May 15 2012

ACTING STANDARDS: Fran Kranz Shares Notes from Hollywood Legends

Top: Fran Kranz stars in Cabin in the Woods Bottom: Taking a bow on the far left with the cast of Death of a Salesman. starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield

As Fran Kranz (star of the meta horror romp Cabin in the Woods, also Bernard in the Mike Nichol's directed Death of a Salesman) casually ate his pre-show cobb salad at The Standard, East Village last Friday, it was hard to believe he was about to go head-to-head with Philip Seymour Hoffman, the finest actor of a generation in what may well be the finest performance of, well, you get the idea, it's big. Fran – who's had his fair share of hijinks at The Standards – filled us in on horror pictures and what it's like working with bona fide living legends.

Fran, trying not to be one such young person who dies in Cabin in the Woods.

Being a young actor in Hollywood, The Standards must have set the scene for a few interesting evenings

Yeah The Standards have been an endless source of wild and bizarre memories. A highlight definitely being a conversation slash argument with Quentin Tarantino in the old Purple Lounge about this Hong Kong movie, “2046.” We disagreed about this major plot point and before I knew it we were really getting into it, just two guys arguing passionately about a director. It was the kind of thing that happens at a place where if you're there you're among peers no matter where you came from. At The Standard, New York, I've had hundreds of Penny Drops.

Did your Yale education prepare you well for the cutthroat world of showbiz?

Ha. Yale was very competitive. But so was my high school, Harvard Westlake in LA. The bottom line is that the entertainment industry is very competitive and there's an endless amount of talent that I really believe that dedication and a strong work ethic separates the stars from the rest. At a school like Yale everyone is capable, but the students that stand out do so for a reason.

Let’s talk horror. They say that people are actually genetically predisposed to either get a thrill from fear or literally can’t stand it.

Yeah it’s a bizarre thing. What’s weird is the torturing of people – the torture porn and the like – and that’s what Joss and Drew [writer and director] were getting frustrated with I think. Even the old Jason movies – granted it’s a guy killing people off one by one – there was something harmless about those movies. There’s an element of camp. The thrills are cheap and fun and that balance between terrifying and funny Joss and Drew felt had been lost ... Cabin in The Woods has that nostalgic feel to it. And then they introduce this whole other element on top of it, the idea that this whole thing is being controlled and manipulated by some kind of government facility.

You’re giving away too much.

At this point it’s sort of out, but the idea is they’re asking this question about why Hollywood makes these movies and also why do we, as an audience, have this macabre fascination with watching young people die ... I don’t know how Cabin’s been, but fans of the genre see it as a game changer ...

Left: Play write, Arthur Miller, and his wife, Marilyn Monroe whose incredible fame would serve as an ironic footnote to Mr. Miller's play. Right: The legendary Mike Nichols, who Arthur Miller's daughter describes as having "a light touch with a deep burn."

Speaking of game changer, Mike Nichols, your director in “Salesman”, also EGOTer [Has won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony] a legend among legends among legends. How would you describe his directing style?

Rebecca Miller, Arthur Miller's daughter, described his direction as a, "light touch with a deep burn." I couldn't put it better. He tells stories. He doesn't tell us where to stand or how to say things. He just tells stories and we become informed and our performances fill out. Occasionally, you will get something more specific, but it's always light. Like, "a man doesn't want to cry. Actors do." Working with him reminds me of climbing some great Himalayan peak to meet the Buddha and have him tell you a joke. He's a living legend and it feels that way.

Can you tell us anything about Phillip Seymore Hoffman that might surprise us?

He looks at what he does as problem solving. He’s so critical of everything. He has such an amazing analytical mind. And he questions the smallest details. And I joke around that he doesn’t like acting because I watch the guy get so, not frustrated, but consumed with the challenges and questions with the play. Not to say that he’s unhappy. He’s lovely. And when he’s having fun and he’s hilarious and he’s been wonderfully warm to everyone. But it’s consuming. And I don’t see a lot of actors like that, so dedicated. The way Andrew [Garfield] is so dedicated. These are the guys that will rise above the amazing pool of talent.

But with Phil, I mean, I guess it doesn’t surprise me, but he’s just never wrong. You’re wondering where he’s coming from like, what he is talking about period, but eventually you catch up with him and you realize he’s right. And this happens multiple times a day. By the end you see this totally three dimensional realized human being because he’s exhausted every question he’s ever had about the character and that’s what makes his performances so beautiful and painful and shocking because he created a real person. You can’t take your eyes off him. I don’t know how he does it, how he gets himself into it every night. It is really remarkable because the guy kills himself every night. He’s not screwing around.

What do you think it is about the story that’s so timeless?

Everyone mentions the economy thing. People are struggling today and the Lohman’s were struggling then. What sort of gets me though is this notion of being well known and well liked. And now in this crazy celebrity culture and with social media and Facebook, and the idea of a person being a brand. [Arthur] Miller was actually way ahead of his time.

Maybe he learned that from [his wife] Marilyn Monroe.

It’s oddly ironic that he would write a play like this and end up with the biggest super star of that time.

Of any time. Did he write this before they were married?

Yeah he wrote this in ‘47 when he was going to the Communist hearings with her. But the big thing for me is it’s about a family in a state of emergency. And that’s timeless. That’s that painful sort of truth that a parent’s love is never hyperbolic ... There is no such thing as an exaggerated notion of love between parent and child. And it’s heartbreaking, you watch it get perverted and destroyed and become dysfunctional.

What’s next?

I’m doing a “Much a Do About Nothing Movie” with Joss Whedon. I did a little independent movie called “Lust for Love,” which just wrapped. But other than that not sure. I’m going to a wedding in Italy when the show finishes.

Well in that case, grazzie mille!