Vampires make a resurgence in Daniel Espinosa’s Morbius, a horror take on the infamous creatures. Based on the Marvel Comics characters, it delves into Dr Morbius’ (Jared Leto) quest to find a cure for his and childhood friend Milo’s (Matt Smith) rare blood disease. Turning to questionable methods, and getting mixed up in bat DNA, the two characters spiral and face the consequences.
For Espinosa, developing these characters came from discussing their backstories as, after all, we are all shaped by our past. “Their personalities are tainted by growing up as kids that are perceived as different by their peers,” the director begins.
Both Milo and Morbius share the common goal of wanting to remedy their circumstances but they’re fuelled by conflicting motives. “For Morbius, it gives him a sense of wanting to have revenge on the world, and prove that he’s worthy. While for Matt Smith, it fuels his anger and his hatred towards people that are normal,” Espinosa continues. It’s ultimately why this story is rooted in the grey area between heroes and villains as neither of these characters really fully commits to one side. Most of the time, anyway.
Striking that balance was crucial to the plot and there are numerous scenes that explore that. One that comes to mind is a conflict at the metro station (as seen in the trailer below) as aside from being a visually exciting sequence, it allowed the two leads to settle into their roles, one wavering closer to a villain than the other.
“It’s very vivid being down there in the metro with these two characters, and really seeing them kind of bloom out,” Espinosa adds. “In many ways, it’s the scene where both Milo and Michael Morbius start to kind of grasp of who the superhero and supervillain will be.”
As for Morbius, it’s widely known that Leto commits to his roles intensely as a method actor and for Espinosa seeing him “hone in his powers and for the first time tried to use them in a fight was fascinating.” Smith likewise agrees that working with Leto was “interesting.” He continues, “I guess I found it quite entertaining, quite enjoyable to do.”
As for trying out method acting himself, Smith isn’t ruling it out. “Yes, it does interest me ultimately. I think it could happen naturally on a film set,” he starts. “I don’t think it has to be consistent for like four months. I think you can do it for a day.”
Now, alongside the two leads is Dr Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), Dr Morbius’ colleague and confidant. It’s clear the crafting of Martine’s character was a positive experience as Arjona and Espinosa worked together to portray her strength to the audience without reducing her to just having a career without room for other ventures, as is the case with many female characters.
Her confident nature ultimately played a part in Arjona taking the role. “In conversations with Daniel [Espinosa], we sort of kept going deeper and deeper and really making her more unapologetic and less fearful to sort of match Michael Morbius,” she says. “She’s the only person that talks back to him or tells him the truth, I think everyone’s afraid of him or idolises him.” Michael and Martine are indeed a well-matched team as they act as anchors for one another.
Milo, though, is just as enigmatic as Morbius and Martine, and Espinosa explains “To see Matt Smith flower out and allow himself to really give into his flamboyant-ness was awesome.” In fact, Smith was initially interested in the role because he felt that he could “do something with the part and try to connect with him and make him come alive.” But he’s also a massive vampire fan. “I’ve always wanted to play someone close to it. So that was a huge thing. The whole vampire element of it just really drew me in. And it was a great cast and a great director.”
Smith even channelled his past roles in sci-fi when working on Morbius as being on sets like Doctor Who gave him the technical expertise. “There’s a lot of green screens and stunt issues and things like that, that help if you’ve done them before, but I don’t think it matters if you have or you haven’t.”
He notes, however, that having that experience on the character development side benefited him as allowed “an understanding of the form of the thing, the type of acting that you’re sitting in, it’s a sort of particular form, isn’t it, I suppose? It’s heightened on some level.” Smith concludes that “hopefully you improve with every role that you do. And you take something new and you evolve in some way”.
For Arjona, it was the rising confidence to be more collaborative. Citing working with Ryan Reynolds on Six Underground as an influence. “He really taught me that I have a voice and to speak out every time I want to use it,” she tells us. “So I think by the time that I met Daniel, I felt a lot more comfortable discussing things and he opened the door to collaboration. I think he was really the first director that I had that back and forth with.” Espinosa listens intently and chimes in with a gleeful “thank you!”.
Morbius is out on 4K UHD and Blu-ray now.