In “Victor Frankenstein,” James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe join a long tradition of actors, usually British (or Scottish), playing Mary Shelley’s mad scientist and his assistant. But they are the first to play with this dynamic: Instead of Frankenstein’s lowly, hunchbacked helper, Igor is a dandy and a medical genius in his own regard. It also allowed the two actors to goof around on the set of a particularly nutty what-if.
This is your first time working together but you seem to have a mutual admiration. So what was your relationship like on set?
James McAvoy: When I have to work with people I don’t like, and I think they are really horrible. I generally never argue with them either. We got on really well. There was no arguing.
Daniel Radcliffe: Yeah. I think that the image people have of actors being like constantly at war with each other isn’t generally the case.
What is your relationship with science? What grades did you get at school in physics and chemistry?
McAvoy: I didn’t take physics. But I did take chemistry and biology for a very short time. And in chemistry, I think I got a C, and in biology a B-. And then when I grew old enough to choose subjects I would specialize in, I dropped them both and took English and music. I always enjoyed science at school and I enjoy hearing scientists and talk about science. But I’m definitely glad I don’t have to learn it or do it.
We are all going to die someday. Would you like to be raised from the dead by some genius?
Radcliffe: Yeah, as long as I’m the only one. [Laughs] And he won’t do it to everybody, so that there are lots of dead walking around. I’d like to think about myself as special.
Creating life is like playing God. Do you believe in God? Have you ever wanted to challenge God?
McAvoy: Even people with great faith and those who have a close relationship to God challenge him, like his son. We all challenge things we believe. Victor is challenging God. “I can do it better” — that’s what he’s saying. There is an idea of god-creator and the idea of faith. We are moving towards it every day, trying to become people. It’s an everyday life. And that is what the Frankenstein story is about.
At the beginning of the film, Daniel’s character doesn’t have a name. Do you know this feeling? Have you ever wanted to start anew?
Radcliffe: As actors we put a mask on and become nobody and anonymous in that way. In real life, you often don’t want to be well known nor famous, and sometimes I remember I didn’t want to be an actor any more.
McAvoy: The nice thing about being an actor is that on every single job, it’s like a clean slate — a new director, new crew, may be even a new country, new language, all that kind of stuff. And you kind of go, “Alright, that last job was a f—ing nightmare.” Maybe I wasn’t who I wanted to be or wasn’t at my best. But what is great about acting is that you are not pretending to be someone else but try to be your better self.