HOLLYWOOD — As part of this week’s Fall Preview festivities, we’ve already taken a look at one eagerly anticipated vampire film from a Weitz brother. So, just to make sure we don’t tick off their 99-year-old grandma who starred in 1931’s “Dracula,” we’d better cover the other one, right?
Actually, it’s not that hard a decision to make. Paul Weitz’s “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” had a playfully freakish trailer, the pedigree of being based on a best-selling series of 12 novels and features enough stars to make “Ocean’s Eleven” look like “My Dinner With Andre.” When we caught up with the elder Weitz recently, we were eager to talk circus freaks, putting a mustache on the Mona Lisa and those pesky “Twilight” comparisons.
MTV: Paul, we’re looking forward to “Cirque du Freak.” Give us your basic take on the plot.
Paul Weitz: It’s about a kid who gets a vampire as a mentor and goes to live in a traveling freak show.
MTV: That’s a good synopsis.
Weitz: It’s another one of those, yeah. [Laughs.]
MTV: This is quite a departure from what you’ve done in the past. What got you interested?
Weitz: I actually — weirdly — had wanted to do something [along these lines], a movie about a kid who gets a vampire as a mentor, for a long time. I just thought the idea of a person who has to teach this kid about life, being somebody who’s morally compromised and dealing with all this gray area — and having that person be a vampire — would be a weird twist on that kind of story. I’ve done a couple mentoring stories before with “About a Boy” and “In Good Company.” For some reason, I’m obsessed with that relationship.
MTV: We see a lot of cool-looking freaks in your trailer. Introduce us to them, if you could.
Weitz: The primary freak is John C. Reilly’s character, who also happens to be a vampire; he has a weird relationship with this spider, he does this act with a spider. Over the last 80 years or so, that’s what he’s done with his life — traveled with this weird freak show. The head of the freak show, Mr. Tall, is played by Ken Watanabe, a really amazing actor from “The Last Samurai” and “Letters From Iwo Jima.” What I did with him is, I extended his fingers and head and stuff and made him this really tall, freakish character. Then there’s Orlando Jones, who plays Alexander Ribs, a guy who has his skin shrink-wrapped to his internal organs. … His best friend and nemesis is Rhamus Twobellies [played by Frankie Faison], who is able to eat all sorts of stuff and create art in his stomach using a blowtorch. Jane Krakowski plays Corma Limbs, who’s able to slice off her limbs and grow them back — but I’m not able to show the real gore [of her character] in the trailer.
MTV: Yeah, we only see her slicing off an arm quickly.
Weitz: Then there’s Kristen Schaal from “Flight of the Conchords,” as a freak who is insecure because she’s not quite as freakish as the other freaks — her name is Gertha Teeth. She can bite stuff apart and cling to things with her teeth.
MTV: And how does Salma Hayek fit in?
Weitz: Well, like any society, college or in this case, a freak show, they’re all hooking up with each other. John C. Reilly’s vampire is in a relationship with Salma Hayek, who plays a bearded lady — whenever she gets excited romantically, she starts to grow a beard. But Reilly, being a 220-year-old vampire, can deal with that because he’s been around the block.
MTV: You took one of the most beautiful women in the world and put a beard on her. Isn’t that like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa?
Weitz: [Laughs.] It is like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa. In terms of having a bearded lady, I wanted somebody as femininely beautiful as possible, and as voluptuous as possible, and Salma was up for doing it. She’s a very confident person in real life, so she could handle putting on a beard.
MTV: Like the “Twilight” world your brother is currently dabbling in, the vampires in “Cirque du Freak” don’t fall into the traditional stereotypes. What are the rules in this film?
Weitz: The garlic-and-crosses stuff doesn’t work, and they don’t turn into bats. In the books, they can move super-fast, which the “Twilight” vampires can too … there are three vampires you see moving super fast: John Reilly, Willem Dafoe plays his freakish best friend, and Ray Stevenson plays an evil vampire guy. But when they move, it’s as if their bodies are made of paint, and the paint is squeezed out and then sucked after them.
MTV: We get that it’s different, but what does “Cirque du Freak” have in common that might appeal to the fans of “Twilight,” “True Blood,” etc.?
Weitz: Right now, people have seen “Twilight” and “True Blood,” and what would make [something] appealing is seeing a different spin on it. I’ve done a lot of comedies, and I was just thinking about what kind of sense of humor somebody who’s been around for 200 years might have — how perverse their sense of humor might get; that’s a big part of Reilly’s character. … I think the appeal would actually be in the differences, as opposed to the similarities.
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Check out everything we’ve got on “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assisstant.”
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