Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Renfield: Exclusive Interview with Nicolas Cage about Dracula and his love of the character

As part of our set visit coverage of Renfield (check out our full set visit report here) we got the honor of talking to Academy Award Winner and newfound Prince of Darkness himself, Nicolas Cage, who plays Dracula in the film.  Nicolas Cage is a legend when it comes to the land of movies and he always seemed destined to step into the cape of the vampire lord.  

During our interview we covered all the inspirations that came together in his performance and look as well as the balance of horror and comedy that Nicholas Hoult and Cage himself bring to the film.  The classics meet the current within Cage’s Dracula which has more than a bit of rock and roll to him.

I absolutely am so excited for this film. I got to see you on set performing, and you just looked amazing. I wanted to ask you first, what do you think has fascinated readers and viewers over the centuries to keep us coming back to Dracula?

Well, that’s a great question. I think it might have something to do with expressing the human condition. You can supplant one addiction for another addiction alcohol or heroin or sex with an addiction to drink blood. I think Dracula is a story of an entity who has that addiction. But how did he get there? I’ve often thought of the romantic element of Dracula’s character that is love and exile, a character that is unrequited love. And ultimately the condition turns bad as a result of the vulnerability of unrequited love. That’s my own theory as to the fascination with the Dracula character and the vampire character. I don’t think it really comes up in the movie. In the movie, I’m very much supporting Nicholas Hoult, and it’s actually quite comical, the relationship there. It’s really an examination of the Renfield character in a comedy format, which Nick plays so well. He’s so charming and witty, and I think it’s a really fresh take on a Renfield character. So I got to play off of that.

That kind of feeds into another question I had, which was the pathos of Dracula and his relationship with Renfield? Because I’ve talked to Chris and Nick in regards to the film already. And they had mentioned you have a scene where Dracula discovers Renfield’s really betrayed him, and you break, like your character’s heart is broken on screen. And I was curious about the loneliness of Dracula and that connection to Renfield, and that’s basically his one connection to another person.

Well, I think that Dracula is a character that’s been around for hundreds of years, and there is a curse, it’s the consistency to which his heart is broken again and again and again. And I think there is a well, let’s call it a perverse love there that he has for the Renfield character, which is more in the realm of toxic relationships. But there is a kind of affection there, nonetheless, as twisted as it may be. And so, yeah, his heart gets broken. I think that’s the thing, is that he’s constantly coming up against the human experience, which is to break each other’s hearts. And I’m glad you’ve picked up on that.

Well, you also brought up the comedy aspect of the film, which I can’t wait to see play out. But comedy and horror and finding the balance, because they’re two of the most extreme spots of humanity and emotion and also film. Can you talk about finding that balance within this film?

Well, it’s something that I feel lucky to have innately in my chemistry. I just see things in a humorous way. I always have, ever since I was a small child. But it just comes out that way. Not always. Sometimes I’m doing something more dramatic and it’s not amusing at all. But I try to find the humor in everything, no matter how intense it gets. And I think that’s a great life lesson for me, too. It’s a good mantra to always find the humor in it. But you’re absolutely correct. Despite that balance on camera in cinema, it’s a very tricky balance, and one wouldn’t think it, but oddly enough, the two horror and comedy go beautifully together when it’s done right. And to that, I would have to defer to our director, Chris McKay, which I feel he was always aware of that balance, and he made sure it stayed in the zone, but he didn’t want it to just be amusing. He did want there to be pathos, and he did want there to be menace.  When I saw An American Werewolf In London for the first time. For me, that Landis picture was always the model. The experience I had in the cinema, going as a young man was that was absolutely marvelous.

I went home thinking about it and how much fun I had with it, the performances of (David) Naughton and (Griffin) Dunne and all of it. But it wasn’t only funny. I mean, there were really terrifying moments. So it kind of knocks you around. You don’t know when you’re supposed to laugh or scream. And I like that feeling. It keeps you on the edge of your seat. And I think Chris was going for that.

I’m actually looking at my American Werewolf in London figure that I have on my desk right now. So one thing that I agree with you on, which is Nick Hoult and yourself, you both have a really good knack for, you can play a very serious role, switch it to being charming and funny and then turn back into, I’m going to kill you with the snap of my fingers. And I wanted to ask you about playing those two parts because it seems like Renfield and Dracula are those kind of characters where they can just snap.

Well, it’s timing. I mean, ultimately, any good comedy has to have the timing. It’s really a rhythm thing. And that’s something that’s in your body. And Nick has that. Nick Hoult has that in his body. It’s impeccable timing. He has it at his fingertips. And I just saw him in The Menu recently and called him to tell him how terrific I thought he was in that. But what was also compelling is that he can be vulnerable. And you can see him switch from very fast paced comedic repartee into genuine pain in his eyes. And I really think that’s something you’re blessed with. It’s a hard thing to learn, that kind of rhythm, that kind of timing. So I don’t really know how to articulate beyond that as to how we got there, except that I think Nick is enormously gifted in the ability in his timing.

Well, and one thing that I picked up on, and I would love to hear if I’m right, I’ve seen some images of you from the film, and I got a complete Conrad Veidt Hand of Orlok pose, Max Shrek coming out of it. But also within your Dracula, it made me so happy to see Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney in there. Can you talk about your process to build your Dracula and what you wanted to take from these previous versions?

The process is a matter of looking at what’s been done well in the past and seeing what works and then sort of cherry picking, as it were, what flavors I want to incorporate, and then go from there and extrude out from there and fit the tone of the picture at hand, which in this case, is a comedy. So it’s more of a jumping off point to look at. Well, what was it about Christopher Lee? I like the look of his Dracula. I like the slick back hair. Well, in his case, it was a British accident. In my case, I was using more of a mid-Atlantic accent because ultimately all those read to August Coppola, my father, because he was such a powerful, charismatic aura when he would walk into any room, because of his intelligence and because of how well spoken and eloquent and his decision to speak with distinction. Because he was a professor of literature, so he made a point of speaking in this mid Atlantic accent, which I found as a child. I was like, why do you talk like that? But nonetheless, he had his reasons. And I thought, well, he’s a great model for Dracula because he kind of looks like he could be Christopher Lee’s brother, if you look at the two of them side by side.

And then also his impact on me. It was easy for me to, more than anyone else, really channel August Coppola. But then I would take whatever inspiration or influence I had from earlier versions of not Dracula, but vampirism on camera and go all the way back to Schrek. Max Schrek as Orlock I was fascinated by his minimal German expressionistic hand gestures to convey that he was disappearing or transitioning into a puff of smoke. I thought it was really beautiful, and I don’t know why I thought it was beautiful. I would say to Chris, but what is that? Is that dance? People don’t act like that anymore in movies. And I think it’s always helpful to look at the past, look at our ancestors in cinema and see what’s been done and what’s worked and what hasn’t worked and just try and play with it and then add on to it or build out from it, or take those influences and develop your own style with an homage, if you will.

I got to see the jewelry and the medallion that you wear, and I love the fact that in the medallion, it’s you as Vlad the Impaler. And I thought that was a really nice touch, and it kind of harkens back to the Coppola Bram Stoker’s Dracula as well. 

I had nothing to do with any of that. I had a magnificent wardrobe team, and they were the ones not makeup, wardrobe, they were the ones that brought in the rings and the medallions and the lower jackets and velveteen clothing and all that was them. And I don’t know why they brought that in, but I loved it right away, and I sparked to it. And then Kingsley, the makeup artist was the one that designed the fangs that we were using Lee as a model, Christopher Lee as a model, and branching out from there all the way to Lon Cheney senior in London after Midnight for the fangs. So a lot of thought went into it, but I really can’t take credit for that element. That was mostly a design that came in from makeup and wardrobe, and I was the one that was trying to find whatever I could recruit internally to fill the physical image well.

I wanted to say, I got to see a fight scene with you and the vampire hunters, and I thought the physicality you brought really were to me what Dracula would be unleashed.  You were decked out in the velvet, but you were ferocious. And I thought that was great, because that was always the thing that Lee exuded, was that brutality just underneath this veneer of civility.

Well, it was a kind of yeah, the veneer of civility is exactly right. This Eloquent Baron, or Lord or Count, speaks very well and maintains a gentlemanly feel to his social interactions. But lurking there, ready to strike, is the cobra and the panther. And so all of that animality was thought through with Brewster, who was the stunt coordinator, who was working very closely with Chris McKay. The two Chris’s. And I wanted to augment the animality of Dracula’s counterpoint to his elegance as a so-called man. But when the demon comes out, it’s all animal on strike, and the animals are like top predators, like cats and snakes.

It was amazing. But again, sir, I just wanted to thank you for all of the amazing work you’ve done from Raising Arizona and Moonstruck, all of it. I can’t wait for this film. I have a figure of you from Mandy up on my shelf next to Lee and Lugosi.

I love that, Mandy is one of my favorites. I’m so happy to hear that. Well, thank you again. I enjoyed our conversation.

Renfield hits theaters on April 14th. Check out the new trailer tomorrow!

Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/renfield-interview-nicolas-cage-dracula/

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