There have been many iterations of Dracula on screens both big and small since Bram Stoker reinvented historical figure Vlad the Impaler as a blood-sucking vampire in his 1897 novel. During a press event for Dracula Untold, director Gary Shore and actors Luke Evans and Sarah Gadon ran through a list of adaptations they were familiar with prior to working on the upcoming monster movie for Universal. Everything from Sesame Street's Count to Count Duckula and Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 film Bram Stoker's Dracula was mentioned. With so many versions of the vampire already present in pop culture, what inspired director Gary Shore to bring Dracula Untold to life?
"I saw it as an opportunity," said Shore. "When I got the script, I had a little bit of skepticism. Like, do we really need to see another Dracula film? I remember opening the script, having a read, and it was a very quick read – it was about ninety-five pages long – and it was just such a left field approach."
Unlike previous Dracula films, this one bridges the gap between the historical man – Vlad Tepes of Transylvania – and the mythical Dracula. "Vlad was a ruthless, ruthless man," said Luke Evans, the man responsible for depicting Dracula's duel nature. "The scars on his back – which you see in the movie – they came from some very vicious moments in his life. "
"I think the real Vlad Tepes in history, the fascination was coming while he was still alive," said Shore, commenting on the character's enduring popularity. "The German printing press was created around the same time, so they were writing the first sensationalist sort of horror stories of this guy when he was still around."
For his first feature film, Shore wanted to make sure that his work had plenty heart to go with all the blood spilled – and real emotional resonance. "I wanted to try to find a way into the story," said Shore of the film's father and son through line. "If I can, in a film of this size, sneak in a story that felt personal and [an audience can] take that away at the end, that would be my own personal victory in it. I'm glad to say that that story stayed there until the end."
With Dracula Untold, Canadian actress Sarah Gadon – who plays Vlad's wife Mirena – took her first step into big budget territory. "I thought it was going to be really different, but ultimately it kind of wasn't," said Gadon. "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 into the background."
"I was really excited to be a part of a Dracula film because there have been so many cinematic incarnations," Gadon continued. "For me, each [Dracula] film kind of speaks to a point in film history it was made. It was kind of a cool thing to think of us putting a contemporary Hollywood stamp on the story of Dracula."
Fittingly, the title character of Dracula Untold features powers that would feel right at home with any of the big super hero films that have dominated the box office over the past few summers. Evans was quick to point out that Dracula's fantastical abilities predate the modern super hero.
"What you have to remember is that all these powers that he has in this movie are not something we've created because we're doing a Hollywood blockbuster," said Evans. "They come from Eastern European folklore. Vampires were always able to transform into creatures of the night… We just embellished those powers and brought them into the twenty-first century."
Not all of Vlad's abilities are CG-driven, though. As he was playing a skilled hand-to-hand combatant, Evans had to go through an intense training program in order to prepare for his fight sequences – especially the sequences involving his heavy-duty suit of armor.
"One of the biggest fight sequences is with Dominic Cooper in that armor," said Evans. "I couldn't sit down. I was unable to sit down in that armor, so I would spend twelve hours standing or leaning or propped up against something. I couldn't sit down – I couldn't pee. It would take twenty minutes to get the armor off so I could pee. But it looked good, and you suffer for your art."
This isn't the first time Evans has had to don restrictive or elaborate period garb. The actor has The Hobbit trilogy on his resume, as well as Immortals, The Three Musketeers and Robin Hood. "I guess I've got a certain look about me, and I think once I'm in a costume I seem to fit it quite well," said Evans. "I really don't know. I'm quite happy that's the case. It's actually quite fun to jump into a world that doesn't exist anymore, or didn't exist ever."
Gadon spoke about being the first person to play the wife of Vlad the Impaler on the big screen, and was quick to point out that she viewed her character independently of her husband. "I definitely didn't think of her as a secondary woman in the film," said Gadon. "For me it was always really important to kind of convey to Gary, our director, that I was interested in playing a woman that contemporary audiences could access and not feel alienated by this idea of a princess in a tower… She wasn't a woman in a vampire film suppressing her sexuality or in this forbidden love story. She had this kind of pure, unlimiting love for her family, and that was really beautiful."
But beyond the love story and historical accuracy, Dracula Untold is still the tale of the most popular vampire to ever live – so it has to have some scares. Evans talked about a terrifying scene he shared with Charles Dance's master vampire. "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 you in your check, it's enough to make you feel scared," said Evans.
With rumors swirling that Dracula Untold could tie in with Universal's upcoming shared monster-verse, the stars and director had to weigh in on the chances of telling more of Dracula's tales. "I'm sure the studio has some plan, but that's not something I'm currently working on," said Shore. "If people want to see a sequel, I'm sure they'll let the studio know."
"We've allowed it to have a gateway to [sequels]," answers Evans. "It can go anywhere. Dracula is immortal... The options are endless."
Dracula Untold opens on October 10.