‘Renfield:’ Creators on Working With Nicolas Cage, Deleted Scenes, & Gore

Apr 15, 2023

What makes director Chris McKay’s Renfield so different from the Dracula films that came before it? Well, Nicolas Cage as Dracula for one, but also that the unique concept, which originated from comic writer and producer, Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead), focuses not on the legendary vampire, but on his deeply devoted servant, the titular Renfield, played by Nicholas Hoult. The movie takes a comedic approach to the classic tale but certainly doesn’t shy away from the blood and the horror elements. In their interview with Collider’s Steve Weintraub, McKay tells us it’s Hoult’s performance that really nails this spin, as well as Cage, who Kirkman says is “one of the greatest living actors.”

In the movie, Robert Montague Renfield has been diligently serving Count Dracula for nearly a century. Set in modern times, he’s now longing to experience independence, a life all his own that doesn’t involve feeding human beings to a super powerful vampire. Unfortunately for Renfield, removing yourself from a toxic, co-dependent relationship is always a struggle, and McKay serves that up bloody and violent.

Before seeing Renfield in theaters on April 14, check out Kirkman and McKay’s conversation in the video above, or you can read the full transcript below. During the interview, Kirkman explains the “cool evolution” of his original idea to the screenplay penned by Ryan Ridley, to what McKay presents onscreen. They touch on the gore, which McKay says pushed the MPAA limits “a little bit,” and reveal which scene he regrets not getting into the final cut. The duo talks about getting nerdy with the 1931 Dracula scenes in Renfield, Cage’s passion for filmmaking, and how Hoult was key to balancing the bizarre and beautiful tones of this dark comedy. Plus, they tease a Renfield 2 and Kirkman shares some good news for Invincible fans.

COLLIDER: Good to see both of you. I want to start with congrats on the movie. Thank you for making me laugh, and thank you for the amount of blood that you included in the movie.

ROBERT KIRKMAN: We tried for more, but they just wouldn’t let us.

Image via Universal

I have a ridiculous amount of questions, but I want to start with other things first and just get that out of the way. Did Amazon ever tell you how The Tomorrow War did?

CHRIS MCKAY: Yeah, yeah. It’s still doing really well actually, which is really strange.

KIRKMAN: How did you get them to tell you? I have no idea how Invincible is doing! [Laughs]

MCKAY: Yeah, the movie is still doing really well, actually.

I wonder if it’s also connected with [Chris Pratt’s] TV show? People watch both.

MCKAY: Absolutely, I’m sure they flow back and forth.

Speaking of Amazon, when am I going to find out the release date of Invincible Season 2?

KIRKMAN: Not today.

[Laughs] How is it going?

KIRKMAN: It’s going great. I’m seeing full animation now and we’re getting music and stuff put into it, and it’s coming along really great. And I can’t wait for people to finally see it so that they stop asking me about it.

Image via Prime Video

How far along are you on Season 3?

KIRKMAN: I can’t say. Far enough along that there won’t be a similar gap between Season 2 and Season 3.

That’s what I was wondering.

KIRMAN: This is the pain. This area right now is the pain for Invincible fans. So once we’re through this, once Season 2 comes out, hopefully, it should be smooth sailing from there on. There won’t be these big, large gaps, theoretically.

So every year you’re hoping to have a season?

KIRKMAN: I don’t know about that, but we’ll see, we’ll see. Don’t nail me down on this stuff. Renfield is gonna be excellent!

[Laughs] Now jumping into Renfield. First of all, when you showed the movie to the MPAA, did they ask for any cuts, or because it’s blood were they like, ‘It’s whatever you want to do.’?

MCKAY: They didn’t ask for any cuts. I mean, they wanted to have some specific wording along with the R-rating in a little block. They wanted some warnings about gore and blood and things like that. When I tried to adjust a few of those words, they were pretty firm, so you can kind of tell we’re pushing it a little bit. But yeah, they didn’t ask for any cuts, and they seemed to like the movie.

Image via Universal

Robert, from what you came up with to what people see on the screen, was this what you envisioned? How much changed because of Chris and your screenwriter, et cetera?

KIRKMAN: I mean, there are certain elements here and there that kind of survived through the treatment and the script process and the directing, and everything. Like, Renfield bringing bodies into a dark lair and some of the elements of the apartment fight, I think, were in the original treatment. But working with Ryan Ridley, and having him take what I had written and kind of expand it into a script, [there are] a lot of things that I wrote in the treatment that are thematically present, or like he’s grown them into different things. That was a really fun process to be able to see him come in and take what I had done and kind of expand it, and then see Chris come in and take what Ryan had done and transform it. It’s been a really cool evolution to get us all the way to Hoult, Awkwafina, and Cage just absolutely kicking ass on screen. It’s been really cool.

MCKAY: Can I tell you one image, though, from the treatment that I really wish we had gotten in the movie that sticks with me, literally to this day?

KIRKMAN: Yeah, please remind me because I forgot.

MCKAY: There’s this moment where – it’s meant to be in the very beginning of the movie – the vampire hunters are attacking Dracula’s castle, and Dracula, instead of going via telepathy, he comes in the door to Renfield’s bedroom to wake Renfield up. And while Dracula is having a normal conversation about, ‘I need you to do this, Renfield, and that…’ there’s a vampire hunter just continuously stabbing Dracula in the back during the entire normal conversation, which I thought was such a funny–

KIRKMAN: Why did you lose that?

MCKAY: I know, I wish we had done it. That was one of my favorite images.

In case there’s a sequel, I now know what will be in the movie. I love Nic Cage as Dracula. He is fantastic. Obviously he helps elevate everything because it’s Nic Cage. For both of you, what did you drink when he said he was gonna do the movie? What was your present to yourself? Because it’s a big deal.

MCKAY: Yeah, he’s amazing as Dracula, and he brought a lot of vulnerability, besides the humor–

I gotta stop you, what did you drink? What did you celebrate? That’s a really big deal!

KIRKMAN: I drank three cheeseburgers, I was so excited.

MCKAY: I think I had chicken tikka masala.

Image via Universal

I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I mean, he’s so good in it, and as a director, you know you’re going to get a great performance because it’s Nic Cage.

KIRKMAN: I mean, he’s one of the greatest living actors, like, ever. You know, you can’t list the stunning, memorable, impressive, amazing performances that he’s done over the years. And being able to work with him, you see why he has such longevity, and why he’s been in so many amazing projects.

MCKAY: He’s a movie fan. I mean, he’s a movie fan, he’s a horror movie fan. He’s enthusiastic about the filmmaking process. He loves acting, he loves being on set, he loves creating characters, he loves creating these worlds, and things like that. He is the same person that he is now as when he was a kid, when he was making super eight movies with his cousins and his friends. He’s that enthusiastic about it.

KIRKMAN: I work for one year, I’m jaded. Nicolas Cage, he cares.

I love the recreation of Dracula (1931), and putting that in this movie. What was it like on set recreating those scenes? I read, and I could be wrong, that you had more of it that didn’t end up in the final cut.

MCKAY: Look, I could have made that scene go on for 10 minutes long, and go through the history of all Dracula movies, go through the Hammer movies, and everything else. It was a lot of fun because, obviously, there’s a technical– you’re sort of trying to match these lenses. So you really have to kind of get nerdy about how they originally shot those movies so that when you’re compositing Cage and Hoult into these scenes, you have to match up everything, like I said, from the lenses, from the lighting. Fortunately, we have Jamie Price as our visual effects supervisor who spearheaded all of that stuff and figured out exactly how to shoot that so it lined up perfectly.

For me, as a movie lover and a movie fan, to be able to put our Dracula and our Renfield in those movies, I mean, that was like a dream come true for me, personally.

KIRKMAN: Seeing those for the first time, that’s when I was like, ‘Oh, we really have something special here,’ you know? There’s like a legacy that’s being paid tribute to in those scenes that really gives the whole movie a level of gravitas that I don’t think it would otherwise.

Image via Universal

In the recent trailer, and I think the first trailer, I noticed a few shots that are not in the finished film. I know we’re talking about the actual release, but I am curious if down the road, like on a Blu-ray, there could be some deleted scenes.

MCKAY: There will be, yeah. On the Blu-ray, there will be some deleted scenes. The dance sequence was a scene that we cut, unfortunately. Hoult did an amazing job, and Kat Burns, our choreographer, did an incredible job. But that’s the scene that’s cut, and that’s gonna be heavily featured in the deleted scenes, among other things. All of Ben Schwartz’s improvs will probably make it in too.

KIRKMAN: The scene with the Creature from the Black Lagoon was cut. There’s a lot, there’s a lot.

Image via Universal

One of the things that I really enjoy is how it balances the comedy and the horror and the blood. Because Nic is doing some twisted things, but then the audience is still rooting for him. Can you talk about balancing that tone?

MCKAY: Yeah, it starts with hiring Nic Hoult, you know what I mean? It starts with somebody who is unafraid to go to the places like he does in Warm Bodies, that he does in [Mad Max: Fury Road], and things like that. He’s unafraid to be weird and unafraid to eat bugs and unafraid to look not appealing. He’s good at playing possibly unlikable people, but he brings a lot of charm to it. And when you look into his eyes, because his eyes just bring you in, and there’s so much vulnerability there that you can’t help but root for him. Just watching him on set, he really is truly an incredible actor, and I think it kind of starts there, with just casting somebody like that. There wasn’t anybody else on my list as far as who could play Renfield. When you read this script, it’s got to be Nic Hoult, and it’s got to be Nic Cage.

Image via Universal

Maybe I missed it in the movie, I’m just going to throw it out there, but you touch on Renfield having a wife and a kid, and I don’t believe you explore in the film what happened to them. Was that something that was in the script, or something that you shot, or was that a thing you might want to explore down the road if you get to do more?

MCKAY: There was a tiny bit more of what we shot in the script that we ended up cutting out about the backstory. But, I think that in the future, if the movie does well and they want to make other movies, I’m sure that we’ll be exploring that.

KIRKMAN: The sequel focuses on Renfield and his 90-year-old daughter, and they go on a road trip in a flying car.

Renfield is now in theaters.

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