Sometimes your life takes a curious turn. In the case of the 28-year-old actor Fran Kranz, a graduate of the prestigious Yale program and a Shakespearean veteran, he might end up being best remembered for his role as a "stoner fool." On Friday, his newest film, the Joss Whedon project, The Cabin in the Woods, opened to much fanfare and (well-deserved) hype. In it, Kranz plays Marty, a weed-enhanced co-ed who goes with some of his friends to the titular cabin for a weekend of fun, booze and sex, only to find a strangely manipulated situation that leaves him and his friends at the mercy of a gang of undead mutant zombies. Whedon, who co-wrote the script with director Drew Goddard, has created a new meta kind of horror film, both thrilling and hilarious, that stakes Kranz at the epicenter as the comic relief. Kranz spoke to us about working with Whedon, Marty's one-of-a-kind collapsible travel mug bong, and why it is that fools and virgins are the only ones who ever have a chance of survival in slasher films.
So apparently you’re a big foodie. How are you liking your stay in Philly so far?
Yeah, Philly is amazing. We got Paesano’s on the way. I went to Parc last night, Village Whiskey. In general I love Rouge, Tequila's, and all the Stephen Starr restaurants. I love Pod. Back when my friends and I were in college, we’d take shots of Saki and hit the light thing and change the lighting in our Pod. We thought that was awesome. I think this is a great food town. Well, I think this is a great city in general.
I have some quick-hitter questions for you, if you're ready. First, can you describe The Cabin in the Woods in one sentence?
Five kids go to a cabin in the woods for a weekend, and bad things happen to a lot of people.
Favorite horror film?
Jaws. Scares the crap out of me. I can’t get in a bathtub without thinking about sharks.
Which is your favorite version of Donnie Darko?The one where I get more lines. In the first one I say “Frank, man, you fucking killed her. What’d you do?” In the directors cut all I say is “Frank." Sorry, Richard. I love Richard Kelly, but I’m going to go with the original.
Who is the Shakespearean character you most closely identify with?
Hotspur [from Henry IV, Part 1]. That’s one of my favorite roles I’ve ever played. Dying as Hotspur was the most painful thing in the world. It just crushed me. I never thought so when I did it in college and I wanted to play Hal, obviously. It seems like the flashier role. And the director was like no really read Hotspur and think about it. It ended up being one of my favorite characters of all time. He breaks my heart just thinking about him. He’s a bad ass. He is temperamental, but he loves his wife. He’s an amazing character. He has had his problems, and so have I.
One sentence to describe working with Joss Whedon?
He brings out the best in me.
Okay, now we get to the longer questions. There are lots of funny parts in the movie, but you are definitely the comic foil in the film, which feels like a lot of pressure in a way. Does that factor at all in your approach to the film?
Good question. Marty is that kind of fifth wheel, the stoner guy, the guy that you expect to die pretty quickly -- top two deaths maybe 3rd if he is lucky. So in that sense that allowed me to go further with the comedy and make bigger choices. I saw him as the wild card, so I could be a little more cartoonish and over-the-top and sort of play into that "Shaggy" cartoon of it. I think I embraced that, which gave me allowance to be bigger. But, in general, to play being stoned and intoxicated is always fun because it gives you a little more freedom. You get to make choices that are a little sillier and you can have fun. I got to improvise and adlib and do things that people just wouldn’t do.
Still, you believe in the character. He starts out the fool, but later on, he becomes a lot more grounded.
He can be a guy you are rooting for. And I tried to you know have moments of that. He is suspicious of what's going on. He's the first to start seeing that things aren’t really what they appear to be. Something is not right. He is kinda of shaggy meets Scooby in that way. I think in that sense I do believe that the audience cares about him early. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I did a good job in playing both those elements of it: Have fun, be silly, be the guy that gets killed first, but also be a guy we love. It's tough to see him go. I took it seriously. I don’t know if it necessarily was difficult because I think the script was so well written my job was pretty easy in a way. It is in the writing that he navigates that line of both being likeable and real but also very funny.
Since you worked with Whedon before, on "Dollhouse," you have to have a good sense of how he operates on set. Is he loose and open to new ideas, or really set on the piece as written?
Well, first of all, Drew Goddard directed it, but Josh was on set everyday. Josh is very hands-on but Drew was our director and Josh was very respectful of that. They co-wrote it, so they obviously shared ideas but when it came to filming on set Drew was the guy. And he was the guy I went to because his passion for the movie was just so contagious. I’m a horror film fan and we kind of geeked out together before I even had the part, but honestly, the script was so well written that we didn’t do a lot of improvising. I was the only actor really that was encouraged to do that. Again, I think that was because Marty was the stoner, the slacker, the firth wheel, the comic relief so we did do a lot of just kind of let the camera roll on me. I had a lot of freedom, more action and silly stuff with the bong, smoking weed, they would just let me play. They were very good to me in that sense.
Since you mention the bong…
I swear to God I heard it cost $5000 dollars. It’s a prototype, which must be why it cost so much. It was a working stainless steel coffee thermal bong. It extended four feet; the handle was the stem and bowl, a pretty ingenious little contraption. I would think there has been one out there before but haven’t seen it. I’ve seen all kinds of paraphernalia but I’ve never seen one that epically works and then you could actually drink coffee out of. It’s two birds with one stone. It’s a very useful product. I wish I kept it, but I’m sure because it costs so much money and they worry about reshoots especially because we travel from studio to studio you gotta wonder where that bong is right now. The prop designer was brilliant. He was a really wonderful guy, and he would carry that thing around like it was his baby. He was really proud of it and also just very concerned about it because we only had the one.
So, why do virgins and fools survive these kinds of episodes?
I think that we like to look at virgins. So maybe we want to keep them around as long as possible. The fools are fun. So I do think between those two they are the more appealing or intriguing characters. But I don’t know.