Dominic Cooper is on a roll. Besides tracking down vampires in 2012's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the English actor entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Tony Stark's father, Howard Stark, in Captain America: The First Avenger. It's a part Cooper will reportedly reprise for ABC's mid-season TV series, Agent Carter. Earlier this year, he hit full throttle in Need for Speed and has already completed the big-budget video game adaptation, Warcraft. Next up, though, Cooper taps into his evil side as Mehmed Sultan in Universal Pictures and director Gary Shore's Dracula Untold.
Opening October 10, the film finds Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans), AKA Dracula, seeking the Master Vampire to broker an unholy deal in order to save his family and people from a vengeful Mehmed, who leads the Turks. On the Dracula Untold set, Cooper sat down with the press to discuss grounding the movie, prosthetic woes and Mehmed's motivations.
We hear you're doing a really big stunt today.
Dominic Cooper: I am constantly doing stunt rehearsals. That's all I seem to be doing. I just tried all my armor on that I will be wearing for the big stunt toward the end. I call it a stunt, but it's really a fight. It's a big, big, big fight between Vlad and myself. You do these things and this always happens, and what I never learn when you're doing an action-based film is that you do weeks learning these fights. Then you try on this armor and you realize you can't move. Then the whole thing has to be changed. It's an incredible costume. It's a very over-the-top but beautiful piece of armor. It's all fully gold. I've got the Battle of Constantinople on the front of it and the arms. It's incredible, but it's so heavy I can't move.
What's the arc of the relationship between Mehmed and Vlad?
They have a history as kids. My take on it is Mehmed has always been terribly envious of this boy who had been pulled into his father's palace. I like the relationship to be based in envy, jealousy and resentment. I think he saw Vlad as being a better fighter and stronger mind. I think Mehmed's dad was always aware of this. This is something that is ongoing and is punctuated in the story itself. That comes to a head. We have put these extra ideas in that, on my father's deathbed, it was Vlad he chose to speak to because he trusted him more as a warrior and future leader. It's a clever bit of writing that they came up with close to the beginning of shooting. I loved it, that it was about him so desperately trying to understand or find out what it was the father shared with Vlad. He can tell he's being lied to when Vlad comes out with these elaborate, over-the-top, kind words that he knows are not true. As revenge, I do to him what really, in a way, my father did, which is to insist on taking Vlad's son into battle. I only do that for one reason: to anger and upset him.
Is your character the villain of the piece, or if we look at it from his point of view, it makes perfect sense in terms of his motivation?
It makes perfect sense for him, as any villain has to. And it has to for a well-written villain. He can't just be villainous for villain's sake. It absolutely comes from a place of jealousy and resentment. Not as an audience member you would care. He's evil and does things not for the good of his country or his people, but to seek revenge. It comes from a very real place and he's an incredible warrior. And he ruins himself by letting this jealousy eat him up. He makes all the wrong decisions.
So, if not for your character, Dracula wouldn't exist?
Is it fun to play a villain?
It's always fun. As long as they are well-written and there's a real place you can relate to, or understand where their hatred comes from and they aren't just an out-and-out villain. And that they are believable and this person existed. The clever thing within this is that from Vlad's childhood, what he was capable of and from what he did, he is a villain in a way and is trying to cover up a past. The impaling of people is very poignant in one of the scenes where I try and unveil to others what he's capable of and actually how evil he is.
I know the true Vlad that he's tried to cover up. Yes, he's become a good man and yes, he loves his people and cares for his family. To survive what my father put him through, he was a killer, a really volatile, dangerous, awful, evil killer. That's a clever confrontation between the two of them. You don't have one good guy. They're quite dark.
The air of the supernatural is all around. Are people aware of the supernatural in this land?
We're more like the audience. We see these rather strange things happening and have to take note of them. We're of the real world and don't believe this could possibly be true. By the end of the film, we start going, "Do you believe this guy has supernatural powers?"
Can you talk about how your character learns about the supernatural elements or does he learn a little too late?
Mehmed learns too late. He thinks he can overpower [Vlad]. He does use it to his advantage when he finally believes in it. He uses tricks that he knows will affect and weaken, but it takes a long time to be convinced.
We were talking to everybody about how moviegoers could be skeptical about another vampire film or take on Dracula. What was it for you that attracted you to the project? Also, what would you tell people who might say, "Oh, it's another Dracula film?"
I keep having to be reminded it's a Dracula film. For me, it's very much a film about history and Vlad the Impaler and where that story comes from. It's a very different take on it and a really clever twist on the story. There are some very distinctive characterizations within it. I think it's unlike any other Dracula. I find it amazing that they are actually calling it that. That's my opinion because it felt like something different. I like the idea they've chosen where he comes from and who he was and why he came from that world and why he was part of the Turks world and what he overcame. It's a really clever take on it and within that story, I'm the one who gives all the exposition of why that's taking place.
Coming to this film, were you able to offer any useful vampire advice to your co-star, like dealing with fangs?
It's quite funny. No, but yeah, there are things I overhear that are the same problems I've had to deal with. I don't have them this time, but I've had to do the prosthetics and the teeth and the biting and how that looks good and how painful it can be if you get it wrong. You can take chunks of people's face out if you're not careful. I kept quiet. I quite like to see things happen. I tell them afterwards, "I could have told you about that."
What's one thing you're really excited for people to see in this movie?
I think from reading [the script] and from seeing what I have seen, the dynamic of the relationships. Action is one thing. If you love that, then great. This is going to have plenty of it. And really big, brutal, dangerous set pieces and fights. They are going to look amazing. More than that, if that tires you, or that's just not enough, then at the heart of it there's a brotherly relationship that comes about and breaks down. There's a beautiful love story and a story about family and the man who tries to defend his family. Then you have the mystical world, and the prosthetics, and the way they make those characters look is extraordinary. It's a combination of lots of things.
Is there a chance for an ongoing rivalry between your character and Vlad if there are future films or is this a definitive end to your character?
I've heard before it's a definitive end and then [on other projects] I find myself a few years down the line there again. So, I don't know. I think there are lots of possibilities with that as there always is. People never know where they are going to take a story, which makes it terribly exciting, unless you are dead, dead. But in a film with this title, you are never dead, dead, are you? Who knows? We'll see.
'Dracular Untold' arrives in theaters October 10.