by Dave Bradley.

The following interview conducted with actor and wrestler Robert Maillet (a.k.a. ‘Kurrgan’ and the ‘Acadian Giant’) via Skype from his home in East Canada was primarily meant to be a conversation about his role as Frankenstein’s Monster in the film Monster Brawl, but it also touched on his work in Zack Snyder’s 300, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, TV’s Haven and The Strain (created and executive produced by del Toro), and more. He began by asking about South Australia

“It sounds nice. I’ve never been to Australia before. I have crossed the ocean, the Pacific, but I’ve never been ‘Down Under’… It’s a place I’ve always wanted to go. I’ve been to Japan but never further south.”

So you’ve made movies in Canada, the US, the UK and Japan then?

“No, I went to Japan for wrestling, there and South Korea. My film work has been in Toronto a lot, and sometimes Montreal, but there were a few films I did in England, like Sherlock Holmes. And I did the new Hercules in the States, the one with Dwayne Johnson, which has just come out here but I haven’t seen it yet. But that was shot in Hungary too, so yes, I’ve certainly travelled to a few places.”

And you were a wrestler before you were an actor? Or were you doing both at the same time?

“Yes, at first I was both. I was a big, big fan of wrestling in the ‘80s when I was growing up… I decided I wanted to be a wrestler when I left school. At the time I was taller than anybody else my age, and skinny too, but I did want to make a career out of it, so when I finished school I went to a training place in the area, and then I was offered a crash course in wrestling… I was a giant and they used the ‘giant gimmick’, as they called it, and that’s how it started, and I went to New Mexico and overseas and got involved with the WWF before it was called the WWE. I was with them for about two or three years before I was released, and the whole film thing began with the wrestling connection, I guess.

“My first feature film was 300 [he was the fearsome ‘Uber Immortal’], and that was shot in Montreal, and they wanted a big guy for the role and for him to have a big fight scene with the leading man [Gerard Butler]… And some of the local stuntmen asked some of the wrestling guys in Montreal if they knew of any big Guys, and so they told them about me, and the next day I got a call. They asked me if I was interested and would I do an audition, and at first I wasn’t really interested, but then I heard the words ‘Warner Brothers’ and knew that it was going to be a big studio film, and then I was very interested! And so I went to the set and met the producers and the stuntmen and they tested me to see if I could hold a sword and if I could take a fall, which I could do from the pro wrestling work. They really, I suppose, wanted to see if I was big enough, and at the time I was on my own, I was by myself, as with pro wrestling you’re on your own and you do your own bookings and you’re your own manager. But when I got into films I had to have a manager, someone to protect me, to take care of me, and to make sure that I got the best roles out there. Like a lighthouse…

“Things really started to pick up after my work on 300, so when I went back to my work in a factory, working with sheet metal, and suddenly I was in this big, big film, and it was very successful, you know, things really started to happen. I got a call from this casting director to see if I was available to be in this film, Sherlock Holmes, and they found me because of Warner Brothers and probably because of the wrestling too. And so I went to England to audition for it, and it was a real audition, and they wanted to see my acting abilities, as well as whether I was big enough and scary enough.”Robert Maillet - The Clothesline

You’re six foot ten in the old measurement, right [that’s 2.08 metres]?

“That’s right.”

And here I am talking to you on Skype and you’re smiling and you’re rather handsome, Robert, but then when you’re in something like TV’s Haven [as simply ‘Heavy’] you put on your scary face – and yes, you are pretty scary!

“[he briefly glowers and then laughs] ‘The Mean Face’! I learned that from pro wrestling. In pro wrestling you have two expressions: you’re either really, really bad and pissed-off – or you’re in pain! I saw these tapes of me wrestling and I saw the expression I was using then… It was pretty intense, the wrestling, and I wasn’t the best wrestler around but I did take advantage of the way that I look, my unique look, and I learned how to use my face and tell a story with my face. And sometimes I would get angry for real, like when someone cut me off in traffic [laughs again], and I would use that too…

“Wrestling is acting, really, and I think I was method acting, as I was trying to hurt the guy but not hurt the guy, or myself, as we were not really doing it [sorry wrestling fans!!!] and just telling a story… And so yes, that’s where ‘The Mean Face’ or ‘The Serious Face’ comes from, and I can play the bad guy although, in real life, I’m not really a bad guy – or at least I don’t think so. I’m a friendly giant, and when I play a role I do like to play the darker roles and the bad guys as it’s not me. I like to play monsters too, as I get to wear masks, which really helps me get into the role, and for me it’s natural and I like it that way. And if I did a good job and the movie scared people then I’m happy.”

In Monster Brawl you play no less than Frankenstein [narrator Lance Henriksen says that it should really be ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’ if you “want to be a dick about it”], with the make-up and the scars and the stitching [and looking more like Robert De Niro’s Monster in Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein than Boris Karloff’s classic and trademarked Universal creature]. And you don’t really say much, but you do convey some of the Monster’s tragic side…

“I tried to make him like a child, actually… He listens to his Dad, his maker, about what he’s always supposed to be doing next, and I thought he was very child-like and naïve, and he doesn’t know what’s right and wrong, and we got to the scene where I woke up in the chair and I look at Frankenstein and I call him ‘Father’. And that wasn’t in the script at all, but it made sense that he would call his creator his father, and so that added a whole new dimension. And the way he moved, you know, I’d had this Frankenstein image over the years and I knew all the different versions of him over all the films, and I think that that did help a lot… The day before we started shooting my role the producers invited me to dinner and we had lobster, and then they asked me if it was okay if they cut all of my facial hair off, just like that, and only the day before. And so I let them, of course: it was a sacrifice so that I could play the role… And it was fun, it was just a fun role to play!

“There was really not a lot of budget for that film, but there was a lot of heart. The cemetery and the crypts in that film were all shot in an old warehouse, all indoors, and it took months and months to prepare. Jason [David] Brown is all over that film: he was the set designer, he was a concept artist, he did some of the voices and he played three roles, which were the old crypt keeper, the Cyclops and Swamp Gut. He’s the best friend of the producers, and they all grew up together, and most of the monsters in the film were played by professional wrestlers. They couldn’t afford to hire stuntmen, so they decided to hire wrestlers and dress them up as monsters, and we were all comfortable and happy as we were so used to going into the ring… And yes, it was just a lot of fun.”

You also appear in TV’s The Strain, which is executive produced, co-written and sometimes directed by Guillermo del Toro, and of course drawn from the books he co-authored. Did you get the role of the fairly terrifying ‘The Master’ after your involvement in his Pacific Rim [where Robert plays Russian Lt. Kaidanovsky]?

“That’s correct. He offered me the role in Pacific Rim after a movie I did some years ago called The Big Bang. Not many people saw the film, you know, it wasn’t a big hit, but Guillermo saw it, as he likes those smaller, arty films, and he saw my performance and liked it, and he offered me the role in Pacific Rim and I was just blown away. A director like him offering me a role in a big movie! I couldn’t say no!

“The funny thing about The Strain, though, is that while I was doing Pacific Rim, I was in Toronto and this friend of mine was there and we went into a comic book store, and it was one that Guillermo goes to often as he likes to collect toys. He’s a real collector, and we went to the store and it was the first time that I ever heard of The Strain, as my friend was a fan and the comic books of The Strain were out… And my friend pointed out The Master in the comic book and said, “You know, you’d be perfect for this character!” The Master is seven or eight feet tall in the comic book, and this was like a year before I was offered the role, and so I just laughed it off. But, sure enough, the offer came through… It’s doing very well in America, and we’re all very happy about it.”

You play the body of ‘The Master’, as in his caped, physical presence, but someone else provides his voice, right?

“Yes, the voice is Robin [Atkin] Downes, a voiceover artist. I’m the body and I wear the make-up [Robert goes into some detail about how The Master looks, but these have been omitted in case you haven’t yet seen the series]… The first time I saw the concept art for The Master I was just blown away. The wardrobe is very heavy: I mean, the cape alone is 100 pounds! I had clothes on underneath it too, and I had to have ice packs built in to cool me down as otherwise I would have melted like a vampire in the sun! Very daunting, very challenging and very hot! And very hard to move.

“The Master is an ancient vampire, so he’s a bit different to all the others, his minions. He’s so old, something like 200 years old, so he’s hunched over, and we tried to make it creepy, a little like Nosferatu, both the original and the remake with Klaus Kinski. Guillermo loves those movies, and The Master has the forehead, the rat teeth, just like the Nosferatu. I was pretty proud.”

Robert Maillet About To Bash Nathan In Haven - The Clothesline

I also see that you’re in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s new 3D film The Young And Prodigious T.S. Spivet [Jeunet’s follow-up to Micmacs, A Very Long Engagement and, of course, Amélie]?

“That was interesting, yes! I was shooting Pacific Rim at the time, and I had blond hair, and my agent sent me to the audition and Jeunet was actually there. The casting agent was there, but the director was there, which was very unusual, and that added a lot of pressure. I played a crazy hobo who has a scene with the kid [played by Kyle Catlett] on a train, and he’s pretty damn crazy, and so I did this audition and I did this take and Jean-Pierre liked it but he wanted me to do it again, but with more intensity and more craziness. And so we did three or four more takes, and he wanted me to do it faster and to basically go nuts, sort of like the Brad Pitt role in 12 Monkeys, and so I just went crazy and he loved it. It was an amazing experience, and he’s a perfectionist, like Guillermo, and he wants total control and nobody messes with him.

“A very interesting man and a very nice man to work with… But months after I did the role I got this email from Jean-Pierre saying that he felt really bad as he had to delete my whole scene! The reason was that he tested the film and the audience just didn’t seem to get the scene, and it just didn’t seem to gel with the rest of the film. That’s what happens, I suppose, that’s what happens in filmmaking. I haven’t actually seen the film yet, and maybe when the film comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray my scene will be included as a Special Feature.”

So you did actually work with Jean-Pierre Jeunet but you were, in the end, completely cut out of the film?

“That’s right, unfortunately. I did work with him and I did get paid! It just turned out that I wound up on the editing room floor, but I was still very proud and happy to have done it.”

And finally, Robert: how do you feel about typecasting, to be frank? You’re very tall and you can put on ‘The Mean Face’, so you have been cast as a wide range of heavies and crazies and even monsters, but does that worry you in any way? Do you find it limiting, perhaps, as an actor? Or are you just glad for the work, and you’re having lots of fun?

“Typecasting can be okay as, you know, you get roles! Typecasting is fine, you know, as I understand who I am and how I look and all about my physicality; I know that I can bring on the intimidation, and that’s fine. If they need a big guy for a role, a big bad guy, someone to beat up the hero, then that’s fine and yes, I can play those. On the other hand I do like a bit of diversity and to do a wide range of things, and I do want to prove to people that I can act.

“Like the Jeunet movie: it was an intimidating role, sure, but I wanted it to be a real character, someone that no one’s ever seen before, and that’s why I was upset that it was cut from the film. It’s good that the scene will be saved, though, as I can use it to show people, show people that I can act… I understand the limits of typecasting, and I know that I won’t get the Tom Cruise roles, but that’s fine!”

Monster Brawl is out now on Monster Pictures DVD (and The Strain continues on TV, and Haven is back on the small-screen soon too, and The Young And Prodigious T.S. Spivet is currently set for release in cinemas here in October)

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