“28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, 12 seconds: That is when the world will end.” It’s a terrifying quote by any measure, but delivered by a giant, grinning bunny rabbit with the voice of a death metal singer—it’s enough to give even hardened gorehounds the heebie jeebies.
In a film filled with memorable characters (like Kitty Farmer played by Kitty Farmer, Jim Cunningham played by Patrick Swayze, and the titular, perpetually melancholy Donnie played by Jake Gyllenhaal) Frank the Bunny (played by James Duval) is perhaps the most compelling of Richard Kelly’s cult classic Donnie Darko. The chrome-faced harbinger has become something of an icon, inspiring countless pieces of fan art; recently, Paris Jackson (Michael Jackson’s daughter) got a Frank the Bunny tattoo on her forearm.
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While promoting the 4K reissue of Donnie Darko, Kelly told Entertainment Weekly how Frank the Bunny came to fruition:
Even in the earliest drafts of the script, Frank was always a rabbit. The design may have come to him in a dream, Kelly says, or maybe subconsciously from his longtime love of Watership Down. (In fact, there’s a scene in the director’s cut of the film where Drew Barrymore shows the film version of Watership Down in her classroom.) One thing that wasn’t an influence was the other film about a six-foot rabbit. “I’ve still never seen Harvey,” Kelly admits with a laugh.
The director sketched out Frank’s face himself before the cameras started rolling — some of his initial drawings can be seen in the film’s final “Mad World” montage — and costume designer April Ferry (Game of Thrones) brought Frank to life, building the fur suit herself and recruiting a sculptor to create the twisted grin. Because Frank doesn’t have to perform any big stunts or even do much walking in the film, the mask itself has extremely limited visibility. “I was very adamant that it had to make an impact,” Kelly says. “It has to disturb people. It has to make the audience sit up in their seat and have a really intense response.”
Mission accomplished! Check out the Mad World finale of Donnie Darko in the video below, which includes Kelly’s original concept sketches at the 1:30 mark.
As for where the Frank the Bunny suit (above) is today, the screen-used copy is owned by Beauty and the Beast co-producer Jack Morrissey, and a spare suit belongs to Metallic guitarist Kirk Hammett; both men are avid memorabilia collectors.