Interview: Young Frankenstein’s Shuler Hensley
At a recent rehearsal for the upcoming musical version of Young Frankenstein, we caught up with the monster himself, Shuler Hensley, who in reality couldn’t further from the character he plays. Shuler took a few moments out of his rehearsal to chat to us about what it’s like to play the iconic role of Frankenstein’s Monster.
Standing at 6ft 4″, Shuler certainly has the height needed for the role but in his nature he was friendly very sweet; it was hard to imagine he could be so terrifying as the Monster. But with the help of costuming, prosthetics and special boots, he will transform into the character every night for Young Frankenstein, opening on 28th September.
What are the differences working on Young Frankenstein in London than when you worked on the show on Broadway?
Shuler Hensley: Well the original production of Young Frankenstein that we did on Broadway was much more of a big, spectacular production and had a lot of these big choral numbers, and it was a huge theatre we were in. And Mel [Brooks], I’ve worked with Mel for about 12 years, he had always envisioned the show to be smaller and more contained like the movie was. So when he said he wanted to do in London, with a version like that, I was like “I’ve got to come here and do it.” The difference is really that it’s much more intimate. The “Puttin’ on the Ritz” number is really the number in the show in terms of the size and the involvement of the cast.
And how does it feel to put on those strapping big boots on again?
We just ran “Puttin’ on the Ritz” today for the first time all the way through and it does take a while to build the endurance, but it’s great.
So you do that number in the same shoes that you wear the rest of the time?
Shuler shows me the 3 inch around platform boots he wears that would intimidate any performer challenged to dance in them. They look incredibly heavy and have no real bend in the arch, and watching Shuler walk in them would make anyone wince.
I can’t tell you how many times I personally have watched Van Helsing, but what is it about the character of Frankenstein’s Monster that you keep going back to?
I’ve done three different Frankensteins; I did the movie, I did another musical that was a lot more like the original book, and then of course, Mel Brooks’. I just think it’s one of the greatest literary characters ever written, I mean it’s about the human condition, trying to fit in and being an outsider, it’s everything. So as an actor, and to be able to have the makeup and be a physical monster but play against that, is very, very interesting.
Acting on a London stage will be nothing new to Shuler – he played the role of Jud Fry in Oklahoma! at the National Theatre and received the Olivier Award. When it transferred to New York, he also took home a Tony, a Drama Desk Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award for his performance. The show was also choreographed by none other than Young Frankenstein director Susan Stroman and featured Shuler’s Van Helsing co-star, Hugh Jackman – small world!
Do you have an idea yet of what the makeup for the London production will look and feel like yet?
They’re basing it on the Broadway production but it will be different. So they’re building the prosthetics here in England and I’ll be trying them on next week for the first time.
Based on your experience with the prosthetics on Broadway, would you get a new piece for every performance?
It depends on the material they build it on but I did get a new forehead for every show. But this material will be more durable so I think maybe a couple of head pieces a week. It’s great to be able to sit in the mirror and watch yourself literally just disappear. You really just have to observe and watch and you sort of become that character.
So very different from what you experienced on the movie Van Helsing with the prosthetics? Did the heat of the camera lights affect your experience?
That was done by Greg Cannom, who’s won several Oscars, and it was just about blending it so you can never see any of the pieces. We filmed in Prague for 3 months and it was Winter time so everyone else was freezing and I was fine!
You can see Shuler in Young Frankenstein from 28th September, be sure to set an alert to be the first to hear when tickets are available.