FILM / Nuts and bolts: Rick Richardson visits the set of Frankenstein: The Real Story and talks monsters with Randy Quaid

Randy Quaid is no Boris Karloff, nor does he want to be. 'I'm playing a monster who is mostly human,' Quaid says in his molasses-slow, Deep South drawl from beneath five-and-a-half hours of painstakingly applied prosthetic make-up. He's playing Frankenstein straight, the way Mary Shelley might have liked it, in the Turner Network-Thames TV production of Frankenstein: The Real Story.

Frankenstein is coming back with a vengeance. Apart from this production, currently being shot in Poland, Francis Coppola is at work on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Universal is remaking Bride of Frankenstein and, at Warner Bros, Tim Burton is said to be in the frame to direct Arnold Schwarzenegger in the part. Quaid is not surprised by big Frank's sudden return to popularity after languishing for so long in the crypt.

'He's identifiable with anyone really. Everyone has qualities like the monster. His are just exaggerated. He wants to fit in, to find his place, where he belongs. Some of us never find it, like this character. It's his looks, not his heart, and the way people perceive him that keep him from entering society. If people got past their initial fright, they would find a very generous, warm, loving human being,' Quaid says, preparing to have his make-up removed in a trailer on the grounds of the film's main location, the Chateau Nieborov ('Frankenstein's Castle'), an hour's drive from Warsaw.

Produced, written and directed by David Wickes, the movie comes out in December. It co-stars Patrick Bergin (Patriot Games, Sleeping With The Enemy) as Dr Frankenstein, with a cameo by Sir John Mills as the blind man.

Whatever Quaid may say about the monster's sensitive interior, it would be a mistake to go looking like this to a job interview. Unless, perhaps, it was for a legal position. Quaid agrees: 'The monster might make a good attorney. People wouldn't want to argue with him.'

How the monster will finally look is a closely guarded secret, with no photographs being allowed until just before the film appears. Suffice to say, this monster is a long way from classic Karloff. There are no bolts through the neck or elevating platform shoes. Quaid looks something like a cross between Auden's birthday cake left out in the rain and Dustin Hoffman's 121-year-old Little Big Man; throw in the Creature from the Black Lagoon and you begin to get the picture.

'I do look like the monster. Fortunately, I have a good make-up artist,' says Quaid. The artist, Mark Coulier, spends hours each day changing the wry Texan into a gothic horror: the thick rubbery mask covers the entire head and neck. It takes about 30 minutes of being peeled like an egg to reveal the man inside. 'Do you want me to stop, so you can talk?' asks Coulier. 'No,' responds Quaid. 'You could take this ear off so I can hear better, though.'

To get some idea of how people might react to the monster, Quaid took his character into the streets of Wroclaw (in southern Poland), where many of the initial scenes were shot. Puffing a huge cigar, Quaid says: 'I left my make-up on one day and drove through the streets to the hotel where we were rehearsing for the next day's shoot. I watched people's reactions. They kept giving me these sidelong glances and plenty of space. I walked into the hotel lobby carrying my briefcase and wearing my sunglasses. Little girls were screaming. A security guard came up to me and asked very seriously: 'What are you doing here?' I said: 'I'm looking for a room.' I forgot to mention it was for a rehearsal. He sent me to the front desk. The people just scattered.'

The anxious guard, a moonlighting doctor, became the monster stand-in and stunt-double for the picture. 'He was very good,' says the rapidly emerging Quaid, having just had his monster hair removed, scalp split and skull ripped apart. 'He'd never done anything like that before.'

Unlike Quaid. He has just finished making Freaks, directed by Alex Winter (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure). 'The character I play is a mad scientist, sort of a cross between Dr Frankenstein, Colonel Sanders and Colonel Tom Parker (Elvis's manager). He's around 60 years old, from Tennessee and living in South America.' In the 1989 comedy Parents, Quaid played a cannibalistic suburban father.

Quaid didn't always specialise in such weirdos. Born in Houston, he made his movie debut when he was still a drama student in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show (1971). In 1973 he was nominated for an Oscar for his role opposite Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail. In the Eighties, as his younger brother Dennis was winsomely grinning his way to leading roles in Dreamscape, The Big Easy and Innerspace, Randy followed up The Long Riders (1980) with forgettable, below-the-title parts in movies like National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) and The Wraith (1986). His most successful recent role was as Lyndon Johnson, the pre-eminent liberal 'monster' as perceived by the American political right, in LBJ: The Early Years, for which he won a Golden Globe in 1987.

Fittingly enough, Quaid had heard (out-of-date) horror stories about Poland before he arrived about there being no food on the shelves and long queues. He was expecting the worst. 'It's been really nice though. The people here really respect film-making. It's also a very beautiful country. The countryside around Wroclaw reminded me of Texas prairies.' Very flat, Poland.

To work Frankenstein's monster out of his system, Quaid was on his way to play golf at St Andrews. What kind of role is he looking for now? 'I'm going to play something without make-up,' he says, as the last vestiges of the monster are removed from his forehead. 'Just some blusher and a little eye-liner.'

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