‘Werewolf by Night’: Laura Donnelly on Creating the ‘Heart of the Story’ With Elsa Bloodstone
"This whole supernatural world and being able to see that slightly more mature, scarier side to these things, I think that that's going to be really fresh."
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is getting dark — you never know what monsters are lurking about.
With the release of Marvel Studios’ first Special Presentation, Werewolf By Night, a brand new corner of the MCU is ushered in, full of scary things and vicious beasts. Unless of course, you know to call the monster by his name, then everything should be ok!
Elsa Bloodstone has the difficult task of trying to befriend the towering Man-Thing aka, “Ted” along with the titular werewolf by night, Jack Russell, in the Special Presentation, and Laura Donnelly takes on the role with sarcasm and heart. After arriving at the invite-only monster hunt without an invitation, she shakes things up for her estranged family and the rest of the hunters by quickly beating them all at their own game. But just because she survives doesn’t mean there’s not something worse waiting for her…
Ahead of the special’s release, Marvel.com chatted with Donnelly about what it was like filming, from behind-the-scenes antics to performing the stunts, and what it’s like acting terrified on screen.
Marvel.com: I want to start off with a very fun, easy question. What was your favorite behind-the-scenes moment from filming?
LAURA DONNELLY: Oh, my goodness. There were a lot of really big laughs. All of those characters together when we were filming, and all of the monster hunters all gathered at the beginning. We got to spend quite a lot of time with the whole cast together, and we just laughed so much.
There was a time when we all decided that we were going to learn the dance from “Thriller” and try and film it for kind of behind-the-scenes stuff, but we just failed completely. Most of us ended up in absolute fits of laughter. But, it was a brilliant bunch of people, we really had a great time together.
Marvel.com: Now let's talk about Elsa Bloodstone, because she is a relatively newer comics character. What about Elsa were you most excited to bring to life on screen, and how much did you dive into the comics, if at all?
LAURA DONNELLY: I think the thing that I really enjoyed about Elsa when I did dive into the comics, because I got hold of Nextwave, and I got hold of her one-shot novel that came out quite recently— I think the thing that I was really looking forward to is just exploring that kind of snarky, sarcastic side of her, just having that bit of attitude with her.
But at the same time, what we were specifically bringing with this project was also her vulnerability and her humanity and just how unsure she is of herself at this point, which is kind of specific to our project rather than something that's in the comics. I think I was really looking forward to just combining those two elements and kind of creating a whole new version of Elsa that nobody has seen before.
Marvel.com: There's clearly a lot of Bloodstone family history that is mentioned, but we do not dive into it at all. Can you talk about working with the creative team to create some sort of backstory for her that’s hinted at?
LAURA DONNELLY: Yeah, it was an ongoing process the whole way through filming, and [the creative team and I] were always sitting down to discuss the scenes that we were about to do and change them and kind of make them work better on the day. There was a lot of experimenting and a lot of creative freedom in that way. Those conversations existed with Heather [Quinn], our writer, who was on set, and Michael [Giacchino], the director. They went through the whole shooting period.
It was something that was always evolving and that we were always kind of nailing down. And, as you say it, what I love is that it's only something that is hinted at. It's so much fun and so fulfilling to be able to bring a character where there is so much backstory. They have this complete inner world, and yet it's not something that we're just trying to show and not something that we're trying to get across to the audience all the time. You just get the hint that, yes, she is this fully formed person but that there's a lot more to learn about her in the future.
Marvel.com: And now Elsa is clearly kicking butt left and right through the whole special. Can you talk about filming some of those stunt scenes, and did you do any of them yourself?
LAURA DONNELLY: I love doing stunt work, and it was a huge draw for me in getting to play the character because I've done quite a lot of stunt work in the work I've done in the last few years. I did loads of training and learned a lot of martial arts and stuff for that, so when I came in, I felt like I already had a good basis and something that I could really bring to it, which was great.
I will do anything they'll ever let me do. If they say no, something is too dangerous or whatever, then I completely get it, and you've got to always trust your stunt coordinator in that way. But if they will let me at it, I will absolutely do it.
I got to learn sword fighting for the first time, so that was a whole new skill that I got to develop. It's tricky, and I was nervous on the first day that we went to shoot that. But you get through a take, and you realize, oh, no, it's OK, I've got this, and just keep going with it. It's really fun.
Marvel.com: Do you have a favorite stunt that you know you did that made it into the final cut?
LAURA DONNELLY: I'm not even sure which ones were me and which ones weren't! So I don't know for sure that they made it in, but, well, there's one that I do know for definite, which is, at one stage, I get flung back. And I've just had my head hit several times, and I flew back. And then I just had to gather myself for a moment on the floor, and I just loved that. Just a little bit of brevity, a little comedy, just in the middle of this big, crazy fight, so that was really fun.
Marvel.com: I love to talk about Elsa befriending both monsters, both Jack and Ted, because she slowly becomes both of their friends over the course of the special. How did you work with Michael and the writers to create this softer side for her?
LAURA DONNELLY: I had conversations with Michael about the idea that the heart of the story would lie in this connection between Jack and Elsa, and that was something that we really wanted to show in its beginning. [The special] doesn't tell its whole story and it doesn't reach its full extent within this one hour, I think that there's lots more, but just the idea that we wanted to create this heart, just show that there was something just burgeoning.
And so getting to work with Gael [García Bernal] in that respect was kind really key to that. He's such a brilliant actor, and I've been a huge fan of his since I first saw him 20-odd years ago. I'm kind of getting to work with him on those scenes, and we would do a little bit of rewriting and just make those connections a bit stronger on the day.
So, for example, the scene where we're locked in the mausoleum and we having a whole chat that kind of involves a little bit of both histories, but they're not letting away too much. And we worked with Heather, the writer, on set to be able to make that feel really true to them and create a connection between them, but also just not give away too much or not feel like we were trying to explain to the audience what has happened in either of these people's pasts.
Marvel.com: I would love to talk about one of my favorite scenes in the movie, which is when Jack is transforming, and the camera is fixed on Elsa. Can you talk about filming that scene? It is terrifying and also beautiful.
LAURA DONNELLY: It was quite hard work in terms of just all that breathing and the tension, because I was just, yeah, sitting in the middle of a floor by myself with a camera very slowly coming towards me. Michael had explained what he wanted from this shot, and we knew that that was definitely one of the clearest references to the genre, to the old '30s and '40s movies. I'd watched all of those growing up, so I knew what kind of thing he was talking about, I had that in my head already.
And so I just had to find where the truth was for me in that, because, obviously, I'm not watching somebody actually transform into a werewolf. Finding the truth of that and then just really going for it, I think, was the key. In those moments, you can't hold back because you will end up doing it again and again, so you've just got to give it everything. I was really dizzy and lightheaded at the end of those, and sweating. It's surprisingly hard work doing that,
Marvel.com: What are you most excited for viewers to see in Werewolf by Night?
LAURA DONNELLY: I'm really excited for them to see this first foray into horror for the MCU. That will be something pretty new This whole supernatural world and being able to see that slightly more mature, scarier side to these things, I think that that's going to be really fresh. But at the same time, I think what makes the special so beautiful is just the heart that is in it, that connection between those two characters, and the vulnerability and the human side to it as well. I think it creates that balance really beautifully.
Werewolf by Night is now streaming on Disney+.
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