JAMES Whale may not be a familiar name to everyone but the British born director and actor was responsible for some of the biggest classic horror films that came out of Hollywood in the 1930s.
He is perhaps best known for directing the 1930s films Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein as well as what is widely considered to be the definitive film version of Showboat.
He is also known for being openly gay, something which at the time was almost unheard of.
Now a play which explores the somewhat fictionalised latter part of his life – he died in 1957 after a series of strokes - is being staged at the Southwark Playhouse.
Gods And Monsters by Russell Labey is based on the novel Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram and stars Tooting-based actor Ian Gelder as James and Will Austin as gardener Clayton Boone who becomes the object of Whale’s obsession.
“The play explores the man and his life,” says Ian as we chat during a break from rehearsals. “It’s the most fantastic role though it’s fairly terrifying as I have lots of lines!”
Mixing fact and fiction it sees James, long forgotten by the studios and in reclusive Hollywood retirement, develop a relationship with handsome new gardener Clayton Boone who comes into his life and becomes an unlikely friend.
"After a successful career directing a range of films, not just the horror ones, James fell out of love with Hollywood, and they him," says Ian.
"The play starts towards the end of his life after his strokes, where he's beginning to fail and we learn about his demons and what's going on in his head.
"He forms a relationship with the gardener which becomes interesting. He sort of turns him into his own monster and almost moulds him like Frankenstein moulds his monster into the character he wants him to be."
It's a part Ian says he's "relishing" not least because he says his character is someone he admires and can in part relate to.
"It's fascinating because he's such an interesting guy," he enthuses. "I've loved researching and finding out more about him.
"He was an amazing man and I would love to have met him," he adds. "The films Frankenstein and Bride Of Frankenstein are what he is best known for, which among horror aficionados is the horror movie of horror movies – indeed with Bride Of Frankenstein he’s considered to have made the ultimate horror movie.
"But he was also an openly gay man in a society when no one was openly gay. He had gone through the First World War so everything else seemed to be trivial and therefore to hide your sexuality seemed irrelevant to someone who had gone through that experience.
"He was also his own worst enemy in many ways as he wouldn't put up with the nonsense of the studios - they messed about with his films and he ended up a bit pissed off with them. He didn't want to be dictated to by them but do the work he wanted to make.
"So he was fearless but he was also funny and quite naughty too. He was a real flirt and liked making people feel uncomfortable by teasing them. He was good fun and great company and that's reflected in the play.
"When I read the script there was a lot about him as a man that I identified with - the frustrations of the business and his outlook on life - so I'm really enjoying it."
Although being gay didn't seem to be an issue for James during his career, Ian admits there is still prejudice within the industry.
"Things have certainly changed in my lifetime and that's obviously a good thing but I can cite examples where people don't get cast because of their sexuality.
"The actors that do come out tend to be older though. For younger actors it's still not that easy and unfortunately some people still have a very archaic attitude - though slowly but surely that's dying out."
Thankfully that view doesn't seem to have extended to Ian who is in a civil partnership with fellow actor Ben Daniels - both having enjoyed considerable success in their professions.
For Ian his CV has been dominated by theatre work, including stints at the Royal Court, the Donmar and the Globe, which he says is "just the way my career has gone" but he has also starred in hit TV series such as Mr Selfridge and Psychoville and more recently Game Of Thrones.
"I don't think we ever knew when we were starting out that it would be such a hit but it always felt right," he says.
"It has been very special working on it and the public has just grabbed it - so much so we are now in our fifth series!
"I come and go so am a semi regular but luckily I've not been killed off... yet!" he chuckles.
"The guys who created it are amazing and as an actor whenever you come across that energy and passion you know something good is going to come out of it.
"That's what is so special about Gods And Monsters - it's a brilliantly written piece of theatre and the team we have got has so much passion and energy that to work on something like this is really special."
Gods And Monsters is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway from Thursday, February 5 until Saturday, March 7. Tickets cost £18. Visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.