DRACULA 2001 (UK) aka DRACULA 2000 (USA)
Movie Feature by Susanna Macklin
PHASE9 went along to meet JONNY LEE MILLER, JUSTINE WADDELL and GERARD BUTLER. Just three of the stars from the new vampire movie, DRACULA 2001 aka DRACULA 2000 (USA).
From NOSFERATU to Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 classic and Joss Whedon's comedic stake wielding slayer BUFFY, there are very few gravestones left unturned in the world of the vampire movie. However the three stars of new suck fest, DRACULA 2001, are more than willing to stick their necks out for their latest offering.
It's a film using all the conventions of the traditional vampire movie, while also trying to appeal to the army of current post-modern horror lovers. It's also a film that unites in the main roles, two Brit actors and one Scot, who carry the baggage of a youth full of over-the-top scary movies and of course the legacy of Hammer Horror embedded in their brains; Jonny Lee Miller best known for his Sickboy in the hit TRAINSPOTTING, and the relatively unknown but soon-to-go-big stateside Gerard Butler and Justine Waddell. In the movie Jonny is vampire hunter Simon Sheppard, assistant to the slightly batty Professor Van Helsing and determined to stop Dracula, played by the charismatic Butler, from doing his evil best. Waddell joins them as Mary, the young daughter of Van Helsing who is the object of Dracula's somewhat unwanted attention after he is unwittingly unleashed onto the public.
This take on the classic story has been no secret to horror fans who have been geared up for its release since hearing of the involvement of master of the macabre, Wes Craven. Craven is one of two Executive Producers, a factor that must have drawn these three young actors to the project, especially being fans of some classic horror themselves.
'I've always loved SALEM'S LOT. I don't know why but it just really caught my imagination', says Gerard staying true to the genre which could make him a huge star! Being connected with Craven, the film utilises some of his trademark tags including moments of black humour and the actors pitting their wits against some dark forces, elements that Justine certainly likes in a movie.
'I think when I saw the EXORCIST I was pretty scared. I also think that ROSEMARY'S BABY is one of the most beautiful films ever made and one of the scariest!'
On the other side of the coin however it must have been intensely intimidating being cast in a Craven project with every fright fan watching closely on both sides of the pond. Being from the 'Elm Street' generation they must have felt some pressure?
'Wes Cravens certainly well versed in this genre and you know that he is going to have very capable people around him who know how to deal in horror, so in that sense of course you're aware of this' says Jonny, but the actors didn't feel they were carrying this weight too heavily on their shoulders 'ultimately he's a really nice man so it doesn't filter down to feeling answerable to Wes Craven - the machine or anything like that'.
Fans will by now have heard stories surrounding the name changes that were banded around before the film was finally released. Some of the titles sited the movie as being a 'Wes Craven' film, subsequently stirring up new arguments about movie authorship! So machine or not, Big Brother was watching over them. But, however much the Craven tag would intimidate most actors that were part of a film he was endorsing, this seemed to be less of a problem on the overawe scale for these three than working with some of the actors they were faced with on a daily basis. There was one in particular with whom they were intensely more star-struck.
'Christopher Plummer is amazing. He was extremely professional. I was just blown away by him and he was just one of those people you can get on with', says a surprised Jonny, and 'he's got a really wicked sense of humour'.
'I agree'. chips in Justine, 'He's just this amazing actor and it was a great privilege to play his daughter'.
Gerard's on-set relationship with him was just as overwhelming, however it wasn't quite as subdued as it was for the others. 'On my first day of filming I had to grab Christopher Plummer and throw him across a room! He really helped me out on that first day though and he's an incredible actor. But I just couldn't get that image of me throwing him out of my head!
The actors, some of whom have come from distinctly more uniform training grounds, had to quite literally get their hands dirty with the many physical challenges that this big production required.
'There was one scene where I was tied up and submersed in swamp water', laughs Gerard, ' I had to be under the water and fly out through it - and I put ear plugs in and stuffed some up my nose but it still felt like two hot spikes going right through my brain. Also there was this alligator about 20 feet away that everybody was feeding with turkey and because I was tied up I couldn't get out, so as you can imagine, that was pretty scary!
There are also plenty of scenes in the movie involving some pretty technical and aggressive fighting, and realistic responses to blood thirsty vamps on the attack.
'The hardest part about doing scenes like that is when you've got the director saying all day: Now they're flying across the room at you and it's the first time you've ever seen a vampire', says Jonny, 'to me that's the most difficult thing - acting to a piece of sticky tape on a light box on a camera. I found that a lot more challenging then doing the actual fight scenes, but they were still tough'.
'I loved it' says Justine quite convincingly, ' I did a couple of things in that movie that I would love to do again. I had a fantastic fall off a building with a rig and a 200 ft drop! I loved the stunts and fighting - I kept asking if we could do one more take.'
Poor Gerard however doesn't seem quite as enthusiastic about any of his scenes. 'I had to do a lot of action/fight stuff and have a harness shoved in between my legs and groin at some points - believe me it wasn't fun! Also in one scene near the end of the film I had to hang with a wire around my neck. In a few situations you're asked to do these things and actually try and act as well, and that can be quite difficult and horrible'.
Gerard really did have a huge task playing 'the ultimate bad ass', a role that so many have played to great effect before him. Still, stepping from some lesser British film and TV roles into the large shoes of the Count is something that many an actor would like to do, even if it does make them a little nervous at first.
'There was one point when we first started filming when I suddenly stood there and thought- Holy shit I'm Count Dracula!!'
With another actor from this side of the water, Gary Oldman, playing such a convincing Count in Coppola's 1992 version of the Bram Stoker story, perhaps Gerard was concerned about being compared, or worse still frightened of over egging a hard-to-bake cake, consequently turning Dracula into a caricature!
'When I went into the audition I must have done the corniest European accent and the director was like ' errrr - let's just try him with a normal accent'. The feeling was that he should feel timeless and placeless, we had a different origin for him and a different story'.
Gerard is certainly spot-on in saying that his Dracula has a somewhat different background. The story is one that takes a path less travelled by Dracula movies in that it stakes (ahem) his reputation on a rather unusual twist. As every horror lover and small child that sees dead people knows, if executed properly, the twist will keep you thinking long after the film has finished. DRACULA 2001's twist is certainly unique and will no doubt get people talking on many different levels.
'I think the twist is a really bold move and interesting as well. It fits quite well with the whole Dracula thing and I really like that part of the story', says Jonny. 'In fact, I would actually have liked to have seen it explored a lot more.'
However aren't the actors worried about any criticism the film might receive due to the controversial turn in the story line? Jonny continues:
'We're making a film, it's fantasy not real and you can't worry about offending people. It's certainly not intended to be offensive'
You can always bring an audience in on the back of controversy of course - but this film can also rely on the fact that it is a vampire movie and part of a genre that continues to be popular.
'I guess that for young people today there's a whole bundle of issues in Dracula/vampire movies that make them so popular.' Justine says. 'They're certainly very entertaining and also quite fascinating.'
'I also think it's to do with the attractive side of it all, the being immortal etc' says Jonny. 'In these films you can do whatever you want and get away with it. And there's also the whole seduction thing of it. I honestly think that people are really into that. I mean, sex is a big thing these days isn't it?' he laughs.
But what does the main man himself, aka Gerard, think of the Dracula Phenomenon?
'There's something in the human psyche that finds all this sort of thing appealing. Dracula can do pretty much what he wants when he wants, so he's the ultimate in that respect. Also there's nothing like a stomach churner if you're watching a good Dracula movie. And there's nothing like being scared properly, you can't beat that.' Only a Dracula for 2001 could be quite so sensitive!