"I think I'm working with Marty."
So said Joss Whedon to Drew Goddard on the set of "Dollhouse." This was 2009, when the two writers were casting "The Cabin in the Woods," a subversive comedy-horror game-changer that could reinvent a genre overloaded with torture porn and found-footage thrillers. The man Whedon had pegged for Marty -- the stoner know-it-all among a group of friends taking a weekend sojourn and getting much more than they bargained for -- was Fran Kranz. The up-and-coming actor was co-starring on "Dollhouse" in the polarizing role of Topher and seemed to be on the verge of a breakout, something a role like Marty would only help facilitate.
Then "Cabin in the Woods" never came out. The film became an unfortunate casualty of studio financial trouble when MGM filed for Chapter 11 on Nov. 3, 2010. Its Jan. 11, 2011 release date was scrapped for an indefinite hold, which was only lifted when Lionsgate acquired distribution rights in 2011.
Three years later, Kranz's breakout performance has finally arrived, perhaps at the perfect time. While the 30-year-old actor suffered another setback when "Dollhouse" was canceled, his career is currently on the upswing. In addition to "Woods," he's also co-starring as Bernard in Mike Nichols' acclaimed Broadway reinvention of "Death of a Salesman" with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield.
Kranz spoke to HuffPost about "Cabin's" long journey to the big screen, why he's not afraid of spoilers, and what fans can expect from Joss Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing."
When a movie sits on the shelf for this long, it's usually a question of quality. How frustrating were the last couple of years, especially knowing that "Cabin" is so good?
It was obviously frustrating. It was a real test of my patience and sanity. I'm not kidding. You're right: the common perception is that if it's on the shelf, it's bad. A lot of people said that to me. A lot of executives that knew the business really well -- inside and out -- they all said, "This is not a good sign. If it's this long, it'll never happen." But I had so much faith in the movie, because I knew it was so good. I shot it, I read the script. I believed in my part, I believed in the movie, I believed in Joss and Drew. I never really lost faith, but then that made me kinda look like the crazy person. Even my parents, you could see it in their eyes, they felt sorry for me that I was still holding onto this movie that I shot a year or two ago.
When "Dollhouse" was canceled and "Cabin in the Woods" was shelved, I didn't get the same amount of work. My career seemed to be on a forward trajectory and then it kinda plateaued. I was just an actor just like any typical actor in L.A., but I would keep bringing up "Cabin in the Woods," being like "It's really good." So it was kinda pathetic. For sure. But I never lost faith, and the response so far has been really good -- who knows how we'll do at the box office, but I'm proud of it. I'm very proud of the movie. There's great satisfaction in the fact that it is out and that Lionsgate believes in it and there are a lot of people who get the movie and love it.
Do you think people can enjoy "Cabin in the Woods" if they've been spoiled?
It's cool that way. It's sort of in our vernacular that if a movie is different it's called a "twist." That's the way we sort of approach films now. Maybe it's been around forever, but you think of M. Night Shyamalan, and now twist is sort of like a genre. But the movie is not necessarily hiding things from you. First scene: two guys, weird office workers, talking in the lounge. You're like, "What the hell?" Then the big smash title on the screen. It just escalates at its own pace, which I think is wonderful for audiences because they're just following along. It kind of continues to one-up itself, so at the end your jaw is on the floor. I don't believe it's a twist or a secret, I just think it's a wonderful ride. I was never too freaked out about spoilers in the sense that if someone tells someone this, then the movie is ruined. I think we have many layers and different kinds of twists and it's kind of this weird knot. I think we're OK.
Do you read reviews and online reactions?
I heard one review opened with the end. The Village Voice review shit on us. I was tempted to [blast the reviewer] but then I saw on Twitter people were doing that for me. I don't think that's my job, it would just look really sad. I was like, "Why?"
I wish I was better at it. Someone told me when I first started working for Joss, "Are you ready for his fans?" I thought I was, but I really wasn't. I had no idea. All of a sudden, I was the most annoying person in the world. People hated Topher. I remember they were ranking cast members -- there was like eight or nine of us regulars -- and I was consistently eight or nine. I was like, "Unbelievable!" So you'd think that would scare me off, but now I'm obsessed. Doing the play, "Death of a Salesman," when those reviews came out, it was so interesting to ask these great actors, like Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Do you read the reviews?" He was saying how he reads them all. He said, "Good or bad, reviews are never good for you." But they are on his mind. Even a good review is not good for your performance. Which I think is great advice. But he still reads them because they are on his mind. It's probably best to read them and exorcize them. The truth is, even a bad review is gone after a few days. The Village Voice. I wanted to go crazy; now I'm joking about it. Luckily with "Cabin," for the most part, they are good. Then it's easier to brush off the bad reviews. I definitely do read them -- I wish I didn't, but I like to take Philip Seymour Hoffman's advice. Then I can say, "Phil and I…" [Laughs.]
Plus, with a film like this, fan reaction might be more important than critical reactions.
This might sound cheesy, but the fans are where your work comes from. So, in a sense, you do want to be aware of some kind of pulse. With the Internet, there is a lot of that. You go on Rotten Tomatoes and they specify Top Critics, but then it's just a bunch of other people. That is equally meaningful to the performer. For me, it is.
When you first saw the finished film, what did you think?
I was very nervous. I was with Bradley Whitford in a Lionsgate screening room. That guy has done so much work and he's just a very laid-back guy in general. Very dry humor, but hilarious. I crack up with the guy. But he was just sitting there eating his lunch, just watching the movie. "Hey, it's been a while!" I was trying to play it cool. "Yeah, this movie! Haven't thought about this in a while." So full of shit. I was terrified. Then, finally, about an hour into it, he turned to me and was like, "We're in the best movie ever made." It was huge for me. I'm gonna take that to the grave. Even if he was sort of half-serious and just being himself, it was so meaningful to me. That is the feeling you want. That's the reaction you want. Obviously, it's not going to win ten Oscars, but it's so fun and so ridiculous, it is going to get a room of college kids freaking out. I think that was the intention. After that I was able to relax.
What's up with Joss' take on "Much Ado About Nothing"?
I'm supposed to go to Yale next week. They're doing a Shakespeare on Film class, and they're watching Kenneth Branagh's version and I'm supposed to talk about ours. I have no idea what to say. I'm trying to think of ways to get out of it. I wrote Joss an email. "Hey, they asked me to do this, I said yes, and now I'm freaking out." We shot it in 12 days. It happened so fast. It was on Joss' vacation. Now he's busy promoting "The Avengers." He wrote me back, "Sure, I'll think of some stuff." He was probably like, "Fuck you. You're on your own, you idiot." I am a little nervous about it.
Were you surprised Joss wanted to do it?
He loves the play. I think it makes sense. I feel like Beatrice is such a Joss Whedon female lead. That strong, witty, independent woman. It doesn't surprise me he's into that. But then the play has a lot of mischief and fun. It's black and white. It's hand-held. It's got a very intimate feel. He shot it all in his house, which he knows very well because his wife designed it. She was the architect behind it. A lot of it has this wonderful film-noir quality. He does these fun angles looking through things because a lot of "Much Ado" is playing tricks on each other. I think he had a lot of fun with that.
How did he approach you to appear?
At first it was just fun. He likes to do stuff like that. He likes to have people over and do Shakespeare readings. He and his wife are constantly hosting. You go to his house and there are always people there. I would never be comfortable with having a movie shot at my house but he embraces it. So I think it started as one thing and now it's this movie that people are asking about. I'm like, "I just got an email to come over one day." Now it's turned into a thing.
PHOTOS of "Cabin in the Woods":