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EW Exclusive: Get a sneak peek at ''Van Helsing.'' Hugh Jackman pursues gruesome creatures -- and the summer's first smash by Benjamin Svetkey

Copyright Entertainment Weekly - Issue 757 - March 26, 2004



THE FRIGHT STUFF ''Van Helsing,'' a $148 million monster extravaganza, kicks off the summer movie season on May 7. ''Basically, I play a monster killer,'' Hugh Jackman (pictured), the film's 34-year-old Aussie star, said last year while shooting the film in Prague. ''The movie is set in the 19th century and my character is sort of a black-ops priest, a mercenary for the Catholic Church. He's an assassin sent to murder monsters, even though he's not always sure how he feels about it.''

It's pretty clear how Universal feels about it: The studio is hoping Jackman's demon slayer -- extremely loosely based on a character in Bram Stoker's 1897 ''Dracula'' -- will help launch its most synergistically ambitious entertainment franchise ever. Already plans are in the works for a sequel, a TV show, and a videogame, all conveniently featuring long-dormant characters (including Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man, and others) dug up and dusted off from the studio's ancient horror archives.

VILLAGE PEOPLE ''We had nine of the biggest cranes in the Czech Republic on the set to shoot this scene,'' director Stephen Sommers says, describing what's just out of frame in the above picture of Jackman taking aim at a fleet of flying vampires. ''There was a ton of wiring strung overhead, so we could have these vampires swooping in and around the place. But we also had cameras on the wires following the actors around, sort of like the cable-cams they use during the Super Bowl. We were flying people in loop-de-loops and stuff like that. It got a little out of control. We had one camera going 50 or 60 miles per hour. I kept shouting 'Faster, faster!' The camera ended up crashing through the front door of the church. Nobody got hurt, though. At least not that day.''

DOWN WITH THE COUNT ''I ran away at a million miles an hour,'' says Shakespearean actor Richard Roxburgh (pictured), recalling his first reaction to being offered the role of the world's most infamous plasma sucker. ''I thought there was no way I could put my own thumbprint on a character that had been played so many times before. It was exactly the same problem I had when I did Hamlet. How to make it fresh?'' Roxburgh spent a month mulling it over -- screening the old masters (Gary Oldman, Klaus Kinski, Bela Lugosi) -- before deciding to give it a go. ''Once I figured my own way into the character -- a more muscular, dynamic Dracula, an aristocratic warrior -- I got over my fears.'' And, he says, ''the fact that I had three brides in the movie helped a lot.''

IT'S ALIVE ''This is a different sort of Frankenstein,'' promises the actor who plays the not-so-jolly green giant, Tony winner Shuler Hensley (pictured). ''He's not the grunting guy Karloff played. He's actually very articulate. Not superintelligent or anything -- he's not a Harvard grad spouting E=mc2 or Peter Boyle's Frankenstein singing 'Puttin' on the Ritz' -- but he knows what's going on around him. Audiences should be able to relate to him. He's a loner who wants what we all want, which is to be accepted.''

All Hensley wanted after a while was to get up out of the makeup chair. ''It would take four to five hours just to do the face,'' he explains. ''And the suit I had to wear must have weighed 50 pounds. The shoes alone were size 23 -- that's a few sizes bigger than even Shaq's. It wasn't so bad in Prague, but when we got back to film in L.A., it would get really hot underneath all that. Eventually they installed this sort of air-conditioning inside the suit -- a vest with tubes that they would pump ice water into. That made it a little nicer.''

BATGIRLS ''Let's say you're Dracula,'' writer-director Sommers suggests. ''You've got these three hot brides. What does a man do with three hot brides for 400 years? What would you do?'' If the brides were Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Josie Maran, Italian actress Silvia Colloca, and Spanish actress Elena Anaya (above right, with Colloca and Roxburgh)? Play bridge, naturally. In ''Van Helsing,'' though, they decide to reproduce. ''Except vampires can't have babies -- they'd all be born undead,'' Sommers continues. ''But then Dracula hears about this scientist in Transylvania named Victor Frankenstein who's trying to discover the key to life...'' Next thing you know, you've got a movie plot.

BIRD ON A WIRE ''I play a Gypsy princess whose family has been almost entirely annihilated by vampires. The final straw is when her brother gets bitten by a werewolf,'' explains Kate Beckinsale (pictured). She almost gets bitten too -- by Dracula's flying brides -- but Van Helsing pulls her back down to earth. ''The wire stuff isn't so bad,'' she insists. ''I had to do a backflip 20 feet in the air the other day. But most days l do a lot of rolling around in the mud.''

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