clear idea of what the final frame will look like because an awful lot of the composition of each frame goes on after you have gone home. But these guys are incredibly skilled and Jed had an extremely clear idea of what everything was going to look like so it makes the whole process easier.
When I saw the prosthetics that Julian Bleach, the actor playing the monster was hidden under I was astonished. I’ve never actually seen him outside of the prosthetics; I’m assuming they’re extensive, but since they were so well done it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he really was that misshapen!
I think he came in at about four in the morning and was ready to work at noon and then it took another two hours to get it off him, so time to change your agent I think Julian!”