Kate Beckinsale Underworld: Blood Wars
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Lara Pulver, Tobias Menzies, Bradley James, James Faulkner, Charles Dance
Director: Anna Foerster
Genre: Action, Supernatural
Synopsis: The next instalment in the blockbuster franchise, Underworld: Blood Wars follows Vampire death dealer, Selene (Kate Beckinsale) as she fends off brutal attacks from both the Lycan clan and the Vampire faction that betrayed her.
With her only allies, David (Theo James) and his father Thomas (Charles Dance), she must stop the eternal war between Lycans and Vampires, even if it means she has to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Underworld: Blood Wars
Release Date: December 1st, 2016
About The Production
The fifth instalment in the hugely successful series, Underworld: Blood Wars celebrates a return to the brooding aesthetic introduced in the original 2002 hit Underworld. 'Blood Wars really goes back to the roots, the mythology, the ways of the past," says producer Richard S. Wright of Lakeshore Entertainment. 'The set design, the costumes, the whole vision follows more from the first Underworld film than the fourth one." Making her franchise debut, director Anna J. Foerster savored the idea of bringing the series back to its roots. 'I really liked the first Underworld because it made a big statement at the time about a look and a world," she says.
Shot in Eastern Europe, like the original Underworld movie, Blood Wars evokes an Old World atmosphere that pays homage to the series' aesthetic DNA. But screenwriter Cory Goodman's script also expands the franchise's mythology, introducing a chilling new realm that pushes star Kate Beckinsale's character Selene to her limits. 'One of the most exciting components of the film is the Nordic Vampire Coven," says Lakeshore Entertainment president Gary Lucchesi. 'We have never seen these vampires before."
A Woman in Charge
To invest Underworld: Blood Wars with a fresh point of view, the producers recruited Anna Foerster, a versatile German-born filmmaker who brought a wealth of action expertise to the project. She had previously directed second-unit action sequences on big-budget spectaculars including The Day After Tomorrow, worked on visual effects for such blockbusters as Independence Day, and directed Starz's Emmy®-nominated time-travel series 'Outlander." 'Anna Foerster's action resume, combined with the skill she showed in directing actors for episodes of -Outlander' made me feel she was the perfect choice to direct Underworld: Blood Wars," producer Gary Lucchesi says. Franchise producer Tom Rosenberg welcomed Anna Foerster into the Underworld family with enthusiasm. 'Anna Foerster really understands action, she understands the camera and she understands special effects, which is a rare combination," he says.
Anna Foerster revealed in the opportunity to honour the Underworld aesthetic with her own take on the material. 'My approach on Blood Wars was to respect the fact that you already have this strong mythology, you have a very clear palette, you have rules for the Lycans and the vampires about when and why they transform," she says. 'I was excited to keep all those things because I think it would be a mistake to say, -Okay, now we do everything differently.' Instead, I decided to take everything I thought was exciting about Underworld and build on top of that with new, unexpected elements."
The idea of having a woman direct a franchise about a strong female character was a nobrainer, says Richard Wright of Lakeshore Entertainment. 'Anna Foerster's been able to breathe new life into the franchise in a way I don't think anybody else would have done."
A New Side of Selene
As the star of four of the five Underworld films, Kate Beckinsale continues to navigate subtle changes from one movie to the next. 'It's interesting to come back and play a character that you played before," she says. 'I'm always dressed as Selene but the worlds have changed quite a lot for each movie. The first one we shot in Budapest and it looked sort of industrial and steam punk.
Now, Blood Wars has a quite a medieval vibe to it. My outfit might stay the same but what the character's going through and the world she's moving through has been quite different each time. The reason I was interested in Blood Wars is that Selene goes through so much emotional stuff during the movie. That was really appealing to Anna as well."
For Kate Beckinsale's character, the stakes have never been higher. 'There's been this longstanding feud between Vampires and Lycans but in Blood Wars, Selene's very much disenfranchised from both factions," the actress explains. 'She's not really part of the team of vampires anymore and she's on the run from everyone. Selene's tough and incredibly inventive about killing monsters and all of that, but her motivation has always been love. In Blood Wars, it's the love for her daughter Eve that keeps Selene going."
Kate Beckinsale especially enjoyed filming the battle scene when Lycans attack the Nordic Coven. 'They've got a lot of medieval equipment that Selene grabs and we've also got a fair bit of swords and the odd axe coming in at her," Kate Beckinsale says.
As Anna Foerster and Kate Beckinsale collaborated on the film, director and star formed a tight bond. 'I have to say, Kate Beckinsale is one of the most intelligent women I've worked with," says Anna Foerster. 'As Selene, Kate Beckinsale's fiercer and more kickass and aggressive than ever, but at the same time you see this vulnerability as her character goes through all these change. So at times, she's softer. And when Selene travels north, she goes through physical changes as well picking up some blonde highlights along the way. I loved working with Kate Beckinsale on these new facets of the character."
Blood Wars puts Selene through her most arduous journey yet, as Kate Beckinsale's Vampire Death Dealer seeks refuge in an astonishing world of Nordic vampires and faces some of the deadliest adversaries of her 1,000-year-old life. Gary Lucchesi, President of Lakeshore Entertainment, sees this new chapter of the Underworld saga as a thrilling showcase for the British actress. 'Kate Beckinsale is beautiful, intelligent and intriguing. She's really made the difference for this franchise as this vampire heroine. It's perfect casting."
New Friends and Fiercer Foes
Blood Wars re-unites Beckinsale's Selene with Theo James's character David, who's going through some changes of his own. 'Selene and David's relationship has definitely evolved," says Theo James. 'Before, he was a young, unsure lad following shyly in her footsteps. Now, he's more of a man."
As Selene helps David discover his true destiny, she's forced to tangle with colorful new adversaries including Semira, an ambitious member of Eastern Coven's Elite Council. British actress Lara Pulver portrays Semira as a master manipulator obsessed with Selene " and the power her blood possesses. 'Semira's a total chameleon," Lara Pulver says. 'Depending on who she's dealing with, she's able to transform herself and manipulate situations to her advantage." To make her character even more menacing, Lara Pulver trained intensively for the film's sword fight sequences and performed many of her own stunts.
'Semira has this psychopathic intensity driven by the energy and sheer fun Lara put into the performance," says producer Wright.
Selene faces an even deadlier adversary in Tobias Menzies as Marius, the Lycan leader determined to find Selene's daughter Eve so he can feed on her 'hybrid" blood and spawn an invincible Lycan-Vampire army. Menzies, who earned a Golden Globe® nomination for his role in 'Outlander," savored the experience of playing the alpha werewolf. 'It was wonderful working with Anna Foerster," he says. 'You can feel her pushing the bounds of the genre, trying to reinvent the form and make it something fresh."
Although the Underworld franchise has featured numerous acclaimed British thespians, including Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy and Derek Jacobi, producer Wright singles out Menzies' Marius as one of the most colorful characters to share the screen with Kate Beckinsale. 'Marius has a style and a flair and a verve to him that previous villains in Underworld haven't had to the same extent," Wright says. 'Tobias was a great choice for Marius because he's played villains before and attacked this role with great relish."
Newcomer Clementine Nicholson makes her feature film debut in Blood Wars playing the Nordic Coven's mystical young vampire Lena. 'There's a spiritual aspect to Lena that gives Selene an opportunity to open up," Anna Foerster explains. 'In a way, Lena's like a catalyst to Selene's inner turmoil. And what's interesting about Lena is that she speaks Sami, which is a tribal language in the north of Lapland." Clementine Nicholson, who landed the Blood Wars role just seven weeks after graduating from London's East 15 Acting School, counts herself as a longtime Underworld fan. 'I'm really excited to be a part of this incredibly successful franchise."
Underworld: Blood Wars features the return of Charles Dance as David's father and council elder Thomas, and introduces Daisy Head as gutsy Eastern Coven cadet Alexia. The cast also includes veteran British actor James Faulkner in the role of Cassius, leader of the Eastern Coven Council; and Bradley James as Varga, Semira's lover and cold-blooded henchman.
Czech Castles and Prague Soundstages
Underworld: Blood Wars shot for 10 weeks, in and around the Czech Republic capital of Prague. Blessed with an estimated 2,000 castles, the Czech Republic provided a treasure trove of spectacular-looking locations. After extensive scouting, filmmakers focused on three architectural gems: Lipnice Castle, whose first historical reference was recorded in 1314; Kacina, a palatial Empire-style chateau; and Hluboka Castle, perched majestically atop the rocky cliffs above the Vltava River.
Lipnice Castle's monumental Gothic architecture, replete with dark, narrow passageways and subterranean chambers, provided designer Ondrej Nekvasil with plenty of room to create the Nordic Coven's labyrinthine interiors. Kacina Chateau's symmetrical, cupola-topped library provided the ideal setting for the Eastern Coven's Council Chambers while Hluboka Castle's wintergarden, enclosed by glass and decorative cast-iron gates, served as the setting for the decadent Vampires' Ball, where hostess Semira disingenuously welcomes Selene and David back to the Eastern Coven.
By contrast, the Lycans hideaway, designed around an abandoned freight train station and several disused cargo wagons, reflects their nomadic existence. 'It was important to convey that the Lycans don't have a castle or any permanent base," says Ondrej Nekvasil. 'In that sense, they're like a gang of wild animals, always on the move, whereas the Vampires are like noble families who stay in one place maintaining traditions and possessing tremendous power."
In addition to the extensive location shoots, the filmmakers took full advantage of Prague's state-of-the-art studio facilities. They occupied five soundstages at the world-renowned Barrandov Studios along with two stages at Prague Studios. There, sets were built for the major Eastern and Nordic Covens. While the Eastern Coven's opulent Old World aesthetic largely mirrors art direction from the first Underworld, Ondrej Nekvasil conceptualized the Nordic Coven's mystical, ice-bound environment from the ground up. 'When Selene goes to the North, that's where you get into all these silvers and whites," says Ondrej Nekvasil. 'The Nordic Coven is essentially where Selene and David get clarity and find a kind of enlightenment about their history. Purely from a visual point of view, we wanted to set the stage for that part of the story."
Fighting For Their Vampire Lives
Charged with orchestrating the film's signature action sequences, second unit director Brad Martin worked closely with stunt coordinator Todd Schneider to blend wire work, speed changes, hand-to-hand fighting, gunplay and physical combat. Martin, who started out as a stunt coordinator on the first Underworld movie, regards Kate Beckinsale's agility and strength as invaluable assets.
'Kate Beckinsale's been doing this a long time so there's not a lot of re-learning that needs to be done," he says. 'She shows up, she does her stunts perfectly the first time, and then we move on."
Kate Beckinsale's co-stars also proved their mettle. 'David's final sword fight with Semira veers almost into John Woo-Jackie Chan Hong Kong action territory," observes producer Wright.
'Both actors rehearsed really hard so most of what you see on screen is actually Theo and Lara, not the stunt doubles."
To enhance the action, longtime Underworld visual effects supervisor James McQuaide oversaw an estimated 1,000 VFX shots. 'Anna's objective was to do as much practically as we possibly could, to do lots of stunts, lots of practical action, lots of practical creatures," says James McQuaide, who also serves as an executive producer. 'She wanted to return to that traditional Underworld aesthetic, which involves practical Lycans and practical stunts. For me, it was important to keep this alive as much as possible."
Transforming Lycan Hordes
Where previous Underworld movies typically depicted a handful of human-to-Lycan transformations, Underworld: Blood Wars upped the ante dramatically. One sequence alone showcased more than a hundred transformations. To create hordes of photo-realistic digital Lycans, James McQuiade used Agisoft PhotoScan software. 'It's been remarkably successful as a way to capture the geometry and color and texture for all these actors who transformed from Lycan to human," says James McQuiade.
While James McQuaide supervised the digital side of Lycan transformations, creature effects supervisor Todd Masters and his team produced the intricate detailed foam-latex suits worn by key Lycan stunt performers. 'There's a bit of a handshake between the practical, on-set Lycan and the digital Lycan," explains Masters. 'Those two elements have to blend well, so we take a lot of care in painting each piece."
Foerster, whose own VFX expertise in visual effects contributions to Stuart Little 2, made a point of integrating real performers with digital Lycans for Blood Wars' big action scenes. 'Even if you have 600 Lycans in the room that are all CG, I think it's important to have at least one or two actors in the foreground setting the tone, setting the look, setting the feeling," she says.
RED Cameras Capture 3D Vampires
Post-production techniques for converting regular film to 3D have made huge strides in recent years, according to producer Wright. 'They've become much more adept at doing 3D conversion during post to create the impression that both eyes see slightly differently and therefore, you see an image that looks three-dimensional," he says. 'Doing the 3D conversion for Blood Wars in post allowed the filmmaker to concentrate on making a movie and not worry about the 3D." Cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub, ASC, bvk shot Blood Wars on the RED Weapon 6K camera. 'We used modern tools like Technocrane, Steadicam and handheld in combination with classic widescreen composition, so it was a good mix," says Karl Walter Lindenlaub, who has worked previously with director Anna Foerster. 'We tried to find the right tool for the right moment. I had a good rapport with Anna Foerster so it was simple to agree on how to shoot each scene."
Karl Walter Lindenlaub and Anna Foerster honored Underworld tradition by deploying a desaturated lighting palette, but added their own flourishes. 'Every film has to stand on its own legs," says Karl Walter Lindenlaub.
'When you watch the first Underworlds, it has this almost black and white, heavy blue look to underscore the idea that these creatures live in the dark. Of course, you still have to see them, so it can't be pitch black. Within that monochrome tonality, we tried to find some shades of colour."
The story's murky tones give way to a brilliant change of pace when Selene and David trek north to the Nordic Coven. 'You have so much white everywhere that it's hard to make moonlight look like moonlight and not like sunlight," says Karl Walter Lindenlaub. 'We had exterior sets inside on the stage where we had to light big open spaces. Then you have the castle, the Nordic Coven, which has more fire and ice, so I could have warm light contrasting the blue light. That was important because if you use one tone for the whole movie, the eye gets used to it and you start to lose impact."
Dressed to Kill
Underworld: Blood Wars costume designer Bojana Nikitovic crafted outfits that ran the gamut from medieval, ice-based armor to opulent vampire ball gowns. She also tweaked Selene's skin-tight Death Dealer costume to enable Kate Beckinsale to move fluidly during her intensive stunt sequences.
'The basic look has to be the same because every Underworld fan wants to see Selene wearing those boots and corset and jacket."
For her part, Kate Beckinsale was happy to slip back into her vampire garb. 'To be honest, the costume's fairly comfortable, although it's not something I'd want to wear when I'm grocery shopping," she laughs.
Bojana Nikitovic also conceived a multi-textured, ethereal look for the film's new race of Nordic Coven creatures. Working out of Prague's Barrandov Studios, costumers fabricated nearly 700 Lycan and Vampire costumes. 'It's an insane amount of work but you also have the opportunity to really get into it and make something that's organic to the film itself," says producer Wright.
Bojana Nikitovic ingeniously constructed the costumes to stand out in the low-light environments where much of the action takes place. 'Even in that flood of all black, there's so much detail and difference in textures and different materials that Bojana Nikitovic created," says cinematographer Lindenlaub.
'Everything was aged perfectly, the shapes are great and they stand out wonderfully." Actress Lara Pulver luxuriated in her outfits of leather, fur and lace, including the decadent ensemble Semira dons for the Vampire Ball. 'It's almost an Alexander McQueen, avant-garde type dress that's just larger than life," she says.
To complete the characters' transformation into full-blown vampires, hair and make-up designer Davina Lamont outfitted performers with fangs and colored contact lenses. 'Those teeth completely alter the contours of one's face," Lara Pulver says. 'It's been a fascinating part of Anna's vision to have all of us morphing into these animalistic tribal beings."
Lamont also supervised the creation of approximately 200 elaborate wigs. Over the course of the film, Semira alone wears nine separate wigs. The rotating hair styles helped Pulver channel her character's ever-changing persona. 'We make Semira look demure at times, then other times she's outrageous," Lara Pulver says. 'The fun thing is that you never quite know who you're going to get with Semira. She can make you feel comfortable, yet, there's also this sting in the tail."
A Lasting Legacy
Blood Wars pushes Underworld mythology into exciting new realms while drawing on the strengths that continue to thrill fans 14 years after the series' inception. 'The thing that makes Underworld so successful is the fact that you're immersed in this vampire world which is not real, and yet the drama between all these creatures is universal," says Anna Foerster. 'I hope audiences are wowed by the action but I also hope people enjoy where Selene goes emotionally. After all this fighting and hardship, at the end she comes to a place where she has a new outlook on life. Selene is ultimately a tragic character, but if she can also evoke hope for audiences, then I think that's a pretty big thing."
Kate Beckinsale expects Underworld: Blood Wars to satisfy a key expectation for fans of the franchise by showcasing Selene at her most warrior-like. 'All sorts of horrible things happen to Selene but then she manages to dispatch everybody because she gets really pissed off," the actress says. In between the fast and furious combat scenes, Underworld: Blood Wars offers a darkly thrilling cinematic vision of uncommon integrity.
'It's difficult these days to get a genre movie of this type made if it's not based on an existing comic book or video game or something like that," Kate Beckinsale muses. 'Underworld is original, and given the fact that it also has a female lead there are a lot of reasons I feel really privileged to be one of those few women who gets to do this kind of movie. I think audiences like to see women taking names and kicking ass but I also think at this point, there's a historical legacy element to Underworld that people find appealing."
Underworld: Blood Wars
Release Date: December 1st, 2016