Report: On the Set of “DRACULA UNTOLD”
How do you reimagine as iconic a character as Dracula?
Since he first appeared in the pages of Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic, Dracula has undergone more than his share of interpretations, some good, some…not so much. When a cursory search produces results like “The 20 Best Dracula Films of All Time” or “50 Dracula Movies You Should See before You Die, it’s pretty clear that the Dracula film is a crowded genre unto itself. So, Fango visited beautiful Belfast, Northern Ireland in the fall of 2013 to tour the set of DRACULA UNTOLD and was immediately promised by everyone we spoke to that this would be a Dracula unlike anything we’ve seen before, some skepticism could be forgiven.
As the day progressed, what began to emerge was a hybrid Dracula tale that uses Stoker’s story as an end point, and the historical record of 15th century prince Vlad Tepes (aka Vlad the Impaler) as a beginning. Producer Alissa Philips explained the concept as it occurred to first time writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless. “[The question is], how did he get to [be] Dracula in the 1800s? And so it was their idea to do an origins tale, very much in the vein of what we see [in] a lot of films now. But this was their own idea. They are brand new writers; they weren’t inspired by anything else.” Philips said. “They thought, ‘Gosh, I wonder how he became Dracula?’, and so they went back to the reign of Vlad the Third and that’s where our story starts.”
The film from director Gary Shore begins during a brief, happy moment of our protagonist’s otherwise long, dark life. “[Vlad’s] in a good place,” Luke Evans (FAST & FURIOUS 6, NO ONE LIVES) tells FANGORIA. “He’s had ten years of peace, he’s in a loving relationship with his beautiful wife (Sarah Gadon, ANTIVIRAL), and he has a good, good kid and his people are happy.” This fragile peace however, is threatened by the Ottoman Empire, led by Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper), with whom Vlad shares a violent and complicated past.
Facing unwinnable odds and the growing desperation of his people, Vlad seeks…an alternative solution to his problem. One he will have to live with for eternity. But as we follow him through this transformation from man to vampire, his situation is never black and white. “I think in Vlad’s situation, he does what he does from a very selfless position…he does it because he wants to save his family,” Evans adds. “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 first wife and his family and his kid and his people.” Dracula is clearly the hero of this film, which begs the question: if Dracula is the good guy, just how evil must the bad guy be?
In DRACULA UNTOLD, that role is thoroughly filled by Cooper’s Sultan Mehmed II. When asked to describe his character (based on the real Mehmed II that invaded Wallachia in 1462), Cooper explained, “He’s evil and he does things not for the good of his country or his people, but to seek revenge.” However, it was important to everyone that Mehmed not be a one-dimensional adversary. “It comes from a very real place, I mean, he’s an incredible warrior… [but] he ruins himself [by]…letting this jealousy eat himself up and he makes all the wrong decisions,” Cooper said. “It would all be fine, he could continue to take on Europe and take over the world, but he decides this one thing that has been killing him since he was a child, [this] he decides to pursue. That’s his downfall.”
At its core, DRACULA UNTOLD is an origin story, but how this story will unfold over five centuries is unknown, as it does seem this vampire is unlike what we’ve seen before onscreen . Could there be more Dracula in our future? “Well, yeah,” Evans says with a laugh. “If you’re going to start a story anywhere, you’re going to start at the beginning, right?”
DRACULA UNTOLD is in theaters October 17. Keep an eye on the pages of Fango for more.