NOTE: Both interviews occurred on set and do to the visual nature of production and costume design, certain segments of these conversations refer to behind-the-scenes images and designs that could not be included here. Nevertheless, we felt it made sense to include the interviews in full because both Audouy and Dickson reveal interesting details about the production – even when they are directly referring to an object that our readers won’t be able to see.
Ngila Dickson, Costume Designer
Ngila Dickson: Okay, where will I start? I started on this in March? [Laughs] Who knows? And it’s gone through, as these kinds of films often do, quite a few iterations. We did a huge amount of historical research on this and then, as you do on these kinds of films, we kind of went, ‘Okay, well, no one will understand all that. We will go left.’ So we have played about with it a bit, but always kind of kept everything rooted in some kind of historical vernacular, my favorite thing. And what was really enjoyable for me on this one was we were going in quite a different direction, an area that hasn’t been particularly mined in film terms. So fun.
To go into the world of Turkey, we’ve travel much more to Northern Europe for the look of the film and against a lot of the styles of filmmaking at the moment, we’ve used a lot of color. We’ve really amped it up, at times, I find in almost a disconcerting way for me because it’s my nature to keep things real, but I think it’s really working. There’s some quite fabulous looks.
Really new styles of armor. I’ve done a relish amount of armor in my time and here we’re trying some quite new things, some quite new looks here. Brave new world! Will I get slapped down for it? We’ll see. For Gary, he was very, very keen on really understanding the history of things, but also bringing a kind of Once Upon a Time in America cowboy thinking to it. I really loved it. I really loved that idea that you go deeply historical and then just bring a kind of a skewed vision. So far, I’m thinking it looks pretty good.
There’s a tradition in Dracula films as far as costuming is concerned. I’m thinking, for example, Eiko [Ishioka]’s work on Coppola’s Dracula where you mix historical elements with interesting elements. I was wondering, when you said going left a little bit, if you were going to inject some other elements.
ND: We had really big discussions, Gary and I, about all the different Draculas and whether we wanted to be in the world of homage. I was actually really keen on it because that particular Dracula is incredible. Still, to me, I just think it’s a great version of the story. We really explored it, but just something about our story and our characters, it became something else, so it really is its own take on it. But I do think it’s equally amplified in that way.
I think that’s sort of what I was asking for. What is that direction you’ve decided to go in?
ND: I think it will be revealing itself. I mean, it’s not as theatrical because one of the things about Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it almost had a stage like quality to it, whereas this doesn’t. This is big, incredible landscapes and big spaces, but it still definitely has that quality to it. Yeah, there is a theatricality to it at certain moments. In the armor, as it comes through with my leads, I’m working in repoussé. I don’t know whether any one of you know, it’s incredibly textural where you’re almost sculpting in to the armor, or out of the armor actually. It’s not been used very much and I’m trying to work between quite a sort of classic version of it with Mehmet and an incredibly organic version of it with Vlad. So in the world of Bram Stoker, there was an extraordinary piece of armor for its time and in a way, we’re trying something ourselves.
Are you using your leather to turn it into metal or is leather actually leather?
ND: In fact, there are four different armor companies involved with me on this. We have the fabulous Augusto [Grassi] who’s our leather master here who has made one set of Vlad’s armor. The other set is being made in New Zealand, funnily enough. And we have another set for Mehmet, which I’ve been working with Richard [?] on. Then we also had a London-based, Mr. [?] Oppenheimer, a fabulous armorer. So it’s been really quite interesting for me to work with all these different people and different techniques. In a way, it helps me cement the armies as well as to have different people doing it and I’m hoping that that brings some really individuality to it. The control freak I am, I would much rather have had them in here where I could keep an eye on absolutely everything. My next best thing is to be a maniac on Skype. ‘Show me that, show me that, show me that!’ [Laughs] Luckily, for me, I’ve got good relationships with these people and they put up with me.
What differentiates the look of the two armies? Different colors maybe?
ND: Definitely. Mehmet’s world is quite colorful. They’re quite colorful. And Vlad’s world is much more a mixture of quite a sober castle guard, which I think when you – have you been down that set? The castle guards are down there and then we’ve just got a whole bunch of kind of general local soldiery boys who aren’t in armor for all Vlad’s [?] aren’t quite that wealthy so we’re sort of playing that world, the very big, powerful, huge army coming to get the little guys. But, guess what? The little guys are gonna win!
How do you inject color into this as you said? Because you don’t think, ‘15th century Eastern Europe, wow what a colorful era!’
ND: That’s how! 15th century Eastern Europe colorful. The Turks, very much so, yeah, with the red, gold, black and silver predominating there. Again, you know, we’ve taken all those colors, but we’re really beating them up as well so that they’re no ridiculously, ‘Hello!’
Because this is so grounded in reality and history, how do you still make it Dracula so that when people see this movie and they see posters for it, they still feel Dracula when they see him as opposed to just a leader of an army?
ND: Oh god, yeah. But you’re wanting to stick between those two worlds in this film, you know? Like, you want Vlad to be a man that you can relate to and part of his journey is that he has chosen to go down this road for his family and for his people. And then, it’s Dracula is Dracula, you know? I think when we move into that territory it becomes all about performance and [?] aesthetics where that character amplifies itself onto an entirely different level.
Did you get to come up with a look for the character of Dracula, something iconic with capes and whatever?
ND: Well, shall we wait and see how I did it there, and you tell me. Well, actually, I don’t even have my hands on it yet. So yeah, we are running. I feel like a little hamster on a wheel trying to get through a lot of this stuff.
There’s only ever one woman in these films. All you blokes and not many women here either, are there? So we’ve become incredibly reliant on what we’re going to do with our leading lady. There’s an awful lot of discussion and emphasis on how you roll with that. And Sarah, I’ve got to say, I’m such a fan of her. She’s really great in this role. For me, I was looking for the light in the dark here, you know? Vlad, the one stepping into the dark world, she’s the light, she’s the one who’s the believer in family, she’s the values, and it’s been a really interesting way to create two characters, to make her the light. Always in my head, thinking about her, as the light in the film, and she’s really great. They’re a great couple on screen actually. It’s really nice to see that kind of chemistry between two actors.
Is it a tough line to tread between historical reality and heightened reality?
ND: It’s really tough. Yes, but everyone’s job has limitations and you just have to make the absolute best of what you’ve got, how far you can move with that character to keep it real, to enable that actor to be able to perform that role with integrity, plus the demands of a mega Hollywood film.
Well, it’s also going to be scene through the prism of an audience in 2014 as well.
ND: Exactly. And, you know, in that respect, it becomes when you really have to go with a director’s vision, like when you’re in some kind of artistic standoff about ideas or concepts, I always go, ‘I’m here for the director,’ and I have to go with that vision, you know? Because he’s the one who’s gonna pull all this together in the editing room and with the visual effects team. So we’re here to put all the building blocks together and give him as much to play with as we can given time, money and whatever else.
Is this all set in one era?
ND: We’ve stuck very much to the world of 1450.
As a designer, is it your instinct to skew more towards realistic recreations or do you want to go in a more fantastical route?
ND: I think we’ve stuck more to reality on this one. It just seems to have suited it. Having said that, we’re certainly amplifying.
But which do you prefer?
ND: I like fantasy based in reality more than just out and out fantasy, but that’s because no one’s actually asked me to do full on fantasy yet. In this instance, it works really well for the show, so ask me that again if someone gets me onto a fantasy and I’ll be like, ‘I’m loving it!’
Do you get a sense of freedom from the fact that the average moviegoer doesn’t really have any preconceived notions of what the 1400s in Transylvania actually looked like?
ND: That’s really interesting. When we first went down this road, it’s that extraordinary thing of true 14th century world is actually too much for the market to take. When I really got going on this with designs that I was doing which was just freaking everybody out, and I was going, ‘But this is real,’ you know? When you get your head out of the book and think about the people sitting in the cinema, you’re going, ‘I have to actually pull back a bit.’ Real history is full of so many more bizarre things than anything fantastical that you can come up with. So there’s another kind of movie that hasn’t been made yet, where you’re really, really doing the real history. It seems too much.
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
- Alissa Phillips – Producer
- Dominic Cooper - Mehmed II
- Sarah Gadon – Mirena
- Francois Audouy – Production Designer (You Are Here)
- Ngila Dickson – Costume Designer (You Are Still Here)
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.