You’ve got to appreciate someone who just wants to have some fun…
This isn’t Del Toro’s Hellboy, its director Neil Marshall’s and in this fresh installment; Hellboy (David Harbour) comes to England, where he discovers The Blood Queen, Nimue (Milla Jovovich), a resurrected ancient sorceress thirsting to avenge a past betrayal. Suddenly caught in a clash between the supernatural and the human, Hellboy is now hell-bent on stopping Nimue without triggering the end of the world.
In advance of it’s opening we got the unique pleasure to sit down with star David Harbour to talking about the making of the film, the fun in genre pictures, the badge of honour that is Law & Order and so much more…
Dave Voigt: Doing this kind of movie obviously comes with some risks because there are some preconceived notions of how the character is supposed to be, but this movie is different; it’s fun and it’s got some grit underneath its nails, I’m curious how did Neil Marshall (The Director) pitch his vision of Hellboy to you?
David Harbour: It really was exactly that. The film is really more horror based, it’s got moments where it’s just brutal and bloody…almost to the point where it’s actually comical and that was the other real key because we wanted to make sure that we actually had fun with it all. Sure there’s lots of great themes running through the story but at its essence this is a big, scrappy monster movie. I think the visual effects are just great but when you get to the core of this film it’s a scrappy, messy B-Movie that’s filled with monsters.
I love that and I want more of that and I think as an addition to the genre of superhero movies that are out there to have one that the scrappy horror vibe that it has is really quite unique. We really wanted to make something that we truly unique out there in this pantheon of content that is out there, I think Neil really got it.
Was there a moment in production when you knew that it was coming together and it was working because as you well know working on Stranger Things genre fans can certain be pretty passionate about something when they want to be…
(LAUGHS) I am always striving for things to be better and better. I don’t think I’ve ever had a moment on something where I just went “OK, WE’RE DONE!” I’m always striving for better but I will say that when Joel (Harlow) showed me then initial makeup and we did those first tests I just knew how cool this was going to be. There was hair, there were scars, it was messy and it felt original…right from the very beginning of the production I was genuinely excited about being a part of all this.
Particularly the day we shot the Baba Yaga scene which was such a special day. We had Troy (James) who’s this contortionist in this really intense prosthetic makeup and then there’s me in my get up with him just shoving his tongue down my throat! (Laughs) It was all just so WILD and it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever been a part of before which just made it all so cool.
The practical nature of a lot of the effects does add to the entertainment value as well because while you do of course have to have some CGI, you’re not spending the entire shoot with some grid drawn on your face while acting to a tennis ball…
EXACTLY…and I think it really adds to the scrappy factor of the film as well as the gravity and the weight of it all as well. I mean when I fall off something in the movie, that’s a real dude in a suit falling off of something. That’s the thing that I’ve always loved about those old monster movies and I really feel like Hellboy has some of those qualities. That seen with Troy and I is a HUGE scene because it was all practical and there wasn’t an ounce of CGI in that at all. I just loved it.
The film really does set the right tone early on in that way because I really loved the Lucha Libre wrestling scene at the beginning of the film because I was watching it and I was like “Damn, he’s actually running the ropes and doing all this in the full get up”. How long did it take to get used to not only the mechanics of the makeup and the suit but having to do action scenes in it at the same time.
(Laughs) Oh it was a learning experience for sure. Obviously I got better and better at all throughout the film, I think there’s a few scenes where I definitely look a little more in tune with it then other times but acting with that layer of prosthetic on you really is a thing unto itself. With the stunts and the action it was mainly just the heat because the sweat would accumulate and get super hot in their so they’d have unzip me and put these air conditioning tubes in to the suit. Also there would be days when I’d pass out, plus a lot of the times just due to the construction of the suit I could never really see all that well either, but honestly at the end of the day, how many chances in life will you get to play ‘Hellboy’ so I honestly didn’t mind going through ‘hell’ for it, just so I could have this exuberant and crazy experience while making a movie.
Had you seen the Del Toro version before going into this? Or did you get to go in kind of blind?
I had but years ago when they came out and I really dug them but in terms of approaching the character I obviously didn’t want to go back to those and rather I went straight to the comics to talk with Mike (Mignola) to figure out what elements I want to draw out of that.
Those film are great though and Ron is so specific and exacting in everything that he does but I also knew that I’d be drawn to different elements in the story then what came out in the previous films. I knew I want it to be different but it was never a conscience effort to avoid those films either.
I’m a big fan of Neil Marshall’s work because he does have this unique ability to make stuff that is very character driven but also still filled with lots of action and lots of gore. How was your experience working with him?
You know he is this very quiet and very introverted guy but he’s also very thoughtful and he just really loves the monster stuff. He was very generous as well; I really and truly think that he was invested in allowing me to do what I did with the character. He loved my work from Stranger Things and he was very willing to let me go in so many different directions with it and I think he turned in a really good product because he knows how to make these kind of movies and create genuine monstery kind of scares. I mean in The Descent is basically shadows and some dudes crawling through those shadows and that movie is scary as hell. That’s really the esthetic that we wanted on this picture, it wasn’t about having $200 million and having to render and paint a whole bunch of stuff rather he was so hands on and all about figuring out what you can do with this guy in a Hellboy suit and a horse and making sure we got the most out of that.
Did your work on Stranger Things inform your performance in anyway because like I said before when you’re doing a genre picture and really embracing the material these kinds of experience can be a different beast then what you might be used to on other shoots.
It’s true, I’d say Stranger Things is the reason I got Hellboy in the first place! But I always try to approach things from a really grounded place and I do think that there’s this thing about Hopper from Stranger Things that has this almost Indiana Jones, swashbuckling charm that I feel like Hellboy is like that but with a darker edge and there’s something about these genre movies that if you go too far into the psychological realism of the character and the universe that you are telling a story in, then you just lose the fun of it all. Then if you go too fun, and it becomes ungrounded then it just feels like your making fun it and spoofing these characters. It’s a fine line that I’ve found some really brilliant guys have managed to walk, like Ian McKellan as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings. You know he’s acting the hell out of it, but he hasn’t taken out any of the fun genre elements either. It’s really hard to describe but I think Stranger Things did help me to understand it all.
Now this is something I’ve always been dying to ask. You started on Broadway but also your first screen credit is doing an episode of Law & Order: SVU and any time I talk to someone with Broadway experience they ALSO have these Law & Order credits. I’ve got to know, is it a badge of honour for you guys in the stage community to get this credit because EVERYONE seems to have them?
(Laughs) OH HELL YEAH IT IS!!! (LAUGHS) We actually used to call it “The Dick Wolf Subsidy for the Theatre Arts” because basically you’d be doing an off Broadway play in New York getting paid like $300 a week at the time, and my rent was like $1500 a month; so you just weren’t making rent. Then you’d go out for some Law & Order shoot which if you got they’d pay you something like $8000 or something to play a waiter for two minute or something and then inside to yourself you could just scream ‘OH MY GOD, I’VE JUST PAID MY RENT FOR SIX MONTHS I’M SO HAPPY!!!!’ (Laughs) We just all did them again and again, and the great thing about Law & Order is that you can watch them and it’s a who’s who of actors because everyone has gone through there. It’s such a New York actor thing.
It almost feels like a “I’ve made it” moment if you can have that credit while working in New York…
(Pauses) You know yeah, I think it is. It’s more like one of those things that EVERYBODY does because there’s just SO many characters in that show and the New York community of actors honestly just isn’t that big. It’s funny because the young guys who are in your play and are understudies will complain and worry about not getting that job yet, but those of us who have had it are all smug and just going “Don’t worry man…it’s coming” (Laughs)
Hellboy is in theatres everywhere.