Have you always had a fascination with horror or did you come to the project objectively?
First and foremost, Dracula Untold is not a horror film in that sense. That’s not what we set out to make. It’s a larger story than just how he became the figure of horror. I was able to approach as it as “What do I need to tell the story?” It wasn’t from a horror perspective. There are horror elements in there of course but I was able to come to it quite fresh, and take influences from other genres, from sci-fi to westerns.
Yes, to be honest when I got the script, I approached it with some cynicism. I thought, “Do we need another Dracula film?” We got the same approach from critics when the film came out. There was a very high level of cynicism about the film. People didn’t look at it for what it was.
We weren’t trying to do Bram Stoker’s novel, we were trying to do something that would stand alone, on its own, and to try to find out who this guy was before he became Dracula.
For me, the real attraction of it was telling a real anti-hero story. It was like telling the Anakin Skywalker story or the Michael Corleone story, tracking the arc between who this normal guy is at the beginning and who the monster is at the end. If we ever do a second film, it would be a great opportunity to see how far his mindset had gone so that he became that version of Dracula laid out in Bram Stoker’s novel.
Dracula was a name that came from the order that his father was in – the Order of the Dragon – but it’s also a demonic name. It could be used either way, and it seems very appropriate as this legend around him grew.
On the Blu-ray, there’s an alternate beginning scene, showing Dracula and his wife in the garden; it foreshadows a lot of Dracula’s choices and his relationship – were you sad to lose that?
I think what we gained was a better understanding of what drove him, this monster that was inside him. The scene in the garden was too subtle in setting that up; we were able to foreshadow the vampire Dracula hunting somebody, and setting up the idea that a vampire can stalk their prey and can’t be seen, that they’re in the shadows. But it was very light, it was a diet version of what I really wanted. What it did for us, it helped us to see these two people fall in love and get to that state. You understand that they will go to the end of the Earth for each other, and it gave us some banter within the margins of the relationship, but it took away from setting up what happened to Vlad.
You found some gorgeous locations, particularly the Giants Causeway which looked stunning. Were these were the sort of locations that came to mind when you read the script, or did you find them during the pre-production process?
I’m a big fan of the Spaghetti Westerns and their big landscapes, and I wanted it to be bigger than what we ended up with. It wasn’t going to be a big thematic element, but it was a detail in the background I was hoping to work in.
But the reality of films being made is that they get greenlit because they’re going to be made in the best locations to bring in the tax breaks. We had the choice of making this in the UK or Northern Ireland, but with all the studios full in the UK, we went to Northern Ireland.
I’m Irish, and Belfast is an hour and a half from where I live; Ireland is a seriously beautiful landscape to be able to work. I felt we had everything that we needed for the Rumanian landscape, and maybe a bit more.
Going to the Giants Causeway was absolutely not necessary, but growing up and hearing the stories and the mythology surrounding the Causeway, I thought I couldn’t not use it while I’m here! So we ended up taking some of the design elements – the pillars in the Giants Causeway – and using that in the interiors of the cave mouth. I thought it was a nice tip of the hat to this very unique part of the Northern Irish landscape.
Dracula Untold is out now on Blu-ray and DVD!
Thanks to Holly Windsor and Sylvia Brendel for their help in setting up this interview.