Originally created 05/10/04

Ancient monsters get modern makeover in 'Van Helsing'



LOS ANGELES -- Look at them, the creatures of the night! What ghoulish movie stars they make.

Universal's new monster-hunting extravaganza "Van Helsing" adds a glossy modern twist to Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's monster.

A glance at some of the actors who brought the creatures to life:

FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER

Appropriately, actor Shuler Hensley said his misunderstood monster assembled from assorted corpses is a hodgepodge of the various Frankenstein's of the past.

There's a little of the menacing Boris Karloff, some of the intellectual eloquence from author Mary Shelly's original novel (displayed in Kenneth Branagh's movie version with Robert De Niro) and some of the humor from the Peter Boyle in the comedy "Young Frankenstein."

"It's much more than the stiff-armed grunting, walking creature that we're used to," said Hensley, who won a Tony for playing Jud Fry in "Oklahoma!" "We get that he's a big scary monster, but he has other qualities."

This Frankenstein quotes the Bible and also has to hold his body together - when the stitching starts to come loose.

He spent six hours in makeup each day. "I literally sat there and watched my face disappear and this ... THING appear," he said. "It was literally like becoming Frankenstein's monster because I'm being constructed and put together every time for the film."

He also was fitted with a body suit and prosthetic legs attached at his knees that raised the 6-foot-3 actor to 7-foot-2. "It's basically a fiberglass cast that they put your leg in from a pointed position, sort of like wearing high heels. At the bottom is a metallic extension with a robotic foot."

While in his grotesque costume, Shuler blew off steam by singing pop songs to his young daughter and the children of co-stars Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale. "I got to sort of dress up as this giant monster and do Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera songs for the kids," he said. "There's some film footage somewhere out there, I think."

Shuler said it was easy to slip into the role of the famous monster: "I played him probably seven times as a kid every Halloween."

THE WOLF MAN

To play a werewolf, Will Kemp didn't have to wear a fur suit, but he did have wear a lot of little red dots.

The scary transformation into a howling, slobbering beast was done with computer graphics and the specks helped the animators blend his real-life thrashing with animated monster.

"That was the best part of playing the Wolf Man," Kemp said. "I didn't have to sit through hours of makeup."

The a Gap jeans model and ballet dancer said his limberness came in handy when acting out the wolf's full-moon metamorphosis. "I would always approach a character from a very physical place, so I just acted out this whole changing from a young prince to a werewolf, just flailing around and ripping at my clothes," he said.

He continued to menace the other actors as the film rolled, even though he knew his actions would be replaced by the digital monster. "I was very keen very early on to tell them let me use me as much as you can."

Kemp said he's used to playing non-human characters.

"I played animals a lot," he said. "I played the swan in 'Swan Lake,' and Ratty in 'The Wind in the Willows,' so it's something I do rather well. I have a penchant for playing animals."

DRACULA

Richard Roxburgh's vampire count is really just a put-upon family man with marital problems and trouble providing for his children.

He has three wives, thousands of gargoyle-like children waiting to hatch from gross pods, and a vampire hunter on his tale - so he literally is driven up the wall until he's walking upside down on the ceiling.

"I wanted to have some fun," said Roxburgh, who played the sniveling, villainous Duke in "Moulin Rouge!" "I wanted to kind of give him a human dimension. There was no place for single-collared, evil creeping menace."

Roxburgh said the immortal Dracula "had a sense of the theater of his existence, a profound sense of the irony of his sad life."

In a way, he was like a frustrated prima donna.

"I did see him as a frustrated person who had a kind of death-wish in a way," Roxburgh said. "He had a longing for it all to be over."

His Dracula is a guy who can't understand why the world won't let him be just a little bit evil.

"He has three beautiful wives, but in perpetuity - and they are very temperamental girls. He's trying to provide for his family. He doesn't kill more than he needs to, and there is a sense of fun in that put-upon thing."

The character's look, with requisite pale face and fangs, but long black hair that tends to fall into his eyes and a taste for fine clothing and jewelry was not based on any one person, he said.

"When I first got the (concept) drawings, it did look a lot like Billy Idol," Roxburgh said. "So I was quite keen to change that quite quickly. I wanted to create a gypsy, really. A roaming tribal leader - but somehow that managed to meld and join with the slight flavor of a rock star."