Fran Kranz may not be a household name yet, but he’s a familiar face to fans of Joss Whedon’s beloved short-lived TV series Dollhouse. And, luckily for Kranz, the cult hero writer and director behind Buffy and Angel has made a habit of taking actors under his wing and casting them in multiple projects (see: Nathan Fillion, Eliza Dushku).
Kranz, whose first movie role was a bit part in Donnie Darko, is returning to “Whedonverse” with a starring role in the filmmaker’s topsy-turvy, anything-goes horror flick The Cabin in the Woods, which, after being shelved for more than two years due to distribution problems, could become his breakout role.
Nabbing a role on Dollhouse dropped you into the rabid world of “Whedonverse.” What’s that been like?
I’m so lucky. If I stop and really think about how much Joss has done for me, it’s embarrassing. When I first got the part someone asked me, “Are you ready for Whedon fans?” And I just kinda said, “I dunno, whatever.” [Laughs.] And sure enough, they were rating the cast online and I was consistently at the bottom. I remember there was an IMDB post saying I was the most annoying person in the world. But my character, Topher, had such a wonderful arc that people came around to him. So then I had people saying, “I hated you at first but now you’re my favorite character on the show.” That’s definitely indicative of Joss’ work.
Why did your Cabin in the Woods character, Marty, appeal to you as an actor?
I’ll be honest, playing a stoner is fun. But Marty really goes on a journey. He’s not your typical slacker-stoner. Reading the script, I couldn’t believe where it went. Even though he’s stoned, he’s suspicious of what’s going on and he’s the first to put his finger on the reality of the situation. He’s kinda like Shaggy meets Scooby. I knew immediately he could be an audience favorite, and the journey he makes shows some versatility for me as an actor. I’ve played a slacker before, but Marty’s in a league of his own.
I’ve heard you got into character by smoking various substances. Care to elaborate?
We have to kill those rumors about me smoking real pot on the set. I take my job very seriously. I’m always sober on set. But I had to smoke a lot of fake pot. In the rehearsal process everyone had various jobs to do to rehearse for the film. Chris Hemsworth learned how to ride a motorcycle; Kristen Connolly and Jesse Williams did scuba diving training; and I went to pot school. I literally spent hours a day rolling joints, smoking various pipes and bongs. I was jealous of Chris [learning to ride a motorcycle], that’s what you really want to be doing. Now that guy can do everything. He’s like running around on horseback wielding hammers and stuff in Thor.
Cabin was shot back in 2009, before Chris even landed the role of Thor. While working with him were you like, “This guy’s going places”?
I swear to God, early on I was telling everyone, “This guy’s a movie star.” He’s a natural at this stuff, he’s gorgeous and he gets it. I have the biggest man-crush on him. It was love at first sight. When he was talking about auditioning for Thor, we were all like, “That’s perfect!” I think Joss even called [Thor director] Kenneth Branagh asking, “What are you waiting for?” Then one day we were all having lunch, and Chris got up from the table and when he came back he was a movie star. [Laughs.] He got the phone call and that was it.
You also star in Joss’ upcoming adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. What can we expect from that?
It was all done at Joss’ house in 11 days. It was such an organic process that I didn’t realize we were making a movie till halfway through shooting. I know that sounds bizarre, but Joss has people over all the time to sit around, drink wine and read Shakespeare in his backyard. So I got an email saying, “I’m doing another reading, but I want to film this one. I want you to play Claudio as a temperamental jock.” He talked about releasing it on the Internet, like Dr. Horrible. Then on the last day of shooting, he mentioned festivals like Toronto and Venice. Now everyone is expecting “The Joss Whedon film, Much Ado About Nothing.” I can’t imagine what the budget was, but there’s no way it was over half a million. But I’m not about to say it’s a home video, even though that literally is sort of what it is. I have high hopes, but you never know, you know? [Laughs.]
Have you talked to him about working on anything else together?
No. I did tell him, though, that I wanted to be killed by Thor in [his upcoming film] The Avengers. I just wanted to be a random bad guy who gets a hammer to the face, but he didn’t come through. I imagine there might be a second Avengers, and if he’s at the helm I’m really gonna be persistent. I don’t need to be paid, I don’t need credit, I’ll bring my own lunch to set. It’s more for me to say, “I was killed by Chris Hemsworth!” Joss is well aware of the sort of love affair Chris and I have, so I’m confident it’ll work out.
You’re currently appearing in Death of a Salesman on Broadway alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman. How does live theater compare to film and TV?
It’s my first time on Broadway, and it’s such a big deal for me and in so many ways overwhelming, but it’s also given me a lot of confidence and been very comfortable. Each day is amazing and perplexing and inspiring and humbling. In film and TV, you have several shots to get it right and everyone’s there to make sure you get it right. In theater you can’t be afraid of getting on stage and [potentially] making a fool of yourself. I feel like that will help me return to the film and TV process with a greater amount of relaxation.