Nicolas Cage as Dracula? It’s all a bit draining

By Karl Quinn

Now, let’s eat: Nicolas Cage as Dracula and Nicholas Hoult as Renfield in Chris McKay’s horoor-comedy. Credit:Universal Pictures

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Now, let’s eat” is all but guaranteed to join the already extensive list of Nicolas Cage movie quotes that populate the internet. But it wasn’t actually in the screenplay for Renfield – it was improvised in the heat of the moment.

“That line came from knowing the script and knowing where we could go,” says Cage. “The idea, for me anyways, is to know the script and the libretto and the dialogue so well that you don’t have to think about it, and then you can go off page and play around and improvise. That’s how I like to approach it.”

Cage is at his freewheeling best (or worst, depending on your view of his often over-the-top acting style) as Dracula in this horror-comedy, which rose from the mind of The Walking Dead producer Robert Kirkman, was brought to life by screenwriter Ryan Ridley, and took flight in the hands of director Chris MacKay (The Tomorrow War, The Lego Batman Movie).

A hyper-violent action piece, the film takes one of the odder relationships in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel and switches the focus away from its leading man.

In the book, Renfield was an inmate in an English insane asylum, a bug-eating henchman of the exotic count from Transylvania. He was a major minor character who featured in snatches of the story, usually seen through the eyes of others.

Here, he’s the central character. He’s still doing the bidding of the Dark Lord, bringing him fresh victims, but after a century of servitude he’s had enough.

“To be honest, he’s just exhausted with the prospect of continuing to do his dirty work,” says Nicholas Hoult, who plays Renfield. “He’s worn down and looking for an escape or some sort of spark to return to the normal life he misses. And that’s what this story really goes back to: this toxic relationship between the two of them, as they’ve been together for so long and really know how to push each other’s buttons.”

Though the film plays for laughs, there is a real darkness at its heart: the dynamics of an abusive relationship, and Renfield’s efforts to free himself from it, via a support group and with the help of the cop Rebecca (Awkwafina) he befriends after violently intervening to prevent a robbery.

Cage drew inspiration for his Dracula from many other incarnations, including Gary Oldman’s portrayal in his uncle’s 1992 film.Credit:Universal Pictures

“That’s the core of the emotional part of the story, which is so important,” says Hoult. “The dynamic between these two characters – Renfield living with the regret that he feels for the mistakes he’s made, but also finding strength in the support group and Rebecca, and discovering the ability to stand up for himself, and his own self-worth, and forgiving himself for the mistakes he made.

“That’s obviously a very serious matter, and something that we didn’t take lightly within this film. So hopefully, it’s something that speaks to people and they connect to.”

“Yeah, it’s a tricky balance,” adds Cage. “Because it isn’t really a funny subject matter when you think about it in those terms.

“But there is an element of ownership, particularly with the Renfield character. He’s owning the mistakes he made, and then he’s transcending them and freeing himself from this toxic relationship. And if you look at it in those terms, perhaps it can be helpful.”

He pauses, perhaps suspecting that the notion it’s a comedy we’re talking about might be getting a little fuzzy here. “But it is a funny movie around that,” he says eagerly, “and there is genuine emotion within that”.

Nicholas Hoult as Renfield. The character is a study in what it means to be abused.Credit:Michele K. Short/Universal Pictures

In truth, Renfield is a rather strange movie, tonally speaking. It’s cartoonishly violent, outrageously bloody, comically heightened. And yet, within it there’s this rather serious story about a massive ego draining the life out of everyone with whom he comes into contact.

“Dracula is the most love-bombing narcissistic manipulative person that could be,” says Hoult.

“He’s obsessive,” adds Cage. “It’d be like if he was five years old and wanting to watch Seven Brides for Seven Brothers seven times – that’s how obsessive Dracula is.”

This analogy, it seems, wasn’t in the script either. Hoult bursts into laughter as he contemplates the bewilderment of the United Nations of film writers on the receiving end of Cage’s latest flight of fancy. “They’re all going, ‘What’s going on, what just happened’,” he says.

Hoult plays Renfield as a mix of nerves, timidity and eventually strength; in his bumbling, apologetic Englishness he recalls the raffish charms of peak-era Hugh Grant. For Cage, playing Dracula inevitably meant revisiting earlier portrayals. He looked at Max Schreck as Count Orlok in the German Expressionist classic Nosferatu – “that really was compelling when I saw it at as a child of five, it was very scary” – he looked at Bela Lugosi in the 1931 classic, he savoured Gary Oldman’s turn in his uncle Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

His favourite, though, was Christopher Lee. “I liked his appearance, I like the ’60s hairdo, I like the clothes, I like the Hammer Horror films. He was my Dracula.”

You might not guess it from some of the work he’s done, but Cage says he’s no fan of gore. “I don’t like gratuitous slasher movies,” he says. “I think Chris McKay’s taste is more violent than mine.”

Christopher Lee as Dracula.

What he is a fan of is movies that combine horror and comedy. “I think that might be my favourite kind of film,” he says. “I think the two, oddly enough, go beautifully together and really put you on a ride in a theatre because you don’t know what’s going to happen. It sort of knocks you around; you’re laughing and then all of a sudden you’re screaming. That’s a great feeling for an audience member to have.”

Of course, the best horror – comedic or otherwise – is always anchored in the real, no matter how fantastical its characters or setting might appear to be. And for Hoult, that’s where Renfield works best.

“The core of what they’re experiencing is very relatable to us, regardless of any supernatural elements of the story or when it’s set. For Renfield, it’s this idea of regret and remorse and feeling trapped, but also being charmed by Dracula.”

For Cage, Dracula himself speaks clearly to the human experience, despite his otherworldliness. “He’s a character that has this bloodlust addiction,” he says. “You supplant one addiction, like alcohol or heroin or sex, with blood, and we can relate to that.

“And then you also have this idea of eternal existence as an undead, meaning that he’s always going to get his heart broken or be betrayed again and again and again,” Cage adds. “I think that’s the curse of Dracula – which is also a kind of human experience.”

Renfield is in cinemas from May 25.

Find more of the author’s work here. Email him at, or follow him on Facebook at karlquinnjournalist and on Twitter @karlkwin.

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