The Van Helsing Interviews: Will Kemp

The Van Helsing Interviews: Will Kemp sits down with the Wolf Man.
Updated: 03-24-2004

Will Kemp: Velkan/The Wolf Man

Q: Can you tell me a little something about your character, Velkan, aka the Wolf Man?

KEMP: I can indeed. He is the prince of gypsies. He belongs to the Valerius Family. He's Anna's brother. And, as you may know, the family is sworn to vanquish Dracula. Unless they vanquish Dracula, they cannot enter the gates of Heaven. He's quite a hothead. He's quite proud. He's very active and in this particular project, and when they're trying to trap one of the wolves something goes horribly wrong.

Q: Was that what you liked about the role when you read the script?

KEMP: Yes, definitely. The fact that I get to play two out of three characters, if that makes sense. The fact that I get to transform from this young prince into the werewolf. The majority of the werewolf is CGI so I only get to play half of it – that's the way you've got to look at it but playing the prince and playing that sort of gray area, sort of half human, half creature.

Q: There's more of a character arc though, isn't there?

KEMP: Exactly. That particular part is incredibly important in what actually happens, and why the whole thing takes place.

Q: Is he already a werewolf when we meet the character?

KEMP: No. What great is that in this picture you actually get a glimpse of him as the prince. As this hotheaded, young man. And in fact, it's hopefully unclear for a lot of the picture what actually has happened. So I'm hoping – I'm probably ruining it – that it is slightly sort of a surprise. The audience won't quite know what's happened.

Q: Does his family know?

KEMP: I think that the audience will discover it at the same time his sister discovers it, which is great, I think. You get that kind of impact.

Q: What about the physicality of the role? Did you do any wire stunts?

KEMP: Yeah, it was great fun. I was working quite closely with a great stunt team with wires and I was hanging from trees for hours, swinging from vines and flailing around and getting bruised, getting smashed up a little bit. It was really fun. We pretty much covered the whole of the transformation bits, which is lucky because I'm pretty exhausted.

Q: How was that done?

KEMP: They basically let me have a lot of freedom, let me sort of interpret it. I was actually up at the ILM studio at the ranch, and it was fascinating. These guys have been working for a year and a half. The artwork is to die for. It's incredible. And it's clever how they basically get me – they scanned me. I had to wear these little hats and things, and stand like this, then I'm literally in a computer like this. They can move me, turn me, blow me up, shrink me, make me do this fascinating stuff. So I think that generally, the transformation will happen with the wizards at ILM studios.

But the part that I'm doing, I'm trying to get them to hold off on that as much and possible and let me try to change as much as I can by just totally using the odd bit of research into my character by just totally believing that you're going to change into this creature.

Q: Has ILM done any motion capture?

KEMP: They haven't, yet. No. There's a lot we don’t know about yet. As an actor, they tell me what to do and I do it.

Q: Did you study any previous werewolf movies, like An American Werewolf in London?

KEMP: Yeah. Very early on, when I knew that I was reading for this role, yeah I watched all the old classics as well. A lot of my background is physical, so I tried to bring that in rather than being in makeup sort of howling at the moon. I wanted to make it as big and as painful-looking as possible.

Q: Do you have a favorite movie in this genre?

KEMP: I have to admit, the classics are my favorite. A lot of the time they are just hilarious. I like the Lon Chaney one; he made me smile a lot because he'd suddenly change into an animal and then straight back into a clothed man.

Q: What your background as an actor?

KEMP: My background is somewhat unusual, as I trained to be a ballet dancer. I worked in the theatre for eight or nine years as a contemporary dancer. But as an actor one does read Shakespeare and does try to learn the classics.

Q: What do you bring to the role as a dancer?

KEMP: I have to be honest. I suppose that was partly why I was cast. Because I was able to take on this change very physically rather than just as an actor. A regular actor might possibly not have known, or had the awareness of, how you can blow yourself up and change and pump up and get veins and a regular actor probably wouldn't want to do that.

Q: Is that what you did in your audition?

KEMP: Yes, they actually showed me the tape a couple of weeks ago, my agent did. And yeah, I definitely took some risks. Definitely said, 'Well this is what I would do if I was to change this is how I would do it.' That's what's great about this project. It's a big project and there's a lot of risk because I have to trust people on the other side of the camera that it's not too much and will work. The fact that you're only playing a half a character is real hard, because you don't know what the CGI – well, really, I had this trip where I drove up there and looked at it but it's not quite complete. They're going to have to do each hair, it'll take then a year, so for me it helps, but you never know. It's really quite hard to only play half a character. So as an actor there's a lot of risk but then if you can't risk anything, you don't learn anything.

Q: Is this your first big film?

KEMP: It's my second, actually, but I think this is gonna be pretty big, right? The first one was Mindhunters, with Val Kilmer, which is out in January 2004 I believe. I play another werewolf! No, I don't play a werewolf (laughs).

Q: Were you allowed any collaboration with the CGI artists?

KEMP: Yeah. I was able to look at the artwork which they had taken from the tape that I had done as the audition and they had drawn some particular shapes that I would then try to use when I also transformed, which apparently works really well for them and they were pleased with it. You just hope that it'll work.

Q: Odd they'd hire a dancer for the animal movement of a werewolf , then use computer animation for the actual werewolf.

KEMP: Yeah, well, exactly. But I think the lines of this are going to be very blurred and I think that I'm working with their artwork, they're working with what I commit to camera and so hopefully at the end it will be pretty amazing.

Q: Do you do any fighting as a human being in the movie?

KEMP: A little bit. There is one fun action sequence as Velkan which is where we try to trap this werewolf in the first part of the movie. Wires, flips, and climbing from tree to tree. It was very fun. It reminds me of when I was a child – you get to be a little kid and get paid for it.

Q: I heard some jokes today about Hugh Jackman's hair extensions. Is that your real hair?

KEMP: It's not, actually. It's his fault that I look like this! I don't even know which part is mine.

Q: I noticed you have facial hair, which is usually discouraged for actors who are going to wear prosthetics, or even having CGI changes done.

KEMP: There was a lot of talk about hair on this film, funnily enough. Um, I think for me, because half of the character is CGI, I myself wanted, for my own little world, to begin sort of cleaner and then slowly grow more hairy during the picture. That's just my own personal change. So it's pretty much like this really towards the end, yeah.

Q: Does he change as a human?

KEMP: Yes, definitely. Although I don't know how much of it you'll actually see. It's pretty snap, snap. There's a lot happening in this picture. There are a lot of other monsters in this movie too. So, it's not just the Wolf Man's tale.

Q: What interaction do you have with the other monsters?

KEMP: That's interesting. Uh, me personally, virtually none. As a CGI character, quite a bit I believe.

Q: Can you talk about working with Kate Beckinsale?

KEMP: Yeah. All the rumors are true about Hugh and Kate. (laughs) Kate probably is the most beautiful actress I have ever seen and worked with, and Hugh is probably the nicest man in Hollywood.

Q: Any stories about working with Kate?

KEMP: Yeah, I have one that I think is quite funny. My first day on set was with Kate and it's a scene which is very intense. It's the first time I actually change. So, I'd never met the crew and I'm already slightly nervous and I've got to meet Kate and I had only spoken to her twice and now I have got to portray her brother in this close relationship. I'm going, 'How am I going to do this? How am I going to do this?' And I went for it. I went mad, I did all the transforming and I'm screaming and yelling, and veins are popping. I smashed into the set, ripped things apart. And then we swing around, and it's on Kate. Kate has her moment, when she looks out and she just cries. She literally was crying, like that. And there's me screaming off camera going mad, giving it all up, and I think she cried to make me look good. I was like, 'Oh, OK. That's how it's done.'

Q: Does the Wolf Man just growl?

KEMP: If he has more lines that I do, I should be pretty pissed off.

Q: Will they be incorporating your actual voice into the CGI Wolf Man?

KEMP: That's a good point. I have had to sort of loop a few things already and scream and you know, stuff, so who knows?

Q: Do you wear prosthetics?

KEMP: None at all. The only thing I've had to wear are their weird, sort of peculiar red dots. [For the CGI artists.]

Q: Did you shoot in Prague?

KEMP: Yeah, Prague is beautiful. Really beautiful, but cold. Really fucking freezing. And there was a lot of snow, which makes it like a another planet. Beautiful. My first shooting day was freezing. At that point, I had to wear practically nothing. The fact that my clothes had been ripped, while changing. Cold. Very, very cold. But we were looked after, so it was fine.

Q: So, you swing from place to place when you're changing?

KEMP: Yeah, there's a sequence which in the woods where I have to wear a harness and I have to flip and sort of grab hold of vines and swing from tree to tree and jump off of a great big trap. This is as Prince Velkan. It's slightly Errol Fynnish which is great fun to do.

Q: Did you ever feel a bit silly, doing all that?

KEMP: I never thought it was silly. I have to admit, it was during this time that I thought, 'You know, I used to do this as a kid. And now they're paying me for it, which is cool.'

Q: Is there humor in the story line?

KEMP: I think if you look at who's involved, who's producing it and the team that are writing it, I think there's always slight tongue-in-cheek.

Q: Anything specific to your character?

KEMP: No, I've actually approached the character as very tragic. Because after what happens, he is then taken under the power of Dracula and is forced to fight against his own family. I think that's pretty sad.

Q: As a man, is he in allegiance with Dracula?

KEMP: I think the minute you've been chomped at, then you have werewolf venom running through your blood and I think you are no longer you. And that was great, this constant struggle with wanting to kill the very man who's almost created you. Created you into the monster. That was great in working with Richard Roxburgh. It was lovely – Wolf Man wants to sort of rip his head off, but he's Dracula. You can't kill Dracula. That sort of toing and froing was so nice to play with the weakness and strengths.

Q: Does he need a full moon or can he turn into a werewolf at any time?

KEMP: No, they've kept it as the legend. It's always the first part of the full moon where the werewolf is a hazard and that's what happens with my character. I've heard said there's four nights where my character probably changes by the end of that. Does that make sense? Jesus, I don't know.

Q: What do you want audiences to think of your character?

KEMP: It's, again, quite hard playing half a character but I hope there's a human element that the audience captures and grasps how tragic it is and at least get the conflict that is happening within him. Also, changing and the fact that actually he loves the people that he is being forced to fight against. I think we all have to fight the werewolf within us somehow.

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Interview by Staci Layne Wilson for Interviews conducted on the set of VAN HELSING in Los Angeles, CA., May 2003.

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The wolf Man kicks ass
03-25-2004 by Zach discuss