May 1, 1996
A TOOTHSOME ROLE
Mark Frankel is the prince of the undead in the sexy series “Kindred: The Embraced.”
Brujah are thugs. Gangrels are hotheads. Nosferatu are lethal sneaks.
All these vampire clans are all sexed up on the sleek, campy midseason soap opera “Kindred: The Embraced” on Fox. And the suavest vein-sucker of all is Julian Luna (Mark Frankel), blue-blooded prince of the San Francisco vampires called Kindred.
“Yeah, vampires can have great sex,” London-born Frankel (“Fortune Hunter,” “Sisters”) jokes, his voice veddy clipped British although on “Kindred” it’s a shoo-in for upper-crust, East Coast U.S.A. Onscreen, with his big dark eyes, slicked-back hair and smoldering air, Frankel is a classic heartthrob,a retro Rudolph Valentino.
Frankel is schmoozing about the insatiable Kindred lust for human and otherworldly flesh – and blood – that makes neck-biting seem steamier than bed-hopping on “Melrose Place.” No surprise here, of course, since “Kindred” is executive-produced by soaps king Aaron Spelling and E. Duke Vincent (“Melrose Place”) and John Leekley. And no surprise that, given the Spelling connection, Frankel’s brooding matinee-idol manner and the series’ smart, alternate-world sensibility, “Kindred,” which makes its season finale May 8, is a top contender to return post-“Melrose” this fall. “About sex,” Frankel continues, teasing. “The idea is that all the Kindred’s senses are heightened – sound, hearing, sight, taste and touch – and I like to think maybe some of the other things, too.” Now that’s remarkably spry for 200 years old, as Julian is on “Kindred.” Like the rest of his species, he became Kindred when he was “embraced” (i.e., bitten) by a Kindred of the blue-blooded Ventrue clan, not long after the American Revolution. As a human, Julian had been despondent after his much-loved wife died in childbirth. Once embraced he became a nomad, then a hit man for patrician Ventrue Archon (Patrick Bauchau).
Now two centuries later, Julian is godfather to Fog City Kindred, with Archon as his mentor and guide. A real spring chicken, Julian has the hots for both Torreador clan leader Lillie (Stacy Haiduk) – “It’s been going on for like 100 years” – and Caitlyn Byrne (Kelly Rutherford), human editor of the San Francisco Times, which Julian owns.
Caitlin doesn’t know yet that Julian is, well, different. But on May 8, when an ailing Luna reveals himself, asking if he can feed on Caitlin’s blood, she definitely will find out.
“Really, Julian has a problem,” Frankel explains sympathetically. “He wants to be human. He’s the only vampire on the show who doesn’t want to be Kindred. He tried to maintain his humanity through his human great-granddaughter Sasha.”
Sadly, wild child Sasha (Brigid Walsh) was recently embraced by a Brujah, and is human no more. In fact, she struggles weekly against her boiling Brujah blood, which just naturally loathes all other vampire clans.
Meantime, Julian struggles to keep the moblike Brujah from corrupting the other clans, as they have in the Brujah-run Sodom called Los Angeles. Simultaneously, Julian maintains an iffy, tightrope-walking truce with vampire-stalking homicide Detective Frank Kohanek (C. Thomas Howell), who’s hip to the Kindred game.
And as Kindred capo, Julian must also enforce the Masquerade, in which Kindred pretend to be human to outside eyes. Since Kindred can get blood from many sources – left to our squeamish imaginations – they don’t need to attack humans, and are consequently no real threat to the unsuspecting population of San Francisco.
And always, as he cajoles and punishes, Julian rules with fairness, compassion and deep-rooted integrity.
“Julian isn’t greedy or ambitious,” Frankel says. “He just wants to protect the Kindred, which means keeping the Masquerade in place. The breaking of the Masquerade” – Julian’s ex-lover did just that in the show’s premiere and was executed by henchman Nosferatu Daedalus (Jeff Kober) for her sin – “is a very serious offense because it endangers the species.
“So, do you get my meaning, do you get my drift, do you feel dizzy right now, are you going into a deep sleep?” Frankel teases, going hypnotic, pouring on the thick Ventrue charm.
Making of Mark
Steeped in Kindred ways as he is, Frankel was never a vampire fan, “Although I do love the idea of the supernatural – even if I don’t believe it.
“But I’m really immersed in this character. Julian is a really solid guy you can bite right into.”
Indeed, Julian is one serious vampire dude. In need of comfort in one recent episode, Julian spent the night with his dear departed wife, first crawling onto, then seeping into, her grave.
Such is the improbable, melancholy seduction of “Kindred,” reminiscent of “Dark Shadows,” but with a younger, pop-culture, Fox-audience touch. Those Gangrels are real rockers, and much of the show’s action is set in cool music club and Kindred hangout The Haven.
“But this doesn’t mean the show is just a lark or a goof for me – definitely not” adds Frankel, whose previous Fox series was the short-lived James Bond-lite “Fortune Hunter” in 1994, in which he played smooth agent Carlton Dial.
“That was a lot of fun. But it was in a bad time slot. You couldn’t be really dangerous at 7p.m. It only ran for five episodes here, but we shot 13, which all aired overseas.”
Overseas is where Frankel was shaped as an actor. The son of a British air force pilot, grandson of a concert violinist and conductor, Frankel grew up in London, feeding on Hollywood films. Even now his mum keeps a piece of paper on which Frankel wrote in crayon when he was 5, “My mother is a housewife, my father is a soldier, and I want to be an actor.”
That’s almost how easy it was. After theater studies at St. John’s College in London, Frankel studied at London’s Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, landing a role in the stage play “Days of Cavafy.” Director Jerry London saw him and cast him as Michelangelo in TNT’s six-hour miniseries “Michelangelo: A Season of Giants,” filmed in Italy.
Then came a role in the TNT drama “Young Catherine,” shot in Russia; stints on the BBC TV shows “Vanity Dies Hard” and “Maigret”; and a role as a “failed realtor who finds out he’s the product of artificial insemination” in the wacky British movie “Leon the Pig Farmer.”
Soon after “Pig Farmer” production wrapped, Frankel came to Hollywood for the first time. Ten days after he arrived, he landed the recurring role of millionaire Simon Bolt on the ’92-’93 season of high-angst drama “Sisters,” which has its series finale Saturday.
“Angst? Oh yeah. As George Clooney said when he took the role of Falconer when I left, ‘Hey, it’s a chick show.'”
At that time, Frankel found Hollywood “a psychologically dangerous place, with everything available, from drugs to sex to nightclubbing and work.
“I felt a vortex that could suck me in. But now with ‘Kindred’ I’m very involved with my work, and I have American friends. When I go back to London, I actually find myself being very protective and defensive of L.A.”
Frankel maintains homes here and in London, and is currently shooting a British feature in Italy called “Roseanna’s Grave,” for Christmas release. “It’s a satire of romantic scruples and I play an Italian lawyer with a heavy Italian accent, like-a-this, you see?”
A devotee of accents, Frankel enjoyed fooling his own director on “Kindred.” “It was the fifth episode we shot and the director comes up to me and after a minute he goes, stunned, ‘What you’re not American?’ And I say (best stodgy-tweedy English-earl accent here) ‘Fraid not, old boy.'”
As to “Kindred” overlord Spelling, he’s “very involved in the production,” Frankel says.
“He’ll say, ‘Let’s talk about this scene,’ or ‘I don’t want Julian in light shirts, I want him in dark shirts, because he’s very, very Gothic’.”
So just how Gothic will Frankel’s controlled, menacing yet human-hankering vampire stay? Will his guard against humans, against Caitlin, ever really come down?
“Believe me, he’ll loosen up,” Frankel says, laughing. “Coming up in the next episodes you’ll see him loosen up big time, babe.”