There is no reason in downplaying my adoration for the story and character of Dracula considering half of my reviews on the super wonderful SuperMarcey.com have been devoted by the various incarnations of the tale, so I won’t. I love Dracula. He has been in my life before I was even born and he was also the one responsible for getting me interested in vampiric mythos and Gothic fiction. Half of what I love about horror has come from this literary character and Bram Stoker’s immortal tale and whenever the character makes an appearance, I am almost always there to witness it, for better or worse.
In a nutshell, the reason why I love the story and the character so much is that Dracula represents the social attitudes of the time as well as ones that resonate today- colonialism, xenophobia, capitalism, embracing of new technology, sexual conventionalism and anxiety, the absence and ambiguity of faith and women’s roles in Western society. All of these things coalesce into the form of the Count one way or another because he is the alien in Victorian society, and rather than allow himself to be consumed by the society he has entered, he is the one who consumes it, invades it, makes it his. Opinions on the story itself differ from person to person, some enjoy the epistolary aspect because each point of view could be construed as the unreliable narrator although their word is the only thing we can go by, others don’t like the story because of this, because of how inconsistent the dates and events are in contrast to one another. And that’s completely fine.
This article isn’t about me forcing my love of the story down anybody’s throat in hopes they will see what I see, nope, instead, what has caused me to write this is a response for my distaste of two of the most recent casting choices of Dracula in the form of Sam Worthington for Alex Proyas’s spin on the story as well as the upcoming BBC series that has Jonathan Rhys- Meyers in the title role.
I am absolutely all for giving anything a try-out out of fairness and if both products are successful, I will be more than happy to print out a copy of this article and eat it while filming it. However, when you cast a serious version of Dracula, you must make sure you snag the right type of actor for the role, it’s like casting Danny DeVito as James Bond in a straight forward Bond film- it will not work. I don’t find Worthington offensive as an actor in general, but in big budget prolific productions, he is just… boring. Whereas with Rhys-Meyers, HE’S TOO FRICKIN’ PRETTY. The series itself might end up being good, but seeing the man has no strength, no power, and that my friends, is not Dracula.
Once you assign an actor to playing this role, there are certain expectations to be fulfilled and Worthington and Rhys-Meyers do not fit the brief. Dracula needs to be predatory, frightening, vicious, primal and animalistic while at the same time in the form of a human being who looks like they carry those types of demons inside of him while also wearing the mask of a sophisticate in order to fool the human species whom he considers nothing more than cattle. You can make Dracula as repulsive, sexual and seductive as you please, fangs or no fangs, shape shift or one form, but at the end of the day, you must make sure the actor cannot just carry that role but also be taken seriously by the audience.
Christopher Lee, Klaus Kinski, Gary Oldman, Bela Lugosi and even Frank Langella all to some degree had that within them which is why they are some of the best portrayals ever committed to the screen. So, without further ado, and in no particular order, I offer you a list that I have been dying to make for a while now- my top six actors who I truly feel could play a wonderful Dracula. Why top SIX? Because I’m not the Nostalgia Critic.
Imposing Irish thespian Ciaran Hinds is not just a formidable actor who excels in portraying the layers of the characters he inhabits (his Julius Caesar from HBO’s “Rome” was absolutely masterful), but he also has a very dignified aura about him that could easily turn lethal. His strong features, solid yet refined frame and smooth, rich as the deepest silken voice exerts a distinctly authoritarian quality that doesn’t just demand your attention but also your respect and the moment you anger him… your fear. I feel with his imposing stature and nature he could easily play the cold-hearted and ruthless sophisticate version of Dracula who is prone to brief yet terrible acts of violence all the while not getting a speck on blood on him or feeling the need to show his fangs.
While he may not appear to be a sensual being, I could easily see him taking advantage of poor Lucy in a clinical yet precise fashion because she is a tool to him, a means to his ends, nothing more. He is devoid of passion in terms of human emotion, and the only thing he truly cares about is his well-being and the blood he must consume in order to retain it. At the same time, he would easily be capable of projecting a blue-blooded prince most urbane and well-spoken. Should Hinds ever have the privilege of playing Dracula, to hear him deliver an impassioned speech regarding the storied heritage of his family with depthless pride and conviction you would believe every word he would utter.
While I was compiling this list, I joked to myself that Purefoy would be the “Hello, Ladies” Dracula. One of Purefoy’s assets as an actor is undoubtedly his handsome looks, and although naturally that isn’t the only reason why I eyed him as a serious consideration for the Count, I won’t lie that his physical appearance was a deciding factor. If I had to call Purefoy’s looks something, they would be called ‘dangerously decadent’ which is something you would associate with notorious royalty. His confident, self-assured eyes, which smile that you see in the picture above, that is a physical interpretation of Dracula as a lascivious apex predator.
Purefoy even showed he had the capacity to play such a character as Marc Antony alongside Hinds in Rome (in case you didn’t realise, Rome is a magnificent series) where he played Antony as not just the talented military general that history has led us to believe, but also as a sadist, a coward, a cunning motherfucker and a rough, almost rapist lover. Purefoy’s voice sounds like the sleekest of oil sliding slowly over glass, and when he speaks, one moment he can sound like a pleasant, well-spoken individual, the next he can purr when satisfied or have the sibilant hiss of a viper when he is deeply angered. While Hinds would have been the cold-hearted, pragmatic and stately Dracula, Purefoy would be the heated, passionate one who will fight talon and tooth for his existence and will take anybody and anything he pleases- he would feel it is his right and damned if he ever allows those he considers to be his food, the weak human species, get in his path.
Bit of trivia for ya: Purefoy actually voiced Dracula in the Doctor Who audio book Son of the Dragon, so you could perhaps almost consider that an audition. 😉
By now, we all should know how versatile and unexpected an actor Javier Bardem can be because of his range and being utterly fearless in the projects he is a part of. He can be the straight man, he can be the romantic, he can be the villain, he can be the crazy, he can be anything because he is a thinking and instinctive actor who isn’t afraid to look ugly or unseemly. I don’t believe that Bardem’s ethnicity would be any issue to play Dracula either because what is Dracula? He is a strange, unknown entity and what does a strange person look like? He could look like you or I and he can come from anywhere so I don’t feel that Bardem’s nationality would make any difference, in fact, the more I think about it, Bardem’s thick, dark voice and broad features would work very much in his favor if he ever had the opportunity to play the Count.
From his recent role as Raoul Silva in Skyfall not to mention the untouchable spectre that was Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men, Bardem can do scary as well as mysterious and compelling due to the fact he is simply unpredictable as a beast of the Earth and the beyond. His Dracula would be so unnerving but in a way arousing to the audience because he would stimulate their curiosity and their attention with every gesture he makes or look he gets in his eyes. When Dracula admonishes his Brides for making a move on Harker, I always thought the character’s intention was somewhat homoerotic, because he says quite clearly “This man belongs to me!” Dracula wants to be the one to take Jonathan for himself and will only let his wives have Harker when he is sick of him. Now, try to envision Bardem playing this scene… can you see a little bit of Silva in there? Me too.
Behold. You are looking into the hypnotising eyes of the man who almost was the Count in Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Before Oldman was locked in, Mortensen was a fang-tip away from sinking his teeth into that role, which perhaps would have launched him into being a household name a little earlier. Don’t get me wrong, I adored Oldman in that three-ring circus of a movie and not once did I think he could have been better, but with Mortensen, I can’t help but think “What if?”.
You don’t need a rocket scientist to lecture you about how powerful and captivating this man is as an actor because we have seen in countless performances, big or small. Aragorn’s majesty and bravery in that little trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, ruthless and brutal Nikolai from Eastern Promises, the sexy and morally ambiguous David from A Perfect Murder and the repugnant Lord of the Flies himself in The Prophecy, all of those are but four examples of Mortensen showing just how far his wings can span when it comes to his talent. Like Bardem, he comes across as highly instinctive and thoughtful to how he conducts himself at all times, on and off camera. Seeing as he almost snagged the role once, it would be easy to see his Dracula being incredibly aloof and sensual without coming across as too overt or too repugnant. Well okay, I wouldn’t mind a bit of the overt from Viggo when he’s looming over a quivering maiden’s bed, but that’s just me.
Max von Sydow
Of all the actors on my list, I am truly surprised von Sydow has not played Dracula at one point during his long and varied career. Angular of body, dignified of poise and standing 6’4” he cuts quite an impressive figure for the classical version of Dracula that exists in Stoker’s novel, and dare I say, perhaps the most accurate. Von Sydow is a master of conveying layer upon layer of emotional and mental complexity with minimal dialogue and when he does speak, there is no mistaking his deep, commanding tone. He is one of the few magnificent actors who has played both God and the Devil in The Greatest Story Ever Told and Needful Things respectively and although audience opinion varies on both films, there is no denying that von Sydow can play a transcendental and transgressive being, which is what Dracula is.
To those who are somewhat confused as to why I have a distinctly older man on my list, Stoker first introduces Dracula as an ancient and mysterious recluse who lives in his old, crumbling castle that he considers his family seat. He is tall, gaunt and pale with long fingernails and hair on the palms of his hands, who takes a great interest in the world outside of his lands. He is old because he lives in an old place, his vitality is lacking because he has no consistent source of life to keep himself going, and he has no virility because everything around him lacks passion. Yes, even having three wives isn’t enough for a creature like him, Dracula wants the world and everything in it all to ensure that he remain in this world because without it, he will surely turn to dust and be forgotten.
Surely it’s not too difficult to imagine this great Dane as the Count. There is no mistaking Mikkelsen’s abilities as an acting craftsman because he never fails in delivering intensity to each and every one of his roles, even while playing a cowardly sadistic Bond villain who wept blood. Right now, MM is the darling of playing the lethal yet refined oddball in Hannibal for good reason. If the fates be good, the series will continue to garner not just fans of the show but also more fans of Mikkelsen himself thereby expanding his already sizeable fan-base.
His unique countenance, those narcotising wide-set eyes and refined rasp of a voice lends such an exquisite piece to his character that it would be unthinkable not to cast him in such a major role because a part of me believes he was born to play it. In Valhalla Rising he proved that he could inherit the guise of a ruthless, hardened and animalistic creature as the mute warrior One-Eye who simply did not desist in his quest for revenge against those who wronged him until he was dead, no matter what the cost. Amalgamate that with the off-kilter allure and trenchancy of Lecter and you get yourself a potentially magnificent Dracula.