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Stage actors at home in horror

Fran Kranz says he loved working with a passionate director.

“The Cabin in the Woods” – the new horror movie from producer Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard, the collaborators on the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” series, looks like a typical shockfest. It isn’t. In addition to cerebral plot twists we can’t reveal here, naturally, it also boasts smart actors.

Two of those actors – Fran Kranz, a Yale alum currently appearing on Broadway in “Death of a Salesman,” and Kristen Connolly, a Yale Drama graduate seen in such films as “Revolutionary Road,” recently visited to discuss their “Cabin” experiences.

Q. Drew Goddard directed “The Cabin in the Woods.” But how often was Joss Whedon on the set?

Kranz: He was really involved. I’d just been shooting “Dollhouse,” but we were on our hiatus. So “Cabin in the Woods,” he gave his full attention. But certainly on set, Drew was the director. You felt that and you went to him because he was so …

Connolly: Drew’s such a good guy.

Kranz: He was so passionate – not that Joss wasn’t, but just in a different way. It was a contagious kind of thing. It was like young, excited – it was a fanboy kind of thing, you know what I mean? And he became the guy to talk to. He was the expert on how, like, zombies ate intestines. You would go to him with these questions.

Connolly: I think we both have a picture of him somewhere eating zombie guts but, like, really seriously. There is nothing ironic about it. He’s like, “No, no, it needs to be more like this.” (She mimics digging in and chewing.)

Q. What is Joss like to work with?

Connolly: He’s wonderful. He’s one of those people that, without even doing anything, makes you want to work hard and makes you want to do your best. He sort of inspires that in people. And you could see – I think everybody on that set, the crew, the actors, everybody – it felt really like a team.

Even on Facebook, I’m still friends with the hair and make-up team.

Kranz: There’s something there. People really do want to be their best around him. But he’s not demanding of it. He’s not tyrannical at all.

Connolly: He’s like the nicest guy you’ll ever meet.

Kranz: He cares about his workers and employees and actors. I know Chris Hemsworth – (Joss) called Kenneth Branagh on his own to encourage him to look at Chris for “Thor.” Chris did not ask him to do that.

Q. You’re both trained actors with theater experience. How do you apply your training to the horror genre?

Connolly: In a way it was almost like rehearsing different scenes from a play: “Okay, well, today we’re going to do this scene and that’s what we’re working on.” You try to go back and say, “Okay, where am I coming from? What’s just happened?” All of the same homework you would do in a play. I don’t know, I don’t think of it as actually being that different.

Kranz: In a sense, when we’re on set filming a scene, you do want to be open the way you are in a rehearsal process. You do want to take all these different risks. I remember there was a day when Richard Jenkins had this really wild take. This one take was particularly out there and we all kind of felt it and Drew went up to him and went, “I’m not sure. ...” And Richard cut him off and said, “I can’t be afraid to fail.” He’s this great veteran actor and it was really interesting to me – I’ll never forget it. That is how you should approach filming. Leave it all out there.

Q. The other thing that’s sort of like a play, I’m guessing, is that a lot of this has to be completely in your imagination. Because effects and things are added in post.

Connolly: Yeah, exactly.

Kranz: Yeah, it certainly helped that we really did have zombies.

Connolly: A lot of monsters.

Kranz: And a lot of stuff. There was stuff that was not there.

Q. Did you look at specific horror movies before shooting this?

Connolly: Drew gave us, when we got to Vancouver, a list of movies to watch. We watched the “Evil Dead” movies and we watched, I think, the first “Halloween” movie. And we watched “The Descent,” which was terrifying.