Fact and fantasy team up in Dracula Untold, in which real-life 15th-century leader Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia – aka the notorious Vlad the Impaler – merges with Bram Stoker’s fictional character.
Radio Times travelled to Transylvania (where else?) to meet its star Luke Evans and hear about sword-fighting and ideas for a sequel….
Vlad is portrayed in a positive light in Dracula Untold, despite doing a lot of barbaric things…
It’s interesting, because if I hadn’t played this role I probably would have only known about the barbarity of his legacy. But when I did my research, I realised he was revered by his people and respected by his enemies. They thought he was a successful military leader and did a good job at protecting his kingdom. Yes, he did do some dark things, but we are talking about the 1400s in eastern Europe; he wasn’t the only person doing barbaric things at that time. We had the Turkish empire for a start. And a lot of the stuff you read about is contradictory, because it was so long ago and the history books get rewritten. There are a lot of stories about his impaling, for example, where the numbers go from 25,000 down to 2,000.
But for me, as an actor doing a film about a real person who turns into a fictional character; we just tried to create a human story that people could relate to, and see a man who’s fighting for what is good and doing what he felt was right, but choosing to use the power of darkness to accomplish that.
Have you spoken to any Turkish journalists about it, because the Turks are far more terrifying than the vampires in the film. Do they have a different perspective over there?
I don’t know how well it did in Turkey (laughs). I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t even open.
The film was shot in Belfast and the surrounding ares, but did you get a chance to come to Romania before shooting, to get a feel for the place?
I didn’t. I was doing pick-ups for The Hobbit in New Zealand. I was there for six weeks, and I was busy doing choreography training for the fight sequences [in Dracula Untold], which were huge. I was hoping to find a window somewhere, where I could have taken a trip over here Bucharest, Targoviste and Bran Castle, and all the other locations we present in the movie.
What kind of sword choreography did you learn and who taught you?
Buster Reeves was the fight choreographer and stunt co-ordinator, and we used some of the Turkish training Vlad would have had as a young man, because he was brought up by the Turks and taught how to use their weapons. We’re showing a man who really knows how to fight, with any weapon; he’s dextrous and he’s fit and he’s got the scars to prove it. He was a warrior. He fought and regained his throne and protected his people. He was with his men fighting; he didn’t stay in the castle and keep the drawbridge up. And that’s probably why he’s revered as he is. There’s more to the man than just the impaling.
I thought the costume design was amazing…
Well, [costume designer] Ngila Dixon is a legend. If you look at her résumé, she’s worked on some of the biggest films of the past 20 years. She was on Lord of the Rings, so I grew close to her because of my attachment to Middle Earth. And the detail that went into the armour was incredible. I had one made in New Zealand of a polyurethane material, like a hard rubber, so it was slightly flexible. Then I had one made of leather, which I wear at the beginning of the film, when I go to the cave to meet Charles Dance. The makers were using techniques that have been used for hundreds of years.
What happened to the costumes? Did you get to keep any of them?
No, I know one of the costumes is on display in a glass cabinet at Universal Pictures. I have my sword though, featuring a brass dragon with its tail wrapped around the hilt. It’s got rubies for eyes; it’s a beautiful piece of weaponry. Even the scabbard and the belt that comes with it is beautifully made, and they gave it to me as a gift.
Having talked to the locals, it seems nobody in Romania has read Bram Stoker’s novel. Were you a fan of the book or the genre before you got this part?
I wouldn’t say I was a big fan of the genre. I’d seen the Dracula movies and there are some I really love: Gary Oldman’s performance in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula I think is iconic. Coppola’s use of technology was so far ahead of its time and I thought it was fantastic. But I didn’t need to read the book for this film because we were going right back to the factual source material and basing it on the man rather than the vampire, which was written about around 400 years later.
In the film, why do you think Vlad managed to retain his humanity after transforming into a vampire, whereas the other vampires became these feral beasts?
You have to remember, the Dracula we know from the Bram Stoker period, he’s been a vampire for hundreds of years, so the addiction has got stronger. But the point where we meet Vlad and he’s just drunk the blood; he’s probably still 80 per cent human. So he’s still fighting to stay human for as long as he can — and he’s a very strong human being. He was a warrior and a strategic military leader, not just any old dude who drunk the blood of a master vampire.
And possibly he’s part of [head vampire] Charles Dance’s master plan as well?
Who knows, that could be true. Or maybe it’s the other way around, and Vlad is playing him?
Maybe we’ll find out in the sequel?
We might just do that.
Dracula Untold is available on Blu-ray and DVD on 9th February, courtesy of Universal Pictures (UK)