You mentioned Caligula earlier which signifies that the script hasn’t been changed all that much. I read it years ago, have you guys been tinkering with it through the years?
Alissa Phillips: I mean tinkering in a word that it’s in its best case. It has not been in development hell, it has not been heavily rewritten over the years. It is very much the same story; much of the dialogue is as scripted originally. It’s been very exciting because I’ve lived with this script for so long to hear these lines unchanged, delivered by actors. There certainly has been some rewrites, many of which were for production reasons, but the Caligula scenes with a couple of blocking changes, almost entirely as originally scripted. I’m glad you read it. That was one of the first things when Mike and I read it, I had gotten up really early and it said Dracula Year Zero, it was very early, I was up with my first kid, too early I was reading it thinking, ‘Oh God, here’s another vampire film’ then I started reading it and thought, ‘well this is interesting’ it has an interesting tone to it. It had a serious, sweeping epic tone to it. Well that’s interesting and then I got to Caligula and then I thought, ‘What is Caligula doing in this script?’ It’s the 1400s which arguably is an undercovered period of history anyway. Caligula’s reign was around 40 A.D. so I was like, ‘Well how did he get there?’ So right when I got there, I thought this is really interesting, what is this script?
Then I kept reading and that very much motivated me to say, ‘Wow this is something different’ And then I called, I can’t quite remember around 9 and I said, ‘I got something, you gotta read this.’ I failed to mention Caligula, I started talking about it and then he said, ‘Alright I’ll read it’ and then like an hour later I was going past his house and he was like, ‘Caligula is in this script!’ So his reaction and mine were exactly the same. With Caligula, the Romans were in modern day Romania, I’m told there are still Roman ruins and probably more if we uncovered them, so that’s very much of historical record that they were here in this area of our film. What the writers were using on Caligula is the sort of mystery of his death, some people think that they never found where he was buried, there’s debatable history on Caligula, so they had to start it with Caligula as an interesting character they wanted to incorporate into a script - because the mysteries surrounding his death, because of knowing he would have been at one point in this part of Europe, in what Bram Stoker called Transylvania, they started backing up the story with this, ‘What if we started with this? What if he was still in Transylvania? What if there is a reason he is still alive?’ So that’s how it came to be.
What was the impetus behind changing the title? Because it had been Dracula Year Zero for a long time.
Alissa Phillips: I don’t know, titles are very fluid. I don’t give it too much thought because at the end of the day we’re going to eventually all have a meeting about what Universal feels is the best. So I don’t know, I think at one point they thought, ‘Dracula’ was cleaner. I can’t even speak to that, I sort of wait till the end and to see where we end up and maybe where we end up, I’m assuming Dracula will always be in the title. As a producer you’re sort of like, ‘Ok, we’re still shooting.’
Are you starting to think of how to sell this so that it gets separated from YA (Young Adult) and things like that?
Alissa Phillips: I hope that what we do cinematically with the trailer and the marketing stuff sells the difference and you would see it when you watched the trailer, it’d be something… because I know what we’re shooting and it’s not gonna be anything like Twilight, and I’m a huge fan of Twilight, I’ve been to every one in the theatres. I would hope that by the time we get to marketing it, it would differentiate itself visually enough. We certainly are aware and I think Universal marketing has been doing an amazing job in making sure we position it correctly. That you understand this is an origin tale, this is a heroic tale, so making sure that people don’t have so many misconceptions that it prevents them from showing up. They don’t have to understand what we’re doing, they don’t have to know about Caligula but they have to be intrigued by the idea of a new retelling. So I hope we do it right.
Are you guys thinking of a potential franchise for it?
Alissa Phillips: I get that question every time and it’s the one that I dread the most.
Because there’s all this historical material that you’re weaving into the story.
Alissa Phillips: I know there’s a lot of years between 1400 and 1890 isn’t there? Quite a few. I can answer this more as a producer than I could if I worked for Universal but I feel as a producer and certainly I would answer for Gary we are so focused on getting this one right. If you sit around thinking what you are doing for the second film or the third when you haven’t even finished or even seen the first cut of the first, then I feel you are really dooming yourself. You got to just get the first one right. You got to do it responsibly; you have to make all the right choices; the right cast, the right budgets. You have to have the right team, which is what took us a while to get it ready, I’ve been on since the beginning, but it’s never as I said been in development hell. It’s always been about getting the right team, the right place; Northern Ireland. It takes a while for movies to get made. It’s been about six years for me, that’s normal. I believe that if we are rewarded with success, we would love the story to continue, absolutely. We would love Luke Evans to continue playing this. We just need to get the first one right.
Speaking of Luke Evans how did you end up getting a young Welshman to play and 15th century Transylvanian nobleman?
Alissa Phillips: That’s a good way to ask that question. It was easy, we knew his work a little bit from Fast 6 thru Universal, I was able to see really early takes of some of the stuff he had done. I knew him as an actor a little, he’s done plenty of work, but he immediately was interested in the role and we met him. Gary had met him a couple of times before I met him and he just understood the role completely - like Gary did. Immediately saying, “I understand this role.” He wanted to play it and from what I’d seen of him in Fast 6, it was well documented how good he was, he got really, really good reviews and his performance was amazing. I’d also known that he will have a much bigger role in The Hobbit Two and Three. I will say that people will be more aware of him through The Hobbit than they do right this minute because he has quite a big role in that - but it hasn’t come out yet. He’s just perfect and every day that he’s stepped in front of the camera, it’s been the right choice.
Is there any concern about or frustration over the fact that there’s this new Dracula TV series happening? Or do you not care at all? It doesn’t faze you?
Alissa Phillips: I get excited. I think that media drives media. I’m one of the producers of Frank Darabont’s new show, which feels like I’m plugging right now and I’m sorry, I don’t mean to. We’re doing LA Noire, now it’s called Mob City, and they were shooting Gangster Squad at the same time and I kept getting that question: aren’t you concerned about Gangster Squad because you guys are doing a TV show? So I was on the opposite side of that, aren’t you worried about Ryan Gosling? You know what we can both exist. So I had no problem and none of my team did and I think Gangster Squad succeeded in its way and was its own film but I don’t think with our show anyone is going, ‘I’m not going to watch it because of Gangster Squad’ and vise versa I hope no one chooses one over the other, I think these both exist in two different spheres and they help each other.
This is more of an industry related question; there was talk in Variety that Legendary was going to come onboard—
Alissa Phillips: Yea they did!
Oh they have cause, I didn’t really know. Cause they have certain ways with their films, has that had creatively any impact?
Alissa Phillips: It has no impact whatsoever. I believe that’s all Universal and something exciting for them. I couldn’t speak to the specifics of it but I believe that they are but we were already shooting, I think it’s exciting. I don’t know what way it would impact us but I think Legendary has an amazing brand and a veracity, so basically combined with Universal, which this is such a Universal film; it’s monster mythology and they have a history of doing these kinds of films. So we were already squarely in what you would call a Universal film - and then you only added a little more to it. It’s like Legendary makes these kinds of films too, so to us it’s great, cool.
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 (You Are Here)
- 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.