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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

‘Renfield’ Set Visit Report – Nicolas Cage Pays Tribute to Cinema’s Greatest Vampires

The Universal horror-comedy Renfield reimagines classic horror characters in modern-day New Orleans, with Dracula’s beleaguered henchman realizing he’s been trapped in a toxic relationship for roughly a century.

Bloody Disgusting spent a day on set, getting acquainted with Nicholas Hoult’s new take on Renfield, the bug-eating righthand to Dracula, and learning more about the expansive supernatural world within director Chris McKay’s horror-comedy.

In part one of our set visit, we observed an early scene where Nicholas Hoult’s Renfield arrived late to a battle between Dracula (Nicolas Cage) and a group of vampire hunters. Later in the day, the lucky handful of journalists invited to set witnessed Cage in feral Dracula mode, ruthlessly dispatching his enemies with sharp teeth and claws.

The scene, which involved numerous shredded and maimed bodies, highlighted McKay’s affinity for horror and practical effects. When asked about his approach to reinterpreting classic characters like Dracula, McKay’s comprehensive answer reveals how much of a horror fan the filmmaker is – and how much it means to him to salute cinema’s greatest vampires.

“Part of it was two things,” McKay answers. “One was I wanted it to reference all different versions of Dracula. Whether it’s Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, or Lon Chaney Sr.’s London After Midnight vampire. There were pieces of all different kinds of vampire images, vampire lore, vampire history, and Dracula history. I made all the teeth sharp like Lon Chaney Sr. in London After Midnight, which was important. But to me, he still needed to have fangs that dropped down and became active when he was going to bite somebody.

McKay continues, “There were some retractable fangs that we had that were helped out digitally. We wanted something that, when he’s going to bite and suck blood, the fangs come out almost like a rattlesnake. And we wanted them really long when they do. As far as his widow’s peak and the pale makeup, I wanted it to have some affinity with our imagined images of Bela Lugosi, the way Basil Gogos the painter interpreted Bela Lugosi for the covers of Famous Monsters in the sixties and seventies. The Basil Gogos stuff was a big inspiration for me, just color-wise, in the movie. But he’s the guy that took all those black-and-white movies and interpreted them in color because they’d never been seen in color. He was the guy who modernized those characters just as the Hammer movies were about to come along and do the same thing – put their spin on Dracula and Frankenstein and the Wolf Man in technicolor.

“So this had a little bit of Bela Lugosi, had a little Basil Gogos interpreting it with the garish colors and things like that. Had a little bit of Christopher Lee. Christopher Lee’s a big inspiration for Nic Cage.”

Christien Tinsley showing Dracula’s various fangs on ‘Renfield’ set. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Special makeup effects designer Christien Tinsley (I Am Legend, “Santa Clarita Diet”) elaborates on Cage’s Dracula. 

“Chris had some ideas… he wanted to try to incorporate as much as possible that London After Midnight feel,” Tinsley shares. “Of course, it’s indicative of the teeth, so we started there. We played around with it. How many teeth are in a row versus the length of teeth. That was a logistical nightmare in the mouth. But we started with that. There are progressions to Dracula in this film. We had to explore his evolution and what that meant. One of the concepts and the reason why you see longer teeth here is we broke him down into stages, and there’s one stage when he becomes angry and more primal; that’s when his teeth become longer and extend further. We started by playing with ideas of what animal, in reality, does that. So, we started thinking about snakes and, you know, how they extend outwards — they’re tucked back in. That’s why we have some of these, like more bent, serpentine style too.

“We ended up pivoting from that a bit for many different reasons, and we came up with something that I think is very cool and that people will be excited to see. We tried to bring that into Nic Cage and find that right tone that says, ‘You’re your own Dracula, but we’re going to hint at all these little beats here.’ Eyebrows, skin tone, and the way the liner is done around his eyes. There’s little nods to those classic developments.”

That detail and the tribute to the many movie vampires throughout time also extends to the costuming. Costume Designer Lisa Lovaas walks us through the tiny details of Dracula’s many costumes, including a naked bat girl within the jewel of one of Dracula’s rings.

Even Dracula’s plush robe and pajama set draws from horror history. Lovaas explains his sleep attire, “This is what we’re shooting today, and you’ll see Nic Cage in this. We’ve made quite a few of them because of the excitement of the scene. We have little nods to Peter Cushing for this one. I did a tie with a ring and a bat on the ring.”  

Lovaas continues, “I tried to do a little nod to each of the great Dracula movies so that huge fans will see it. Some of them are subtle, but they’re all there.”

Nicolas Cage as Dracula in ‘Renfield,’ directed by Chris McKay. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

And that brings us to Nicolas Cage, who right off the bat offers praise for Tinsley, Lovaas, and the crew that helped bring his interpretation of the iconic character to screen. He tells us, “These are super talented people, and I just went into an Andy Warhol mode and went ‘Yes this, no that, yes this, no that,’ and we built it together. But they came in with a library of options. The same goes for Christien Tinsley and the makeup department. He had put forth the notion of using ceramic fangs looking like Lon Chaney’s London After Midnight movie as an influence.”

Cage continues, “What I was doing within this format, which is a comedy format, and I’m very much supporting Nicholas Hoult in this movie, who is just disarming with this completely fresh take on the character who is normally portrayed as grotesque; he just turns it upside down and plays it tragically comedic in a great way. My job was going internally and going, ‘what does Dracula mean to me?’ And try to have little blips of that appear within a supporting character but also within the context of comedy. So, I couldn’t go too deep. I couldn’t delve too deep into the psyche and pathos of Dracula, which in my view, is love and exile. This is an entity who’s had unrequited love, and he turns bad because he’s had his heart broken again and again and again for hundreds of years. This is a character who, in my view, is a romantic and addicted to blood. It’s still coming from a place of loneliness and feelings of abandonment, and that’s what I had to find this visage that we all know as Dracula.”

When asked about his favorite depictions of Dracula and how they factored into his own Dracula performance, Cage reveals a surprising source of inspiration.

“I was always drawn to Christopher Lee’s version of the vampire. Then, going back further to Max Schreck as Count Orlok, which isn’t Dracula but is another vampire in cinema. I like those two Draculas the best,” Cage explains. “But that was really it. It was more the look and some moves. Then everything else was like, ‘what do I remember from August Coppola?’ Thankfully my director liked the idea of using August Coppola as a model for the character, who was this imposing aura when he walked in a room and spoke in a Mid-Atlantic accent and knew he was smarter than everybody else.

The scene we saw being filmed on set required Cage to tap into Dracula’s inhuman side, thanks to the handful of invading vampire hunters. Before McKay calls action, Cage rehearses his fight choreography and practices his feral hisses. Then the sharp teeth go in, completing the monstrous effect as the scene gets underway, leaving a trail of bodies in Dracula’s wake.

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Cage breaks down his process for us, “In terms of that sequence of Dracula in martial arts mode, what was most important to me was you see the demon lurking beneath the elegance and eloquence. His social charm is overcome by the demon, which in this case is top predator animality. Feral. A cobra hissing. A great shark. I wanted to play with the mouth opening and the fangs bearing, coming right at the lens. I worked on that with Chris McKay and then Chris Brewster, who was in charge of all the stunt work.

“A lot of thought went into how Dracula would attack.”

Not even priests are safe from the carnage. Tinsley later shares a video of an exploding priest bursting into a geyser of fake blood. Tinsley explains the gory excess comes from McKay, “He said, ‘I don’t want to go too forensic with it. I want big, over-the-top. If it’s a cup of blood, I want it to be a gallon.'”

“I tried to do as many things practically as humanly possible,” McKay adds. “I like the way it feels. I like shooting on practical sets. I’ve shot stuff green screen, and it’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. You can obviously make whole movies where you’ve got nothing but green screen in the background. But even The Tomorrow War, where there’s a certain amount of stuff that’s done in visual effects, we looked for locations where we could be in a place that… if we’re shooting at something that’s essentially an oil rig, we tried to find a power plant that sort of looked enough like an oil rig. Where we could have the actors run through practical things, make them real sets, and not do half of a thing on stage and then the rest of it is green screen. I always like things that feel real. It’s important. I think the acting changes. If you got a priest that’s going to explode in a scene, or whatever it is, everyone’s hyper-focused on what’s happening. You’re not checking your phone.”

The director also aptly summarizes our thoughts on Cage’s casting as Dracula. Sure, you could cast anybody to play Dracula, but there’s not a lot of people you can go, ‘I want to see what that fucking guy does as Dracula. That guy’s going to do something interesting, and I want to see the emotional landscape of this Dracula and what he goes through with Renfield. You’ll see a lot of different things from Cage in this movie. And he was a pure joy to work with,” McKay tells us.

(from left) Dracula (Nicolas Cage) and Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) in Renfield, directed by Chris McKay. Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/Universal Pictures

For Cage, the admiration is mutual. The prolific actor leaves us with praise for his director as well as an intriguing description of the unique relationship between his Dracula and Hoult’s Renfield.

Cage explains, “It is a comedy, but McKay was very careful with that. He tried, and I think he succeeded, in hitting that balance that was so effective in An American Werewolf in London. He knocks the audience around, like, ‘I’m laughing, but now I’m really scared, and now I’m feeling bad for these characters.’ But yes, a toxic perverse relationship that Dracula envelops on his minions- he likes to call them servants- but there is a father/son relationship, a boss/employee aspect. Frankly, there’s a jilted lovers aspect. All of that is going on in this.”

Renfield comes to theaters on April 14, 2023.

The post ‘Renfield’ Set Visit Report – Nicolas Cage Pays Tribute to Cinema’s Greatest Vampires appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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