It might be hard to imagine but Luke Evans only arrived on the Hollywood movie scene in 2010. Since that time, the star of Dracula Untold has been seen in a wide variety of films – including several blockbuster franchises: Clash of the Titans, Fast and Furious 6, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, among others – with upcoming roles in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and The Crow reboot. Evans’ star is on the rise – portraying a wide mix of memorable characters from malevolent baddies to charming heroes.
However, the actor’s biggest challenge, so far, may be his turn as Vlad III Țepeș (aka Vlad the Impaler aka Dracula) – which requires the actor to find a fresh approach to the iconic movie monster, while also delivering a character-focused performance that is both relatable and terrifying. As depicted in Dracula Untold, Vlad is not a black or white creature of the night, he’s a family man and benevolent ruler (admittedly one with a dark past) who will stop at nothing in order to protect his kingdom – even if it means corrupting his own soul.
Back in November 2013, we visited the set of Dracula Untold in Belfast, Ireland to find out what Universal Pictures and director Gary Shore have planned for Dracula’s origin story. During our time on set, we had a chance to speak with Evans about his role as Vlad/Dracula – specifically what drew him to the project, how his interpretation of Dracula differs from those that came before, as well as why he thinks anti-vampire movie skeptics mint be surprised by what they see in Dracula Untold.
We’ve already posted our full set visit report and will be publishing further interviews in the coming days but, in the meantime, check out the trailer for Dracula Untold followed by our interview with Luke Evans below.
This is a character-driven version of Dracula. From your point of view what is the change between the pre-vampire Vlad/Dracula and the post Dracula? Besides the fangs obviously.
Luke Evans: Well you meet Vlad at the beginning of the film and he’s in a good place, he’s had 10 years of peace. He’s in a loving relationship with his beautiful wife and he has a good kid. His people are happy and everything is prosperous, so he’s quite in a good place. Then a threat comes of an invasion by the Ottoman empire, he loses his security and becomes quite vulnerable. The cracks start to show, you see his weaknesses and you see he’s a very vulnerable leader. Then he gains this gift in a way, these powers that he has after he chooses to become a vampire and you see a different character. I guess he becomes more confident, he has hope all of a sudden in a different way.
He also has these abilities which he didn’t have before which no one else knows about but he’s aware he can do these things; he can speak to you without opening his mouth and you can hear what he’s saying and all those things and he can fly and jump, he’s immortal and can heal. I think that sort of stuff is good to play on. As we go further into film, I get to play those internal confident boosting moments. I think there’s a lot of Vlad that you see in the beginning, that you see at the end. The important thing that we wanted to do we wanted to impress in the character of Vlad and Dracula, when he becomes the vampire, is that you see the human in the vampire. We don’t want to disassociate the two people we want to keep them the same person, the same emotional drive he has at the beginning of the film and the reasons why he does what he does are still prevalent at the end of the film. So, in a way he’s the same person but in a way he isn’t and he has other things going on.
Does power corrupt him?
LE: In the wrong hands yes obviously, we know that very much so in this day and age. In this film you see power given to one human being and used wrongly and you see power given to another human being, another person, used in a very sort of selfless way. I think in Vlad’s situation he does what he does from a very selfless position and point of view. He does it because he wants to save his family; his son and his wife and his people. You see other people turn into vampires in this movie. I was trying to associate it with being addicted to some very strong drug. You see some people who deal with drug addiction in one way and some who just completely fail and never ever be able to come out of that dark place. 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 for his first wife and his family, his kid and his people.
Is that transformation into Dracula an instantaneous thing or is it something like in terms of your powers not just the physical look of the character, is the Dracula at the end a much more vampiric looking character with more powers?
LE: He doesn’t realize the powers immediately that he has, it’s a sort of revelation as the plot goes on and his journey progresses, he becomes aware that he can do certain things and certain things happen to him that he’s like, ‘Oh wow. That’s useful’ and he actually does say “that’s useful.” So yes he has them all, cause as soon as he makes that decision and he does what he does in Caligula’s cave, he gains all of those powers but he’s very unaware of them at the beginning. He even thinks he’s dead at one point and realizes he’s alive but nobody can see him and then he can’t be seen. He’s seeing ghosts. So it’s an interesting thing, he’s discovering these things as he goes along but the vampiric part of him is only seen in very subtle moments when he actually does go to bite, you see this incredible transformation. It’s unique to this film, it’s unique to Dracula, and it’s never been done before. He doesn’t have the fangs the whole time it’s not something that I’m talking with big fangs in my mouth the whole time. Even though I have my own fangs. Sometimes the unseen is often more exciting and more intriguing to an audience than what you see. If you spoonfeed every visual element of some character like Dracula, which we’re so used to seeing in so many representations we’ve seen through the years. This one we’ve chosen to be very clever in when we show these moments of the vampire in him. But it is quite beautiful when it happens to him – when he goes for the kill.
The way you describe it almost sounds like a superhero origin story, is that the way that you think of it?
LE: If you read up about Dracula, he’s able to transform into creatures, he’s able to speak into your head without opening his mouth, he can physically make you do things and move, he can fly, he’s immortal; he won’t die as long as he doesn’t get in the sunshine and stays out of daylight. His wounds heal, he has a few flaws but he tries to veer away from silver and the daylight but in a way we want to keep the human part of him alive – so people can relate to him. He is sort of an antihero in a way even though we’re use to thinking of Dracula as a man who lures women into bed and then kills them for their life force. Yea, he does become that but we’re beginning at the origin, this is the origin story of Dracula, maybe that is where he ends up at the Bram Stoker of the whole story, but at this point he’s still hoping that’s not who he’s going to become. He doesn’t want to become what he sees in that cave, that’s not a nice thought that he wants to live like that for the rest of his life.
Is he a one man army with his powers?
LE: I think in many senses he is. He really is a man who has to keep this secret to himself and he knows that most people are not going to like what he’s done – including his wife being at the top of the pile. He’s mortified at the fact that he’s decided to choose this dark almost inhuman anti-Christian life, so has to make these decisions a lot on his own and try to convince his people and his army and his men that everything looks terrible and we’re all going to die but you have to trust me cause I have [powers] but he doesn’t want to give it away because he knows they’ll all freak out if they know exactly what he is. So, yea in a way he is a one man band, a one man army for a lot of it. He tries to save his people without putting them in a position where they’re terrified of him.
So this movie picks up with him in a good place in the beginning of the film but my understanding this is after he is known as Vlad the impaler, so aren’t those dark days?
LE: Gary and I wanted to be very loyal to the real character here and he was known as Vlad the impaler and we do touch on it quite a lot – especially when he meets his step brother Mehmed II played by Dominic Cooper. It’s something that at this point in the film and the point of the story—that’s a whole different film, a very dark R-Rated movie—but we don’t ignore the fact that he did do those things and he was a very blood thirsty leader and warrior and he did do some incredibly shocking things. We do talk about them, there are scenes where they’re brought up and you can see that he’s uncomfortable with the fact that these are being brought up because people have sort of moved on and he’s become a leader that isn’t all about the fact that he impales people and kills thousands of people. We don’t ignore the fact that was something, that was very important for me to have that element of him in the film because he is Vlad the Impaler, he was the Lord Impaler, that was his title when he was brought up by the Turks. He gained killing techniques from the Turks, that’s how he was brought up, that’s where he learned them all. There are a couple of moments where we honor the impaling techniques in very clever ways.
You know a thing about Vlad, there is a lot of history books, that are a bit biased if you read a lot which I’ve done, you find that he was revered by his people not just a warlord or terrifying leader of a country. He was revered, he was a very fair ruler, he gave land not only to the aristocracy of his land but he gave it to the poor people and he often brought in the working class to work with him and fight with him. He was very clever in that way he wasn’t all about money and land, he was about people feeling they were given something and they owed him something. It was interesting, he was very respected by his enemies, it’s on his tombstone where it says, ‘He was a great ruler and respected by his enemies’ which is a quite impressive thing to have.
What was it like the first time you had this idea pitched to you, someone comes up to you and says, ‘Do you want to play Dracula?’ Every time we hear there’s another vampire film it’s like groan, rolling your eyes.
LE: I have to say I thought exactly that, I was like really? Am I at that age that I have to play that? Oh God, I’ve already had to play a father figure with kids, playing Dracula what’s next? But I picked up the script and I realized it was a reimagining of the character people are so well versed in but it was also a birth of that character, which is an interesting thing. So we’ve mixed fact with fiction. I just thought it was a very intriguing story. I feel like I’ve always tried to play roles that have real strong human emotions driving them and this character essentially is all about his son and his love for his family. Which I thought was great because it’s so not like this guy and all of a sudden we see a different side to him and the reasons why he chooses to do it – so it’s a huge arc. It was a good challenge for me and it’s a really nice thing to be asked to do it and I’m really enjoying it.
When you have a big arc like that do you sit down and try to sort this all out in your head in terms of how you’re going to play it? Or do you basically play what’s in the script?
LE: No with something like this which has an enormous arc you have to bullet point where your emotions are and the tone of it. It’s difficult because there are points where he’s full vampire but he’s still acting very humanlike. So you have to do your research and get it all sort of set in your head and, as you know, we’re shooting a scene now where it’s almost at the end of the movie and we’re not even halfway between shooting it – so I need to know how far I’m taking it in this scene so that when I go back I can knock it down a few pegs. Normal things when you play a big character like this.
This is your first leading role in such a high profile movie, is it intimidating?
LE: Well no more intimidating than anything else I’ve ever done. It’s a role and you have to give everything to any job you do. You’ve got a responsibility to do the best job you can and make sure you honor the script, the writers, and the director’s ideas and your ideas and somewhere in the middle you come to a place where you all feel good about it. I’ve been playing with this script for about eight to nine months, which is quite a long time before starting a movie. Working with Gary on the script and talking to him on a weekly basis from wherever we were in the world so there’s been a lot of dialogue and a lot of conversations about his journey and loads of change in that time and it’s been great for that reason, I feel very invested.
Even though I’ve been doing other projects and finishing The Hobbit, I did another movie and even though I was doing all of that in my mind I was still setting pieces of the jigsaw puzzle in my head so that when I arrived here it wasn’t too daunting. I’ve been working very hard to gain a reputation of sorts in this film business, which I’ve only been doing for five years now, I feel like I’m ready for it. I’ve been acting since I was twenty so it’s not like I just jumped in and am playing a lead role. You know it is a responsibility, it’s a legendary character first portrayed in 1932 by Universal and they’re bringing it back to the screen and my name is on the back of everybody’s chair. It’s an exciting thing I’m just laughing it up and enjoying every minute of it.
This is a very physical role too. Can you talk about your physical preparation?
LE: Well you’ve might have seen today my arms were up today but I train a lot to keep them because muscles don’t stay big, they constantly shrink which is a really annoying thing. My trainer is with me all day, we train before I come to work and then I just keep training all day. It’s quite a lot of sort of semi-naked things in the film, so it’s not just about looking good out of your clothes, it was about again, honoring the character I was playing. He was a warrior, he went to battle he wasn’t one of those that sent his men to battle he was in the frontlines. He was a very active physical leader so I wanted him, and so did the creative team, for him to look correct out of his clothes.
I have a lot of scars in the beginning of the film before I become the vampire and it was all about a certain look. That meant I started training for this job in May and my trainer’s been traveling with me since then and we’ve trained through two movies. He’s been to New Zealand with me and he’s with me every day on the film and we train after work every day and my diet is specific. It goes on and on and on but you’re playing a leading role and sometimes that’s what it requires.
It sounds kind of painful.
LE: It is it’s full on, it’s hard work just being on set 14 hours a day, I was picked up a quarter to five this morning, and we were on set at eight and I haven’t stopped since and my costume; I don’t know if you’ve noticed I can’t sit down when my full costume is on because I’m in full armor. Because I have these tassels which stop me from sitting and these swords. I stand for about three or four hours and you forget I’ve actually not sat down for a long time. It’s the sort of thing you forget about and then when everybody else goes home I’m going to the gym for an hour and I sometimes eat at 9:30pm at night and then go to bed at 10:30pm and then wake up at 4:00am. It’s hard going but it’s one of those jobs where I’m living the dream. This is an amazing job, lucky to be doing this, so you just got to enjoy it. Somebody’s paying me to stay fit for god’s sake.
Is this something you’re considering revisiting? Are you signed on to do any other films since this is technically Dracula Year Zero.
LE: Well yea, if you’re going to start a story anyway you gotta start at the beginning and so you could go anywhere with Dracula right now. After this movie finishes the story finishes in a very, it’s like an open book where can he go. He’s immortal, he’s a lonely man, he can’t go back to his family; he can’t be around anybody he’s been around so it could go anywhere. There’s a lot of discussions about that so it’s very exciting and I’m very much involved in the whole thing.
It’s very rare that an actor gets a change to grow into a character.
LE: It’s very rare and he could grow into something else and to be there from the beginning is very, very nice – not pick up from someone else’s interpretation of the character.
We’ll post more interviews with the cast, producer, and behind-the-scenes designers in the coming days.
However, if you’re eager for more Dracula Untold info right now, make sure to check out our full Dracula Untold set visit report and Dracula Untold news archive – which will include the following interviews (as they are posted) along with much more.
- Luke Evans – Vlad III Țepeș (You Are Here)
- Alissa Phillips – Producer
- Dominic Cooper – Mehmed II
- Sarah Gadon – Mirena
- Francois Audouy – Production Designer
- Ngila Dickson – Costume Designer
Dracula Untold opens in U.S. theaters on October 17th, 2014.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for further updates on the Dracula Untold, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.