Fan favorite Fran Kranz stars in a new movie, Murder of a Cat, now available on VOD and in select theaters. Kranz plays Clinton Moisey, a former comic book shop owner driven out of business by the big megastore. He turns gumshoe when he finds his cat shot with an arrow from the store, and teams up with a hairdresser (Nikki Reed) to find the killer.
Kranz is best known from Joss Whedon’s TV series Dollhouse and the movie Cabin in the Woods. He also starred in Whedon’s passion project Much Ado About Nothing. He called me from New York where he is on Broadway to discuss his latest film, Murder of a Cat.
Nuke the Fridge: Was Murder of a Cat a role you auditioned for and fought for, or something that just came as an offer?
Fran Kranz: It came as an offer. I actually met Gillian for a short film that she was making called Fanboy that was actually about a kid who is obsessed with Sam Raimi. That’s what I auditioned for years ago. I met her that way and then became friends with her and Sam. About a year after the short film, she sent me the script for Murder as a Cat and not as a job offer. Just friend to a friend, check out the script, I think it’s really funny. It wasn’t for another year or so before it came my way. I think there were other actors involved and they were trying to get it produced and get it financed. I was never in that conversation until maybe a year after I’d first read it. At that point, then it kind of came my way. I didn’t necessarily have to fight for it but as soon as I read it, I loved it. I thought it was so great and bizarre and just fun. I always wanted it, but luckily I didn’t have to do any dirty work. It just came my way because we were friends and ultimately she believed I was the guy for the part.
Nuke: Are you a fan of the hard boiled detective genre?
Fran Kranz: Not necessarily. I guess I am. I’m not sure who isn’t. I think it’s fun, a good mystery. I like the original setting and approach of it. The writers wanted to make Chinatown in the suburbs, just sort of mixing what would be kind of an incongruous world and creating an original environment for an older, tried and true story I thought was something fun and challenging and unique, something that not just audiences would enjoy, but we would enjoy making because it felt like new territory. I don’t know a lot of movies like Murder of a Cat in tone and story. It’s different.
Fran Kranz: I guess that’s just an added bonus, the Ford Megastore pushing out small businesses, local business. We see that. You see that all over the place, all over the country now. Neighborhoods that are being gentrified. You’ll see that, so I think that’s something everyone can relate to or understand. I think the dying mom and pop shops have a lot of sympathy. I think it’s sort of a time past and creates a nice sense of nostalgia. Then it’s a good way to tap into empathy for the character of Clinton.
Nuke: I must be part of the problem because I order from Amazon.com all the time.
Fran Kranz: Oh, same, same. There’s a good reason for it, right?
Nuke: They make it so accessible and easy.
Fran Kranz: I know. Bezos, I think he’s going to take over the world. I’m sort of an idiot with computers, but I believe you can do your grocery shopping now on Amazon. I think at a certain point, it’s all going to be under one roof. There’s obviously the pros and cons or people have their opinion about it, but it does seem to be the direction this world is headed.
Nuke: I’m fascinated by scenes in movies where people wake up, because I know it may have been shot at five in the afternoon after a series of other scenes. When you do the scene the morning you wake up the morning you discover Mouser, how do you convey that feeling you really just woke up from a good night’s sleep?
Fran Kranz: You know, in general, film shoots can be so tiring. If you’re getting to the set at, say, 6:30 in the morning, you’re getting up in your house at around five. It’s generally dark out. Most of the times I was driving. I live in Venice Beach and we were driving to the end of the 2 freeway, past Pasadena, past Glendale. So I was watching the sun rise as I was getting to work, so any opportunity to shut my eyes and pretend to be asleep I was happy with. That scene in particular, it’s funny you bring that up. There’s sort of a series of moments where I wake up. I wake up from a dream and notice that Mouser’s gone. Then I go back to sleep and I wake up the next morning and that’s when I notice Mouser missing again and go outside to find him dead. I remember in the shooting of that and the editing of that, there was a lot of discussion about these are sort of cliched moments in movies. A character just wakes up from a dream or wakes up to something bad happening. Like you said, we all know the reality in which it was shot. I think sometimes it takes you out of the movie when you see these cliche moments, but especially when they’re done twice in a row. So we had a long discussion about how I should wake up and the different way in which I should wake up and which is waking up from an intense dream and which is just a restful sleep? Believe it or not, that was a moment that was debated over for quite a while. I think in the movie now, I believe we keep both waking moments. Hopefully it’s agreeable to most people.
Nuke: Did you cut your real hair and do all the long haired scenes first?
Fran Kranz: No, that was a wig, unfortunately. We wanted to cut my hair. We wanted to grow it out. I was growing my hair out but the reality is because of other actors’ schedules, we were on a limited budget, limited time, eventually we had to concede that it would just be too hard to shoot it. At one point, we even had fake facial hair which is a whole nother bag of tricks and problematic, especially when you have a tight shooting schedule. We were playing around with all kinds of different hair options and ultimately we decided the wig and a clean shaven look was going to be best for story under the compromise situation we were in. That’s a wig. In fact, there’s a scene where I’m hanging off the roof after I spend the night up on the roof after Mouser’s died and I fall asleep with my head hanging over the side of the roof. When they were looking at the footage, my hair wasn’t obeying the laws of gravity. It was just sticking to my forehead and we thought well, we have to get rid of that. It’s so clearly a wig when it doesn’t move hanging upside down. We actually had two wigs. In the scene where Nikki cuts my hair, that was the other wig that was sacrificed for the haircut.
Nuke: Since Dollhouse ended, have movies been fairly plentiful for you to keep working?
Fran Kranz: I don’t know, I’d have to go look on IMDB but I feel like I’ve done a bunch of movies since. Mostly independents and I’m not even sure how many of them you can see.
Nuke: I’ve seen more than you probably expect. Of course Much Ado and Cabin in the Woods, but I saw Lust for Love also and I interviewed Dichen for it.
Fran Kranz: Thank you. That’s awesome. That’s so nice. I’m lucky. I’m a pretty fortunate actor and seem to stay busy. I’ve been doing a lot of theater in the last two years. I did two plays. I’m currently in a play on Broadway and then I did Death of a Salesman two years ago, and those jobs are six, seven months of the year so it’s a big chunk of your time where you become unavailable for something that a smaller amount of people see. It feels like you’re in the center of the world when you’re on Broadway. The reality is you’re getting, if you’re lucky, 1000 people a night. It really only adds up to a fraction of what people can see on video on demand and on their televisions these days, let alone in theaters. But for the most part, I feel like I’m always working but I maybe know one actor that’s truly satisfied. I think in general, we’re sort of an insatiable breed because we want to be doing great work and we want to do creative and original things. You’d like to think there’s enough to go around but the reality is I think even famous actor friends of mine have their frustrations about what they didn’t get a chance to do or what they felt fell short. I try and keep perspective that I’m lucky to have work, and also I’ve made friends that are also passionate and create opportunities, like Lust for Love. Those are obviously my friends that I made on Dollhouse and we continue to talk to each other about projects, from a video to put on Funny or Die to a feature like Lust for Love. I feel lucky an I have some things that I’m already hearing are doing the festival circuit or looking for distribution coming up so that’s nice.
Nuke: You live in Venice but do you spend most of the year in New York when you’re on Broadway?
Fran Kranz: I bought a place in Venice when I was shooting Dollhouse during the second season. Basically, since then I’ve spent more time in New York than Los Angeles. It’s too bad but I love this city. It’s my second favorite city in the country. L.A.’s my home. I actually grew up in L.A.
Nuke: What show are you in now?
Fran Kranz: I’m still doing You Can’t Take It With You on Broadway. It closes February 22.
Nuke: The second season of Dollhouse was already unexpected so it was maybe sort of a gift. Were you satisfied with the 26 episodes you got to do?
Fran Kranz: I was. People ask a lot, or people express a lot of frustrations about how Dollhouse was cut short or there weren’t full orders for both seasons, even that Epitaph One in season one wasn’t aired on television. There’s a lot of frustration about it. People express that to me a lot but I feel really grateful for what we did get. The process probably needs to be fixed. I think that’s a general sentiment going around now, that pilot season is antiquated, that it needs to be updated and it has to change. There are so many shows that are shot and produced and then never even see the light of day, or a whole handful that get cancelled very quickly or just get one season. I’d say the majority of television shows produced in the last 10 years by network television don’t go anywhere. So for Dollhouse to get two seasons, if it was only 26 episodes, and for it to have the following that it does, and it seems to remain strong. I still get recognized for Dollhouse as if it was something that was currently on the air. In that sense, I feel like it did a really nice job. I feel like shows go on too long in general. Unless they’re episodic sitcom like a Seinfeld or something that can be broad or general and doesn’t have one story or one throughline, I think for the most part those shows go on too long. I prefer shortform storytelling. Something like Breaking Bad is really rare or The Wire but even those shows are five or six seasons and only 10 episodes, so you’re not talking about going over 100 episodes. I think people need to focus more on good, concise, powerful storytelling as opposed to can we get 100 episodes in syndication?
Nuke: Joss is very loyal. Has he not mentioned at least a possible cameo in the Marvel world?
Fran Kranz: [Laughs] I started getting all these questions about am I going to be in the movies or the TV show. Then one day I started hearing rumors that I was going to be on it. I asked Jed and Maurissa who are showrunning Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Hey, what’s going on with this? I hear people think I’m going to play such and such character.” And they told me that I started the rumor. I don’t remember doing that but apparently joking around with fans, or maybe it was on Twitter, I suggested that I was going to be on the show or it was just a phone call away. No, the reality is I don’t although I keep in touch with those guys, I love those guys. I see them fairly often when I’m in L.A. but as for specific plans in the Whedon universe, no.
Nuke: As a theater actor, was doing Much Ado important to you?
Fran Kranz: Oh yeah, absolutely. I’m dying to do Shakespeare on stage. That’s how I fell in love with acting, doing it in high school and college, so I really hope one day I can do Shakespeare on stage anywhere. It was a wonderful opportunity, even though it was difficult because we had very little time, very little rehearsal and I still think about how I could’ve done things better. But I think that’s typical. Like I said, actors are sort of insatiable and I think any good actor will always want another crack at something. I think all actors can relate to the feeling of driving home from work and thinking, “Oh, sh*t, I should’ve done that.” With something like Much Ado, Shakespeare, the best writer of all, there are so many opportunities and so much depth in the dialogue. It’s all so rich that to shoot a Shakespeare movie in two weeks with just a few hours of rehearsal for each actor, what we pulled off is a miracle, all things considered. You’d like to have more time.
Nuke: No regrets about the wedding scene though. I thought that was powerful.
Fran Kranz: Well, thank you. That’s one of the scenes I feel really good about, although I have to say there’s one point. Shakespeare, characters will talk. They’ll have long monologues. This is typical in a lot of theater writing, but there are long periods of time where you are just listening, and Claudio in that scene, obviously the emotions are really high. He’s enraged and I still see moments of me in the background where it’s not my coverage and we’re shooting a 12 hour day of one scene. Personally, I can see moments where I’m letting the ball drop and I’m just standing there. That frustrates me but in general, I’m proud of it.
Nuke: I guess I’m thinking about your dialogue. It occurred to me, why doesn’t Claudio suspect his friends may be full of sh*t? He just believes 100% what they’ve told him.
FX: He’s gullible. I think he’s ultimately well intentioned but simple. He takes things at face value and he believes what he’s told. He’s a great soldier, right? He is good at obeying and taking command. In that sense, I think when he hears this from Don John and Don Pedro doesn’t necessarily say, “Get the hell out of here.” When Don Pedro’s like, “Well, let’s follow this. Let’s see where this goes.” I think that’s good enough for him. Had Don Pedro been more dubious, then I think he might’ve listened to that but I think as it is, he takes people for their word and he’s in that sense kind of principled and there’s something kind of beautiful or innocent about Claudio. But, it makes him simple and quick to judge and somewhat dull and somewhat of a brute. The ugly side wins out there but yeah, obviously sophisticated audiences or more empathetic people are going to take a moment and pause and think, “Wait a minute, this doesn’t seem right.”