In February I interviewed CONOR TIMMIS, a young actor who produced an independent titled KREATING KARLOFF. (Watch it at http://www.itsmyremote.com/kk.html .) As described at the link, the film is a "documentary following Conor Timmis on his journey to bring light to the contributions of famed actor Boris Karloff." Recreating scenes from the films "Frankenstein" and "The Mummy," Timmis hopes to create interest in a Karloff biopic, and, as it says at the link above, "memorialize his most favorite actor." The film is nominated for a 2006 Rondo Award for "Best Independent Film."
Here's the conversation with Conor, and I hope you enjoy it.
In an interview you have said that when you were a child, other kids teased you by calling you "Karloff" because of your high forehead and heavy brow. Where do you suppose they heard of Boris?
"The look of Karloff's Frankenstein monster is an icon of Western culture, bigger than Superman and Batman even. Almost everyone on the planet knows that a high forehead with flat-top head, heavy brow and neck electrodes is FRANKENSTEIN."
The first Karloff movie you saw was THE MUMMY, when your father borrowed a library copy to show at home. What other Karloff or classic monster movies do remember seeing as a kid?
"As a kid, THE WOLF MAN was my next exposure to the Universal Monsters after THE MUMMY and another library vhs rented by my father. I loved Chaney Jr.'s werewolf makeup, the chilling transformation scene, spooky fog shrouded moors, and the lovely Evelyn Ankers. There is something about the opening shot of Talbot castle that always gets me.
"I rediscovered THE MUMMY and all of Karloff's films when I started acting around age 22. I had been reading a lot of classic horror authors at the time like Lovecraft, Machen, Hodgson and Benson and naturally fell into watching classic horror films."
Reincarnation is a theme in THE MUMMY. And in Tibetan Buddhism, each reincarnation of the Dalai Lama is said to have characteristics of previous incarnations. You were born after Boris Karloff's death. Did recreating scenes of Boris as Im-Ho-Tep ever make you pause and imagine that you might have been Boris? You're very familiar with his life. What qualities do you think you share with Boris?
"Playing the scene by the pool as Ardath Bey with Zita's cousin Liesl Ehardt gave me serious chills, especially since Zita Johann was deep into the occult and was a firm believer in reincarnation. There were a few spooky things that happened in the making of KREATING KARLOFF that made me wonder if the spirits of Boris and Zita were
helping things along.
"As far as qualities I share with Boris...hmm. Boris was a far better man and actor than I could ever hope to be. For a Hollywood actor Karloff was a saint. Like Boris I love reading, peace and quiet, the outdoors, athletics and women. I guess one main difference is I'm a big coffee drinker whereas Boris was a heavy tea drinker."
I am absolutely TANTALIZED and curious about the "few spooky things that happened...that made me wonder if the spirits of Boris and Zita were helping things along." Please share the details!
"Gotta keep a little mystery so I don't sound like an overly superstitious Irishman!"
You went from an initial $4000 budget on KREATING KARLOFF to $20,000 by taking on loans. What was the biggest expense of that sum?
"The biggest expense was the 3 day studio rental. The studio space with lighting equipment came to about $9,000."
Is it true that the Frankenstein Monster headpiece you wore in the film was worn by a famous actor?
"Yes, The Frankenstein wig and neck bolts I wore were leftovers from Phil Hartman's goofy Saturday Night Live monster makeup. To be honest, Hartman's wig didn't work out too well. It was too poofy and coarse and couldn't be trimmed short enough. It made me look like the love child of Lou Ferrigno's Incredible Hulk and Karloff's monster. It was all I could afford though. If I had a bigger budget, makeup artist Norman Bryn could have obtained a human hair wig which would have been ideal and could be easily trimmed and matched to Karloff's 1931 monster. In retrospect I wish I had opted for the bald look of 'The Bride Of Frankenstein' makeup since I couldn't afford a good hairpiece."
Let's say you do get to play Boris in a full length biography. Have you thought about who might play some of his famous co-stars, and if so, who do else would you like to see in the cast?
"My dream cast. I think Ewan McGregor would make a terrific James Whale. Edward Woodward would be great as Karloff's domineering father. Liesl Ehardt playing Zita Johann and Scarlett Johansson as Dorothy Karloff. Don't know who would play Lugosi. I've heard that in the 1980's DeNiro was very interested in portraying Bela for a Lugosi bio film. I don't think DeNiro would be right for Bela though."
Have you seen or heard any of Boris' TV or radio performances or any of his recordings? If so, which ones come to mind as ones you enjoyed?
"I love Boris' recording of Kipling's 'Just So Stories'".
Besides Karloff's movies, what are some of your other favorite films? Are there any other famous people you'd like to play? And Boris isn't the first actor with an accent you've portrayed, is he?
"My favorite non-horror films are 'Breaker Morant' and 'The Last Of The Mohicans'. Other famous people I would like to play are F. Scott Fitzgerald, Richard Marcinko and Aleister Crowley. As far as past accents I've done: played John Wilkes Booth with basically a heightened version of my own speech and a German-speaking SS Officer for a stage play of 'Stalag 17'."
As a kid, what monster "stuff" did you have and enjoy?
"In my early 20's I had a few of the Sideshow models. What I really want to own someday is the Karloff Mummy Sarcophagus put out by Sideshow last year. It brings out the geek in me!"
What would winning a Rondo award mean to you? And do you believe the old sentiment that "It's an honor just to be nominated"?
"It's a really tough category this year. I do believe it's a great honor just to be nominated. IF KREATING KARLOFF wins, I will present the award to makeup artist Norman Bryn since there would be no project without his virtuoso makeup and no film without his amazing interviews. Norm was the lynch pin and anchor of the entire film and I can't think of a better way to thank him than having a little bust of Rondo Hatton's head in his office."
Boris didn't overcome a drinking problem, didn't struggle to accept his orientation, didn't kill anyone, never was a celebrity getting lots of unwanted publicity in the tabloids, and never made a movie where he got to dismember someone onscreen in full view. Why would anyone under 40 want to see film about Boris' life and career?
"Karloff's life was the "American Dream" personified. A Cinderella story that would make an inspirational, heartwarming film. Recreating the making of the classic horror films would be exciting to watch. I think young people would easily relate to Karloff since he was an outcast who made good, so to speak. I think most teenage guys can see themselves in his Frankenstein monster when it comes to wanting acceptance, especially from women."
Thank you very much, Conor.