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It is hard to think of two projects more different than the horror-comedy The Cabin in the Woods, which hits cinemas April 13, and the new Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman, which opened a couple of weeks back (to a rave review from EW’s Thom Geier). But they do have a couple things in common. Both productions have an impressive amount of behind-the-scenes talent: Cabin was cowritten by Buffy creator Joss Whedon while Salesman is directed by the legendary Mike Nichols. And both feature ex-Dollhouse actor Fran Kranz, who plays the role of Bernard in Salesman and that of a conspiracy-obsessed stoner named Marty in Cabin (FYI: that’s a giant bong he’s holding in the picture to the left).
Kranz recently visited the EW offices to talk about working with Whedon (three times) and being shouted at by his Salesman costar Philip Seymour Hoffman (pretty much all the time).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This revival of Death of a Salesman is being directed by Mike Nichols, who was making classic films like The Graduate and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? long before you were born. I’m guessing it took a while before you stopped thinking, “F— me, that’s Mike Nichols!!!”
FRAN KRANZ: It took a while. And it took a while to settle down acting with Philip Seymour Hoffman, because it’s just surreal. And then, when we actually got on to the stage, it was a whole other readjustment. Because the rehearsal process took a couple of weeks. It was like, Mike Nichols is talking about Jack Nicholson, he’s talking about Elizabeth Taylor. He’s giving us anecdotes to help us in our scene about legends and he is a legend too. And no one else except for maybe Phil is really settled in that. Phil’s worked with him (on Charlie Wilson’s War). But all of us are like, “Oh my God, did you hear what he said?” Giggling like kids. So it took a while. And then, when you got in the Broadway theater, he’s directing you from the seats and you’re like, “Oh my God!” But now I feel good. He’s such a sweet guy, he’s so warm.
I gather it’s a very traditional production.
It’s the original Jo Mielziner set design. We had Kazan’s notes. We had access to so much stuff from the ’49 production that at times, early on, I was like, “Is this going to work? Are audiences going to want something more? Are we now a little too cynical to see something that was staged in 1949?” Obviously it’s not like we’re going to do Salesman [set] in 2000. It is placed in a time period, so you have to honor that. But we really were going by the book at times and sometimes that worried me. But then, it’s Mike Nichols. He knows what he’s doing! And what it feels like is that, you’re seeing what it was back then, and the fact that it’s still effective is all the more troubling. It’s like, this is what we would have seen then and yet it’s still killing us now. You’re drawing all these similarities to everything today. You’re watching an artifact. But all the yearning, all the heart, and all these dreams, and the wrong values are still alive today.
In addition to Hoffman, the cast also includes Andrew Garfield and Linda Emond. That’s not a bad lineup.
The actors are amazing. When I got the part, my dad said, “You’re playing with the Yankees.” It really does feel that way. And I might be batting ninth, but that’s fine.
Speaking of Hoffman, have you tried calling him “the Hoff” yet?
I’m going to. [Laughs] Yeah, he’s a sweetheart but he’s intimidating. And also for a while I spent more time getting yelled at on stage by him than having real conversations with him. So that has its effect on someone. Like, more than anything, he’s screaming at me.
I imagine he’s a fairly decent screamer.
It’s intense. He’s one of the best actors alive.
The Cabin in the Woods was shot a long time ago. In fact, you were still appearing on Dollhouse when you made it, right?
We were between seasons. I auditioned for it towards the end of our first season. I’m a big horror film fan and I remember Drew (Goddard, Cabin director and cowriter) coming to the Dollhouse set to talk to Joss about locations. I was peering over their shoulders and getting all geeked out. But I had no idea how cool it actually was. I was like, “A lake? Kids get killed?” I’ll see that movie. I had no idea where it was going.
Because the film’s studio, MGM, went bankrupt, Cabin sat on the shelf for years. That must have been frustrating.
Early on, my agents were like, “Cabin in the Woods might never come out. You’ve just got to forget about this.” Which to me was crazy. Because it felt like one of the coolest movies ever, period. It was hard. You know, Dollhouse was canceled, I got fired from a pilot. There were down moments.
Joss Whedon fans seem to be too occupied trying to get Firefly back off the ground to concern themselves too much with Dollhouse. Do you think we’ll ever see those characters again?
We were told we were canceled but they were nice enough to let us finish the season. So we had six or seven episodes to sort of write an ending, so because of that, a lot of characters died. Sometimes I hear about people bringing it back. The world they created has so many possibilities. They could very easily have Dollhouse comic books. But they did a good job of ending it so people could have some satisfaction. Firefly just got cut — which was the ultimate tease. Serenity, I guess, gave it a sort of conclusion but you could have so many story lines of Mal traveling around. I would want Firefly back just because I’m a huge Star Wars fan and, to me, it’s like the new adventures of Han Solo. I’ve still got to see Buffy — I shouldn’t say that, at this point, having worked with Joss so much, it’s kind of embarrassing — but Firefly is one of my favorite shows.
You worked with Whedon again on his new version of Much Ado About Nothing. What was that like?
That was great. But now everyone is so interested in it. It was kind of like shooting a home video and I’m like, “Maybe I should just downplay it, because who knows what it’s going to look like?” He does readings in his backyard a lot. I did Midsummer’s Night Dream there. We sit around and drink wine and just read the play. It’s super casual. And he said he wanted to do Much Ado but he wanted to film it. Honestly, I pictured him with just a handheld camera filming us doing that. Then, all of a sudden, I started getting calls about wardrobe fittings and my Social Security [number]. And I was like, “Oh, this is a real movie.”
But it’s all very intimate and handheld and it’s in his house and it’s black and white and it’s nothing like the Branagh version. It’s modern day, we have iPhones and iPads and there’s funny uses of all that. But I feel reluctant to be cocky about it. Because it’s like, “Well, what if it does look like a home video?” Joss has such a great fan base. People are excited. I get it. I’m excited. But I haven’t seen anything. Let’s all just hope for the best.
What’s Lust for Love?
Lust for Love is a movie we developed with some friends from Dollhouse. Anton King wrote and directed it and we raised most of the money on Kickstarter. It’s sort of a romantic comedy about a guy whose lifelong sweetheart breaks up with him, because he’s sort of a klutz when it comes to relationships, and then he gets her friend to help him become cool in an effort to get her back. They’re editing it right now. I know they’re trying to raise more money for post-production and stuff. But it was very humbling and heartwarming to see how much we raised on Kickstarter.
Your first film credit was Donnie Darko, which is a favorite of mine. Although, to be honest, I don’t remember you being in it.
[HUGE SPOILER ALERT!!!] I am the clown in the car with the bunny rabbit at the end of the movie when they run down Jenna Malone. I have this moment where I’m like, “Frank, you killed her!” It’s when Jake (Gyllenhaal) shoots Frank, right? He points the guy at me and he’s like, “Run!” That movie was so weird because four people in it went to my high school. Jake and Maggie (Gyllenhaal) and my friend Gary Lundy, who played Jake’s friend, I went to high school with all of them. And it was a low-budget movie. It was first-time director, Richard Kelly. I knew the script was awesome but the set felt like a joke. I was like, “I know all these people!” And then it turned into what it did.
Review: ‘Mike Nichols’ ‘Death of a Salesman’