Film audiences have a long history with Dracula, who for decades has been depicted as a blood-thirsty fiend who preys upon victims, turning a select few into vampires. However, that’s about to change.
Opening Friday nationwide, Dracula Untold promises to delve into the man Dracula was before he became cursed. Directed by Gary Shore, the film finds a very human Vlad Tepes/Dracula (Luke Evans) as the current ruler of Wallachia (Transylvania). When the Turks, led by Mehmed Sultran (Dominic Cooper), demand all the town's young boys, including Vlad's son, be gathered for his army, Vlad defies the order. To protect his family and kingdom, a desperate Vlad journeys to an ancient place of power and negotiates a deal, one that may ultimately cost him his soul.
On the film’s Belfast, Ireland, set back in September 2013, Dracula's castle can't take much more punishment. Mehmed and the Turks are busy launching an all-out assault on the stone fortress. Inside, on a constructed stage serving as the main hall, desperate people scramble for safety. Dust fills the air as ceiling debris crashes down. Corpses litter the floor, and the number of injured rises.
All seems lost until Vlad returns, having just acquired his vampire abilities (although no one is aware of it just yet). After comforting his wife and son for a moment, Vlad delivers an inspiring speech to unite the troops and lift their spirits. Minutes later, he hurries outside to join the fight. The director yells "Cut!" but it's a scene that will require multiple takes to capture all the drama and chaos.
During a brief break, Evans (The Hobbit, Fast & Furious 6) sat down with journalists to discuss Dracula's humanity, his descent into darkness and those earlier days as Vlad the Impaler.
Spinoff Online: Besides the fangs, what is the change between pre-vampire Vlad and after?
Luke Evans: You meet Vlad at the beginning of the film. He’s in a good place: He’s had 10 years of peace, he’s in a loving relationship with his beautiful wife, he has a good kid. His people are happy and everything is prosperous, so he's quite in a good place. Then the threat comes of the invasion by the Ottoman Empire and Mehmed. He loses his security and becomes quite vulnerable. You see the cracks start to show, and the weaknesses, and you see he’s a very vulnerable leader. Then he receives this gift, in a way, of these powers that he has after he chooses to become a vampire.
Then you see a different sort of character. He becomes more confident. He has hope, all of a sudden, in a different way. He also has these abilities, which he didn’t have before, which no one else knows about. But he’s aware he can do these things. He can speak to you without opening his mouth and you can hear what he’s saying. He can fly and jump and he’s immortal. His wounds heal and all that stuff. That stuff is good to play on. As we go further into the film, we get to play those confidence-boosting moments.
I think there’s a lot of Vlad that you see at the beginning that you see at the end. The important thing we wanted to impress in the character of Vlad and Dracula, when he becomes the vampire, is you see the human in the vampire. We don’t want to disassociate the two people. We want to keep them the same person. The same emotional drive he has at the beginning of the film and the reasons he does what he does, are still prevalent at the end of the film. In a way, he’s the same person, but in a way, he isn’t and he has other things going on.
Does power corrupt?
In the wrong hands, yes. We know that very much in this day and age. In this film, you see power given to one human being and used wrongly. You see power given to another human being and used in a very selfless way. In Vlad’s situation, he does what he does from a very selfless position and point of view. He does it because he wants to save his family and his son and his wife and his people. You see other people turn into vampires in this movie. I always try to associate it with being addicted to some very strong drug. You see some people who deal with drug addiction in one way and some who just completely fail and never be able to come out of that dark place. Vlad always keeps his reasons for doing it very clear. As much as he has this urge to drink the blood of a human, he really resists as much as he can because of the love of his wife and family and kid and people.
The way you describe it, it almost sounds like a superhero origin story. Is that the way you think of it?
If you read up about Dracula, he’s able to transform into creatures. He’s able to speak in your head without opening his mouth. He can physically make you do things. He can fly. He’s immortal. He won’t die as long as he doesn’t stay in the sunshine and daylight. His wounds heal. He has a few flaws. He tries to veer away from silver and the daylight. We wanted to keep the human part of him alive so people can relate to him. He is an antihero in a way. We’re used to thinking of Dracula as this man who lures women into bed and kills them for their life force and, yeah, he does become that. This is the origin story of Dracula. Maybe that is where he ends up, in the Bram Stoker of the whole story, but at this point, he’s still hoping that’s not who he is going to become. He doesn’t want to become what he sees in that cave in Broken Tooth Mountain. It’s not a nice thought that he wants to live like that for the rest of his life.
This movie picks up with him in a good place, but our understanding is this is after he's known as Vlad the Impaler. Do we get to see those dark days?
Gary and I wanted to be very loyal to the real character here. He was known as Vlad the Impaler. We do touch on it quite a lot, especially when he meets his stepbrother, Mehmed II, played by Dominic Cooper, the Sultan. We don’t ignore the fact that he did do those things and he was a very bloodthirsty leader and warrior and he did some incredibly shocking things. We do talk about them. There are scenes when that is brought up. You can see he is uncomfortable with the fact these are being brought up because his people have moved on. He has become a leader that isn’t all about the fact that he impales people in fields and kills thousands of people. We don’t ignore the fact, either. That was something very important for me to have, that element of him in the film. He’s Vlad the Impaler. He was the Lord Impaler. That was his title when he was brought up by the Turks. He gained all of those killing techniques from the Turks. That’s how he was brought up. That’s where he learned them all. There are a couple of moments where we honor the impaling technique, in very clever ways.
The thing about Vlad was there are a lot of history books, there’s a lot of biased history books, but if you read a lot, which I’ve done, you find he was revered by his people, not just as a warlord and a terrifying leader of a country, but he was revered. He was a fair ruler. He gave land to not only the aristocracy of his land, but he gave it to the poor people. He often brought in the working class to work with him and fight with him. He was clever in that way. He wasn’t all about money and land. It was about people feeling that they had been given something and they owed him something. It was interesting. He was very respected by his enemies. It’s on his tombstone on that little island in Romania, where it says, "He was a great ruler and respected by his enemies," which is quite an impressive thing to have.
This is your first leading role in a high-profile movie. Is that intimidating?
No more intimidating than anything else I’ve ever done. It’s a role. You have to give everything to every job you do. You have a responsibility to do the best job you can and make sure you honor the script and the writers and director’s ideas and your ideas. Somewhere in the middle, you come to a place you all feel good about it.
I’ve been playing with this script for about eight to nine months, which is quite a long time before starting a movie, and working with Gary on the script and talking to him on a weekly basis, wherever we were in the world. There’s been a lot of dialogue and a lot of conversations about his journey. And loads have changed in that time and it’s been great for that reason. I feel very invested. Even though I’ve been doing other projects and finishing the Hobbit and doing another movie, even though I was doing all of that, in my mind, I was still setting pieces of the jigsaw puzzle in my head so that when I arrived here, it wasn’t too daunting. I’ve been working very hard to gain a reputation of sorts in this film business, which I’ve only been doing for five years now. I feel like I’m ready for it. I’ve been acting since I was 20, so it’s not like I’ve just jumped in and am playing a lead role. It is a responsibility. It's a legendary character first portrayed in 1932 by Universal and they're bringing it back to the screen and my [character's] name is on the back of everybody's chair. It's an exciting thing. I'm just lapping it up and enjoying every minute of it.
Can you talk about the physical preparation for this role?
My arms are out today, which is not very much, but I’ve trained all day long to keep them. Muscles don’t stay big. They constantly shrink, which is very annoying. My trainer is with me all day. We train before we come to work and then I just keep training all day. There’s quite a lot of semi-naked stuff in the film. It’s not just about looking good out of your clothes. It’s about honoring the character I was playing. He was a warrior. He went into battle. He wasn’t one of those that sent his men to battle. He was in the frontlines. He was a very active, physical leader. I, and so did the creative team, want for him to look correct out of his clothes. I have a lot of scars in the beginning of the film before I become the vampire. That meant I started training for this job in May and my trainer has been traveling with me since then. We’ve trained through two movies. He’s been to New Zealand with me and he’s with me every day on this film. We train after work every day and my diet is specific.
Is this something you want to revisit? Are you signed for other films?
Well, yeah, if you’re going to start a story, anyway, you start at the beginning, right? You could go anywhere with Dracula right now. After this movie finishes, it’s like an open book. Where could he go? He’s immortal, he’s a lonely man, he can’t go back to his family, he loses his wife, he can’t be around anybody he’s been around, so it could go anywhere. There are a lot of discussions about that and it’s very exciting and I’m very much involved in the whole thing.
It's very rare that an actor gets that chance to grow with a character.
Very rare, and it's nice [to] be part of something that could grow into something else and be there at the beginning of it. It's very, very nice not to pick up from somebody else's interpretation of the character.