In Lisa Frankenstein, Cole Sprouse plays the reanimated corpse of a 19th century pianist. Most of his screen time is spent groaning and stumbling around as he falls in love with a teenage outcast in the slasher rom-com.
“One of the things that excited me about [the role] was that I got to shut up for a little bit,” Sprouse told Yahoo Entertainment.
Best known for starring in The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and Riverdale, Sprouse found the opportunity to subvert his well-known roles in his friend Zelda Williams’ feature film directorial debut. Williams said she was thrilled Sprouse was willing to endure five hours of prosthetics every day in the New Orleans heat just to play a character with no spoken lines.
His inspiration was Buster Keaton, a silent film star known for his physical comedy. Sprouse trained with the founder of Los Angeles’ Mime Theatre Studio to hone his movements as a Victorian zombie.
Lisa Frankenstein follows Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton), a 17-year-old weirdo feeling isolated from her new stepfamily as she deals with the trauma of witnessing her mom’s death. She forms a bond with Sprouse’s character, known only as the Creature, whose affection and penchant for murder aids in her “coming of rage.”
Newton told Yahoo Entertainment that her character is thoroughly “off her rocker,” but still relatable in the way she feels alone and unheard. She said screenwriter Diablo Cody used the vehicle of a boyfriend who can’t speak to help Lisa find her voice.
“She has no choice but to be heard, and that’s what she really needs for self-discovery,” Newton said.
Sprouse added, “My biggest concern was making sure [Newton] didn’t feel stranded at all, so I snuck a bunch of grunts and moans in there."
For her part, Newton thanked him for “picking up some slack,” which elicited a groan from her onscreen partner.
“He just said so many things. You only heard a groan, but I got all of it. I’ll text you what he said,” Newton joked.
Lisa is awkward but verbose, making up for the Creature’s lack of dialogue. Newton said that the script felt like poetry.
“It was an honor to say Diablo Cody’s words,” she said. “It was definitely the most fun project I've ever done as an actor.”
Cody, the Oscar-winning writer of Juno and the cult-classic Jennifer’s Body, told Yahoo Entertainment that she had been dreaming of writing “the dead boyfriend movie” for years. She wanted it to be set in 1989 because it was a “colorful time” with limited technology.
“There were no phones, so there was a bit more risk to every social interaction,” she said.
If the story was set in more modern times, Lisa might have found community among other weird girls on the internet. Instead, she’s iced out by the literary and goth crowds at her new school, though her popular cheerleader stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano) shows her unearned warmth.
To Williams, the story of the friendship between Lisa and Taffy is just as important as the romantic love between Lisa and the Creature.
“No matter how well or badly you go through growth and grief, you deserve love — whether it’s self-love or friendship love,” Williams told Yahoo Entertainment. “As weird as you are or want to be, that doesn’t mean that you’re unlovable.”
Lisa Frankenstein premieres in theaters on Feb. 9.