This week sees the release of Upgrade Writer/Director Leigh Whannell's highly anticipated The Invisible Man remake.
The story sees British actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen play wealthy tech engineer Adrian Griffin. Griffin develops the hardware to make himself invisible but suffers from several psychotic disorders which, when combined with that power, turn him into a terrifying megalomaniac/villain. Adrian then sets out to stalk and torment ex-girlfriend Cecilia (Elizabeth Moss) to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind.
In the run-up to the film's release, STARBURST sat down with Jackson-Cohen at the London junket to chat about the production, how his Invisible Man differs from others, the challenges of the role and what to expect next from Jason Blum's Universal Monster franchise.
STARBURST: What is it you feel that you have brought to The Invisible Man character that we haven't seen in previous versions?
OLIVER JACKSON-COHEN: It's such a classic role that has been in our consciousness since the 1930s. 90s years later and it's still with us, but this a very big departure from any version that has been done before. Most of the updates came from Leigh's incredible script which he wrote for a modern audience and focused a lot of domestic abuse. So it was fascinating being able to delve into that and, as a result, play a version of the character that's much more terrifying, because he has been made into more of a human being. These kinds of men terrify me, so it was an interesting experience.
The "kind of person" meaning control freaks with money and power that has gone to their heads or mad, cackling scientists trying to play God?
You are right when you talk about control but the old version followed a journey into madness which isn't really what we have done here. Ours is more about narcissism, sociopathy and personality disorders which I think people would better connect to nowadays. We see this kind of behaviour and these kinds of relationships and they are horrific, which is the reason Leigh decided to incorporate that into his story.
You're not seen on screen too much but were you actually involved in any of the scenes where your character is invisible or was it all just visual effects in your absence?
I did quite a lot. Sometimes I was there and sometimes I wasn't. Early on we had a discussion and felt it's best to not talk about how we did what we did or when I'm on screen or not because we want the audience to keep guessing. The character is so terrifying and has such an extreme presence throughout that we wanted people to feel, even in his apparent absence. Lizzie, Leigh and I thought that the story needed that and had to be told in an as honest and truthful way as possible, so we spent a lot of time building the characters to achieve that level of terror and realism.
What were the main challenges of performing in the scenes that you might, or might not have, been in?
It's never nice inflicting pain on someone. I don't get any joy out of that. Those scenes were hard. It didn't help that Lizzie was so brilliant in the role. I found it quite heart-breaking trying to hurt her. But again, it's important that we make it as realistic as possible because there are people like this out there and we have a duty to represent them as honestly as we can.
You brought a brilliant Norman Bates-like likeability and confliction to the role.
I wasn't interested in playing him as the villain. I think that is part of why he is so scary because he knows how to be charming and how to faux self-deprecate. It's all about manipulation and control for Adrian. About finding a way into Cecilia's head and hooking her back into his life. We toyed with so many different versions of how we could go with that.
At the times we do see Adrian he seems broken, almost like his mechanism had gone. What is it about the character and concept that has such longevity? There have been so many adaptations over the years, why still the appeal?
It's primal. I think there is something quite scary for all of us about having someone in the room watching, but not totally knowing if they're there or not. It's an inherent fear that's similar to our one of ghosts: being helpless. The Invisible Man is iconic for the very important reason that he taps into that.
There is also the intriguing flip-side in that; everyone wants to know what it's like to be invisible and would like to see what someone would get up to with that power. We are also living in an age where it is so much more difficult to be invisible what with social media on our phones and app tracking which connects this version to these contemporary times. Are you as tech-savvy and up to speed as your character is?
I can barely switch on a computer mate (laughs). Honestly, it's not good. I used to be the kid at school the teacher asked to operate the VHS machine but I've lost it. I was really reluctant to even get a phone. I don't like the idea of people being able to track me or be in constant contact with me. It's terrifying what's happening with technology. It's incredible but I can't help but think there's a cost to it all. This is something else that our film taps into; how technology can get out of control.
This is the first film in Jason Blum's Universal Monster movie franchise. How do you think it would be best to adapt those old classic horror films for modern audiences?
Universal has predicted what it's going to do with the new franchise but, to be honest, we still don't know whether an audience will actually go and spend money on it at the moment. We hope they do. It will be a testament to small scale film-making if so. I guess they just need to try and take a very different approach to the material as we did. That is why Leigh is very clever: he's made a small, character-driven story, shot in two months with a great lead actress then worked relatable, modern themes like domestic abuse and gas-lighting into it. With really intelligent people behind the production, great creators like Leigh writing and directing, you're bound to end up with at least a very confronting and impactful film.
So what's next in the pipeline for you?
I've just finished shooting the second season of The Haunting of Hill House called The Haunting of Bly Manor, with director Mike Flanagan. We wrapped on Sunday. I don't know what's next right at this moment, but I am going to take a break.
Have you considered putting yourself forward for James Bond?
I could never do that, I'd be way too emotional (laughs). He'd be crying all the time and too intense. I'm too sensitive for Bond. I would really like to play Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. You think about what that character is about and how it could be updated as we have done with this. It could be such a fascinating exploration into multiple personalities.
THE INVISIBLE MAN hits cinemas on Friday, February 28th