It's hard to believe it was 30 years ago that Liam Neeson's career in "revenging" began with Sam Raimi's underappreciated superhero hit Darkman (1990). Universal decided to pull the trigger on the film after seeing the success of Tim Burton's Batman (1989) for Warner Bros. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with the cast and crew for the film to discuss the film's impact on pop culture and their careers. The crew participants for the reunion include producer Robert Tapert, former Universal production president Sean Daniel, casting director Nancy Nayor, cinematographer Bill Pope, production designer Randy Ser, composer Danny Elfman, editor Bud S. Smith, and former Universal head of creative advertising David Smeth. The actors participating were Neeson, Frances McDormand, Bruce Campbell, and Steve Siebert, the manager of the late Larry Drake, who passed in 2016.
The story follows a scientist Peyton Westlake (Neeson), who becomes horrifically disfigured in a lab accident originally designed as a mob hit. The resulting explosion not only change the scientist's complexion, but it also gave him super strength. His intellect was intact, but the trauma unleashes bouts of rage from within. As he tries to reclaim the love of his life in Julie Hastings (McDormand), he's also looking to get revenge on the one responsible for his condition, mob boss Robert G. Durant (Drake) through his strength and brilliance that allows him to create artificial skin to disguise himself and modify his voice. According to Tapert, Raimi drew inspiration for Darkman from his love for pulp novel and radio character The Shadow, which he wanted to make at the time. "That proved impossible because, at that time, it was going to be made by Bob Zemeckis," Tapert recalled. "So Sam said, 'I am going to create my own superhero and take aspects of other superheroes and incorporate them into the character of Darkman.'"
Daniel was instantly sold, "We love the script, and Sam is a great filmmaker, so let's make this as powerful as the movie can be." Nayor said Neeson's emotional range, haunted eyes, and powerful presence stood out when the decision was made to cast him in the role of Peyton. "The script appealed to the little boy in me because I know it would have been something I would have loved to have seen on a Saturday matinee growing up in Ireland, and it was a big fat juicy lead in a movie," Neeson added. McDormand was in the right place at the right time. "I had been sharing a house in Los Angeles with Sam, and [husband] Joel and Ethan Coen," she said. "When the project came up, Sam was very influential in getting me an audition." Nayor said it came down to her and Kelly Lynch from Drugstore Cowboy for Julie. Tapert added Universal pushed Julia Roberts for a number of reasons. Nayor said at the time Roberts and Neeson were dating and broke up during the time of the audition. "Both actors had tears in their eyes," she said. "It was so intimate. Right after, her agent called and said she felt it might be better if she was taken out of consideration. I think she felt it would just be too awkward for them to work together again so soon under the circumstances." McDormand credits Neeson for getting her the part. "We had a very good time together in the audition," she recalled. "I remember for the intimate scene being attached to the idea of making love with my socks on. I felt that was a really important element of the comfortable relationship. Sam said, 'I am not sure about the socks,' and I said, 'I'm wearing the socks. I am wearing the socks.'" Campbell admitted he was considered for Peyton and had a regular working relationship with Raimi and Tapert from working on the Evil Dead films, but Universal didn't believe he had what they wanted. "Liam Neeson at the time, he did a couple of well-known things in Europe, but I don't think people could have picked him out of a police lineup here," he said. "Sam threw me the bone and said, 'Why don't you be the final [in disguise] Darkman.' So, I am Darkman, technically (laughs)." As an avid Three Stooges fan, Raimi credited Campbell as "Final Shemp" (named after Shemp Howard) as the final Darkman stand-in.
Siebert stepped in, mentioning how proud Drake was to be part of the film and how its legacy still persists after 30 years. "I was a huge L.A. Law fan at the time and had been so moved for years by Larry Drake's portrayal of Benny," Nayor said. "So the idea of Larry going from playing such a sympathetic, vulnerable character to playing a ruthless bad guy was exciting. "Tapert mentioned how many writers had input on the script, including the aforementioned Coen brothers, whom McDormand was staying with. "The Coen brothers were not credited by the guild, but they were instrumental early on with building the structure," he said "The idea sprung from Sam's head, and Joel and Ethan coaxed him along that road. Chuck Pfarrer was the best at the villains." Pfarrer is credited along with Sam and Ivan Raimi, and Daniel and Joshua Goldin) for the screenplay. To hear more about the production where Neeson talks about the long hours on the makeup chair, how McDormand makes Julie her own character, how Barry Sonnenfeld came to be involved, and how Universal wanted Raimi to avoid making Darkman anything like Evil Dead, you can read the rest at THR.