In addition to a fan-favorite turn (with possible returns in the future) as Marvel's Howard Stark, father to Iron Man, Tony Stark, Dominic Cooper has been seen in several high-profile franchise films in the last few years - with more already scheduled. Most recently, the actor served as antagonist to the racing game movie, Need for Speed - only to sign on for a role in the highly anticipated World of Warcraft adaptation (set to hit theaters in 2016). Last year, the actor played supporting Vampire hunter Henry Sturges in the genre-bending novel adaptation Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - one of the bright spots in a film that fell short of finding the same success as its source material.
Now, Cooper is once again set to portray a vampire hunter - albeit one that doesn't know he's fighting a vampire at first. In Dracula Untold, Cooper portrays Mehmed II, ruler of the Ottoman empire - and former brother in arms to Vlad III Țepeș (aka Vlad the Impaler aka Dracula). Years after they both served under his father, Mehmed I, Mehmed II reunites with his friend - demanding that Vlad, now a family man and benevolent ruler of Wallachia (aka Transylvania/modern day Romania), hand over 1,000 boys from his kingdom, including Vlad's own son, Ingeras, to join the Turk army in conquering neighboring lands. When Vlad refuses, Mehmed vows to destroy Wallachia. Outnumbered, Vlad fears for the destruction of his people, seeking out a dark power that might give him the upper hand against Mehmed II and his invaders.
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 Cooper about his role as Mehmed II - specifically how he fits into this new Dracula mythology, historical accuracy in the fantasy genre, as well as what actually makes Dracula Untold an "untold" story.
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 Dominic Cooper below.
What big stunt are you doing today?
Dominic Cooper: I’m constantly doing stunt rehearsal.
We hear you’re doing a really big one today.
DC: There’s a big one I’m training to do, in fact I just tired all my armor on, I’m training to do a big stunt towards the end. I call it a stunt but it’s a fight. It’s a big, big, big fight between Vlad and myself. You do these things and this always happens and I never learn when you’re doing an action based film is that you spend weeks learning these fights and then you try them and then you’re in this armor and then you realize you can’t move. So then the whole thing probably has to be changed. It’s an incredible costume. It’s a very over the top but beautiful golden armor costume; it’s all frilly gold and it’s got the battle of Constantinople on the front of it and on the arms. It’s incredible but it’s so heavy, I can’t move.
So what’s the relationship between you and Vlad in the sense of - what’s the evolution of it? What’s the mark of the relationship?
DC: Well they have a history as kids and my take on it is that he has always been terribly envious of this boy who is called in to his father’s palace and I like the relationship to be based in envy, jealously, and resentment. I think he saw Vlad as being a better fighter, a stronger, stronger mind, and physically and I think his dad was aware of this. So this is something that’s ongoing and is punctuated in the story itself and that comes to a head. We’ve kind of put these extra ideas in it. On my father’s death bed it was Vlad who he chose to speak to. Because I think he trusted him more as a warrior, as a future leader. So there was a clever bit of writing they came up with right in the beginning of shooting, and I loved it when I read it. It was about him desperately trying to understand or find out what it was that the father had shared with Vlad and not himself. And he can tell he’s being lied to when Vlad comes out with this elaborate, over the top, kind words that he knows are not true. As revenge I do to him really in a way what my father did - which is to ask and insist upon taking his son into battle. I only do that for one reason and it’s to anger him and upset him. That’s the basis of the beginning of the story, and then the big battle begins.
So is your character sort of the villain of the piece or if we look at it from his point of view it makes perfect sense in terms of his motivations?
DC: Yes, exactly. It makes perfect sense for him as any villain and it has to for a well written villain. It can’t be villainous for villains’ sake it absolutely comes from a place of jealousy and resentment not that as an audience member you would care. He’s evil and he does things not for the good of his country or his people but to seek revenge, in my opinion, but it comes from a very real place. He’s an incredible warrior but this particular part of the story, he ruins himself because of letting this jealously eat himself up. He makes all the wrong decisions, everything he chooses to do from this point ruins him. It would all be fine, he could continue to take on Europe and take on the rest of the world but he decides that this one thing has been killing him since he was a child, he decides to pursue. So that’s his downfall.
So if not for your character Dracula wouldn’t exist.
DC: Yea, exactly.
Is it fun to play a villain?
DC: It’s always fun. If they’re well written and like you said as long as they’re a real place that you can relate to or that you understand where that hatred comes from, and that they’re believable. That this person existed. The clever thing from this is that his childhood, what he was capable of, and what he did, he is a villain in a way. He’s trying to cover up a past. I mean the impaling of people that’s very poignant in one of the scenes, that I try to unveil to others what he is capable of and actually how evil he is - because I know the true him that he’s trying to cover up. Yes he’s become a good man and yes he loves his people and he cares for his family but he watched him survive what my father put him through. He was a killer, a volatile dangerous, awful, evil, killer. I think that’s quite clever of a confrontation between the two of them - you don’t have one good guy, they’re both quite dark.
I’m curious because Vlad goes out on this journey and encounters witches and Caligula, the air of the supernatural is all around. For your character are people aware of the supernatural in this land or is this something that they don’t believe in? Is there a belief system in the supernatural?
DC: No there is not but we’ve become more and more aware, we’re like the audience I suppose. We see rather strange things happen and we have to take notice of them but we’re in the real world and we have a belief that could possibly be true by the end of the film we start to go, ‘Do you believe this guy has supernatural powers?’ or what we suppose he may be about but it’s not a world in which we exist where it’s the norm.
Do you have characters around you? Like do you have a right hand man?
DC: Do I?
Yea, like any kind of supporting character that you are close with?
DC: Yes I do. I have one that I confide in that I kill. So there are but he’s not particularly that pleasant to them and they’re all again another way to highlight the terror he spreads among people is that those people that are close to you are very much fearful of you - in the way that they behave around you, in the way they treat you is not the representation of how dangerous he is. That really helps me as an actor. We had a huge scene the other day where I have all my people around me and he comes into the tent, it’s a very long scene, it’s very rare long scene, its five or six pages long. It’s really good well, written dialogue, it’s wonderful cause all of my people are around me and they are very timid and frightened worried about seeing this situation unfold and that’s when I reveal to them that this person who enters the tent I know very well. Or who is one of my closest, oldest and dearest friends from childhood which is very unsettling the way everyone is behaving around me. It’s so fun to play off that energy because you’re immediately in that position of power and you don’t have to do anything aggressive or dangerous. In fact the more you play against that and the kinder you are, and the softer you are the more I think terrifying it is.
Can you talk about how your character learns about the supernatural elements or does he learn a little too late?
DC: He learns too late and he thinks he can overpower it. Well, he does use it to his advantage when he finally believes in it. He uses tricks that he knows will affect and weaken but it takes him a long time to convince.
When we were on set yesterday we were talking to everyone else about, not like the negative stigma, that people could be skeptical about another vampire film or about a different take on Dracula what was it for you that attracted you to the project and also what would you tell people who might say, ‘Oh, it’s just another Dracula film.’
DC: I keep forgetting I actually have to keep being reminded that it’s a Dracula film. For me it was very much a film about the history of Vlad The Impaler and where that story came. It’s a very different take on it and a really clever twist on the story. It’s going to look completely epic and beautiful. They’re shooting it on film and there were some very distinctive characterizations within it. I think it’s unlike any other Dracula. I find it amazing that they’re actually calling it that because for me it felt like something very, very different. I like the idea that they have chosen where he comes from who he was and why he came from that world and why he was part of the Turks world. And then what he became. I think it’s a really clever take on it. Within that story I’m the one who gives all the exposition when all that’s taking place.
Coming into this film were you able to offer any useful vampire advice to your costar? Dealing with fangs? Things that might be useful?
DC: It’s quite funny no but there are things I overhear that are the same problems that I’ve had which I’ve dealt with. I don’t have to this time but I’ve had to do the prosthetics and the teeth in a way which the biting looks good and how painful it can be if you get it wrong. You can take chunks of people’s face out if you’re not careful. I kept quite. I like to see those things happen. I often go yea I coulda told you about that (laughs).
What’s one thing you’re really excited for people to see in this movie?
DC: I’ve shot a few scenes and I haven’t been around during the entire thing, I think from reading it and from seeing what I have seen, I think the dynamic between the relationships. Action is one thing and if you love that than great this is going to have plenty of it; really big, brutal, dangerous, great set pieces and fights. They’re going to all look amazing. I think more than that if that tires you or if that is just not enough, then at the heart of it there’s actually a brotherly relationship that comes about that breaks down and a beautiful love story and a story about a family and a man who tries to defend his family - and then you have the mystical world and actually the prosthetics of how they made those characters look is extraordinary. There’s a combination of lots of things but essentially the reason I’m drawn to something is there has to be an intriguing story at the middle of it. It can’t just be about explosions or car races or whatever it is - there has to be a story for me, because that’s what I like and that’s what people will be drawn to.
Is there a chance for an ongoing rivalry between your character and Vlad if there are future films? Or is this a definitive end to your character?
DC: I’ve heard before it’s a definitive end and then I’ve been dound myself a few years down the line there again. I don’t know there are tons of possibilities as there always is, people never know where they’re going to take a story. Which makes sense it makes it terribly exciting, unless you’re dead, dead but in a film with this title, you’re never dead, dead. Who knows? We’ll see.
Did you a lot of research into the history of your character, the actual man?
DC: Yea I did. It’s kind of endless and fascinating and I didn’t know, admittedly I knew very, very little and all that stuff is great and you’re learning so much. How helpful it is, I’m never really quite sure because you’re developing or creating something that needs to function within what you’re making. Of course it’s good to have all this wealth of information to understand where he comes from and how powerful he was, and how determined he was. He threw his dad off the thrown, he demanded that his dad stand down and took over and was a much more military capable man than his father. So all that stuff is helpful but actually you have to bring in something that works within the framework of the story. It will be so interesting to know - because now when you play people and do something biographical you can watch stuff of them. You know you’re getting quite close, you know you sound like them, I just have absolutely no idea [what he sounds like] which is comforting in a way because you start from scratch and you can make him whoever you really want to be most effective. Maybe he was horribly chilling and hopefully some sort of charm or kindness in the beginning. Was he really like that? Probably not, but you can do what you like.
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 (You Are Here)
- 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.