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Interview with Branko Tomovic (The Wolfman)

Münster-born actor Branko Tomovic first started acting after emigrating to the United States and enrolling at the prestigious Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in New York City. Following his graduation he participated in a short film for the American Film Institute entitled Remote Control which received considerable praise and from there Tomovic was cast in a variety of independent productions and television shows, including the BBC productions Casualty and The Bill. His first significant role came with a cameo in the action sequel The Bourne Ultimatum, while most recently he made an uncredited appearance in Joe Johnston’s big budget remake of the Universal horror classic The Wolfman.

Branko talks about his involvement in the horror picture and his experiences in independent cinema.

In just a few short years you have managed to work on a number of Hollywood productions. How did you first come to study at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in New York City?

I remember seeing David Lynch’s Blue Velvet as a child and was absolutely amazed by it. I was stunned by the actors’ performances and Lynch’s vision, and ever since I knew that I wanted to work in film. It was some sort of powerful and overwhelming feeling cause I had never seen anything like that before. I know that I was way to young to be seeing such a movie back then but Lynch’s description of Kyle MacLachlan, ‘The boy next door, if that boy spent lots of time alone in the basement’ perfectly applied to me and maybe that’s why I am still more drawn to darker and gritty material. When I finished school I read an article about the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in a film magazine. I applied for it and got accepted. But I first had to earn some money before I could go to New York. After a little while I arrived in NYC with my two suitcases, having never been on an airplane before. I had two weeks time before the school started to find a housing, so I spent the first three weeks in a rundown hotel in the meatpacking district with a mix of other students, hookers and Japanese tourists. The Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute is still located in the same building where Marilyn Monroe and James Dean went to in the 50’s and later Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in the 70’s. All my teachers were still personally taught by Lee Strasberg himself. Lee Strasberg is known for The Method, which basically means that you have to take everything from your own personal life, your thoughts and your emotions, to create a certain character, only then can you achieve a lifelike and truthful performance. At the end of the day every actor has to choose for himself what technique he wants to use or how he wants to approach a character but I like The Method very much cause I want the character to come alive and feel real and authentic, that is the most important thing in a performance.

Having originated from Eastern Europe, how would you describe the film industry there and how would you compare it to both Britain and America?

I think Eastern Europe has many great directors such as Russian Timur Bekmambetov who did these Vampire movies Day Watch and Night Watch or Serbian Emir Kusturica, who does these crazy Balkan Films. Film has a great tradition in these countries. Unfortunaly they often don’t have much money, as there is almost no public funding and there is no studio system as in the US, but it’s amazing how creative and powerful and original some films turn out despite the money issue. Nowadays, many US and UK productions go to Eastern European countries to shoot cause it’s cheaper for them to do the film over there.

Your breakthrough role was in the 2001 short Remote Control. Would you say that shorts are the best way for an actor or filmmaker to develop their talent?

When I was about finishing my course at Lee Strasberg, I was offered the lead part in the film Remote Control which was produced by the American Film Institute. I remember having to audition three times for it. It’s a drama about the Yugoslavian war therefore set in the Balkans but it was shot entirely in Los Angeles. It was very successful on the festival circuit and has won many awards, including a Student Academy Award nomination and an Acting Award for me. Therefore absolutely, I think short films are very important for young filmmakers and actors alike. Not only will you learn from the shooting, you will get material for your showreel and hopefully later exposure at film festivals. Short films can also be your calling card to help you find a good agent. You can make a good short film for very little money these days.

Do you feel that enough support is given to low budget productions and how seriously do mainstream studios take these kinds of films?

I am often surprised that there are so many crap big budget movies, and yet you can’t escape them. They are being advertised on huge billboards, get primetime TV spots and are featured in every magazine. Why? Because they even have a huge budget for advertising and marketing. Whereas most independent films struggle to find the funding even for the shoot. There are some schemes these days that help low budget films, and producers or the director can apply for funding or some sort of support. You have to find people that share the same vision as you and believe in your work just as much as you do. There are many independent films that are hugely successful and sometimes do very well at the box office as well, so I think they are being taken very seriously by the big players. Especially also when they scoop up all the good awards. And for an actor it’s easier these days to do both without loosing your credibility, if you look at Christian Bale going from The Machinist to Batman or Philip Seymor Hoffman going from Capote to Mission Impossible III.

What advice would you give to an actor who has managed to land their first minor Hollywood role?

Make sure that it won’t be your last! An actor’s career is so unpredictable, it’s not enough anymore to have a good agent, you need a great agent. He will introduce you to the right people and put you in front of casting directors. Good material and meaty parts are very rare, even for well established actors. Keep working on yourself to make sure when opportunity comes knocking that you are ready. Try to choose your parts wisely and remember what Montgomery Clift said ‘As long as you do good work, they can’t get at you!’ My favourite teacher at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, Pennie DuPont, passed that quote on to me.

Having primarily been known for your work on low budget productions, how did you manage to land a significant role in the upcoming remake of The Wolfman for Universal? What kind of audition process did you go through and did you have to fight to win the part?

My agent set up a meeting with casting director Priscilla John. She is one of the most important and influential casting directors here in the UK, she did the casting for high profile features such as Frankenstein, Pirates of the Carribean, Van Helsing and Eragon. I met her the first time when The Wolfman was still in pre- production and Mark Romanek was still attached as director. I met her again a while later when the film was already shooting and Joe Johnston took over. She was looking for Eastern European actors to play the Gypsy parts. Geraldine Chaplin plays Maleva – a brilliant casting choice in my opinion!

Prior to your involvement in the production, were you already familiar with the 1941 Lon Chaney picture and would you describe yourself as a fan of horror?

I loved the original Wolf Man and I am a huge fan of the horror cinema. I grew up with Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. I was recently involved in a TV thriller called Whitechapel about a Jack the Ripper copycat story in today’s London. I played one of the main suspects, a creepy morgue man and that was fantastic and fun to do and I would love to do more in this direction. I am originally from the Serbian Carpathians so I feel very comfortable around vampires and werewolves. People over there are very superstitous and still believe in these things.

Without giving too much away, how important is your character to the story and how did you prepare for the role?

Honestly, it’s not a huge part and unfortunately, I did not have any scenes with Anthony Hopkins. I play one of the Gypsies in the camp. But it was a fantastic and unique experience and since I loved the original one I just wanted to be part of this. It’s a wonderful story with a brilliant main cast and a very good director.

Branko Tomovic

Branko Tomovic

With this movie featuring a significant amount of CGI, how would you compare it to your previous work and how confident did you feel having to act against effects that you were unable to see?

I didn’t have to deal with CGI. We were shooting at Pinewood Studios in London and the very first day I walked on set and met Joe I saw Benicio in full Wolfman costume and it looked so scary as it was so real! Rick Baker who did the special make up effects is a true artist. Everything was very very real. We had real horses in the camp, real grass, real fire – it was a fantastic set and for me it felt like being in another world.

This kind of project could open doors for you in Hollywood. Do you have any kind of plan on where you hope to take your career next?

An actor’s career is so unpredictable, a lot really comes down to luck and being in the right place at the right time. But I have tasted blood and would love to work more in the horror/thriller genre. I would love to become a cult horror star like the great Bela Lugosi when I grow old!

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