Like Much Ado About Nothing co-star Alexis Denisof, Fran Kranz has become one of Joss Whedon’s regular ensemble members, jumping from a major role on Whedon’s TV series Dollhouse to a major role in the smart, offbeat horror film The Cabin In The Woods, which Whedon co-wrote and produced. From there, he co-starred in Whedon’s Much Ado, which just came out on DVD/Blu-ray, following its a spring 2013 theatrical run. The black-and-white Shakespeare adaptation, shot in 12 days at Whedon’s house, co-stars Kranz as Claudio, the lovelorn young man who falls head over heels for Hero (Jillian Morgese), then spurns her after a villainous scheme brings her fidelity into question. Claudio is a judgmental, jealous rube by today’s standards, but Kranz plays him with a tender vulnerability that softens the character’s more questionable choices.
Claudio has a lot to learn about love, but Kranz himself says he’s already learned his key lessons from Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046, his instant choice when asked to discuss a movie everyone should see. He describes himself as such a passionate fan that he bought the original poster, then had a color copy made so he could preserve the original from harm.
2046 is a difficult film: It forms a loose trilogy with Wong’s Days Of Being Wild and In The Mood For Love, and features Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung’s characters from those films, but it’s starkly different in tone. It centers on 2046 as a motif—it’s simultaneously an important hotel-room number, the title of a short story, and a metaphorical place, possibly a year in the future where people can go. More specifically, it’s the last year of China’s promised 50 years without major changes in Hong Kong, after the city’s handover to the mainland—symbolically, a time where nothing is altered, but with cataclysmic changes looming just ahead. All these ideas work into a story that jumps between timelines, as Leung’s character interacts with a series of women, but continues to deal with his heartbreak from In The Mood For Love. Kranz sees a lot of things in this poetic, melancholy movie, from life lessons about love to a conversational gambit for people meeting Quentin Tarantino at a party.
The Dissolve: Why does everybody need to see 2046?
Fran Kranz: Well, first of all, I’m not some kind of fascist: I don’t actually believe in compulsory viewing. Maybe vaccinations should be the only compulsory thing. But it’s the most beautiful movie I have ever seen, aesthetically. Also, I consider myself an empathetic person. It’s why I like to act, it’s why I might be good at it. I think it’s an essential quality for a great actor. 2046 taught me a lot—or at least, it opened my mind about a lot of different things when it comes to love and relationships. I think there’s a lot to learn from movies, even if you don’t necessarily think they are successful. I have friends who just like 2046, or who think it’s the most boring thing they’ve ever seen, but I still believe there’s so much that the movie offers, and it’s so large in scope. From score to cinematography to performance to the direction. Bottom line is, I think it’s the most beautiful movie I’ve ever seen. I think it helped me mature a lot in terms of how I think of love, and relationships, and people.
The Dissolve: As an actor, you’ve said you pick up ideas from films that you watch. Is there a barrier when you watch a great performance in another language, from another culture? Did you pick up things from this film specifically as an actor?
“In The Mood For Love feels structured, created. Whereas 2046 to me feels like it’s bleeding, like it’s messy, like it’s chaotic, It’s hurtful and emotional, which rings more true to me.”
Kranz: I first got turned onto Wong Kar-Wai when I was in middle school—or high school, I’m not sure. I was obsessed with Quentin Tarantino and Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. And my friend said, “I found this Hong Kong movie where Quentin Tarantino is on the DVD box, his seal of approval.” And it was Chungking Express, and it began with Tarantino saying, “This is one of my favorite directors, he’s a big influence on me, I hope you enjoy this movie.” That’s why I went to see 2046: I wanted to see everything he put out there. I feel like I was accustomed to watching not just foreign films, but his foreign films. He uses a lot of the same actors, so I appreciated their performances. Maybe I’d compare it to seeing a Shakespeare play: It might take an act or two to get the language. Eventually, you’re not seeing the subtitles, you’re imbibing it all as you would a film in English.
There’s a level of restraint to all the performances in his movies. Especially his Christopher Doyle collaborations. Christopher Doyle is one of the best living cinematographers. The cinematography is so stunning and beautiful. Chungking Express and some of his other movies, Fallen Angels, have more dynamic performances. But when you get Tony Leung, and Faye Wong, and Gong Li with Christopher Doyle and Wong Kar-Wai, so often it’s about mood, and the frame, and what’s not being said, and especially voiceover.
Often, performance is just mood, which is not necessarily my thing. If anything, I feel I’m an overactor: I chew scenery. So to watch that kind of restraint and stillness in performance fascinates me. As an actor myself, it doesn’t come naturally to me. When I watch these films, there’s so much communicated with expression or gesture. They capture mood and feeling doing so little, and that really fascinates me as an actor. And the moments where people do really go for it, when there are outbursts—Ziyi Zhang unravels over the course of 2046, and toward the end, there’s real desperation in her that’s so heartbreaking. Because most of the characters are cold and locked-up. They have these heartbreak pasts, and they reject love—Tony Leung’s character, especially. So when you see someone really emote, it’s uncomfortable, it’s really powerful.
The Dissolve: You mentioned the Tarantino connection: I ran across an interview where you said you spent an entire evening arguing with him about one plot point in 2046.
Kranz: I took a friend to a screening, and he was on his phone the whole time, he was miserable. So I’m aware that this is a movie people think is boring. But I saw Quentin Tarantino at a party, and it was perfect—I was at the peak of my obsession with 2046, and he was the guy who introduced me to Wong Kar-Wai. So I approached him, which was great: This is a hero of mine, and here I had a reason to talk to him. And that’s a reason to see the movie: You can get into a really intense conversation with Quentin Tarantino if you ever see him. It was about Ziyi Zhang’s character: He felt her last appearance was unnecessary, and undermined the strength of the film. He didn’t like her coming back to Tony Leung. He thought it was a redundant, or inconsistent, development in their storyline. It took him out of the movie, he said—it made it feel long, it hurt the structure and his experience. I completely agree it’s not a movie with conventional structure; it’s lyrical, and it jumps back and forth in time, and between reality and fiction. It’s all over the place, but ultimately, it’s about relationships, about people’s experiences with love, good and bad. I felt that was an aspect of love and heartbreak and happiness that had not been touched upon in the movie: the crawling back to someone. I think we all have experienced, or know the idea of, “I should not be doing this. I should be stronger than this, but I had this happiness once, and I need it back. I will sacrifice my integrity to have a chance at it.”
The poster of this film is an image of Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang just hugging each other, but it’s desperate, like they’re grasping each other. There’s a desperation to relive or find that love, that happiness, even if it’s sexual. That passion, when you have it, is about the most powerful thing a human being can experience. She is at a point where she needs it. I felt it was necessary to the film to complete its portrait of love and passion. It’s a hard scene to watch.
So we had a difference of opinion: He thought it was unnecessary, and I felt it was the cherry on top. It comes at the end of the movie, and I thought it was a truth, where he felt it was false. But there was a level of respect between us. I was talking to Quentin Tarantino, but by no means was he dismissive. To think of it as an abstract poem of passion, I felt this was a necessary line or stanza. [Laughs.]
The Dissolve: We went over what you got out of it as an actor, but what did you get out of it as a person? You’ve said it taught you about love and relationships and maturity, but how, specifically?
Kranz: Not to say I practice this, because it’s easier said than done, but… The odds are against us. The odds of finding someone you love, a soulmate or whatever you want to call it, having a family that is not completely dysfunctional, ending your life with someone who truly makes you happy, without some heartbreak or some deep flaw or trauma between you—it’s unlikely, to say the least. It’s not impossible, but it’s highly unlikely. So the odds are against us when it comes to love and connecting with people. This movie proclaims that in a beautiful and oddly inspiring way. It made these people heroic in their desperation, and the way they handle love and the absence of it is something to empathize with.
I watch this movie, and I want, as a person, to have greater patience and compassion for everyone, because of how difficult it is. I like to believe you chase passion and give it your all, but otherwise have the compassion to recognize in one another how lonely it can be, or how difficult it is to retain any kind of real happiness and passion. It’s a movie that paints beautifully that it’s hard, and it’s such a compassionate movie. Even though the main character is cold-hearted: He rejects true love. But in reality, it’s part of this thematic trilogy on love, and you know from his past there was a woman he cared about, that their timing was off, that they had too much baggage.
But it isn’t that he doesn’t believe in love. His fictional narrative 2046 is rooted in the idea of people searching for true love. I’d like to think I’m a better person for seeing it. No, I probably still act like a complete jerk in my relationships, act selfish and all that. [Laughs.] But when watching this movie, I just want to plead for humanity, to pray for everyone to have some taste of happiness. On the other hand, the Ziyi Zhang character, you see her taste it and lose it, and it destroys her. It’s a tough movie, but I certainly walk out of it with great sympathy for everyone around me, and my ex-girlfriends. [Laughs.]
The Dissolve: 2046 is the third film in a loose trilogy, and the previous films do inform it, but at the same time, it’s a very different animal. Can it be seen in isolation, without watching the other films first?
Kranz: I saw 2046 first. I didn’t even know about Days Of Being Wild until fairly recently. I immediately saw In The Mood For Love after 2046, and it certainly informs 2046, but I think they all stand alone. I think Tony Leung’s past is clear, even if it’s vague or abstract—the idea that he was in love and it didn’t work out is written all over his face. And I believe he says it explicitly. Beyond that, it’s open-ended. Like love and our relationships, they all become intertwined at some point. Even though I do believe sometimes when you’re heartbroken and can’t get over someone, the only real cure is to meet someone else. In that sense, you think it’s sort of a clean severing.
But I do think we’re formed by our trauma and heartbreak through our connections with other people, whether it’s friendships or romantic. This is a movie where you don’t need to complete the thread. You don’t need to see the beginning of this man’s life, or what brought him to this place. Collectively, we know and understand that place. He begins lonely, writing a science-fiction novel about a place where people travel to recapture their happiest memories, or their lost memories, and live there. That says enough about what a lost soul this person is. From there, it covers different variations of people at different stages of love, which I don’t think In The Mood For Love does. As incredible a movie it is, it doesn’t have the same scope. In The Mood For Love is a nice conceit: The idea of two spouses leaving with one another, and leaving the spurned lovers to force themselves to develop a relationship. It makes for a great play. It makes for a great concept. Where 2046 is a sweeping symphony about passion as a whole.
The Dissolve: 2046 is achronological, and it follows a series of threads with different people in different timelines. Is there an intellectual aspect to watching this movie, where you try to piece together a linear story, or interpret the symbolism?
Kranz: I would be hard-pressed to argue that there’s an A-to-B structure, where you could walk away with a plot. I don’t think that’s the movie. It’s far more an emotional experience, which is not for everyone. But you can kind of think of it as a collection of short stories with an essential character in Tony Leung. He has these different relationships over the course of the movie, and between them, there are complete stories, or intellectual ideas, about relationships and how they work. That story on the train has a solid A-to-B structure, and a more intellectual reaction. I’d argue that you’re going to get both out of it, but that could be challenged.
The Dissolve: “2046” is a short story and a room number, but it’s also about this theoretical place people go, which is presented as a year in the future. There’s a lot of debate about whether there is actually time travel in this movie, or it’s just metaphor, or it’s entirely within the pulp story Leung’s character is writing. What’s your interpretation?
Kranz: One of the things I was so attracted to initially was the science fiction. My favorite movie is Star Wars, and I love 2001. I’m a science-fiction nut. To hear Wong Kar-Wai was doing a movie with science fiction, obviously I’m racing to the theaters. But it’s certainly the B-story, if you can even call it that. I can understand how it’s not a science-fiction film, but the idea of time travel is on the table. I think the movie suggests that as human beings, we are in a constant state of time travel. That we are constantly living, breathing memory. That our actions in the present are connected to our memories, and how they’ve affected us. The movie suggests that people don’t change—rather, they evolve. Every action or want is fueled and grounded and experienced in the past. There’s sort of the idea that we move forward to recapture the past. [Laughs.] That sounds like the last line of The Great Gatsby all of a sudden. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” And the movie is a kind of a literal representation of that. Even though Tony Leung doesn’t change as a protagonist would, or we are used to, he’s in a constant state of flux, because he’s stuck in his own past and writing about the future. Hopefully, that can heal him.
The Dissolve: There was a recent interview where Wong Kar-Wai says his films are full of repetition and recurring motifs because he’s obsessed with that idea that people live in ruts, and love is the only thing that breaks them out. But this feels like the opposite: Tony Leung’s character is living in a rut, and refuses to be broken out, and then he goes to the place where nothing changes. Do you think that’s a downer ending?
“Bottom line is, I think it’s the most beautiful movie I’ve ever seen. I think it helped me mature a lot in terms of how I think of love, and relationships, and people.”
Kranz: I do. He’s like a blown fuse. He can’t seem to get rewired. I’m afraid he can’t be ignited again with another person. I don’t think the movie leaves us with a concrete ending, either. He disappears into the tunnel and blacks out into this mother-brain computer image from 2046, from the future. In The Mood For Love brings up this myth that you can carve a hole in a tree and whisper it a secret into it, cover it in mud, and the secret will be kept forever. You see him in Cambodia in Angkor Wat at the end of the film, whispering into the temple. I have to believe that image, the spherical object in the future, is that sort of synthetic device.
The Dissolve: That story is repeated again at the very beginning of 2046.
Kranz: Absolutely. And at the beginning of 2046 is him and Gong Li—I thought it was supposed to be the character from In The Mood For Love, and they’re reconnecting in Singapore. But now I’ve read it’s a look-alike, which—shit, I’m lost. [Laughs.] It doesn’t bother me, being lost. Good abstract art, or reading James Joyce, at a certain point, you’re not going to know what the hell is going on. But you ought to be infused with emotion. It can be powerful without being clear. I do think, on the other hand, there’s so much to the movie that is clear.
But I’d like to believe Tony Leung’s character continues. He’s too much of a romantic, an artist, for me to lose all hope for him. 2046 is pessimistic, but I don’t think it’s cynical, and that’s what’s beautiful. I guess that’s why I walk away with this empathy and compassion—I just want to go hug someone. The movie is like, “Yeah, we’re screwed, but the game is really inspiring.” Despite it having a relaxed tone, you meet a lot of characters in crisis, in this state of emergency, which is exciting. Despite a lot of my friends saying it’s boring, I find there to be an odd urgency to the movie, even though it puts a lot of people to sleep. [Laughs.]
The Dissolve: The whole trilogy is about relationships. Did you end up with an emotional attachment to any particular one of them, one that you hope will succeed?
Kranz: Yes. I’m in love with Faye Wong, but I definitely always wanted Faye Wong and her Japanese boyfriend to work. Because you believe it’s young love, and you believe it’s pure. No matter what happens, that is something you want for everyone: that first time you fall in love. Based on the older, wiser, burnt-out, damaged-goods characters, you see these young people and want that to work. I want even the fictional story to work, between the android and the Japanese character on the train. That’s one of my favorite moments of the movie: When he tells her he loves her, and is waiting for the response, believing there is a delay in the response, loading in the computer. And he sits there for 10 hours, 100 hours, 1,000 hours. The way he forms that scene, it feels like an eternity. For young lovers to wait 1,000 hours feels like such an honorable, epic action. [Laughs.] It really got to me. And in the real story, they get together, and it’s nice. I understand them, and connect with those characters more. You don’t feel sorry for them in their loneliness and heartbreak as much, because I think we’ve been there. Everyone understands heartbreak, and the hard truth of love and relationships, and the work it takes.
The Dissolve: This movie had a notoriously troubled production period. There was a joke that it was called 2046 because it wasn’t going to come out until 2046. Were you aware of that? Does it affect your appreciation of the movie in any particular way?
Kranz: From what I gather, the movie changed dramatically from what he originally intended. People were cast and recast, and I guess a couple years passed between the Japanese actors’ performances. It sounds like it was about as messy a production as possible. Maybe that hurts my argument that this is a great movie, compulsory viewing. Or maybe that hurts my credibility in saying I think this is a flawless movie. But I’ve never been on an easy production. [Laughs.] They’re all kind of chaotic. It’s incredible when you have a smooth day. In a sense, I feel the greater the mess, the greater the reward, the greater the triumph of it all. I hear Wong Kar-Wai doesn’t necessarily have a script, he doesn’t necessarily know what he’s going to shoot. I hear Christopher Doyle is kind of a monster. I hear all these stories, rumors, elements. But that doesn’t bother me. If anything, I think we could use more different and unconventional movies. I recently have been thinking about how the concept of a feature-length movie even came about. Why is there any kind of distinction between short films and long films? I heard there was some French New Wave director that made a 12-hour movie. I know people aren’t going to sit through that stuff, but I do think, even as an actor—I don’t care what your process is, as long it’s good. As long as the result is there. For this movie, I did hear all this after the fact, but it didn’t bother me, ’cause it was too late. I was in love with the movie. To hear that things were completely unintended, or this movie is nothing at all like what it set out to be, that doesn’t bother me. It is what it is, and I’m in love with it.
The Dissolve: It got some strongly positive reviews, but it was divisive, and some major critics have called this Wong Kar-Wai’s worst film. Do you have any particular theories why this wasn’t loved as much as In The Mood For Love?
Kranz: In The Mood For Love is this brilliant conceit, a brilliant plot: two couples, the man from one and the woman from another have an affair, and they leave the other two to artificially create a relationship just to save themselves from the heartbreak. Then they develop something real. It’s a beautiful story. It works for a play; it’s very concise, and that’s easy. And it looks just as good: Christopher Doyle working his magic, the same composer, Shigeru Umebayashi. It’s the same creative team, with a clear plot. Why wouldn’t you like that more? [Laughs.] But for some reason, it doesn’t ring as true to me about the human condition. It does feel like a narrative; it does feel like a plot. In The Mood For Love feels structured, created. Whereas 2046 to me feels like it’s bleeding, like it’s messy, like it’s chaotic. It’s hurtful and emotional, which rings more true to me. A lot of drama, in order to create reaction and a feeling or sensation for storytelling, that’s not necessarily the way life works. I thought 2046 was a much more honest mirroring of who we are and what we deal with than his other movies.