After a decade of TV work, actress Sarah Gadon is quickly becoming a big screen fixture - with appearances in several high profile projects, including The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Cosmopolis, and the period drama Belle. While her part in the Spider-Man sequel was minor (as Oscorp Industries' resident artificial intelligence K.A.R.I.) the actress received extensive critical praise for her supporting role in Belle - where she portrayed Elizabeth Murray, a young 18th century woman raised in an aristocracy where her main purpose in life is to attract an affluent male suitor.
Elizabeth is a far cry from the strong-willed heroine that Gadon is set to play in Dracula Untold - where she will portray, Mirena, a wise 15th century queen and wife to Vlad III Țepeș (aka Dracula). Unlike many of the women that Dracula will bleed dry in the coming centuries, Mirena knew Vlad long before he became the iconic bloodsucker of legend. Prior to embracing dark supernatural forces, he was a loving husband and father, as well as a caring ruler to the people of Wallachia (aka Transylvania/modern day Romania). It was Vlad's love for Mirena and his son, Ingeras, that drove him to a difficult choice: watch as his family and friends enslaved or seek out a means by which to save them (no matter the cost).
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 Gadon about her role as Mirena - specifically how the upcoming film departs from traditional Dracula lore, why modern moviegoers will appreciate this "untold" story, and whether or not Mirena will get her hands bloody 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 Sarah Gadon below.
Can you take us by the hand and tell us a little bit about the character you’re playing?
Sarah Gadon: Yea sure. In broad strokes she’s the matriarch of the film. She’s the princess, she’s Vlad’s wife. A lot of the film is centered around the family unit and I guess the major themes of the film are the sacrifices that we make for our families and keeping our families together and so a lot of the film centers around her relationship with Vlad and their relationship as a family.
Do you know if she was based on any historical character?
SG: No, I don’t. I don’t think she was but I will say that she does act as the moral compass for the film and she does act as the moral compass for Vlad.
How does the relationship change between her and the Vlad he was and the Vlad he becomes?
SG:The way that I try to look at it is in very real terms. If you ever had anyone in your life who has been struggling with addiction or struggling with anything, it’s about the resilience of love and how much you’re willing to struggle with somebody to preserve your relationship and to try to preserve them as a person - and I think that’s really important. I think that’s what I was so drawn to in regards to this script. I was really looking to do a love story and I wanted to tell a love story. This film is Dracula but at its core really is this beautiful, romantic, classic, love story. I think that everything that Vlad and Mirena go through as a couple obviously reaches its climax at the end of the film but it’s about the choices you make in a relationship to preserve it.
But you said that your character is more or less the moral compass but there must be a point in the film, probably not far from what we’re looking at now, where she starts to realize that he’s making moral choices that don’t involve her anymore.
SG: Yea that would generally be the crux of a good story, yes there’s that point. I can’t really reveal to you at what point in the plot that happens and ruin the story but yea the stakes are high between the two of them.
You seem to have an affinity to this genre of storytelling working with Brandon Cronenberg in “Antiviral” and “Cosmopolis” is this coming from somewhere or do you find like what you said here a love story that happens to be wrapped in this genre?
SG: Yea it’s interesting that you say genre because I would say I have an affinity to working with mature directors and I guess that maybe seems to be the best arena that they can fully express a singular vision and it’s in this genre. I worked with Mary Harron I don’t know if she’s considered a genre director?
SG: I worked with Amma Asante recently and really strong directors and that’s certainly what I’m drawn to when I look for a project. That’s pretty much number one on the list and that was certainly the case for this project, when I sat down for my meeting with Gary I really didn’t know much about the script, I knew about the story in broad strokes but I didn’t know a lot beyond that. I sat down with him and he was just so passionate about his work and the kind of film that he wanted to make and I was really drawn to that kind of energy so I thought ‘yea,’ I want to make this kid’s first movie for sure! He’s like a baby Spielberg he’s got all this kind of youthful zest and zeal for romance and love. It’s really like kind of early Spielberg stuff so I was like, ‘ok yea I like this I’m gonna [do this]’ and it aligned with things I had been seeking to do which was a big love story, so yea they kind of collided.
Is there anything that you’ve seen him do that’s taken you by surprise maybe a technique you’ve never seen used before?
SG: The kinds of films that I’m used to doing are independent films, they’re very small character driven pieces and there isn’t as much spectacle involved. This is the first kind of film that I’ve done that has had big grand spectacle so I guess for me I don’t know if there’s a technique that he’s using but I certainly think having to coordinate everything technically is something very different for me. Having to wait and be able to create all these intricate camera movements and then coincide that with all this elaborate choreography and all of that is very new. It’s a very different way for me to work. But then when I go behind the monitor and I look at what he’s actually shooting and it’s just beautiful and then it brings me back and then I realize what I’m doing.
Can you describe what the tone of this picture is? Because I’ve been trying to sort of suss that out all day. Is it a romance? Is it more an adventure romance?
SG: I think what it is being called is a monster film. That’s a really interesting thing because my perspective of the film would be so different from everybody else’s perspective. I spent a lot of time with Gary and Luke in rehearsals just working on a one on one connection for love but then sometimes when I see the other things happening I think, ‘Oh yea. It’s a full on fight film. It’s a war film.’ I think it kind of has a balance of all of those things. At its core I think it’s a family film. I think it’s a film that’s accessible to families because it’s really in my opinion about strong family values. I think that’s what Hollywood does so well. It’s really interesting to see, it’s so different for me. I’m kind of refreshed.
Was the Dracula mythology and legend behind it something that was attractive to you?
SG: Not at all.
How do you feel about that then because when people see Dracula they’re not going to initially be thinking this is a love story.
SG: Yea exactly that’s what it was if anything I was deterred by that vampire element of it or the Dracula element of it. But then speaking with Gary especially going back to our initial meeting, we met at this place in LA and we sat down beside Francis Ford Copolla in our meeting which is so weird we were kind of like, ‘Nice to meet you. (Whispering). That’s Francis Ford Copolla’ and he showed me, he had a lot of visual imagery with him and he showed me that he really wanted to make a timeless love story. That to me was refreshing because Dracula and vampire stories are always about sexual repression and female sexuality and a lot of things and it seemed to me at the time such a different take on the material. That part was really refreshing.
How much fighting does Mirena see in this movie? Are you more pacifists in that sense?
SG: No she’s certainly not passive. I’m not a warrior, so there’s not that element but I certainly stand up for what I believe in and I get to wrestle around a little.
What’s your favorite scene in the movie?
SG: It’s tough to say. When I read the scrip, I was really drawn to all the Caligula stuff, all of the Caligula stuff is really interesting because it’s very blatant about identity and choice. That kind of stuff was very interesting to me. My favorite stuff that we’ve shot, I don’t know if I can say all of this but I know my favorite thing that we shot we did on Divis Mountain, which if you’re not familiar with Ireland is this big mountain, and it’s quite a dramatic scene involving myself and Ingeras and Vlad. We did all this coverage we shot for over three days and then at the very end Gary did this crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, wide, wide shot and we were like this big in the frame, it was totally silhouetted. The sky was incredible, we were on this fricking mountain and it was like this weird Gone With The Wind meets this Hollywood film. It was just so cool, when I saw that it was on the third day of shooting, I was like phew! I did one of those. So that was pretty cool.
Are there any scenes that you think will top that for you? Any scenes coming up with you in it that you’re looking forward to it?
SG: Yes, my final scenes in the film are very emotionally charged and it’s supposed to be set on a tower but we’ve built it on a soundstage. The lighting in this film is just standout, it’s just amazing. There’s going to be a lot of play between light and dark and the shadows. Vlad being able to go into the sun and then not, it’s going to be a very interesting play with light and I’m really excited about that because it read beautifully on the page - and after seeing John’s work I know it’s going to be stunning.
What’s your relationship like with your cinematic son and has he given you any insight into what’s coming up in Game of Thrones that we should know about?
SG: No he hasn’t. It’s weird because I really feel like we look alike. I feel like we look related and so it’s weird to look at something that you feel like looks at you and it’s kind of a bizarre feeling that I assume parents would probably have when they look at a human and they realize they created that human. When I look at him sometimes I feel like there’s such a strong resemblance I kind of go with that and play off of that feeling and that amazement because the connection between the three of us is so crucial to the film - so that has been great. I like working with children I think they have a very interesting energy, they’re so solid. They’re very present, they’re very up in their eyes. They’re very aware and they remind you to stay playful and to stay present.
Are the costumes kind of simple? This costume is much more simple than what I was anticipating? You get a movie like this and someone is decked out and with all these crazy jewels and things.
SG:You should have been here yesterday. It’s interesting because when I started doing the film I had just done a period film in London called “Belle” and we were in corsets for the entire time, shooting this, there’s this funny thing in British equity called “continuous days” where they shoot without lunch but your day is an hour shorter but you’re still shooting constantly and you don’t get a break to eat and it’s bananas - they don’t have that in North America. So we did this film and we were in corsets shooting continuous days so when I started this I was just like, “Listen I don’t want to be in a corset. We’re not historically grounded here, let’s be real I don’t need to wear a corset.” So [costume designer] Ngila Dickson designed these dresses around that idea and it’s been fantastic. You can breathe, move and eat but other than that her silhouettes are very simple; her fabric choices are very interesting and read very different in person than they do on camera. All the costumes are very different, so what you’re seeing this is what they call “day glam,” casual in the castle. But there are other costumes that are very, very intricate and in fact I was wearing this crown yesterday made of all pearls and it looks like lace on my head. It’s so delicate but sharp and kind of started to cut my head a little bit as you can see.
You were talking about sacrifice and tough choices. Does your character have to make them as well? Or were you just referring to what Dracula goes through?
SG: Yea, my character definitely has to. I think every character has to. I think Mirena, Vlad and Ingeras all have their own choices to make and it’s really interesting because when you are young you form all of your ideas of the world and you have all these kind of principals and then you grow up and those principals are tested and you have to decide whether or not you can realistically live your life by them. And that’s what I think the film touches on and plays with. That’s the kind of really interesting gray area that is the very cool thing about this film. So yea, my character definitely has to make some tough choices.
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 (You Are Here)
- 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.