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Interview: Kevin Grevioux Talks Transition To Screenwriting, Race As A Factor, 'I, Frankenstein' & More

Interviews
by Michael Dennis
January 23, 2014 11:44 AM
7 Comments
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Kevin Grevioux

Kevin Grevioux (pronounced GREE-VEE-US) is the Screenwriter/Executive Producer/Graphic Novel Creator and co-star of I, Frankenstein, which opens in theaters on January 24 through Lionsgate.  

The son of Harvard graduates (his father owned a chain of supermarkets on Oakland and his mother was a schoolteacher), Grevioux was born in Chicago but spent time in Minnesota, Boston and New Jersey before moving to Washington DC to attend Howard University.  

He graduated from Howard with a degree in Microbiology with minors in both chemistry and psychology, afterwards attending graduate school working towards a Masters degree in Genetic Engineering.  

A muscular 6’2”, with a distinctively deep voice, Grevioux came to Hollywood where he acted in several films including The Mask, Congo, Batman Forever and Men in Black II.  Kevin co-wrote and co-created the successful Underworld franchise, which was his first produced writing credit.  He was also a co-producer on the series and played the character “Raze.”  

I met Grevioux during the New York press day for I, Frankenstein at the Trump Soho hotel, where I participated in both a roundtable and one-on-one interview.

Michael Dennis (MD): How do you get from Microbiology at Howard to screenwriting, and now, mogul?

Kevin Grevioux (KG): The way you have to look at it is that I grew up as a fan of science fiction.  But as a fan of science fiction and as a kid who loves monsters, science fiction movies and this, that and the other, there’s no real way to make a career out of that.  Especially when I grew up.  So what you usually do is that you sublimate that kind of desire and you become something more socially acceptable, which were the sciences.  So I wanted to be a doctor at first but I changed my mind about that.  So then I was going to go into research, so I worked at NIH in Bethesda and went to grad school at Howard, too.  Studying Genetic Engineering for grad school, but I had a growing love for the film industry, and said you know what this might be a good time, and took break from the field and just go for the film industry and see what I can do.  I mean I was young enough at the time, so I said let me just give it my best shot, so that’s what I did.

MD: Was there a specific moment that you decided to take that leap?

KG: In 1986 when I saw She’s Gotta Have It and then I was like “this is what I want to do” and then I was like, “how do you get there?”  I knew no one in the industry.  So it wasn’t until I decided to move to L.A. at the age of 28 and then I found out what the industry was really about.

MD: And you started as an actor?

KG: No, I came out here first to be a writer, but I got my first break in the entertainment industry by doing some acting.  My first job was an extra and I got a pretty significant role on the Michael Jackson video for Remember The Time in 1992.  And with Underworld I was able to bring it all together because I both wrote it and then wrote myself a part in it.

MD: Talk about writing Underworld (2003).  Were you writing a lot before that?

KG: Yes, I was writing a lot before that, the problem was that I wasn’t breaking through.  It can take a while to do that as a writer because you have to hone your skills.  No matter how good you might be, there’s how you perceive yourself and how your writing is actually perceived.  And that can take a long time and until you get professional critiques, it’s hard to judge where you really are.  So I was getting better and then I happened to meet Len Wiseman when I was doing extra work on the set of Stargate (1994).  We became friends and wrote a couple of things.  The project Underworld started with his meeting with Dimension Films and they wanted to do a werewolf project because vampires had done so well for Blade. So Len came to me and he asked if I had any ideas.  So I came up with an idea that he liked, but when I came up with our meeting session about that project, I said, we couldn’t go in with just one project.  They might not like it so you have to have a backup.  So I said, what if we do a Romeo and Juliet story but instead of Montague and Capulet we have werewolves on one side and vampires on the other and tell the tale of some surrealistic interracial love story that spans 200, 300, 400 year race war.  And that eventually became Underworld.

And then once Underworld broke, I was able to do other things that I really like.  I loved comic books growing up, so then I broke into writing for Marvel comics and DC comics and so I’ve written characters like Batman and Thor, Spiderman and Iron Man.  They even let me create my own character, called The Blue Marvel, which I actually created when I was a kid, at least in part.  And now the Blue Marvel has become an Avenger.

MD: What inspired you to conceive I, Frankenstein?

KG: When you start looking at monsters as deeper than what they were originally intended to be, Frankenstein is basically the story of hubris, but there’s another story there, because here you have a character in Frankenstein—Adam the creature—someone who was created by man, not created by God.  So he was angry at Victor Frankenstein because he didn’t do for him what God did for his creation, Adam, in terms of teaching him right from wrong, morality from immorality; so he basically held Victor Frankenstein to the fire.  So I think you use these stories as metaphors for the larger human condition.  So Frankenstein can be a metaphor for abandonment, or wanting to be accepted for who you are,  or not liking who you are and wanting to actually change that.  How do you go about doing it if you have no viable moral compass?  So my thing is to take these aspects of these characters and kind of turn them on their ear so we can really see what they are about while having a lot of fun with it.

What are you, when you are created?  Are you man?  Are you monster?  Or are you somehow both?  And I think, metaphorically speaking, as Black Americans living in this country, it’s kind of like the same thing.  There’s who you know you are, and whom you’re perceived to be based upon how we look.  Based upon our size, the timbre of our voice.  And so its one of these things you have to struggle with.  Like you are who you say you are, and you define this, not the outside world.  And with Frankenstein, it was no different, so I was able to build upon that and create this vast universe.

MD: You bring up race. How much of a factor does race play in your day-to-day world?

KG: Being a Black man it never leaves you.  I mean this stuff (rubs skin) doesn’t come off (laughs).  Just looking at me, I am a Black man.  Born and bred, through and through.  But I am also a lot of things.  I am a father.  I am a husband.  I am a Christian.  I am a comic book geek and I’m a creator.  

In terms of viewing the world in a certain way, when you’re talking about monsters and talking about the metaphor that you’re trying to create, as Black Americans, you oft times stand apart and you have to look at things from the inside out or the outside in.  For me, when I walk in the door sometimes, I’m already an anomaly.  Because I’m working in a genre that African-American’s don’t typically engage in.  And then you look at my background and then a lot of people are like, “wait, wait a minute.  You’re going from microbiology or hard science to something speculative.”  And that can really mess with some people’s heads.  And so it’s hard for them to kind of understand.  I’ve had brothers come up to me and say, “We don’t do things like that.  What made you think of this?”  But actually it’s a metaphor for the struggle, ofttimes.  So in terms of how race plays for me on a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t.  Because we are much more.

MD: You wrote a part for yourself in this one?

KG: Yes I did.  But I do that in all my scripts.  I will always write myself a part.  Now it will never be number one or two on the call sheet, but it will be number five through ten.  That way they won’t kick you off after you sell it (laughs).

MD: Now Stuart Beattie reimagined your original script.  You act and are a Producer on the film.  What was your collaboration like?

Stuart is a good writer in his own right.  Now when I was doing it, Patrick Tatopoulos was the director.  And when I sold the screenplay, we had this huge script that was one of the coolest things I’ve ever written.  But what Lakeshore entertainment and Stuart did is that they paired it down.  And they simplified it.  So what we have now is something that is simpler, but equally as effective.

MD: So your vision will be expressed in the graphic novel?

KG: Yes, my original vision will come out in the graphic novel.

MD: You seem to be kind of an outlier in the sense that you’ve created your own lane that exists outside of the traditional route for Black filmmakers.  Why do you think there aren’t more Black filmmakers doing sci-fi?

KG: I think there are a couple of aspects.  I think that you take the path of least resistance.  And for a lot of people comedy is that path.  I mean, even against mainstream, it’s easier to sell a comedy than a drama.  And so we tend to go for that.  There’s also an aspect of that is all that sells, and when you need to feed your family, you’re going to do things like that.  Also, as a writer, it’s only been recently that writers have been getting a lot of press. Usually writers are behind the scenes.  Like a lot of people don’t know that the cat who created Final Destination is a brother, Jeffrey Reddick.  Another great screenwriter out there is Allen McElroy, who wrote Spawn—he didn’t create Spawn, but he wrote it.  Writers are generally anonymous.  It just that I think I got out there because I also act as well and put myself in my films.  And I’m also in the comic book industry so that gives people more of a visual.  Now when it comes to Blacks doing speculative fiction, there are not a whole lot of us.  Now there have been a few—Samuel R. Delaney, Octavia Butler and Steven Barnes—but there are less of us, and I think that one of the reasons why is the larger aspect of our environment and culture.  A lot of times you talk about what you know, but since our reality is so difficult, its hard to think about travelling beyond the stars to another dimension—fantasy worlds—when, in reality, you can’t get a job on Earth, you see what I’m saying?  And so I think that’s why a lot of our stories tend to be drama based as opposed to horror and fantasy.  Based upon our narrative here in America.

MD: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

KG: Lord willing, I see myself with my own production company, making films, TV shows, animated series, video games.  I started my comic book company, Darkstorm Comics and our first book is I, Frankenstein, based on my screenplay.  I think that that’s important as a fledgling creator to generate your own work because it’s hard to get people to hire you for a myriad of reasons.  You have to be able to generate your own work and show that it has legs and that it’s viable.

MD: Last Question.  Has your voice always been this deep?

KG: Yes, since puberty (laughs).


Michael Dennis is a Philadelphia-based filmmaker and film promoter.  His company, Reelblack does monthly showcases of African-American Film and he is host and producer of Reelblack TV, a Youtube channel featuring interviews with artists of color.  Find out more at www.reelblack.com and www.youtube.com/reelblack


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7 Comments

  • Chris Boykin | January 26, 2014 2:32 PMReply

    ...Kevin Grevoiux is Bill sitting on that porch in Texas when The Bride asks him 'How'd you find me?' and he says, '...I'm the man.'

  • onyx | January 24, 2014 4:30 PMReply

    Great interview. Many thanks to Michael Dennis for doing this, and to Kevin Grevioux. It's nice to hear that a fellow artist has moved up (my major was art, and I've done a few web comics). His story, and his work is inspirational, and he should be proud of all he's accomplished. And so should Michael Dennis.

  • Reelblack | January 24, 2014 8:21 PM

    Thanks, Onyx. And thanks to Tambay for providing the forum.

  • Elaine Del Valle | January 24, 2014 3:43 PMReply

    Love this interview. Inspiring and fuels my current acting writing producing venture, web series Reasons Y I'm Single. I'm a Latina actress-- it wasn't until I started writing that I transformed my career. An award winning play and web series later I'm proud to be WGA, and representing female artists of color. Thoroughly inspiring interview!

  • Lauren | January 24, 2014 9:09 AMReply

    Good interview!

  • Brandon Easton | January 24, 2014 3:39 AMReply

    Kevin is a very hard-working dude and deserves the support of any genre fan - but especially those Black geeks who wonder where all the Black creators are. Looking forward to seeing the flick and checking out his new comics.

  • cinexa | January 23, 2014 2:52 PMReply

    Great interview. I learned a lot.

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