What does Claes Bang’s casting tell us about the new Dracula series?

The Danish actor can give us a few hints about the Sherlock creators’ supernatural drama

(Getty)

Sherlock creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have finally cast Dracula for their upcoming adaptation of the classic Bram Stoker novel, with Danish actor Claes Bang set to portray the iconic vampire when the series begins filming next year.

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And while it’s only a small piece of information, Bang’s casting can offer us a few clues about what this series will be like – and what it won’t be like – when it finally comes to screens.

But first, let’s get something out of the way – just how much this whole thing reminds us of Benedict Cumberbatch joining Sherlock.


Is Claes Bang the new Benedict Cumberbatch?

sherlock-woman-cumberbatch

The first thing that will strike many about Bang’s casting is that outside of his home country of Denmark he’s not brilliantly well-known, leading to comparisons with the leading man of Moffat and Gatiss’s last big TV series.

After all, before Sherlock Benedict Cumberbatch was a reasonably successful actor who only shot into the stratosphere after being cast in the BBC series, and it seems as if the BBC are expecting a similar effect with Bang in Dracula.

“To say we have lucked out with Claes would be to underestimate the supreme talents of Steven, Mark and the team at Hartswood and their knack for choosing the right actor to redefine an iconic role,” BBC Controller Piers Wenger said.

“Seriously exciting stuff…”

But can Bang be compared to Benedict Cumberbatch when he joined Sherlock? Let’s take a look at his career.

While Bang has a long and storied career in Danish TV and film (including parts in well-known series like Borgen, The Bridge and Dicte), until a few years ago he was still taking fairly small roles, appearing in short films, one-episode appearances in Danish dramas and longer stints in series that didn’t last beyond a year or two.

That all seemed to change, however, when he was played the lead in Ruben Östlund’s 2017 satirical film The Square, which won the Palm D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival with much praise for his performance. Since then, Bang has started to appear in more high-profile projects – the Claire Foy-starring Girl in the Spider’s Web just this winter, for example – with Dracula likely another step in his upward trajectory.

Dracula seems like it could be a big break for an actor who’s been doing strong, creative and critically-acclaimed work out of the spotlight for years – and in that sense, yes, it’s not a million miles away from what happened with Benedict Cumberbatch and Sherlock.

Whether this was an intentional move by Gatiss and Moffat to “make” another actor in one of their series is less clear – it worked out for Sherlock, but this time around they could have been auditioning a wide range of actors known and less known who Bang simply outclassed.


A funny Dracula?

But who is this new Dracula?

Well, helpfully Bang himself has described the Dracula series’ new take on the Count.

“I’m so excited that I get to dig in to this iconic and super-interesting character,” the actor said.

“Yes he’s evil, but there’s also so much more to him, he’s charismatic, intelligent, witty and sexy.

“I realise that there’s a lot to live up to with all the amazing people that have played him over the years, but I feel so privileged, to be taking on this incredible character.”

While “charismatic, intelligent, witty and sexy” might seem like a pretty generic take on the Count, that isn’t necessarily the case. Dracula is often (and was originally in the novel) portrayed as either monstrous or brooding, so Moffat and Gatiss playing up the humour in the character is an interesting admission.

It’s not entirely surprising, either – the pair’s knack for a cutting one-liner in Sherlock became one of the hallmarks of that series – but a Dracula who can bring a few dark chuckles to the audience is definitely one we’re looking forward to seeing.

As for the “charismatic” and “sexy” stuff, well, that’s simultaneously a stereotype for Dracula (and vampires in general) and a departure from Stoker’s original text, which didn’t feed as much into the more modern, romantic view of vampires that we have in popular culture now (while there are sexual motifs in the novel, they’re of a more troubling nature).

So weirdly, it’s hard to say whether making Dracula sexy and charismatic counts as subverting the material. It’s probably not what the original author intended, but it’s definitely not something that hasn’t been done before in many other adaptations of the character. Let’s say it’s a neutral creative choice.


A traditional take

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss at a Sherlock screening in 2017 (Getty, HF)
Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss at a Sherlock screening in 2017 (Getty)

Physically, Bang’s casting seems to tell us that the writers are going for a “traditional” Dracula, with a dark-haired, European and middle-aged actor playing into most people’s idea of what a vampire looks like.

But in of itself, this is a choice. As noted, past versions of Dracula have been more monstrous (Mark Gatiss once expressed a liking for a version where he was just a giant slug), and even in Stoker’s original novel the Count begins as an old man, whose appearance of youth only comes later in the story – although there are suggestions Bang could be aged up with makeup if Moffat and Gatiss want to go down this route.

“In Stoker’s novel he’s an old man, who does get younger. That’s rarely done,” co-writer Gatiss told RadioTimes.com in January. “Gary Oldman did it, it’s rarely done. That’s quite interesting.

“But obviously, the point of Dracula was that he’s the first kind of Byronic vampire. He’s the first one that set pulses racing. The vampire tradition up to Stoker is much more horrible.

“I remember reading a book when I was a child, a pre-Dracula book, and when they find the vampire it’s fat like a slug, full of blood and its mouth is all gory. And I was horrified by that! Because you kind of grow up with the idea of Dracula being much more sophisticated.

“We’re not going to go down that [slug] model, I think,” he joked. “So it’s a question of where we land on that scale, really.”

As the years have gone on the image of Dracula in the public perception has become more and more like Bang – so in a way, picking him is a safe choice, at least in terms of his physicality.

And given that the setting of the story is also traditional – it’s set in 1897, the same time as the novel – the new Dracula seems like less of a subversion than we might have expected from the writers of Sherlock, a series that brought the traditionally Edwardian sleuth crashing into the 21st century.

With that in mind, it could be that bigger and more exciting departures will come from the plot itself rather than the setting or lead character, though at this early stage it’s impossible to know for sure.


Interview with a vampire

Perhaps the biggest question following the casting news is this: how will Bang actually play Count Dracula?

And while it’s hard to say exactly, we did watch his most recent performance as a blonde-haired assassin in The Girl With the Spider’s Web and found it a menacing, soft-spoken and charismatic take on a deadly killer – definitely all qualities the actor could bring to the aristocratic vampire.

Some interviewers have also noted Bang’s “magnetism” as an individual when speaking to him, which could be another good sign of his suitability to play the mesmeric Count Dracula.

And of course, the acclaim and accolades he’s received from his work on projects like The Square speak for themselves in terms of the quality of his acting abilities. So no matter how he plays it, we’re betting his Dracula will be a great performance. No pressure, Claes!


And finally…the story itself

Buried in the release about Bang’s casting there are also some other detail about the series, including a short synopsis which you can read below:

In Transylvania in 1897, the blood-drinking Count is drawing his plans against Victorian London. And be warned: the dead travel fast.

Hopefully, the wait for Claes Bang’s devilish Count to actually hit our screens will zip along just as quickly.

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Dracula begins filming in 2019