Underworld: Blood Wars – What We Learned on the Set
Underworld: Blood Wars will hit theaters on January 6, 2017 and late last year, we got a chance to visit the set in Prague in the Czech Republic. Here’s the official info on what’s next for the franchise: “The next installment in the blockbuster franchise, Underworld: Blood Wars follows Vampire death dealer, Selene (Kate Beckinsale) as she fends off brutal attacks from both the Lycan clan and the Vampire faction that betrayed her. With her only allies, David (Theo James) and his father Thomas (Charles Dance), she must stop the eternal war between Lycans and Vampires, even if it means she has to make the ultimate sacrifice.” We spoke to some of the cast, and director Anna Foerster about the film, the story and the brand new characters we’re going to meet on both the Lycan and Vampire side of the war.
Foerster talked about finding a balance between fan expectations in a long-running franchise and giving the film a fresh voice. She said, “I think you have the possibility to create new rules within this universe of ‘Underworld,’ and it was pretty clear for me in the beginning when I spoke with all the producers involved, kind of comparing the movies, the fourth one and the first one, and we discussed what I liked and what I didn’t like… it became clear pretty quick that they were very open and excited about getting a relatively strong vision to kind of build on what ‘Underworld’ is, and that got me really excited. I think that has been, for me, the most thrilling and exhilarating part of this adventure here is different casts, different locations. By locations, I do not mean physically locations but the journey our characters take.”
We’re heading to the north and meeting the Nordic coven of vampires and some brand-new Lycan with very different philosophies on life than the ones we’ve seen before. On the Lycan side, the big difference is that they can control their transformations. Foerster added, “Every time they [the Lycans we know] transform, they become those animals in a way, and they don’t think clearly, they can’t hold weapons, they are becoming instinctive killing machines. So what if the mantra of the new leader is ‘don’t change, stay as clever as long as possible. If and only change if you have to,’ and that’s creating an interesting thing. Instead of people just turning all over the place into Lycans, you have the people. The Lycans that are having their own strict set of rules now, which to me, all those things were exciting and everyone was open to that.”
The Nordic Vampires have a different take on life; they have sworn off of fighting. They also have some new powers. Foerster explained, “They have the possibility to appear and disappear, but in a different way than Selene, for example. She has this speed move – she can be very quick. These people, specifically Lena (Clementine Nicholson), who is the person we will follow, has the possibility to almost transcend to one place to another. It’s not just a speed move. She can almost be in two places at the same time… these people are actually – in a weird way they are almost monks. They have said no to fighting. That’s why they went up north, and they are all very skilled warriors, but their armory is basically rusted old arms from hundreds of years ago. The interesting thing for them when they are forced to engage in battle, they are forced to fight with the weapons they’ve laid down hundreds of years ago, and that’s kind of becoming an interesting contact, because there you have people with machine guns and some people are highly skilled, but they are with shields and swords.”
Though we didn’t get to speak to Beckinsale on set, we spoke to her via a conference call. She told us, “It feels like a very different universe and world this time.” She joked about having cried wolf too many times about not doing another one, and told us that she couldn’t say no to another one. “I think I envisioned it coming to an end after the first one. I never really planned on doing four movies playing the same character. And it’s an amazing privilege, because there’s not that many girls that get the opportunity to be in a long-running franchise, especially an original story.”
We’re meeting a slew of new characters here, and one of them is the vampire Semira, played by Lara Pulver. Pulver told us that Semira is the villain of the film. “[Semira’s] on a very small, elite council that runs these covens which [are] under threat from the Lycans. Semira has a slight issue with Selene, being that she was the person who killed Viktor (Bill Nighy) in the previous movie, and had a lot of love and respect for Viktor, so there’s revenge that she feels might be necessary.” Pulver explained that Semira has no moral compass and a lot of weapons. “There’s a revenge element to that, but I think when you feel like you’ve been abandoned for someone else, you know Viktor has chosen Selene over Semira, and then she has killed the man I admired and respected, it’s almost like morally she feels like she’s doing the right thing.”
Bradley James plays another new vampire. “Varga’s the guy who cheats at poker, then gives the winnings to an orphanage down the street. That’s Varga. Mixed bag of morals,” James said. We got to see one of the sets, where Varga appears. It was a huge room in the Nordic coven, with weapons cases lining the wall, and a giant metal cage in the middle, which you can see in the trailers. James told us that Varga created it. When we mentioned that it seemed strange that vampires would be using weapons, James laughed, “For a large gathering of vampires, very few of them seem to use their teeth. Varga doesn’t either. It seems to be a lot of guns, which is the unorthodox approach that the ‘Underworld’ series seems to bring to being a vampire. And those guns sometimes shoot fancy bullets, especially for whatever target you’re aiming at, and yeah, so it’s a variety of gun work which has been fun, but maybe worrying because it’s been fun. I’ve been enjoying blasting off a few rounds.”
Another villain is the Lycan Marius, played by Tobias Menzies, who previously worked with Foerster on the Starz series Outlander. Menzies explained that Marius is the leader of the Lycans, saying, “The back story to him is that he was the kid of Michael (Scott Speedman), who is the father of Selene’s child, and the idea is that he’s a more-efficient, more-impressive foe for the vampires than maybe they’ve had to date. He’s out galvanizing this group of slaves into something a bit more robust and something that is actually out to threaten the status quo.”
Menzies told us that he studied animals at the zoo to get the physicality of his character, and said there are layers to Marius. “On the face of it, he is just sort of the main villain, but we have tried to tease some stuff in around the issues of blood, because throughout the film he is hunting Celine’s child, who is a hybrid child, and he is appearing to try to get ahold of her to get her blood. We tried to sort of fold into that a little more about why that is and make him that he is dependent, almost sort of a drug addict on this blood, for his survival. I suppose I just try to make it a story about an underclass seeking for equality, which I suppose we can all relate to, and feels in its own way relevant to some of the stuff we are seeing around Europe. So (there’s an) attempt to kind of fight from a position of subjugation, but that is what it was in essence. In between quite a lot of punching and shooting, I’m trying to give him a bit of sympatheticness.”
Foerster talked about the balance of CGI and practical effects in the film for the Lycans. “For Marius, Tobias when he transforms there’s a stage of let’s say warrior arousal when he just gets teeth and eyes, that’s the typical stuff we have seen before just for him. It’s a little bit different. He has those yellow eyes and different looks to him, but when general wolves are transformed all the way, they are the typical Lycan you have seen in the movies. We have suits which we are using for close-up work like foreground stuff – like people being wrestled out of frame and actual human contact with them. For wider shots or with more Lycans, or Lycans on all fours running up a cliff or something, that would be CG. Lycans then, specifically for Marius when he transforms, I think there’s a little surprise because he’s not the Lycan you have seen before. There’s a new design for him and a new idea on why he looks the way he does.”
We got to watch a complicated fight scene between Marius and Selene, which is later on in the storyline in the vampire stronghold. Marius says to Selene during the scene, “I thought I’d killed you already.” Menzies told us, “That gives you an idea that they’ve already had an encounter, which bloody Marius thought was final. But she lives to fight another day and wreak her revenge… throughout the film, in a way, I’ve been hunting Selene and she’s been running from me. So this is the culmination of that journey.”
Who will win the battle between the Vampires and the Lycans? We’ll find out on January 6, 2017. Are you excited for the film? Let us know in the comments.