Actor, writer and director Mark Duplass takes another step into the horror genre with The Lazarus Effect, a Blumhouse production directed by David Gelb. In the film, Duplass stars as Frank, an ambitious scientist who has created a serum nicknamed “Lazarus,” which has the power to bring the dead back to life. During one particular experiment, his wife Zoe (Olivia Wilde) dies in a freak accident and he quickly uses the serum to resurrect her. While it does work, Frank and his team being to wonder if they have accidentally unleashed an evil force that cannot be contained.
The Lazarus Effect looks like a subtle take on the Frankenstein story, but what’s interesting about it is how down to earth a lot of it seems. This is especially the case with Duplass, as he makes Frank into a normal person and not the wild-eyed scientist whose ambition has clearly robbed him of his sanity.
Last week, I sat down with Duplass for an exclusive interview while he was at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California for the film’s press day. He spoke about his desire to make Frank into a regular guy despite his boundary pushing ambitions, the advantages of making a movie that takes place in only one location, and how he feels about horror films in general.
Check it out below, and enjoy!
Frank is kind of a mad scientist, like the ones in Frankenstein and Re-Animator, in terms of having this mad obsession about bringing the dead back to life. But unlike Victor Frankenstein or Dr. Herbert West, Frank is more down to earth. Was that something you wanted for the character?
Mark Duplass: It absolutely was. While the DNA was there for it, I think on paper Frank might have been a little more ruthless and Type-A than the character we ended up delivering, I was excited about this possibility of making a horror movie that is directed by a documentary filmmaker that has a humanity and a sensitivity to it that you might not see. To the extent with which we were successful I can’t really say, but the goal for me was to make Frank feel like a normal everyman scientist who doesn’t really have cool sweaters or great hair and is not super buff and fast when he’s running away from the bad people.
It’s a nice choice on your part to do that because most scientists in movies like this are always quite eccentric and over the top.
Mark Duplass: Yeah, and they talk in standard American dialect and it’s like no. Scientists I know or doctors or anybody with extremely technical acumen, there’s “ums” and regular speech cadences in everything they do.
My understanding is that you don’t like horror movies, is that correct?
Mark Duplass: Well, I don’t know a lot of horror movies. I had a nice little stint in the late 80’s where like I’d go to the mall with my friends and we’d come home and watch all the Nightmare on Elm Streets on rental and do all that stuff, and that’s kind of like the extent of my edification. But it’s been fun. I directed a movie called Baghead and I produced a movie called Creeps, so I’ve been dabbling in the genre a little bit. I just found that my general ignorance of the genre has proven to be a little bit of an asset to me because I approach it in more of a caveman arts and crafts way and that some people are like, “Oh I don’t like that. That feels different.” And other people are like, “That’s very different and I like that.” I’m cool with that being a sort of a polarizing thing.
Your scenes with Olivia Wilde are really good because you two have a very natural rapport, and you’re never really sure right away about her character’s state of mind. You two have worked together previously, correct?
Mark Duplass: We were in a movie called People Like Us but we didn’t have any scenes together. We knew each other a bit socially though and we really wanted to work together. I just knew that we would have good chemistry and we would be able to get that naturalism that’s required to feel like a real couple. She had been in Drinking Buddies, which has a similar style to a lot of the movies I’ve made, and so we talked a lot about things like let’s make them feel like a normal scientist couple and let’s give them a nice chemistr,y so we used a lot of improvisation and things like that to help create the sense of, “Oh, these guys, they love each other.”
For you, what was the advantage of shooting a movie that took place in just one location?
Mark Duplass: That is exciting to me because I believe in limits in creativity and if you look at all of the movies I’ve produced, smaller scale films let you see how creative you can be inside a box. So that was exciting to me, but also as a little bit of a refresher for the horror genre to have something that is a little less gore oriented and a little more focused on the psychological factor like the way that Alien does such a good job of just being in one little place and letting it pressure cook. That seemed really fun and exciting.