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SYFY WIRE the invisible man

The Invisible Man's star and director explain the art of beating yourself up

By Jacob Oller
The Invisible Man suit

The Invisible Man was always going to be made or broken by the central power of its antagonist. Filmmaker Leigh Whannell set the villainous Universal Monster — updated to an abusive optics mogul with a high-tech suit rather than actual invisible skin — into a film filled with negative spaces, suggestions, and anticipation. The resulting scares made the film, coming to 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD on May 26, a hit at the box office and a critical darling. But it took a lot of work to sell the film's invisible villain (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) to its audience.

As the star and protagonist, Elisabeth Moss certainly played a huge part in that, as her incredible performance as an increasingly frazzled survivor being gaslit made audiences afraid of her invisible tormentor, too. But actual "invisible" effects — both special and practical — were essential. The invisibility suit itself was a rubbery machination covered in high-tech cameras. Not only was this design scientifically realistic — Whannell's team consulted a physics professor at The University of Sydney — it was Whannell's first and only choice.

“There weren't many other options," Whannell tells SYFY WIRE. "During the screenwriting process, I researched invisibility and what was available — or, not so much what was available, but what people were working towards. And I came up with this idea for how the suit could potentially work, but by the time we got to Sydney, it was kinda too late to come up with a new design, if I'm being honest. So when we talked to these scientists and they said ‘Yeah, technically this would work if you had A, B, and C — which we don’t have yet but could have in the future,’ I was relieved more than anything.”

After lucking out with their next-gen sneak suit concept, Whannell and team then had to lean on their stunt teams, camera operators, and actors to sell the idea that there was an unseen baddie running amok. Aldis Hodge, who plays the heroine's supportive friend James, has a memorable run-in with the titular Universal Monster — and it was right out of an action movie. The action movie Whannell directed right before The Invisible Man, as a matter of fact.

"Everything leading up to it was a lot of training with the stunt team," Hodge tells SYFY WIRE. "We were working with the same stunt team that Leigh Whannell had on Upgrade. If you’ve seen Upgrade, then you already know how fantastic their work is and how they shoot things. The rig that they put the camera on is a rig they’ve built that’s special to Leigh and what he’s doing."

The team knew what they were in for... Hodge didn't. "When it came to my stuff, they were like 'Well how agile and athletic are you? Because you’re gonna have to beat yourself up,'" the actor remembers. "I wasn’t fighting someone in a green suit — it was me throwing myself around."

That meant training, which Hodge was comfortable with ("I grew up a martial artist and I still train today"), that got increasingly advanced. "The first couple of rehearsals, they showed me their idea for it, then put me on the mat," Hodge says. "Then we started going through the choreography, beat by beat, working out things we thought could work, working out things that didn’t work. When they knew how comfortable I was with the athletic element of throwing myself around, they were like 'OK, let’s add this, let’s try this.’”

The crew was responsible for preparing Hodge to sell an entire fight on his own. Not only was the role a rare chance for the actor to represent a black single father with no agenda and a heart of gold ("There’re very few times we get to see black men in this particular role with the honesty and the nature of who we are, as men, being reflected," he says) it was a performance that pushed his action skills to the limit.

"When it comes to fights on screen, the person who sells the fight is the person who’s getting hit," Hodge says. "If you don’t believe the hit, you don’t believe the damage done — you don’t believe the dynamics. So you have to be really in sync and when you’re working with a partner, there’s a little bit of extra room to lean on. When it comes to working by yourself, it’s just you. If the fight sucks, it’s your fault."

That eventual solo effort was the product of plenty of collaboration, which Whannell finds particularly prevalent in his native Australia, where he's shot his last two Blumhouse films.

“Australian crews, there is this real attitude of everyone’s helping each other. The unions aren’t as strict in terms of crossover," Whannell says. "I’ve heard that on some American sets, it’s like, ‘No, you’re from the lighting department, you can’t touch anything in there.’ It’s a more strict separation of departments, whereas, in Australia, the grips will come in and help the art department build — we’re all in it together because Australia doesn’t make tentpole movies. We’re not making blockbusters — it’s a smaller population and we’re making smaller budgeted films."

That DIY spirit makes these crews "perfectly designed to make Blumhouse movies," Whannell says, which is "probably why Jason [Blum] likes shooting there so much." Now that Whannell's had another secretive film confirmed at Blumhouse (where the filmmaker has a first-look deal), perhaps he'll once again be shooting down under in the near future.

The Invisible Man will be available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD on May 26.

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