“I have always toyed with themes of transformation and reinvention,” says screenwriter Diablo Cody, who catapulted onto the Hollywood stage with 2007’s “Juno,” for which she won the Academy Award, BAFTA and Critics’ Choice Award for best original screenplay.
“In everything I write, someone is going through a dramatic change, whether it’s becoming possessed by a demon or dealing with a new stage of life,” continues Cody, who is also known for penning acclaimed film “Young Adult,” starring Charlize Theron, and the Megan Fox-led cult-classic “Jennifer’s Body.” “The question I’m always asking is: are we the same person after a profound change? How many parts can we swap or replace before we’re a totally new entity? This movie is a pretty literal interpretation of that!”
“Lisa Frankenstein,” a sardonic spin on Mary Shelley’s 1818 classic, tells the story of Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton), an awkward 17-year-old trying to adjust to a new school and a new life after her mother’s death and her father’s hasty remarriage. Despite the unwavering support offered by her plucky cheerleader step sister Taffy (Liza Soberano), Lisa only finds solace in the abandoned cemetery near her house, where she tends to the grave of a young man who died in 1837 – and whose corpse she unwittingly reanimates (Cole Sprouse). Feeling obligated to help the poor soul regain his humanity, Lisa embarks on a quest to breathe new life into her long-dead new companion. All she needs to succeed are some freshly harvested body parts and Taffy’s broken tanning bed.
“The idea of using a tanning bed as the power source [to bring the dead back to life] was hilarious to me,” Cody says. Inspired by another off-beat spin on Frankenstein mythology, the 1985 John Hughes film “Weird Science,” Cody set her own take on the story in the 1980s. “In that film, two teenage boys literally design their dream woman, animate her with electricity and watch in awe as she improves their lives,” she says. “I always thought it would be fun to see a female-centered take on that story.”
Playing the all-important role of Lisa Swallows is Kathryn Newton (“Pokémon: Detective Pikachu,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”), who shares that one of the biggest influences for her portrayal was Gene Wilder’s performance in “Young Frankenstein” (1974). “Gene Wilder was an incredible actor who was able to master that in-between of playing a character that’s so over-the-top, but still grounded and pulling the audience in,” Newton says.
For Cole Sprouse (“Riverdale”), playing the creature reanimated by Lisa was the role of a lifetime, even though it meant having to act beneath layers of prosthetic makeup that had to be applied for hours each day and portraying the character primarily through moans, grunts and gestures. “His inability to speak was what really excited me, just technically, and I knew it would be a heavy physical role,” Sprouse says. “For me, it was an attempt to reach some more universal physical language about how we perceive emotions through gesture, through movement, which was fun.”
The Creature ignites the spark of life and love in Lisa, who now feels seen and heard. But Lisa has to keep it all hidden away and secret from her family, including kind, if somewhat clueless, step sister Taffy. “Taffy is my favorite character,” shares Cody. “She’s a beacon of positivity, and even when she’s unwittingly condescending or tone deaf, her intentions are always kind. She’s more protective of Lisa than anyone else in the film, other than the Creature. Lisa resents Taffy because she’s effortlessly beautiful and popular, but Lisa eventually comes to realize that her ire is misdirected. I felt that having Taffy be a standard ‘mean popular girl’ would be uninteresting. Most of the queen bees I’ve known were more complex than that.”
“I had an instant connection with her,” says Filipina actress Liza Soberano (“My Ex and Whys,” “Alone/Together,” “Trese”) of Taffy, her first Hollywood film role. “She’s such a fun character to play.”