Nicolas Cage on ‘Renfield,’ Playing Dracula, and His Favorite Vampire Films
Mar 22, 2023
Nicolas Cage makes perfect sense as Dracula. It’s almost shocking he’s never played the most vampire in the world, considering not only his desire to play the role for years, but also his ability to go all-out in roles that seems like just the right fit for this iconic character. But with Chris McKay’s Renfield, Cage finally gets to take on this classic Universal monster role, as the film explores Dracula and the codependent relationship between him and his assistant Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) after nearly a century together.
We talked to Nicolas Cage about his work in the upcoming horror-comedy, as well as his favorite portrayals of Dracula, making a direct sequel to the 1931 Dracula, creating his version of this character, and what other role he’d still like to take on.
COLLIDER: So, you said before that Dracula was one of the characters you always wanted to play. Why do you feel like Renfield was the right project to finally get that role?
NICOLAS CAGE: Well, first of all, I had never been offered Dracula, and I don’t know how you say no to Dracula, you know? But I do know that it was profoundly important to me that whatever I contribute as Dracula, it has to be on the side of doing something well because Dracula’s character has been done many times in cinema, and it’s been done a few times well, and it’s been done, more often, poorly, and I didn’t want to go in that direction, especially since the house was Universal itself. So, that led me to believe that, “Okay, let’s look at the ones that have been done well, you know [Frank] Langella, [Christopher] Lee, [Gary] Oldman, [Bela] Lugosi, and let’s see what we can extrude from– use that as a jumping point, and extrude from there.
The more I thought about the Dracula character, the more I saw him as Love and Exile, a kind of romantic addict who is symbolic of– you can supplant any addiction, whether it’s alcohol or heroin or sex, or whatever, and turn that bloodlust. And he wants the blood, but this is all coming from a place of loneliness and unrequited love for hundreds of years, and he’s constantly getting his heart broken. So this is more the pathos of Dracula from what I’ve found in my analysis of his psyche.
But, this movie is a, first and foremost, a comedy, and I’m very much in support of Nic Hoult’s character as Renfield, which is a very fresh take on Renfield, and that I was doing. I was just giving little raindrops in my eyes, some poignant little moments, but mostly I was trying to fill the shoes of supporting Nic Hoult, and also, you know, hitting that format, which is more comedy. Although, Chris McKay wanted to knock the audience around a little, have it spin on a dime where you’re laughing one second and the next second you’re screaming. So he knew to, you know, put the menace in as well as the pathos. So that’s what makes the movie so much fun.
Image via Universal
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When I talked to Chris McKay he talked about how it’s kind of a direct sequel to the 1931 Dracula, and I was wondering if that was something that excited you about the project, or was that an intimidating prospect?
CAGE: Well, I think that whenever– “Whenever?” I mean, that sounds ridiculous. When do you get a phone call from Universal saying, “We want you to play Dracula?” That’s never gonna happen again. It’s like every, maybe, 100 years?
I wasn’t intimidated by it because my Dracula’s—you know, I’m sure Bela Lugosi’s great in the role and he launched a billion viewers, but he wasn’t my Dracula. My Dracula was Christopher Lee in the Hammer Horror films. So I thought, ‘what can I do, and contribute, and bring my own special sauce?’ So I wasn’t challenged by being asked to be the Dracula that we’ve seen so many times before. I thought there was something I could bring to it.
When you were creating what you wanted to do with this character, how did you approach this differently than, say, Vampire’s Kiss, where it’s not Dracula, but it’s a different–?
CAGE: Look, Vampire’s Kiss is an analysis, you know, of a man that’s losing his mind, which is actually not very funny. That’s very sad. It’s not a supernatural story whatsoever, but because of his mental illness, sadly, I was able to do some of the moves that I was wanting to explore in terms of abstract, surrealistic, avant-garde behavior because I’ve seen mentally ill people in my life, beginning with my mother, do things that I thought were surrealistically beautiful. But still, it was coming from a sad place.
This character is genuinely supernatural, meaning that he’s made a deal with a supernatural force, and he’s capable of very expressionistic behavior and moves because of that contract, and that also works. I’m always looking for context that allows me to become more surreal or abstract with film performance when it makes sense. In Vampire’s Kiss it makes sense because of the mental illness, Dracula makes sense because of the supernatural horror element. I can also do the more contained and photo-realistic performances.
Image via Universal
How directly were you involved in making the character? How much of it was on the page, and how much were you and Chris McKay working together to create this, or were you just given free rein to do whatever you wanted with it?
CAGE: No, I worked with Chris very closely on it and, you know, some of the drafts came in and I wasn’t happy, and he said, “Well, what can we do?” Because he’s a very nuts-and-bolts fixer guy, he wants to fix things, and he does fix things. You know, there were a couple of things that I didn’t feel comfortable with, but we would rehearse and go through it, and add things and take things out, and modify it. And so, the two of us really sort of tailored it so that it fit within his vision, which is always important. You have to fit within the director’s vision, it’s foolish not to. And it also fit within what I thought made sense for me and the Dracula character. So to answer your question, a lot of thought and a lot of reading through and tailoring went into it.
I know you’ve talked a lot about your love of New Orleans in the past, and I was wondering what you felt that setting added to Renfield in particular?
CAGE: New Orleans, you know, there is an X factor in New Orleans, and it’s something that is hard to articulate, but it’s a feeling you get. I had a love-hate relationship with the city, and I think people understand what I mean. And, you know, it’s not like anywhere else in the world, and there is a kind of supernatural feeling in the air. So it is a kind of perfect location to make a movie that deals with some supernatural themes, even though this is a comedy. And it is a comedy, but it’s a comedy that surprises you because McKay is the kind of director that likes to, you know, put his audience on a ride, where you don’t know which way you’re gonna go.
Image via Universal
How was it acting alongside, and tormenting, Nicholas Hoult for the film?
CAGE: Nic is somebody that I’ve admired ever since I worked with him on The Weather Man, he played my son in that movie. And even that, even in his teenage years, I could tell he was wildly talented and gonna be the star that he’s subsequently become. So I was just happy to get back on set with him. You know, it’s been, I don’t know, 13 to 15 years, but any chance I had, I just started throwing lines at him because I wanted to rehearse, we didn’t get that much time to rehearse together. He had his hands full.
I mean, I’m very much in support of Nic in this movie. And this is a movie that has a marvelous fresh take on the Renfield character, which is normally portrayed by something grotesque and kind of repulsive. He puts it on its ear because he gives it a charm and a wit that we haven’t seen in the role before. But, having said that, I just wanted to get up to speed with him because I didn’t have much time to get in a room with him. So I would throw my rehearsals at him. I was going through the dialogue and videotaping my monologues, or whatnot, I would just start throwing them at him and see how he would respond because it was important to me that I was able to support what Nic was doing. I had to see where he was going with the Renfield character because I didn’t want to be out of context to the flavor he was bringing, or the flavor the director, Chris, was bringing.
I’m curious, what is your personal favorite vampire story? Is it the Hammer Christopher Lee films, or is there another one?
CAGE: My personal favorite? You know, in terms of Dracula on camera, my favorite image of the Dracula character is Christopher Lee. In terms of a movie that really got into the pathos and the psyche of Dracula, you know it’s Coppola, it’s gotta be Coppola. I told Francis, “Every frame of your movie is a work of art.” It’s a beautiful movie, and Gary [Oldman] is one of my favorite actors, but that’s not what this is. This is more of a– I call it more of a pop art because I don’t have the time to delve into the psyche of Dracula’s love and exile, or Dracula as a lonely, supernatural force of unrequited love. I mean, it’s not this movie, this movie is very much a comedy, and I have to, within a finite amount of a few selected scenes, bring something that has a pop.
So would you still like to explore Dracula further in another film, potentially?
CAGE: If there’s room for it. I mean, I’m happy with the time that I had to play Dracula for Universal in this film, and I’m very happy I got to support Nic. I’ve been wanting to work with him for a while again. You know, I enjoyed our time on The Weather Man. I think it plays beautifully. I think what he brought to this character is totally brand new, and I’m very happy to be a part of that.
So, if you could pick any of your previous characters to be your personal familiar, who would you choose?
CAGE: Oh my God. I don’t think any of them. I don’t want my previous characters to be my familiars. I’m trying to, like, shed my skin. Every time I do a movie and create a character, I’ve got to get them off of me. It’s not healthy for me to have too many of these psychotics running around in my head.
That’s a perfect answer. So since this is a sequel of sorts, which of your films would you like to see a sequel made of in 100 years?
CAGE: I think that there’s plenty of room for a Face/Off sequel. I think Con Air lends itself to a sequel. I think that, you know, Sean [Connery] and I wanted to do a sequel to The Rock, but he’s no longer with us, so that’s not gonna happen. But, I don’t know, I mean, I think those two would work. I haven’t really thought too much about sequels, I really haven’t. I like trying to bring something new each time in the storytelling aspect, and I think that’s what – you would be surprised, but I think that’s what many young people want.
You know, I went to Miami Dade College recently, and the deal was they could ask me whatever they wanted, the students, but I got to ask them. And every question I asked them, they answered the way I would have wanted to answer myself, which was, like I said, “What do you want to see happen with movies?” It was in their film department, and they said, “I don’t want to see the same old story over and over again. I want some originality,” or, you know, “I don’t want the diversity to be feeling programmed. Just tell the story.” These were very thoughtful students who were– You know, I kind of said, “Well, I wish you guys were running the movie studios.”
So to that end, like a Miami Dade college student, I’m gonna say my instinct is not to do sequels as much as it is to try to keep learning as the student myself and find something in the storytelling that I can bring something fresh to.
Image via Universal
So now that you’ve played Dracula, and you recently played Superman, and I know you’re kind of knocking out these roles that you’ve always wanted to play, is there anyone else that you are really excited to take on?
CAGE: When did I play Superman?
In Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, of course! It was a great movie!
CAGE: I was just a voice-over [laughs].
I would still love to see you as a live-action Superman. No question.
CAGE: I think those days are long gone.
Is there any other character that you’ve wanted to tackle that you haven’t yet that you still think might be a good fit?
CAGE: I do like the idea of playing a journalist, like a real hard-edge journalist. Kind of like, you know, a Mike Wallace kind of journalist who’s just really unrelenting. I went to high school, and I was on the high school newspaper, and that was something I always was interested in. If I didn’t get into acting, or if I didn’t, ultimately, get on a boat as a fisherman or a merchant mariner, or whatever the other Plan B was, Plan C was with newspapers and journalism. So I kind of think I’d like to try that. I’d like to play a journalist in something.
Renfield opens in theaters April 14.
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