David Tennant is no stranger to playing an icon. After portraying sci-fi’s most famous time traveller, Doctor Who, for half a decade, the Scottish actor knows exactly what it’s like to step into some well-worn shoes and still make them look brand new.
That skill no doubt aided Tennant while filming director Craig Gillespie’s remake of Fright Night, in which Tennant plays Las Vegas illusionist/vampire hunter Peter Vincent – a role first made famous by iconic actor Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes).
Take a look at that synopsis of the Fright Night remake:
Teenager Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) guesses that his new neighbor Jerry Dandrige (Colin Farrell) is a vampire responsible for a string of recent deaths. When no one he knows believes him, he enlists Peter Vincent (David Tennant), a self proclaimed vampire killer and Las Vegas magician, to help him take down Jerry.
We had a chance to speak with The Doctor Tennant bright and early in the morning, when the actor was just coming off a ‘grooming session.’ Among other things, we discussed what it’s like being challenged with stepping up and owning an already-famous character, what the new version of Peter Vincent is all about, and those long-standing rumors that the character is actually a caricature of a certain real-life illusionist:
Screen Rant: Good Morning – grooming went well?
David Tennant: (Laughs) Grooming was exceptional! I feel very groomed!
SR: Very good. Let’s start off by talking about your character in Fright Night, Peter Vincent. This is, of course, a well-known (and loved) character – can you tell us about your take on Peter Vincent?
DT: Well I wasn’t required to compete with Roddy McDowall – who we all know enjoys legendary status quite rightly – because the Peter Vincent in this version is radically relocated both geographically and spiritually from the original one. He fills the same hole in the movie, but he comes from a very different place. He’s a Las Vegas illusionist whereas Roddy McDowall was a late-night horror show host, which I guess don’t really exist anymore, so one of [screenwriter] Marti Noxon’s first tasks was to find a modern-day equivalent for that. So she looked at those illusionists who use Gothic imagery and vampire motifs, which gave her an in for somebody who might know a bit more about the subject [of vampires] and who might perhaps even have some history with the subject that might prove useful to Charlie Brewster when he needs a bit of help.
SR: One issue that’s going to come up about this character is its possible connection to certain real-life performers and/or illusionists (specifically illusionist Criss Angel). Is there a connection there?
No. And I’m glad you brought it up, because I have heard people saying that this is some sort of Criss Angel rip-off. And I’m devastated if Criss Angel thinks that this is any way a reflection on him, because Peter Vincent is clearly a lot less successful – both professionally and personally – than I’m sure Criss Angel is. I think there are similar or familiar motifs, but it’s not based on anyone in particular. I hope Criss Angel doesn’t think we’re taking the piss out of him, making fun of him.
SR: Taking a look at this role, and your role as The Doctor, you seem to have a knack for taking iconic characters and making them very much your own. Can you talk about that process?
I think in both the situations we’re talking about that I was a bit lucky. In both circumstances it was about rebooting the character – that’s always been the case in ‘Doctor Who’ since it first started: the next actor who takes over is kind of expected to start on page one, which I imagine is more difficult for a Sherlock Holmes or a James Bond, where there are certain expectations about that character. With The Doctor and of course with Peter Vincent you’re sort of starting anew with this character. You might face certain expectations about what that character’s place in the narrative is, but beyond that you’re kinda given free reign.
If anything, the challenge is to be different. It helped that my Peter Vincent is a very different type of man than the Roddy McDowall one – so you kind of dispense with worrying about that hopefully quite early on and just try and create a character that is interesting and fun and complex. Hopefully a bit funny, hopefully a little bit of pathos… as with anything, you just try to tell that story and be part of that world, and serve it up with as much juice as you can muster.
SR: How was it doing the action scenes in the film – do you consider yourself an ‘action-capable’ actor?
[WARNING MILD SPOILER]
I like getting dirty, its always fun to do that sort of stuff. It’s kinda like playing cowboys and Indians in the playground, but real. Playing with guns, falling off things, and hanging on rope. Of course we have the safety of very capable stunt advisors and specialists and all these people who make sure you’re not going to get hurt. So it’s hard not to enjoy that stuff. I like to get in it as much as possible and do as much as I’m allowed. I don’t think I ended up getting [stunt doubled] on ‘Fright Night’ – I don’t want to deny the stuntmen their credit – but I think all the various falling over, falling down stairs, firing guns, I managed to do myself. It’s great fun but it’s a little bit nerve-wracking as well, since there is an element of danger.
There’s an incredible sequence at the end of the film with some incredible fire stunts. My character is sort of in amongst that (not on fire himself but simply watching) and I imagined I would be back in my trailer having a cup of tea at this point, but because of brilliant things brilliantly done by these incredible stuntmen I was actually still in the action watching all this at close-quarter. It’s such a thrill – it’s like playing but with real things that explode and blow up and fly in the air.
SR: You have a very loyal fanbase – what can they expect to see from you next?
Well I’ve got another movie called The Decoy Bride which is to be released soon. I’m providing a voice for the next Aardman Animations picture [the makers of ‘Chicken Run’] which is…The Pirates! Band of Misfits.
SR: We noticed while researching Pirates that you’re actually voicing Charles Darwin. Wow.
A young Charles Darwin – Charles Darwin hasn’t quite found himself yet. It’s a fairly free take on the Charles Darwin history…I think the Elephant Man makes an appearance, too.
You can catch Tennant voicing an animated version of the man behind evolutionary theory in the future – but be sure to first check him out as a vampire hunter in Fright Night, which opens in theaters this weekend.
For more on the film, be sure to check out our Interview with screenwriter Marti Noxon.