Kate McGrath auditioned for Dracula for a laugh. “There was no way there ever going to cast me, because the casting call was for a 21-year-old blonde ingénue virgin.”
The flaxen-skinned, normally raven-haired actress, 29, best known for Merlin – in which she played evil sorceress Morgana – positively cackles.
“So the whole time it was just a bit of fun, because it seemed like such an outlandish idea.” Katie may not be a leggy blonde bombshell, but it’s easy to see just what entranced the producers, and made her a favourite with Merlin fans: the impudent glint in her eye.
In Draclua, Katie plays Lucy Westenra, the best friend of Mina Murray, the lady who charms Dracula (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, The Tudors). In Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Lucy is a wallflower, but not in this bold adaptation from the makers of Downton Abbey. “Lucy is very sweet in the book. She’s this very sweet illustration of the perfect Victorian woman. In this version, Lucy is much more ferocious. She has much more sass.”
Sass suits McGrath – she has it in spades. It’s how a history graduate from Wicklow in Ireland was able to go from working in the wardrobe department on The Tudors, to cosying up to its star Rhys Meyers on screen, to landing a plum role in Merlin, without ay training as an actor.
Five years later, she’s been reunited with Rhys Meyers: he’s perfectly cast as the brooding, smouldering lead. This time, though, their characters are not lovers but rivals; in a twist that’s sure to raise eyebrows. Lucy also has a crush on Mina.
For Katie, this meant a “chemistry read” with Australian actress Jessica de Gouw (Arrow) who plays Mina. “Thank God she’s good-looking” – there’s that glint again – “I’m going to get in trouble for saying that!”
It’s easy to see what appealed after five years at the helm of a family drama like Merlin: Dracula is an altogether darker, sexier beast, but it’s still true to its Victorian roots, Katie believes.
“When you think of women back then, they didn’t have very many skills at their disposal and weren’t given all the opportunities that men were. But on of the things they had over men was their sexuality, and Lucy very much uses that.
The best way of describing her is if she walks into a room and people don’t know she’s there and then she’s failed. I enjoy it because I’m so not like that in real life. I’m such a tomboy, and my family thinks it’s hilarious. But it’s so far from who I am that it’s great fun to go in and do something completely different.”
One of the most spectacular weapons in the armoury of this throroughly modern Victorian s her risqué wardrobe, which is, as Katie puts it, the glint giving away to unabashed delight, “Fabulous! Absolutely fabulous!
“One thing I love about Dracula is that I’m not allowed to wear the same costume twice for the show, so it means endless changes. On Merlin it was always the same thing, but in this I have more fittings than days working!”
It’s obvious that this tomboy is having a ball; throughout the interview she sports the broad smile of someone who can’t quite believe her luck – which is the case. “As an actor you think, ‘Ok, I’ve got the job – how long before they can fire me? How long do I have to film before they definitely can’t fire me? Don’t make any mistakes, keep my head down for the first month and they can’t fire me any more…’
“I used to always say, ‘After Merlin I’m never going to work again. I’m going to give it all up and make cupcakes for a living. I’m going to be crazy cupcake lady.”
It will be a while before Katie McGrath has to fall back on flour, sugar and eggs.