INTO THE DARKNESS, Dracula Untold - Games Weekly

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Thursday, October 23, 2014


You might think that Dracula has been done excuse the pun to death. “You could do a thousand stories with him,” notes Matt Sazama, co writer of the latest attempt to immortalise Bram Stoker’s legendary literary creation. As its name boldly suggests, Dracula Untold sets out to find a new angle on this shadowy vampire.

Starring British actor, Luke Evans,  Dracula Untold  is an origin story like no other, delving into the history behind the character. Evans plays Vlad Tepes, the 15th century Romanian leader better known as Vlad The Impaler. A legend in local folklore for his exploits battling the Turks of The Ottoman Empire, he also became the inspiration behind the title character in Bram Stoker’s classic novel, Dracula. Taking this into account, Evans differentiates  Dracula Untold  from all that’s gone before it. “It isn’t another Dracula film,” he says. “The Dracula that we see in films is an established older man. It’s Bram Stoker’s version of Dracula. Well, we’re going back 400 years before that. We’re dealing with the man, and the human behind the literary figure. We’re dealing with history as much as we’re dealing with fiction and we’re merging the two.” 

Co-authored by Sazama with his writing partner, Burk Sharpless, the script came to life nine years ago when Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins was in cinemas.
The film proved highly influential on both writers. “We saw that,” says Sazama, “and thought, ‘Ah, people will understand that this is an origin story for someone that is
incredibly well known, and that perhaps this is a part of the story that you’ll have never seen before.’”

An early pitch for the movie also embraced Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 effort, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, starring Gary Oldman as the blood-sucking count, which briefly touched on the character’s historical origins in the first few scenes. As Sazama recalls, “[We’d say] ‘Remember that cool part of the beginning of the Coppola movie? What if there was an entire movie like that?’”

In the interim, vampires became sexy again, in films like  Twilight  and TV shows like  True Blood , but it didn't deter either writer. “We thought, if anything, that people like vampires,” says Sazama. Backed by Universal the studio famed for its monster movies, right back to Tod Browning’s 1931 classic,  Dracula the project still went through numerous iterations before it was finally greenlit.

“They were just waiting for the pieces to come together,” adds Sharpless. Those elements included an enthusiastic first-time filmmaker in the shape of Irish-born commercials director, Gary Shore, and a leading man capable of shouldering the responsibility of playing such an iconic figure. “It was Gary’s first film, and it was my first title role for a studio and a big deal for me,” says Evans, best known to audiences as the villain in  Fast & Furious 6  and as Bard The Bowman in last year’s  The Hobbit sequel.


Indeed, Evans wasn't the only actor in virgin territory. Sarah Gadon, the Canadian actress seen in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method and Cosmopolis, has yet to venture towards the Hollywood blockbuster until now.

Here she plays Princess Mirena, the film’s “moral compass” and love interest to Vlad. “She sets the stakes for Vlad, in terms of representing family, home, the sanctity of marriage, and the purity of the good life,” says the actress. Gadon was initially uncertain about joining a huge Hollywood project. “I’m always more drawn to the director than I am to anything else,” she says. “And that was certainly the case with this project. I didn't really know if I wanted to do a Dracula film, so I reluctantly took a meeting with Gary. And we sat down in this restaurant in LA right besides Francis Ford Coppola!” Talk about fate tapping them on the shoulder. “We were like, ‘I guess we have to make this film together now!’”

While Gadon followed the film with a brief appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man 2  as the digital interface of OsCorp Dracula Untold  was her first attempt to perform in stunt-driven scenes. One of her self-stipulations was simply that she didn’t want to play a damsel in distress.

“That was number one on my list do I get swept up in the action? I don’t want to be on the sidelines picking roses!” Shot in Belfast, the surrounding Irish countryside proved ideal for the shoot with scenes even filmed at the famous landmark, Giant’s Causeway. But Evans, for one, had little time to soak it all in. “I was so knackered most of the time,” he says. “After we finished on set, I’d go to the gym,go home, eat, and go to bed. I did that for four months. Physically, it was just full on.” Not only that, but he couldn't even wind down with a drink at the end of the night. “There were a few naked scenes, so I had to keep in good shape,” the actor smiles. “So no Guinness not until I’d finished doing all the fighting and all the naked stuff. Then I had a pint of Guinness, which was about two or three months in.” That, in anyone’s book, is a long time to wait for a drink.

Evans wasn't the only one enduring hardships. Enter Samantha Barks, the singing sensation who made her feature debut as Éponine in Tom Hooper’s Oscar winning film musical, Les Misérables. Cast as the mythic Baba Yaga in Dracula Untold, it meant a 3:00am call time before she had to endure six to seven hours a day in the make-up chair as prosthetics were carefully applied to turn her into an aged witch. “The prosthetics team were so incredible,” she enthuses. “You feel like you’re a completely different person, a completely different character. But it’s done so well that the prosthetics still move with your face. Even my dimples stood out! That’s how well formed it is. And it’s liberating to be behind this character. You’re so free to do whatever you like, and the prosthetics are so well designed that they don’t hold you back.”

After playing the wailing waif Éponine, dressing up as a mad witch was the perfect antidote. “It was so cool being evil! And being so twisted! She’s a completely wacky character,” Barks laughs. “You do all your character work, your research, and you come up with what you think you might do on the day, but then with the prosthetics, and seeing this amazing set that they built for her cottage you can’t help but add more layers onto the character.”

Like Gadon, she also had to embrace the physical aspects of the shoot not least using wires to simulate her character’s ability to fly. “It’s a strange thing you’re just hanging there,” she says. “Although you’re going up a wall, and something is taking your weight, you still have to make it look real not like something is just randomly lifting you. I wasn’t in any pain, but I walked away from the whole day and went, ‘Look at these bruises!’ I went home, and my mum was like, ‘What happened to your arms?’”

Also on board is another British actor, Dominic Cooper, playing Mehmed, the Turkish sultan who initially takes Vlad under his wing only to later lock horns with him. “Historically, it’s really interesting,” notes Cooper. “They talk about who Dracula was, and who the people around him were, and the wars that were taking place at the time. It’s about where Dracula came from, and why he came to be that man. It’s a clever take on the whole myth.”

While the script looks to blend fact and fiction when it comes to the historical aspects, Sazama and Sharpless had heavyweight help. “My dad is an historian, and he had people in the UW [University Of Wisconsin] history department that helped,” says Sharpless, who gorged on books recounting this bloody chapter in European history. But he’s quick to point out that audiences shouldn’t get too hung up on accuracy. “Ultimately, it’s a fantasy movie,” he says.

True, though Sarah Gadon believes that it has an abundance of contemporary themes that audiences can latch onto. “Your husband going away and not returning these are classic American war themes,” the actress offers. “Luke and I tried to steep it in that kind of reality and real emotion. So whilst there is a sexual element to the film [like other vampire films], I don’t think that’s what it’s really about. It’s more about family values.”

Already, thoughts are turning to a sequel, and creating a fresh, blood-soaked franchise. “If we get lucky enough, that would be great!” says Sazama, slightly unwilling to jinx his long-cherished project. But why not? The Hammer Horror films made a star of Christopher Lee as The Prince Of Darkness. “He has huge potential to go anywhere,” admits Evans. “He’s immortal, after all.” 

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