Having played Frankenstein’s Monster opposite Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale in Universal Studios’ Van Helsing, actor Shuler Hensley is no stranger to the horror genre. Some of his other titles include Stephen Sommers’ Odd Thomas, After.Life starring Liam Neeson and Netflix’s The OA. The Tony winner’s most recent role in Gravitas Ventures’ Cruiser, has proven to be his darkest yet. He plays a mysterious hulking figure who steals a police officer’s uniform and cop car to begin a night of carnage with anyone that crosses him. In the below exclusive interview, we spoke with Shuler about everything from having his own Van Helsing action figure to playing Mr. Winchell in The OA and the lead in Cruiser. Read the full Q&A here..
-How did you initially become involved with Cruiser?
My brother, Sam Hensley, Jr., conceived the story and wrote the screenplay. For a long time, Sam and I had wanted to do a project together, so he showed me the script and said he had written it with me in mind. He naturally felt that a homicidal maniac was a perfect role for me, and I couldn’t disagree.
-You play a pretty deranged killer in Cruiser. What did you do to get into character? What would you do to decompress each day after filming?
Even with dark characters like Cruiser, I always try to find a way to relate to them. Psychopaths usually don’t think they’re wrong; they’re convinced everyone else is wrong. The script actually helped make Cruiser accessible for me that way. Fortunately, Cruiser was a very short shoot, maybe 16 days, so it was fairly easy to stay close to the character the whole time. If the shoot had been longer, it probably would have been too much to regroup each day. This was an example of when a low budget can actually benefit a project.
-Do you have a favorite scene from the film?
I loved the isolated scenes in the police car. Just Cruiser and his victim. Tara’s desperate conversations with me, then the quiet, foreboding calm. There’s nothing scarier to me in a horror movie than the moments when audience can actually relate to what’s happening on screen. We can all imagine ourselves winding up in a situation like that, even with an apparent psychopath.
-What’s interesting about the character you play, is you are a crazed lunatic, yet you sing a lot in the film. Was this written into the script before you got the part? Or after you got the part, the writer added this because you are a very talented Tony winner?
I am a trained opera singer, so we knew very early on in the process that this could be an interesting element to add to the character. It’s an unsettling, unexpected talent that Cruiser possesses. I drew on my knowledge of classical vocal pieces to select the songs Cruiser sings, many of which make subtle references to what Cruiser is doing.
-You famously played Frankenstein’s Monster in Universal Studios’ Van Helsing opposite Hugh Jackman. How long did it take to get transformed into this character each day?
Van Helsing makeup for me took about 7 hours in the chair each day. But, as an actor, it was an amazing experience to watch myself disappear and have Frankenstein’s Monster slowly come to life on my own face. A great way to get into character!
-Can you tell us something that happened behind the scenes on Van Helsing, that fans might not be aware of?
It was a very family friendly set. Almost everyone involved had young children at the time. My daughter, Skyler, was 2 or 3 while we were shooting. I used to sing to her and dance with her while I was in makeup wearing the leg extensions to give Frankenstein’s Monster his imposing height. I think she believed that I actually shrank every day from 7’ 5” to 6’ 3”. She ended up preferring “Daddy Monster” to the real me.
-You also played Frankenstein’s Monster in the Van Helsing video game. What did that entail? Pretty cool to say you voiced a character in a video game.
Yes, it was! All of the merchandising for the movie was amazing. Voicing my character in a video game was a career highlight, as was having my own action figure! Little known fact: I also performed the motion capture acting for Mr. Hyde in Van Helsing. I got to swing around on gym equipment and wear a special suit that recorded all of my movements in real time. So, I actually had two opportunities to kick Hugh Jackman’s ass!
-You also played Mr. Winchell in Netflix’s fantasy drama The OA. Do you have a favorite memory from that set?
The OA was such an otherworldly experience. The story was kept away from the actors, so we did not know what was really happening and would react in a very realistic and organic way to events in the show. We had a great cast, great writing, and I loved filming in an empty Costco and 3:00 a.m.!
-Are you personally a fan of horror films? If so, what are some of your favorites?
I love horror films, especially those that wait to reveal the “monster,” whatever or whoever that may be. Something or someone just off screen, that we can’t see at all. Those are the scariest moments for me. The Blair Witch Project is a great example of this in a film that utilizes the found footage concept as we do in Cruiser. Same thing with Paranormal Activity. The skinny-dipping scene at the beginning of Jaws terrifies the audience with a monster we don’t actually see until well into the movie. Children of the Corn and Bird Box are two other horror movies that I have really enjoyed.
-Do you have a favorite role you’ve played so far?
As a working actor, I try to stay creative and excited about projects to come. So, as I like to say, my favorite role is always the next one!
Cruiser is now available on iTunes, https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/cruiser/id1529555116.