TV Goodness Q&A: Dracula Producers Discuss the Series [INTERVIEW]
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
When you think Dracula, what comes to mind? While you might think there isn’t much you don’t know about this iconic character, you’d be wrong. Executive producersÂ Tony KrantzÂ andÂ Daniel KnaufÂ and co-executive producerÂ Cole HaddonÂ did their research and have a new – and very exciting – take on a myth we think we already know. Read below to find outÂ what drew them to Dracula, how they’ve updated this story for modern audiences and what makes their version of this story different and engaging.
How did this series come together?
Tony Krantz:Â “Cole Haddon had written a movie called Hyde, which found itself on The Blacklist, a list of the best un-produced scripts in Hollywood. I loved the writing, and so we met with Cole. He is a bit of an expert on Victorian England, as it turned out, and I said, ‘Well, why donâ€™t we do Dracula? And why donâ€™t we set it in Victorian England?’ We all sort of stopped and looked at each other and then said, ‘Thatâ€™s a great idea.’â€
Cole Haddon: “Just as quickly, I added, ‘I canâ€™t imagine anything more difficult to adapt, though.’Â Dracula, whom many consider the greatest literary monster of all time, doesnâ€™t inherently make sense in either a serial or procedural series. As imagined by author Bram Stoker, he is an unsympathetic character who poisons the lives of everyone he comes into contact with. Sexy as all hell, sure, but a villain through and through. Moreover, Stokerâ€™s Dracula, while rife with allegory about Victorian sexual mores, has little to no relevance for modern audiences, or so I worried. My take on Dracula also had to matter for me to get excited by it. It had to have something to say to people today.”
So how did you renew the legend for a modern-day audience?
Cole: “The key to this conundrum was, as it turns out, in the secret origins of Stokerâ€™s creation: Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler, also known as Vlad Dracula or Vlad of the Dragon. Vladâ€™s father â€” and Iâ€™m speaking of historical fact here, not pop-culture history â€” had been one of the earliest members of a secretive sect called the Order of the Dragon, determined to spread Christianity across the known world. Vlad, in turn, joined the Order. But this never made much sense to me, since Vlad, infamous for impaling his victims through the rectum, was far more barbarous than his medieval religion could even tolerate. Also, Vlad, having been raised in the more liberally minded Ottoman Empire and later schooled in the free thought of the Renaissance, would likely have had little in common with such fundamentalist minds. I wondered, could he have used the Order for his own power grabs and self-aggrandizement? Was the Order just a tool to him? Then, how would such a strict Christian sect react to this exploitation and attempts to pervert their mission? Perhaps, I began to think, they would seek to punish him for his sacrileges and heresies by killing his loved ones, say his wife, and then turning the power of their God upon him by cursing Vlad even, by damning him to suffer as the Dark One. The curse might backfire, however, inadvertently turning Vlad into an undead creature of the night, into the Order of the Dragonâ€™s greatest enemy and into the Dracula we know today. This was the key. The way to humanize my Dracula was to provide him with the origin Bram Stoker had omitted and make his story one of protracted vengeance against the secret Order that had murdered his beloved wife and turned him into an immortal monster.”
Daniel Knauf: “I had worked with Tony on another project before and when Dracula came up, he knew it was in my wheelhouse. Itâ€™s one of my favorite books. I sat down and read the script. Every once in a while as a writer you have these experiences were you read something and you just find yourself smacking yourself in the forehead saying, ‘Why didnâ€™t I ever think of that?’ It was a very clever script. Cole reinvented the story. You couldnâ€™t do the book as a series, but he created something that was very much in the spirit of Bram Stoker, yet very much its own thing as well.”
How did you bring Dracula to the screen?
Tony: “What was great about it was that Dracula had not been done for a long time. There were many other vampire stories that were either movies or TV shows, but Dracula is the OG vampire â€” the Original Gangster â€” and nobody had really done Dracula since Francis Coppola did his version in 1992. So we decided to develop it. NBC Universal read the treatment that we gave them, and they fell in love with it. We then developed the script. My partner, Colin Callender, is an extraordinary producer. He had an incredible career at HBO where he ran the movie and mini-series division for them for over a decade. Colin and I like each other, and we decided to do Dracula together. It was Colin who had the relationship with Sky. Colin called up Anne Mensah, the head of drama at Sky, and mentioned Dracula. We sent the pages, sent the script, and Anne said not only did she want to acquire it, but she wanted to co-produce it with NBC.”
How did Jonathan Rhys Meyers come on board?
Tony: “Bob Greenblatt, the chairman of NBC, had a relationship with Jonathan Rhys Meyers because he was one of the people running Showtime when Jonny was in The Tudors. So Bob gave it to Jonny, and Jonny loved it. And Jonathan Rhys Meyers really is the center of the show. With him, and with the script, NBC and Sky decided to order 10 episodes straight off the bat without doing a pilot.”
How would you characterize this Dracula?
Daniel: “He is Vlad Tepes, a 400-year-old vampire who in real life was a very, very brutal warrior king. Even if you take half of this stuff thatâ€™s been written about him as accurate, he was absolutely ruthless. Yet, interestingly, he was not oppressive. He was fair but there was a very strong rule of law. He was cursed to be undead at least 350 years ago, and now he is just one badass old school gangster vampire. Weâ€™re going back to the source, back to the original Dracula and that is what has people really excited. Itâ€™s just a guy who is driven, single-minded and a blood sucker. He is a predator.”
Cole: “Unlike any other Dracula thatâ€™s ever been, but hopefully still true to the spirit of Stokerâ€™s novel and the interpretations of the character I loved so much in Universal and Hammer monster movies, this Dracula was born of some of my greatest passions — from classic horror, to Victorian England, to science and futurism. He is, in many ways, the monster version of me.”
Tony: “In a way he hates himself. He hates the fact that he is immortal, and when you think about immortality that is something we can empathize with. At the end of the day, would any of us really want that? The humanity that heâ€™s lost is so tragic. He knows that he is never going to be able to get it back, but when he sees Mina, he sees an opportunity to do things that are more human, that are more generous. And in his business life too â€” bringing power to the world â€” there is a certain kind of altruism that is part of his striving to not be so monstrous.”
Tonally, is this show trying to be true to the period or fantastical?Â
Tony: “Itâ€™s a very careful balance between those two things. You can do a show that is totally realistic, like Downton Abbey, one that is brilliantly done and perfectly period-correct. But the minute you bring in a supernatural element, everything goes out the window because how can those two things co-exist? So what we are trying to do is find the sweet spot between the two, within the reality of vampires existing. The fighting in our show is not comic book or superhero-style. Weâ€™re not bouncing off trees and breaking through walls and stuff like that. There is a real quality to it. Bones can get broken and there is a gritty realism that we want to play with. You know, when Dracula bites the neck of a woman, we do see the grisly part. We see what those teeth will do to the carotid artery. We see the truth of it.”
Daniel: “At the same time, what we have done from an art direction and a wardrobe perspective is we have made it heightened. In Victorian England, styles were severe and very specific. Yet some of our characters dress in very bright and elaborate wardrobe, and we love that. There is a slightly David Lynch-ian, Tim Burton-esque, (photographer) Gregory Crewdson-like element. If Alexander McQueen were alive in Victorian England, he would be in charge of the wardrobe for this show. In the set decoration and art direction, weâ€™re going for an opulence that is unique to television. Carfax Manor, which is where Dracula lives, is painted like the Sistine Chapel. Because Grayson is very wealthy, the world that he lives in is slightly heightened, very opulent, very beautiful, very lush. Weâ€™re pushing it a little bit in the way things are lit, the way the fog rolls in, the atmosphere. It feels moody. It does play on, and with, some of the traditional ideas of a supernatural horror show.”
What are this Draculaâ€™s supernatural powers?
Tony: “We are drawing some lines very specifically because we want this to feel real. We want to be relatable. We do not want to do Spiderman. So there are rules for Dracula: how powerful he is, what he literally can and canâ€™t do.”
Cole: “We tried to follow the vampire rules as laid out by Bram Stoker in his novel, though Iâ€™ll say garlic and vampireâ€™s natural aversion to it was tossed out as a rule early on. I think one of the changes to contemporary vampire mythology that will most startle audiences is that staking vampires through the heart does not, in fact, kill them. In Stokerâ€™s novel, it didnâ€™t either.”
Daniel: “Obviously he has an aversion to Christian iconography â€” crucifixes, for example, donâ€™t destroy him, but they blind him. If he is staked, he wonâ€™t be killed, but he will be placed in a state of torpor. The only way to kill him would be to behead him or expose him to sunlight. Those are his only weaknesses. Get him in a room after dark and you are toast. These are his external Achilles heels, but he is still subject to internal vulnerability, especially when it comes to his lost love: his wife, Ilona. When Mina, who is the absolute image of Ilona, steps in to his life, you can just hear the wheels come off.”
How will Dracula be relatable to modern audiences?
Tony: “Many of the things that weâ€™re doing have a contemporary sensibility. Minaâ€™s wanting to be a doctor was very unusual. Premarital sex was very unusual. The kind of energy that somebody like Lucy has as a woman around London, and the way she dresses and her attitudes are very unusual. So weâ€™re not sticking to the fuddy-duddy world of Victorian England. We want to be a little bit more modern. Dracula, well, is an addict who needs to feed on blood. He is an addict who needs to feed on revenge. He is a monster who is full of hate, and that is a consuming addiction that he breaks, or tries to break, when he sees Mina Murray.”
Cole: “The Order of the Dragon, Draculaâ€™s sworn enemies, are fundamentalist Christians determined to see their interpretation of God spread across the globe. Strip away the denomination, and all you get is the danger of aggressive fundamentalist thought. Moreover, the Orderâ€™s goals also involve engineering war to further their mission and establishing a 20th century power dynamic built on current and emerging fossil fuels like oil. The Order, in other words, is the perfect marriage of theocracy and capitalism, a dangerous combination that, in various forms, continues to threaten the world today. Dracula stands in the way of these plans, not because he cares about the world. Well, at least not at firstâ€¦”
And how might it surprise viewers?
Daniel: “By the close of the first episode they will know this is not your daddyâ€™s Dracula. We are definitely not working our way down a well-worn path with this one. We are forging new ground. The challenge is to be true to the original material, but at the same time give the audience something that delights and surprises them.”
Why is Jonathan Rhys Meyers the right man for the role?
Cole: “My first encounter with Jonny was his performance in Todd Haynesâ€™s Velvet Goldmine which remains one of my favorite films of the 1990s. There was an intensity about him that was evident immediately, but there was also a wild unpredictability to his acting decisions that, nevertheless, always felt true. You just couldnâ€™t predict what he would do next. In the years since, I watched with great satisfaction as his work as an actor only became more and more complex. He is a man who exudes inner turmoil, who radiates pain to the camera, and somehow he figured out how to harness that and provide his characters with complicated, often dangerous, dimensions as a result. How could such an actor not be right for the role of a haunted immortal mortal?”
Daniel: “From the very beginning when I heard who had been cast I went, ‘Oh, thatâ€™s perfect.’ There is a sleekness to Jonathan. There is a certain element of a very attractive shark to him and heâ€™s so perfect for this role. Dracula does not need to be physically menacing, doesnâ€™t need to be big, but needs to have a very menacing presence. Jonny gets that. I look at the choices he makes and his instincts are so amazing.”
Tony: “He is a brilliant actor, there is no question. Technically and emotionally, he can deliver any line and do it well. He is extremely instinctual, but the qualities that he has as a man make him really born for this role. When you look at Jonathan Rhys Meyers on screen, and you think, â€˜Heâ€™s playing Dracula,â€™ you believe it instantly. Jonnyâ€™s got a depth and dimensionality that very few actors have.”
Dracula premieres Friday, October 25 at 10/9c on NBC.
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