Exclusive Interview: Underworld Awakening Directors Mans Marlind & Bjorn Stein


At the end of Underworld Evolution, the film’s principal ass-kicker, Selene (as played by Kate Beckinsale), spoke of uncertain futures and new beginnings.  Changes in the Underworld universe had occurred and fans were eager to see what those changes yielded.  Unfortunately, when that film came out in 2006, audiences didn’t know they were going to have to wait six years to see the continuing adventures of Selene.  (In 2009, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans was released but presented a prequel story.)

Underworld Awakening‘s release is almost upon us, however, bringing with it Kate Beckinsale, a slew of new characters and more vampires versus Lycan mayhem.  And orchestrating it all this time is a pair of directors hailing from Sweden.  

Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein made their feature debut with 2005’s Storm.  They followed that with the thriller Shelter, still unreleased in the U.S. and starring Julianne Moore and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.  Underworld Awakening (opening January 20) is their biggest feat yet and Shock recently spoke with them about the experience and about their desire to make this the most kinetic, monster-filled Underworld entry yet.

The cat is out of the bag in this film, the “underworld” seems to be non-existent this time, seeing as the humans now know of this underground movement of vampires and Lycans.  So, how does this film stay true to the universe and what we’ve come to expect?
Mans Marlind:  We’re trying to keep it Underworld in tone.  Once we started working on it, it was like you didn’t want to stray too far from all of that because then it will just become another movie.  You want to have the Underworld feel.  Yes, the story picks up 12 years [after Evolution], but that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be this futuristic thing, it’s just 12 years later and now you have the humans involved in this comic book world.  We were always pushing ourselves to not do something you’ve seen before in the previous films.  We have daylight scenes, which is difficult because there haven’t really been any before.  How do we treat daylight?  Stuff like that is fun to do.
Bjorn Stein:  One of the things we felt we could change was the locations and change some other elements, but the tone has to be the same.  The tone of Underworld is that it takes itself kind of seriously.  You’ve got betrayal and other themes…Selene is being hunted.  The first script we read had a lot of stuff we liked but the tone was totally off.  There was a bit of humor in it and Underworld shouldn’t have that.  The seriousness of it works because there’s so much cool shit in it like the gizmos, the weaponry and the fight sequences.  All of that makes it impressive.
That said, are we going to get some new weaponry and new creatures in this installment?
Marlind:  Say you have a favorite band and there’s a new album coming out.  You want it to sound the same, because you like them, but if they sound too much the same, you’ll think they’re boring.  It’s the same thing here.  We still want people to recognize what they like, because they came to see an Underworld movie, but here we’ve got Kate back.  Kate is Underworld.  That was one of the things we felt was important, so everything else we could play around with.  We changed the classical gothic style, the Eastern European feel, to something neo-gothic because we have the element of “man” involved this time.   We put many more creatures in here; we needed to show a different kind of Lycans.  One of the things we worked the hardest on is delivering hard-hitting action.  We wanted to start tough and keep pounding away until the end of the first reel, which is 13 minutes later.  I think we f**kin’ pulled it off.
During development, was Michael (Scott Speedman) in the fold of the story or was he always absent?
Stein:  Yes, there’s a mystery and we read about it on the Internet all of the time and we’re very happy.  [laughs]  And it will remain a mystery.  
Marlind:  There are a couple of things in this film where we felt, Well, maybe we should explain this shot or maybe we should explain that shot…  Nah, let’s leave it at that!  Let’s see what the fans pick up on and what mystery it creates.  We did a small film called Storm and it was so cool to hear everyone’s take on what certain things meant to them that you never thought yourself.  So, mystery is good.
On a production-scale, this is the biggest thing you two have tackled, yes?
Marlind:  Totally.  We had never done action in this way.  When we came aboard we said we had to push ourselves.  How intense could we make it?  I think it’s more intense in action than the other films and it was a challenge for us.  We had our stunt coordinator working with us a lot to work out the action and especially in 3D.  We shot this in 3D.  A lot of the tools we were used to were not there, we had to get use to new tools.
Who did you work with FX-wise this time around?
Stein:  Patrick Tatopoulos, who was the production designer on the first two Underworld films and directed the third, helped us find the creatures.  We told him what we wanted with the new creatures.  Then he did his wonderful designs and Steve Wang came in and did some maquettes which are to die for.  I want to break into Lakeshore and steal them.  More so than an Academy Award.  Those maquettes were created and we sent them to different post-production houses for cyber scanning.  But we’re using both men in suits and CG.  We have one werewolf that is really, really, really big that we could not have pulled off with a suit.  That will be all CG.  I remember seeing a Lycan in the flesh when we were on set and it was incredible, like a kid meeting his favorite screen monster for the first time.  It’s standing in front of me, I can touch it.  Talk to it.  [laughs]  Todd Masters did a great job on this and his team did a lot of the gore.  We have a lot of that.  Heads being split open and stuff. 
Well, not only do you have flesh and blood creatures on set to play with, but you’ve got Kate to direct.  That’s good times right there.
Marlind & Stein: [laughs]
She obviously has a love for this character to keep coming back…
Marlind:  It is special for Kate for many reasons.  She met her husband while shooting the first film.  She’s close to Selene, but you can see the differences between the two.  Kate is really funny and has the mouth of a Russian sailor.  And then you’re like, Okay, Kate, we gotta go, and she turns into this bad-ass.  She gets so much aggression out there.
How close was Len to the actual production this time around?
Stein:  He was close and distant.  We honed the script together to get it in a place we were happy with.  And he was always a text or phone call away, but he had to do Total Recall.  But in the back of our mind we were like, Oh shit, what is he going to think of what we’re doing?  Is Kate going to call him and say we suck?  There was a moment where it was like, Is this going to be strange?  But it became very natural and we got along great.
Does this film kick off a new trilogy?
Stein:  It’s the beginning of something new.  I’ll say that our ending, it totally leaves the door open for a future.
Do you have your next project lined up?
Marlind:  We’re looking at everything from small projects, to big projects and comic book properties.  There are a few things we’re looking at.

Be sure to visit EntertheUnderworld.com for more on the series!