NOTE: Spoilers ahead for “Lisa Frankenstein”
What does it take to ground a story about a young girl who unintentionally brings her perfect boyfriend back from the dead? Well, according to the stars of “Lisa Frankenstein,” you just have to lean into the absurdity of it.
Now in theaters, the film — written by Diablo Cody and marking the feature film directorial debut of Zelda Williams — follows Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton), who lost her mother to a brutal murder. As she grieves, she finds herself drawn to a local cemetery, particularly to the gravestone of a young man, who died decades earlier (Cole Sprouse).
When lightning strikes just right one night, he comes back to life — albeit missing a few key body parts, though that’s quickly remedied — and the two fall in love pretty quickly. The thing is, the Creature can’t speak. He says not one single word until the end of the film.
Set in 1989 Chicago, the film is wild in the best way, and finding the tone, according to Newton and Sprouse, came down to just embracing exactly what “Lisa Frankenstein” is.
“The more camp we did it, the more real it felt,” Newton told TheWrap. “Whenever I felt like, ‘Oh, I gotta be real, I gotta play this real, how would Kathryn do this?’ It was wrong.”
But it was certainly a process to find the right levels. Below, you can read TheWrap’s full interview with Cole Sprouse and Kathryn Newton.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Kathryn, I want to start with you because, as I’m watching this movie, there were so many different moments — between Cole cutting off a man’s penis and killing Carla Gugino with a sewing machine — where I wanted to know what specifically made you say ‘Yes, I need to be in this movie.’
Newton: (Laughs). That’s so funny, because for some reason — I heard you. I heard what you just said. But first I heard you say like, ‘I wondered why you said yes to this movie,’ and I just started laughing.
What made me want to do this? Well, that’s pretty easy. I mean, if you met Zelda, you’d want to do a movie with her too. And she just really said something that resonated, about what wanting to do something different, and take us somewhere else, and go to different worlds. She was like, ‘I’m sick of high school movies looking the same, the same characters. I want to take a risk can do something absurd and use our imaginations.’
And that seemed like a no brainer! Until I read the script, and I saw how challenging it could be. And I had to take a step back and really try to honor Diablo’s script and be like, ‘Can I do this? Do I have what it takes to do this?’ And I didn’t even have to think that way. Because when you got Cole Sprouse with you, you can do anything. He’s pretty awesome and we had a lot of fun making the movie.
Sprouse: Go on.
Newton: As you can tell.
Well, I did actually get to talk to Zelda Williams about this movie, and Cole, something she taught me about you was that you have apparently always wanted to be a monster on screen. So why is that?
Sprouse: It was kind of a handshake agreement with my child self. I mean, I think when I was a kid, I was already acting, but I wasn’t really conscious of how large the industry actually was around me at the time. And the kind of entertainment I was watching were monster movies, mainly kaiju movies. I was a big Godzilla guy. And I think the way acting made most sense to me was that I was on the inevitable path to be the guy in the Godzilla costume and eventually smash up a small city.
And so I became fascinated with all those monster movies as a young boy, which is sort of right on brand with a kind of wild young boy, but I think I’ve always been fascinated with the practical effects. I’ve always been fascinated with monsters and monster movies. And I think it was just a checkbox for me. You know, I’m a big fan of Diablo, Zelda and I have been friends for years. It kind of felt like all the dominoes fell in the right way for this project, and it was honestly a no brainer for me.
And then you got to take mime classes. What did that unlock for you as an actor?
Sprouse: You know, what’s funny? Zelda and I were having a drink one night, and we were joking around about mime classes. Because we were like — honestly, whenever I do a film with a studio, I always try and find a way to be like, what skill could I probably learn for this, that may or may not apply at all, but I’ll come away with? Like lock picking or something really strange and abstract. And we kind of joked about miming, but then as we were talking about it, we were like, ‘Actually this makes a lot of sense.’
I asked Zelda if she had any people in LA that she would recommend in the miming community, and we started working together. And you know, you always go into to these lessons — I go in at least — with an open mind and I say OK, I’ll take what I feel like can apply and I’ll leave the rest. And it just so happened a lot of it applied. You know, when you think of the mining thing, you think of like the busking mimes. You know, you think of the white and black makeup, and you think of the street performances. But Lorin Solm, who I trained with, was a student of a much more emotionally grounded kind of physical performance work.
And it was challenging, it was a brand new set of challenges. I don’t know if I’d call it any more difficult, but I definitely realized the crutches on dialogue that I had, for previous things that I had done, that I had to abandon. I’m just really glad it worked out. And, you know, I think the performance, thankfully, held up. But Zelda also defended a lot of that.
She was very intent on making sure that most of my motion work was in wide shots, so that we could get some of that broader action and some of that broader movement, to actually allow the character to feel more emotional. So she defended a lot of it, and I give her a lot of credit for that.
And Kathryn, from your perspective, that has to be its own challenge, right? You’ve got a scene partner that’s not actually speaking at any point.
Newton: I don’t know! I think most communication, I read somewhere that 80% of it is nonverbal. And I watch my dogs have conversations all the time, and they get along just fine.
We had Zelda to help us and make sure we were hitting all the right things. And the script, if you read the script, you would see that, no, there are not lines for creature and it didn’t ever tell us what creature was thinking. But it felt like he was fully talking to me. And the whole thing is that Lisa is the only one who doesn’t hear him. She’s a girl who’s alone who thinks no one can hear her so she manifests a friend that literally can’t speak.
So the biggest challenge was just letting go, you know? And now the biggest challenge is letting all of you see it, because making it was really not hard for me. I know Cole had, you know, the physical of having to have five hours of makeup every day and wear all those prosthetics, which, I can only imagine how difficult it was for him. But, together I had a blast and never felt like it was very hard. I can not listen to Cole Sprouse all day!
Sprouse: Dude, you have — you only use my full name now. I don’t know what happened.
Newton: It means you’re in trouble.
If you want to pile on, I can use his full name for the rest of this interview. We’ll really put the pressure on.
Newton: I’ve heard Zelda — and Cole, you’ve kind of said this too, if you want to say it — but I heard you guys say, like, you’ve talked about how you needed to find someone who was willing to do the camp stuff and keep it real. And I’ve said recently, and I feel like you might feel this way too Cole, tell me if I’m wrong, but like, the more camp we did it, the more real it felt. Whenever I felt like, ‘Oh, I gotta be real. I gotta play this real. Like, how would Kathryn do this?’ It was wrong.
And when we finally found that level, that tone, we just swam, and just kept going that direction. That’s, I feel like, how we found it. Watching it, I was shocked by all the faces I made. And I can’t believe how crazy I look. But the truth is, is that was the honesty of what was on the page. And when we lean into that, it was ridiculous in real life, but we are in another world in this movie. It’s not real life. And that’s what’s so cool about it. It’s 1989 baby.
Well, one thing I want to ask you Kathryn, is I have this theory. Did Lisa kill her mother? Because I got about halfway through this, and there was a moment where she was like, ‘This has been so fun.’ And like, you’re killing people. So I wondered if she killed her mother, in your mind.
Newton: Oh my gosh!
Sprouse: That’s a great question.
Newton: Well, I never thought about that, but I love that it made you go there. I mean, woah!
It’s a small line, but it’s just psychotic enough that I was like, “Is she good?”
Sprouse: I love that.
Newton: So I’m gonna go with no, she didn’t kill her mother. But I really wish that I had said yes at the beginning of filming, because that would have created a whole ‘nother character, and really would have validated her insanity.
But, since she didn’t kill her mother in my version of this character — but your version is right too. There is no wrong answer here — but I feel like because she didn’t, it allowed us to relate to someone who’s grieving, and feels silenced, and like her grief means nothing, because she feels like no one cares about her. So that wouldn’t really validate that if she was the murderer of her own mother. (laughs).
And there is a moment where someone suggests she did, in the principal’s office, and Lisa does have this very big, angry reaction.
Newton: Yeah, maybe she did! Wow, Cole, what the heck?! What if we did the whole movie wrong?
Sprouse: Well, I didn’t have a single line, so don’t bring me into this. (Laughs). I do think this movie, you know, the narrative undertone of the whole movie is about how to come to terms with a certain kind of grief, and specifically how to come to terms with death. And, you know, the architecture of of Lisa’s character over the movie is a person who starts as this silent grieving type, and ends up quite literally taking control of death, you know, Creature being this embodiment of death.
So I think that’s a really interesting question. I hadn’t really considered it, either. But I think the fact that, you know, throughout Lisa’s journey in the movie, she eventually becomes almost the same force of violence that brought her into the space that we see her out in the beginning is interesting.
Newton: I love that.
I love that too. He’s a smart guy, you should work with him again…
Sprouse: Please. Please!
Newton: I really want to. I hope so. Maybe it will be in a movie where he speaks?
Sprouse: I’ll have lines in the next one, I swear.
Well, you do have just a few lines at the very end. And I don’t know how much you would have been part of this decision making process, but how was it decided upon what poetry he was reciting? Was that a Diablo/Zelda conversation?
Newton: Oh yeah, that’s a good question!
Sprouse: It was a Diablo/Zelda thing. In fact — I’ve said this in a couple interviews, but Kathryn and I were joking about it on the day — the one take I wish we gave of that scene was a slow wrap around the bench, to finally seeing the two of us sitting there, and instead of me actually speaking, it’s me just screeching, and there are subtitles on the bottom of the screen of the poetry that’s being read. Which is truly maybe my biggest regret in the filming process, that I didn’t just give that one take.
But no, it was very curated. I mean, look, all of the decision making, from a script point of view, was incredibly intentional. And in that scene, specifically, if you go back and watch it, that final scene, there are a ton of easter eggs buried into that scene. Only one actually, only Jimmy Fallon’s team, who I’m seeing tonight, were were ones to spot one of the Easter eggs.
I know what it is, and I missed it the first time, and I felt like a terrible fan.
Please, go back and watch it. I’m not gonna spoil it. But go back and watch it, that scene has a lot of tenderness, and a lot of care, and a lot of beauty in it, and it’s a scene that’s really close to Diablo and Zelda specifically. So I would, without asking them, knowing them, I would assume that everything in that scene is incredibly intentional.
Well, you are your own creature now, Kathryn. And the screeching could come into play there. Is “Lisa Frankenstein” a story that you guys, as actors, would be interested in a sequel? I know sometimes, certain stories you want to just leave alone, you want to let them be their own thing.
Sprouse: I mean, I think anything has the potential to kind of branch out into a sort of franchise thing. But I feel like this movie — I don’t know, I don’t want to I don’t want to stop or halt any conversations. And I also don’t necessarily want to encourage them if they’re already in place or anything like that. But. I think if it ends up feeling like the same thing two times in a row, I don’t know how passionate I would feel about that.
I do think the beauty of this movie is that it’s kind of a love letter to that nostalgic filmmaking of the specific time period we were alluding to, and it lives in that way, so beautifully as a kind of singular piece. And we’re hoping that it captures that.
I also think, you know, this movie was an attempt to try to crack the code at how to make a cult classic. I think most of the cold classics that we have now, or we consider cult classics now, aren’t necessarily franchise pieces. A lot of them are standalone films. I mean, it’s actually an interesting conversation to see how franchise could, or sequel work or prequel work could include itself within that kind of conversation. But I think right now I’m just hoping this one does well.
Newton: I completely agree with Cole, but I would love to do another movie with Zelda. And Cole and Diablo. In any capacity.
Before we go, I’ve got to say, Kathryn, you have really great taste in movies like this. Between “Freaky“ and “Lisa Frankenstein,” they’re in the same vein, but they’re also wholly different. So for you, when you’re reading a script like this, is there an instinct that you have of what makes a good horror comedy?
Newton: That’s so nice of you. You know, it’s such a weighted idea, like, what makes a movie good? We have no idea! We just try our best. And I think the number one thing is your experience.
You know, “Freaky” I did with Chris Landon, who’s known me since I was 14, he wrote “Paranormal Activity 4,” and Jason Blum. So, to reunite with people who know me, I think they got the best out of me because they know me so well. The same thing with Cole. We were not best friends, but we were friends. And I knew enough about him to know that he was going to hold space for me. And Zelda did the same thing. She created a space where we got to play and perform.
And I said this today in another interview, but it really is true, like, the scene where we chop off that thing, you know? I really wanted to impress Cole and Zelda and Henry and Liza and I wanted them to react to me. So I feel like, because I love them so much, and because I felt like they loved me so much, we had a really great time, like, egging each other on. And that kind of camaraderie like shines through in a film.
So I’m telling you, I don’t think I know exactly what I’m doing. But I definitely think it starts on the day. If you guys are having a good time, I think people are gonna like it!
“Lisa Frankenstein” is now in theaters everywhere.