This week, Universal Pictures takes another stab at reinvigorating their stable of classic monsters with Dracula Untold. The feature film debut of commercial director Gary Shore stars Luke Evans and Sarah Gadon; with a fun cameo by Charles Dance. We sat down with the film’s stars to talk blood suckers and creatures of the night.
Dracula Untold Interview: Sarah Gadon (Mirena)
Q: What was your first experience with Dracula growing up? Was it a film, was it a novel?
A: I don’t actually remember if I saw Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula before I read the novel. Both were really important to me, and I’ve had those two influences of Dracula in my life, so I really love both of them very much. I think especially Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula”; it’s such a beautiful novel, and I think there’s so much imagery in the writing and that’s why it’s lent itself so well to cinema over the years.
Q: Obviously we have various impressions of the women of vampires and Dracula, but we’ve never had an image of a woman interacting with Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans). So what did you do to create your idea of Vlad’s woman or the wife of someone in the position he finds himself in?
A: It’s so interesting, because people always say “You’re Vlad’s wife,” but nobody ever says to Vlad, “You’re Mirena’s husband.” And I think I’d probably start there. I definitely didn’t think of her as a secondary woman in the film, and for me it was always really important to convey to director Gary Shore that I was interested in playing a woman that contemporary audiences can access and not really feel alienated by this idea of a “princess in a tower.” And I think that kind of dynamic is what I also brought to my relationship with Luke. For me, what I loved about their story is that she wasn’t a woman in a vampire film that’s suppressing her sexuality, or a forbidden love story. She had this pure, unlimiting love for her family, and that was really beautiful. And that’s something that you don’t always get to see, is somebody that’s just in love, and it’s okay. And I think it’s that love that really motivates all the action of the film.
Q: With there being so many Dracula films, what was it about this particular script that you were drawn to? Also, what was the process like for you to prepare for the role?
A: Well, I was really excited to be a part of the Dracula film because there have been so many cinematic incarnations of the film, and for me each film speaks to a point in film history that it was made. So it was a cool thing to think of us putting a contemporary Hollywood stamp on Dracula and all that it encompasses in terms of the visual effects. Even just how we tell the story is indicative of how we are making movies right now, so that was really exciting for me.
In terms of preparing Mirena, we did a lot of work, Luke and I: we read about Vlad Țepeș and his violent background, his very violent relationship with his own family. And so being able to know that past gave us a real starting point. And then as his partner, knowing that he was capable of all that darkness too was an interesting dynamic for us to play. But I did dialect coaching and my usual scene study. I watched a lot of Samurai movies, too, because I thought there was a real Samurai tone to the story, and I think you really can see that in scenes like the ? Handoff scene with the carriage approaching the Turks on the mountain. I actually gave Luke a Samurai box set when we finished filming. And of course Gary is really influenced by Steven Spielberg, so he asked me to watch a lot of early Spielberg stuff because of the banter between men and women. So it was those kinds of films that I watched.
Q: What scares you in life or has scared you in life, either as a child or an adult, that helped you to play scared?
A: I’m just generally scared of the dark and jumpy in terms of being alone in the house at night. And often in this job you travel a lot for work, so you’re always living out of these weird executive apartments for months on end, and so it’s always the new environments and getting to know the sounds of a place that’s always a really freaky time.
Q: You mentioned that this is the biggest film that you’ve worked on, so I was wondering what it was like for you to be on set where there’s just a lot more people than you’re used to.
A: Yeah, it was definitely the biggest-budgeted film I had ever worked on, and I was really blown away by the resources, ha ha. I kind of thought: “Wow! Look at all the stuff they have access to! This is amazing! And we’re going to shoot 35 anamorphic film? What?!” So that was really amazing to see, all of the resources that Gary had and that we had. And of course, being able to work with some of the best people in the industry working today: Academy Award-winner Ngila Dickson, who designed our costumes; Daniel Phillips, who designed the hair and makeup; John Schwartzman was our D.P., and he’s a classic cigar-smoking Hollywood D.P. All that stuff was really cool. And I thought it was going to be really, really different. But ultimately it kind of wasn’t, because when Luke and I were in a scene together it was still about the two of us finding each other in a scene, and everything else kind of faded to the background. So in a way it was different, but in terms of the actual work, it wasn’t.
Q: You and Luke had mad chemistry in this movie. Other than Boris Karloff, Draculas have always been a real hunk of a man. What was it like to play love scenes with Luke and him biting you?
A: It was great! Luke is a sweetheart, and we got on really, really well, and we could see the humor in the 10-hour days making out with each other. So yeah, it didn’t hurt that he was easy on the eyes and really buff for the film; that is an added plus, icing on the cake for me.
Q: Maybe this is a stretch, but can you talk about how your character is a little Lady Macbeth-like?
A: I will say that I think there’s something very tragic about Mirena, and even though she thinks that good will reign over evil and she thinks that she’s in control of her decisions, ultimately their whole relationship is out of their hands, and it’s that tragic love story element of the film that I really love. Maybe that’s really dark to say, but I really thought it was beautiful and tragic. So for me, that’s what I loved about the character.
Q: You were shooting this film in a lot of interesting locations. Can you talk about some of the locations and the things you discovered about Northern Ireland? Did you go to visit anything in the area, outside of the shooting itself?
A: It was amazing to be in Northern Ireland. I think there’s something very atmospheric about a Dracula story and the environment is always a really important element of the storytelling. So being in Northern Ireland and being able to access these really mystical locations was really something that added to the overall aesthetic of our film. And we shot on blue screen and green screen, and we shot on sets, but we also shot on Divis Mountain and Tollymore Forest and the Giant’s Causeway. Those were beautiful places to go. I mean, it was Northern Ireland in the fall, so it was freezing cold and pouring rain, and we’re trudging through the mud, and it all just added to the heightened stress of our characters. That really helped. But being in Belfast when I wasn’t shooting was a really interesting experience; of course it’s a place that’s coming out of a long, tumultuous history of violence and struggle, but the people were were really incredible. We had a lot of people from Belfast working on our film, and they are some of the funniest, nicest, engaging people that I’ve ever met. So that was really amazing, to meet the people of Belfast and to be able to work with them. That’s the cool thing about being an actor: you get to travel around the world and actually live in places, so you get this underground experience of a place. You get to go beneath the surface and really understand what makes a place tick.
Q: How was it working with Gary Shore for his first film?
A: I’ve always considered myself to be a very director-driven actor, and it’s how I find projects, in a way. I’m really drawn to the people who are helming them and directing them. So when I met with Gary, I was really just taken by his energy and the passion he had for making his first film, and there’s something really special about being a part of somebody’s first film. It’s a unique experience that you have. So I was really grateful to be a part of it. I think he really worked hard to try to understand our process as actors and what we needed and how we were going to work, which is a really challenging thing for a first-time director who’s making a film of this scale to do. So I think he was really good — especially with the visual effects — conveying to us his ideas of what was going to happen. He was running up to me with a laptop all the time saying, “It’s gonna look like this!” and it’s like, “Thanks!” He just had a lot of energy and passion for making this film, so it was really great to work with him.
Dracula Untold Interview: Luke Evans (Vlad)
Q: What was your first experience with Dracula growing up? Was it a film?
A: Sesame Street. It was “Sesame Street,” yeah. And then Count Duckula, who was a vampire duck. And then it was a Saturday matinee as well, on TV; it was Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. And then in my teenage years it would have been Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1974) by Francis Ford Coppola. And then I stopped. No more.
Q: Do you agree that Dracula resembles, more than other ones, superhero characters?
A: Somebody’s calling. Deacon. He wants Facetime. I don’t know who that is, but somebody’s phone is ringing. Should I Facetime with him? (Answers the call) Hey, dude. We’re just doing a press conference. This is Luke Evans, doing “Dracula Untold.” Is that all right? We’ll call you back later, is that all right?
Superheroes. Well … I think the superhero is very interesting because he’s able to fly and he can do all these very superhuman things. But what you have to remember is that all these powers that he has in this movie are not something that we’ve created because we’re doing a Hollywood blockbuster. But they come from folklore; they come from Eastern European folklore. Vampires were always able to transform into creatures of the night. The dark creatures like bats have always been associated with vampires and using the darkness to their own advantage. So we just embellished those powers and we just brought them into the 21st century and (were) able to use this amazing CGI technology that we have now and bring them into this storyline. But really we owe that to Eastern European folklore, which goes back centuries, before any of the superheroes we now know of even existed.
Q: Can you be a monster and be a superhero?
A: It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? I think what we’ve done with this story is make you question that. He has a very interesting line in the film when he’s speaking to the Master Vampire (Charles Dance) where … he says: “Sometimes the world no longer needs a hero. Sometimes it needs a monster.” And he’s trying to get onto the right side of this creature, this sinister creature, and I sort of get why he says it, but I don’t know whether you can be a monster and a hero in the real world. But in 1467 or whenever it is that we place this film — somewhere in the 1460s — the world is a very different place, and Vlad’s take on how to rule a country was that by putting one village to the stake, he saved 10 more. I mean it’s not how we live our lives now. Well, actually, there are places in the world where this sort of stuff is going on — darkness, very dark stuff — but it doesn’t relate to this film. I think heroes are the people that go into houses when they’re on fire and save people in hospitals. That’s a hero, not the monsters.
Q: One of the things I’ve noticed in looking at your history is that you have a lot of experience with mythic periods, between The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) and Robin Hood (2010).
A: I’ve done ‘em all.
Q: So what is it about you that makes people say, “That’s the man to go to for mythic periods,” and what have you learned from that experience that you were able to apply to the next experience? Something about swagger, the way people carry themselves — or to run counter to it, even?
A: I don’t know, I don’t know. Maybe I’m an old soul. Maybe I’ve lived before. And I guess maybe directors see a face that seems to have been lived in. I know that my face has been lived in, yeah. I guess I’ve got a certain look about me, and I think once I’m in a costume or I’ve got a certain period look, I seem to fit it quite well. I don’t know why that is. I’m quite happy that’s the case, because it’s actually quite fun to jump into a world that doesn’t exist anymore or didn’t exist ever — it’s a fantasia world or whatever. But it’s exciting because it’s an incredibly immersive job, as an actor, to disappear into a world that doesn’t exist or tell a story about a character that lived a long time ago.
Q: Were there things that you learned from doing “The Hobbit” or “Robin Hood” or The Three Musketeers (2011) that you were able to apply to something else?
A: When it comes to the fighting and stuff like that — all that physicality of the roles — then definitely everything has informed the next job and has helped me progress quicker through choreography and learn new tricks. Costume is a massive thing. I think costume makes you stand differently. And in this film, quite clearly … in the billboards, you see this incredible, elaborate armor — this chest breastplate with the dragon on it — and it makes you stand differently, and it turns heads. It turned the cleaners’ heads, it turned the caterers’ heads, it turned makeup’s heads; everybody. I remember walking out of my trailer the first day on set when I put that armor on for the first time, and only I and my assistant and my dresser had seen the costume. And then I walked out for the first time and we were up in a quarry and it was cold, and Mother Nature had allowed us this great atmosphere so there were no fog machines — it was all natural — and I walked out through this mist, and everybody was just like: “Holy shit! He’s here. Bad Vlad’s arrived.” It was a really good moment. But it makes you walk differently, you carry yourself differently, you fight differently; so it’s a fun tool.
Q: Being always cast in this universe of kingdoms and swords and fantastic sci-fi movies, it is something that concerns you when it comes to your career and the path you plan to follow from now on? Also, how does it feel to star as Dracula in your first lead role in a big-budget movie?
A: It’s a question. The first question is very interesting because you’re right, as an actor you have to be very careful you don’t get typecast into a certain category. It’s very easy to do, and … somebody told me a couple years ago, “So, you’re like the period action go-to guy?” And I was like: “I don’t know, am I? Okay, that’s a title I haven’t got before.” I get it; that’s fine. But that’s why I’ve chosen to jump out of that and do things like Fast & Furious 6 (2013), where I played a very contemporary, dark, dark, villain — British, shaved head. I mixed that up. And then I’ve just finished a movie based in the ‘70s with a new director from the UK (Ben Wheatley) called High-Rise (2015), which is going to be a very, very extraordinary film. So I’m mixing it up; it’s just that this film, you haven’t seen yet. So when it comes out, you’ll see I’m still challenging the path I’m walking, and I’m taking a side step every now and again and sometimes a back step, and I jump a couple of times. And it’s all about choosing those roles and challenging yourself and challenging the audience and making sure they don’t get bored of what they see. And I feel like even with Dracula and Bard the Bowman, two very, very different people — two hugely different characters on very different journeys. But yeah, it’s all about finding the role that challenges you and doesn’t make people get bored of you.
Q: You were talking before about the costumes and how it was really annoying to film. What was the most annoying scene that you had to film?
A: I feel terrible talking about the costume and saying it was annoying because a lot of work and talent from a lot of people was involved in creating and designing what I wore. So I don’t want to extinguish their fire because they did a lot of amazing work on this film, and I look incredible. What was hard — and what was slightly annoying sometimes — was having to move in the armor and fight in the armor. One of the biggest battle sequences I had to do with Dominic Cooper (Mehmed) in that armor, I wasn’t able to sit down. I couldn’t sit down in that armor. So whenever I was in the armor, I would spend 12 hours standing or leaning or propped up against something; I couldn’t sit down; I couldn’t pee. It would take 20 minutes to get the armor off so I could pee. You know, that was difficult, but it looked good. You suffer your art, right? This is what you do, and it looked great, so “job done,” even if it did have some very scary moments when I didn’t get to the toilet quick enough, ha ha.
Q: Regarding other challenges, what was your approach to being romantic in those scenes as a vampire?
A: Yeah! What I like about this story is you start with the human, you start with a very relatable character. You have to understand, he’s Vlad the Impaler and he had a very dark past, but we meet him in a very peaceful period of his reign; he’s a loving father and a husband. Sarah Gadon (Mirena) and I and director Gary Shore really wanted to make sure that that relationship felt absolutely pure and that there was a real love there, because it triggers a lot of the things that he does after that. He fights for his son, his only son, and it’s quite a beautiful thing. And I quite like that, because it draws other emotions you wouldn’t necessarily think would come into a man-turning-into-the-biggest-
Q: How did your background in theater enhance your experience doing this film? And as a human being, how did you shake off this role physically?
A: I’ve always said that theater was where I began, so everything I do now has a bit of my theater background in it. It was my training. This film, I guess you could say, is slightly theatrical; the whole thing is a huge spectacle of a journey for one man. It was fun. I had to shout to a huge crowd of warriors on quite a few days enough to command that audience, and there were moments when I did feel like I was on a stage. And commanding an audience when you’re onstage is quite a feat, and if you can do it and you have them in the palm of your hand — which doesn’t happen all the time — you feel like you’re king of the world. There were certain scenes in the film where I was having to gain the respect or the fear of who I was performing to in the scene, and I guess maybe my theater training helped there. Definitely.
There was a bit more than shaking it off, I tell you that for nothing. It was exhausting. I was training for two months before we started shooting the principal photography. I was in New Zealand doing the pickups for the final “Hobbit.” I had my trainer there, and we were training in the evenings and on the weekends for “Dracula” and I put on 11 kilos of weight so that when I got to Belfast, my trainer changed, and then we would start to shred and change my diet so that we would get this physique that honored the warrior prince that Vlad Țepeș was. I mean, he was a ruthless, ruthless man. And the scars on his back which you see in the movie, they came from some very vicious moments in his life. And so I wanted to honor that physically and make sure that he looked the right shape. And it was also about the stamina. The training wasn’t just about me looking good when I took my clothes off; it was also about me having the strength and the core strength to do those fight sequences because they’re me, and they took days to shoot. And take after take after take when you’ve got swords … they may not have been sharp, but they were heavy and metal and could cause damage. So it’s about accuracy, and that’s about strength. There was a lot that went into it. It was very rewarding, but so exhausting — so exhausting.
Q: Is it true that Dracula can stand in sunlight, or is it not true? And lastly, can you talk a little bit about the Samurai sword?
A: He has to avoid direct sunlight. So he can be in shade, but he can’t be in direct sunlight.
Are you on about the sword that I received as a gift? Well, the sword that I have in the movie is the most beautiful weapon I’ve ever used in a movie, and the handle is a bronze dragon. It’s a dragon standing on his hind feet, and his tail wraps around the hilt of the sword, and his eyes are rubies. It’s beautiful, it’s perfectly weighted, it’s quite heavy; but it was quite difficult to work with. And another thing: My wrists increased. I had to change my watch from the wrists getting bigger from fighting, because (of) the amount of pressure on the wrists, which are a very weird thing — “I’ve got really big wrists!” — to increase the size of. But I have it, and I was given it on my final day, and it was inscribed by the Universal family. It was a beautiful thing and I feel very lucky to have it, but god help any burglar that tries to enter my house, that’s for sure. I’ve got three, so there. They’re all on my wall.
Q: In the initial sequences when Vlad is facing the Master Vampire, where did you take your references from to look scared and to express the complex feelings that Vlad was experiencing during that moment of violence?
A: Well, if you stand that close to Charles Dance covered in prosthetics and teeth, and he’s dribbling all over you and he’s got these sharp nails poking in your cheek, it’s enough to make you feel scared, let me tell you. He’s quite a statuesque human being. He’s very tall and carries himself in a very grand way, and he was barefoot in that scene — I had shoes with a heel, and he was still taller than me. He has an amazing presence, and I think that’s why he’s still the top of his game and delivers such brilliant performances in whatever he does. But in this film, it was just great. I very rarely act against actors who are that much taller than me, so for me to feel intimidated by another actor was a really good thing. And it needed to happen because he’s a real threat, he’s a threat that will last through the ages. He’s not somebody that I can just kill off, and that’s what’s exciting about his character, and if we’re lucky enough to make another one, he’s going to to be a real threat.