Vlad Dracula and Count Dracula; one was the Transylvanian-born prince of Wallachia, and the other is a villainous vampire, but in the movie Dracula Untold Luke Evans portrays an amalgamation of both.
Available now on home video, the movie is a reboot of the iconic character as well as the first in a shared Universal Monsters universe. But instead of a remake of Tod Browning's 1931 classic starring Bela Lugosi, Dracula Untold melds historical fact of the 15th Century Romanian leader with Bram Stoker's 1897 Gothic novel. The result was a $215 million international box office success.
Personally, I am a fan of Stoker's fictional work and a study of real-life Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler and Vlad Dracula. My interest has previously led me to Romania -- along with Stoker's great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker and author/researcher Hans de Roos, who were working on a Dracula Travel Guide -- to develop a travel show about locations connected to both the man and the vampire. Our journeys took us across the country, and led to a deep connection with Romania's people. We were also bestowed with the rare title of Knights of Count Dracula by the cultural-historic organization the Transylvanian Society of Dracula.
Recently I returned to Romania to once more explore fact and fiction; this time with Dracula Untold's unique approach in mind. Over the course of about a week, I visited the Snagov Monastery (where some say the Impaler is buried), Castle Bran (a structure possibly visited by Vlad, and which was the visual basis for Stoker's Castle Dracula), Vlad's Royal Court in Targoviste, and the capital city Bucharest.
And along the way, I was able to interview Dracula himself, Luke Evans, on Vlad's home turf in Romania. In the following conversation, we discuss the challenges of portraying a historical figure as well as an iconic character who has been portrayed more on film than any other.
We're speaking in the land of Vlad. And I spoke to a historian who said you were the best Vlad he'd ever seen.
That's very nice! I have to remember to pay him later. I haven't sent him the check.
Can you talk about this unique challenge of crafting a character that preserves the authenticity of a historic figure as well as the iconic vampire creation from Bram Stoker?
Well it means a lot of research on everybody's part. Obviously the writers did a good job of mixing the fact and fiction, and allowing us to believe this man became a vampire somehow.
For me, that's the gift of being an actor and playing a character who actually lived. There's history, books, documents, and documentaries. There's a lot of contrasting stories about how ruthless his was -- how bloodthirsty he was. There's also how brave a warrior he was, or successful military leader he was in this very small country at the bottom of Eastern Europe. It was the prime target for the Turkish Empire, and they stopped them in their tracks for quite a period.
For me, it was about finding the reality in such an ancient story, and finding the truth in the documents written by his enemies. What happens when you die in the 1400s? History gets rewritten and turns you into a monster. I think some of those stories about Vlad were probably embellished to a healthy extent. But it was finding a healthy balance. Because we were dealing with the human as much as the vampire, I wanted to bring the human element so it was relatable. So it wasn't just the fangs and blood, as much as that's exciting and brilliant. It is about bringing the story of a man who was trying to do right by his people, his kingdom and his family - but making maybe the wrong decision.
We leave that up to the audience to decide if they want to root for a man who has chosen to drink the blood of a master vampire and save his people, or if that was the wrong thing to do.
What was your first exposure to the Dracula characters as a kid?
For me, it was a cartoon called Count Duckula. I'd love to say it was something way more intelligent or better than that, but no, it was Count Duckula that was my first experience of Dracula. I think it was my only experience of Dracula for quite a long time. I was brought up in quite a religious household, so anything slightly vampiric or demonic was never in my house or on my TV. I didn't really see a Dracula film until my mid-to-late teens. Even then I probably shouldn't have watched it, but I did.
You spoke about the strategist that is Vlad Tepes, and Count Dracula was also the king of the Universal Monsters. Going forward, in the shared Universal Monsters universe, do you think that will play out more? He's a king, and steps up and rules over things?
I don't know. I mean, it's interesting. I think probably no. He is a king but by the time we see him at the end of the movie, it's modern day. That's nearly 500, 600 years later. He is far from the king at that point; he is an anonymous creature walking through time who can't die and is very lonely. I didn't see a man who is, "I'm still the leader, I'm the king of my country." So I don't know who he will be or how he will be presented. But I know I'd be very happy to play him again in whatever context he'll be involved in this Monsters universe, which is being created as we speak. It is exciting. It is a big, big plan and it will be very exciting to see how it all intertwines when we finally get the script.
Fast & Furious, The Hobbit and now Dracula. You've been connected to these big fandom, fan friendly creations. What have you been hearing from the Dracula fans and the Universal Monsters fans?
Excited. I've done a lot of travel in the last few weeks, and it's three characters you just mentioned - and I guess they are the biggest I've done and seen by the most people. But in equal measure, I'm either Shaw, Vlad Dracula or Bard the Bowman. It is funny to try and work out if I can tell, as they run up to me on the street or in a bar, which one are they going to say? Sometimes I get it right; more often than not I get it right. But it is nice to be recognized for something. And people really liked this. I got a good response from people, so long may that reign.
Including that historian from Romania!
See? It's a shame I didn't get to meet him.
Fang training? How difficult did it take for you to adjust to that and talk with them in?
We tried me speaking with the fangs for a while. They were huge. I had two different versions. I actually have fangs of my own, weirdly. (Everybody keeps asking me if I had them put in for the film. No!) But then I had a much longer set when I was doing close-ups, but that would have been impossible for me to talk otherwise I'd have pierced my lip -- which I did a few times. We had to do fight sequences with the fangs in, and by the end, there was blood pouring down my lip from where I pierced them. They were super sharp.
But I didn't have to speak with them in. I don't say a single word in the film with the fangs in. We made a conscious decision we didn't want to overdo it with the fangs. It wasn't going to be a fang-fest. We have those movies, and they've been done and that's fine. But we wanted to show just glimpses of this man turning into this creature. We didn't want to saturate the screen with special effects. It was about seeing the transition of this man dealing with this disease, this addiction to blood, and watching him fighting it. And then it was quite terrifying when you see him biting someone's neck and he comes up -- the blood, the veins, the popping out of his eyes, the skin, and these wonderful effects. You see enough of it that it's not that all you think about is that. You get that it's part of his character, and I like that.
So not a fang-fest!
Not a fang-fest. I've never used that word before but I like it and might use it again.