‘Underworld: Rise of the Lycans’ Previewed, Rhona Mitra Talks

Last week BD reporter Jeff Otto has a chance to preview Sony Screen Gems’ Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, which opens in theaters everywhere tomorrow. In hopes of shedding some light on what LYCANS is all about, Bloody-Disgusting recently attended a small press gathering with director Patrick Tatopoulos and producer James McQuaide where a few action and effect scenes were screened and the duo participated in a short Q & A session. BD later had the chance to speak exclusively with star Rhona Mitra. You can read all about it inside.
The latest Underworld adventure, Rise of the Lycans, hits screens January 23rd. Sony and Screen Gems have been rather secretive about the release thus far, opting not to pre-screen for critics. The trailer looks okay, but it certainly doesn’t tell you a lot about the movie, which is a prequel to the first two Underworlds. Rhona Mitra stars as Sonja and Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen return as Viktor and Lucian, respectively.

In hopes of shedding some light on what Rise of the Lycans is all about, Bloody-Disgusting recently attended a small press gathering with director Patrick Tatopoulos and producer James McQuaide where a few action and effect scenes were screened and the duo participated in a short Q & A session. BD later had the chance to speak exclusively with star Rhona Mitra about the movie.

We’ll start off with a quick rundown of what we saw at the presentation.

There were two short action-based sequences, which looked like something of a mixture between the first two Underworld movies and maybe Lord of the Rings. During battleground sequences pitting the Lycans (werewolves) against the Death Dealers (vampires) plenty of swordplay was at work, with lots of hacking and slashing sound effects thrown in for good measure. If these scenes make the final cut as is, Lycans will certainly be bloodier than the first two movies. Blood spurts as swords and arrows pierce werewolves and werewolves tear up the vamps like rabid dogs. In one clip, two werewolves attack a bloodsucker from either side and literally rip him in two.

In the coolest scene we viewed, hundreds of Lycans storm the castle of the Death Dealers. Some are already in wolf form when the scene starts and some transform in mid-run. The action transformations look cool, but are almost too quick to really get a good look at the transformation process. One Lycan’s pants fly off behind him as he goes from man to beast.

Mitra looks the part as the warrior vampiress Sonja. Her outfit is a little less skin-tight and a little more armored than Kate Beckinsale’s. “She’s much tougher,” Mitra tells BD. “She’s a death dealer and she sword fights and rides horses. She’s just a more aggressive character.

During another scene, Mitra is temporarily disabled on the battlefield as a Lycan charges through a maze of tree brances to attack her. Lucian leaps into the air and plunges a sword into his fellow Lycan’s skull, resulting in stream of blood spurting from the beast’s head.

We are also shown some brief scenes of the werewolf transitions. They are smoother and less glitchy than the previous movies, but still a bit too slick for my tastes. I’m a tough critic, though. I still can’t help but prefer the classic practical transformations of The Howling and American Werewolf in London to any of the computer work I’ve seen.

The coolest thing we can tell about Lycans in comparison to the other movies is the sheer number of werewolves. While the first movies featured only a few on screen at once, battlefield sequences have hundreds of werewolves in action at the same time. Due to the scope of the epic prequel, Tatopoulos and crew have had to move away from the practical effects of the previous entries in favor of more CG work.

I was obviously forced to go towards CGI [on this movie],” says Tatopoulos. “There is no way I could bring in 300 people in suits. I knew from the beginning, this movie would have more CGI, but obviously whenever we could, practical would come into play.” Despite the increased scope, Tatopolous is working with the same budget Len Wiseman had on the other movies.

The project is the directorial debut for Tatopoulos, who previously did creature design work on the first two Underworld movies in addition to the Godzilla remake, Pitch Black, I, Robot and Silent Hill, amongst others.

At first things went a little rough for the first-timer when he first watched the shot footage. “The first time I saw the first cut I fucking freaked out,” said the enthusiastic director. “I was kind of comfortable, and then suddenly I look at the movie and say `This is unbearable.’ I called Len, I called Roland Emmerich and people I’ve worked with and they tell me, `That’s normal man.’ But I knew that was not really normal. But there was a couple of things that had happened, without getting into too much detail. There were issues bigger than the first cut not being right on the money.

To be frank, it wasn’t that good,” says producer James McQuide. “It needed the changes that had to happen [and] they made a huge difference.

Tatopoulos was able to calm down a bit when he got a look at the work being done in post-production. “That was the biggest learning curve for me,” laughs Tatopoulos. “Don’t panic. This is going to be horrible, but this is where the real work starts. Once I got through that phase, then it was a question of schedule and being ready on time. I knew it was getting there, but it’s very scary. The first movie is very scary, because at that point you think this is the worst piece of shit you’ve ever seen.

Now that he’s gotten to the finish line and is happier with the final product, Tatopoulos says he plans to direct again, but probably not on another Underworld movie. “I’ve done three. I think I’d like to move on. I think it’s a cool franchise and there are many more stories to do, but I think I need to get back into something else. When Len [Wiseman] did Die Hard, I said that is very cool, but I need to do stuff with creatures and shit. There are a few projects in the works right now and one in particular that I am keen on doing.

The star of Rise of the Lycans, the sexy warrior Rhona Mitra, joined BD for an exclusive interview about the project. Tatopoulos had positive things to say about the actress, who was initially chosen by the studio. “I thought [she] was a great choice because in one of the earlier Underworlds, Bill says to Seline, `You remind me so much of my own daughter.’ So Rhona was perfect. She is very different than Kate because she is much more of the warrior. Kate is very sophisticated. Rhona is more primevil, more rough, which fits the movie because this movie is more brutal and more about the werewolves and that kind of energy.

The trick to convincing Mitra about the role was letting her know that she wasn’t just going to be a Beckinsale lookalike. “She was conscious of the fact that she was going to be the next [Kate],” said Tatopoulos. “I quickly took it somewhere else and said, ‘Look, this is very simple. The character of Selene was created from your character, so don’t try to match it. You’re the origin of everything. I had to tell her that every day.’ That made her feel good.

Exclusive Rhona Mitra Chat

Bloody-Disgusting: Tell me about background of Sonja and what you knew about the character when you came aboard?

Rhona Mitra: I knew actually nothing and I hadn’t seen either of the first two. It’s not that I wasn’t interested, but I thought they were doing a third installment and it wouldn’t have been a smart idea for me to do that. They explained to me that it was a prequel and a completely different film. We wouldn’t be treading over any of the same paths. Sonja, being Viktor’s daughter, there was a resonance. It wasn’t a concern, but I was very aware that people always want to draw comparisons. [They told me] you were the apple of Victor’s eye and the reason that he developed a fondness for Selene is because of the resonance there, so it felt like it made sense.

Sonja’s a warrior. It was a lovely thing to be able to play. It was great to throw swords around and cut wolves’ heads off and get really angry and go head-to-head with Bill Nighy.

BD: It looks like this one is a bit bloodier than the other two.

RM: It’s pretty bloody, actually. I just went and saw it with a few people the other day and these were hardened chaps, and they squirmed. (Laughs) There were definitely points where they were like “Wowa!” Isn’t that what people like?

BD: Yes, especially in a movie with werewolves and vampires.

RM: Exactly. I think that’s all good stuff. It’s not necessarily something that I need to go see, but I think it’s all par for the course in this particular environment.

BD: This is Patrick’s first movie is a director. Coming from his FX background, how was his approach different from other directors?

RM: He already has an innate understanding of what the movie is going to look like at the end, which is quite extraordinary. He comes in with a humility and understanding with every crew member, which is just nice.

He worked with his production designer and there was a short hand there. He didn’t want to make it exactly the same.

BD: This has more CG effect work. Did you have much experience acting opposite green screens and non-existant co-stars?

RM: I’ve done a little bit. You know what? I didn’t even think about it. We’re on our horses at night. [On a night shoot] it turns into this different environment where you’re not really sure where you are or what time of day it is. Patrick would just be like, “Okay, just imagine you’ve got hundreds of growling big things coming at you, slashing. And you’re just going for it, chopping every one of them in half. Meanwhile, I had this beautiful horse called Arnie and he’s wondering what on Earth madame on top of him is doing while I’m slashing around with these fangs in. I was actually having a blast and I didn’t think about it. It’s about using your imagination at the end of the day.

BD: Would you come back for another?

RM: Well if they go back for a prequel prequel. We are are talking about vampires, so who knows?

BD: Fox has a TV show coming up about four female werewolves called Bitches and your name has been rumored as possibly being attached. Have you heard anything about this?

[Mitra giggles at the title of the show.]

RM: Never, no one’s talked about it [to me] nor would I [do it]. That’s happened before and it’s usually somebody from their camp trying to conjure up interest. I think I’m being used as bait, hopefully.