Luke Evans is a pretty popular guy now and has been in loads of blockbusters including The Hobbit and Fast & Furious 6, but Dracula Untold marks his very first go at playing the title character in a grand scale studio film. He leads Gary Shore’s first feature as Vlad, a character based on Vlad the Impaler. When Mehmet (Dominic Cooper) threatens to take 1,000 boys from Transylvania including Vlad’s son, Vlad makes a desperate play to save them; he becomes a vampire.
During our visit to set, Evans took a break from shooting a scene in the Great Hall to talk to us about his initial reaction to getting the offer to play Dracula and then the months of work he put into it thereafter. Hit the jump for more on Vlad’s mission to save his family and the people of Transylvania, all of the powers he gains after becoming Dracula, what it takes for him to manage Vlad’s enormous character arc and more.
Click here to check out the trailer for Dracula Untold.
Question: From your point of view, what is the change between pre-vampire Vlad and after? Besides the fangs obviously.
LUKE EVANS: Well, you meet Vlad at the beginning of the film and he’s in a good place. He’s had 10 years of peace. He’s in a loving relationship with his beautiful wife and he has a good kid, and his people are happy and everything is prosperous, so he’s quite in a good place. And then, the threat comes of an invasion by the Ottoman Empire and Mehmet, he loses his security and he becomes quite vulnerable, and you see the cracks start to show and the weaknesses, and you see that he’s a very vulnerable leader. Then he gains this gift in a way, these powers that he has after he chooses to become a vampire and you see a different character. I guess he becomes more confident; he has hope all of a sudden in a different way. He also has these abilities, which he didn’t have before which no one else knows about, but he’s aware he can do these things and he can speak to you without opening his mouth and you can hear what he’s saying and all those things, and he can fly and jump, he’s immortal and his wounds heal, and all the stuff. I think that sort of stuff is good to play on. As we go further into the film, I get to play those internal confidence-boosting moments. I think there’s a lot of Vlad that you see at the beginning that you see at the end. The important thing we wanted to impress in the character of Vlad and Dracula, when he becomes the vampire, is you see the human in the vampire. We don’t want to disassociate the two people. We want to keep them the same person, the same emotional drive he has at the beginning of the film and the reasons why he does what he does are still prevalent at the end of the film. So, in a way, he’s the same person, but in a way he isn’t and he has other things going on.
EVANS: In the wrong hands, yes, obviously. We know that very much so in this day and age. But I think in this film, you see power given to one human being and used wrongly and you see power given to another human being, another person, used in a very sort of selfless way. I think in Vlad’s situation, he does what he does from a very selfless position and point of view. He does it because he wants to save his family, his son and his wife and his people. You see other people turn into vampires in this movie. I was trying to associate it with being addicted to some very strong drug. You see some people who deal with drug addiction in one way and some who just completely fail and never ever be able to come out of that dark place, and Vlad always keeps his reasons for doing it very clear. As much as he has this urge to drink the blood of a human, he really resists as much as he can because of the love for his first wife and his family and his kid and his people.
Is that transformation into Dracula an instantaneous thing? In terms of your powers, not just the physical look of the character, is the Dracula at the end a much more vampiric looking character with more powers?
EVANS: No, no. He doesn’t realize the powers immediately that he has. It’s sort of a revelation as the plot goes on and his journey progresses. He becomes aware that he can do certain things and certain things happen to him and he’s like, ‘Wow, that’s useful,’ and he actually does say, ‘that’s useful.’ So yes, he has them all. I think as soon as he makes that decision, he does what he does in Caligula’s cave, he gains all of those powers, but he’s very unaware of them at the beginning. I mean, he thinks he’s dead at one point and realizes he’s alive and nobody can see him and then he can be seen, he’s seeing ghosts. It’s interesting because he’s sort of discovering all these things as he goes along, but the vampiric part of him is only seen in very subtle moments. When he actually does go to bite, you see this incredible transformation, which is unique to this film, it’s unique to Dracula, it’s never been done before. He doesn’t have the fangs the whole time. You know, I’m not talking with big fangs in my mouth the whole time, even though I have my own fangs. [Laughs] Sometimes the unseen is often more exciting and more intriguing to an audience than what you see. If you spoon-feed every visual element of some character like Dracula, which we’re so used to seeing in so many different representations we’ve seen through the years. This one we’ve chosen to be very clever in when we show these moments of the vampire in him. But it’s quite beautiful when it happens to him, when he does go for the kill.
EVANS: If you read up about Dracula, he’s able to transform into creatures, he’s able to speak into your head without opening his mouth, he can physically make you do things, move, he can fly, he’s immortal. He won’t die as long as he doesn’t stay in the sunshine and the daylight. His wounds heal, he has a few flaws, but you know, he tries to veer away from silver and the daylight, but in a way, we want to keep the human part of him alive so people can relate to him. He is sort of an antihero in a way, you know? Even though we’re used to thinking of Dracula as this man who lures women into bed and then kills them for their life force. Yeah, he does become that, but we’re beginning at the origin. This is the origin story of Dracula. Maybe that is where he ends up, in the Bram Stoker of the whole story, but at this point, he’s still hoping that’s not who he’s going to become. He doesn’t want to become what he sees in that cave up in Broken Tooth Mountain. That’s not a nice thought that he wants to live like that for the rest of his life.
Is he a one-man army with his powers?
EVANS: I think in many senses he is. I’d say he really is a man who has to keep this secret to himself and he knows that most people are not going to like what he’s done, including his wife being at the top of the pile. She’s mortified at the fact that he’s decided to choose this dark almost inhuman anti-Christian life, so he has to make these decisions a lot on his own and try to convince his people and his army and his men that everything looks terrible and we’re all going to die, but you have to trust me, and he doesn’t want to give it away because he knows they’re all gonna freak out if they know exactly what he is. So, yeah, in a way, he is a one-man band, a one-man army for a lot of it. He tries to save his people without putting them in a position where they’re terrified of him.
EVANS: Gary and I wanted to be very loyal to the real character here and he was known as Vlad the Impaler and we do touch on it quite a lot, especially when he meets his stepbrother, Mehmet II, played by Dominic Cooper, the Sultan. I mean, that’s a whole different film, do you know what I mean? That there is a very dark R-Rated movie, but we don’t ignore the fact that he did do those things and he was a very blood thirsty leader and warrior and he did do some incredibly shocking things. We do talk about them. There are scenes when that is brought up and you can see that he’s uncomfortable with the fact that these are being brought up because people have sort of moved on and he’s now become a leader that isn’t all about the fact that he impales people in fields and kills thousands of people, but we don’t ignore the fact either. It was very important for me to have that element of him in the film because, you know, he is Vlad the Impaler, he was the Lord Impaler, that was his title when he was brought up by the Turks. He gained all of those killing techniques from the Turks. That’s how he was brought up. That’s where he learned them all. There are a couple of moments where we honor the impaling techniques in very clever ways. You know, a thing about Vlad was, there’s a lot of history books, there’s a lot of biased history books, but if you read a lot, which I’ve done, you find that he was revered by his people as not just a warlord and a terrifying leader of a country, but he was revered. He was a very fair ruler, he gave land to not only the aristocracy of his land, but he gave it to the poor people and he often brought in the working class to work with him and fight with him. He was very clever in that way. He wasn’t all about money and land. He was about people feeling that they’ve been something and they owed him something. It is interesting, and he was very respected by his enemies. It’s on his tombstone on that little island in Romania where it says, ‘He was a great ruler and respected by his enemies,’ which is a quite impressive thing to have.
What was it like the first time you had this idea pitched to you? Someone comes up to you and says, ‘Do you want to play Dracula?’ Every time we hear there’s another vampire film, you’re rolling your eyes.
EVANS: Exactly, yeah. I think we all would be the same. I have to say I thought exactly that. I was like, ‘Really? Am I at that age already that I have to do that?’ I picked up the script going, ‘God, I’ve already started to play a father figure with kids and now I’m playing Dracula. What’s next?’ [Laughs] But I picked up the script and I realized that it was a reimagining of the character that people are so well versed in, but it was also a birth of that character, which is an interesting thing. So we’ve mixed fact with fiction, and I just thought it was a very intriguing story. I feel like I’ve always tried to play roles that have real strong human emotions driving them and this character essentially is all about his son and also all about his love for his family, which I thought was great because everything’s not like this character. All of a sudden we see a different side to him and the reasons why he chooses to do it. It’s a huge arc and a really good challenge for me. It was a really nice thing to be asked to do it and I’m really enjoying it.
When you have a big arc like that, do you sit down and track this all out in your head in terms of how you’re going to play it? Or do you basically play what’s in the script, which are not necessarily the same thing?
EVANS: No, with something like this, which has an enormous arc you have to bullet point where your emotions are and the tone of it. It’s difficult because there are points when he’s full vampire, but he’s still acting very humanlike. You have to do your research and get it all sort of set in your head and, as you know, we’re shooting a scene now, which is almost at the end of the movie and we’re not even halfway through shooting it, so I need to know how far I’m taking it in this scene so that when I go back, I can knock it down a few pegs. You know, normal thing when you play a big character like this.
EVANS: Well, no more intimidating than anything else I’ve ever done. It’s a role and you have to give everything to every job you do. You’ve got a responsibility to do the best job you can and make sure you honor the script, the writers and the director’s ideas and your ideas and somewhere in the middle you come to a place where you all feel good about it. I’ve been playing with this script for about eight to nine months, which is quite a long time before starting a movie, and working with Gary on the script and talking to him on a weekly basis from wherever we were in the world, so there’s been a lot of dialogue and a lot of conversations about his journey and loads of change in that time and it’s been great for that reason. I feel very invested in it even though I’ve been doing other projects and finishing The Hobbit, and I did another movie. Even though I was doing all of that, in my mind, I was still setting pieces of the jigsaw puzzle in my head so that when I arrived here, it wasn’t too daunting. I’ve been working very hard to gain a reputation of sorts in this film business, which I’ve only been doing for five years now. I feel like I’m ready for it. I’ve been acting since I was 20 so it’s not like I’ve just jumped in and am playing a lead role. But it is a responsibility. It’s a legendary character first portrayed in 1932 by Universal and they’re bringing it back to the screen and my name is on the back of everybody’s chair. It’s an exciting thing. I’m just lapping it up and enjoying every minute of it.
This is a very physical role, too. Can you talk about your physical preparation?
EVANS: Well, you might have seen today; my arms were out today, which is not very much, but I train all day long to keep them because muscles don’t stay big. They constantly shrink, which is a really annoying thing. [Laughs] My trainer is with me all day, we train before I come to work and then I just keep training all day. It is quite a lot of sort of semi-naked stuff in the film. It’s not just about looking good out of your clothes. It was about, again, honoring the character I was playing. He was a warrior. He went to battle. He wasn’t one of those that sent his men to battle. He was in the frontlines. He was a very active physical leader so I wanted, and so did the creative team, for him to look correct out of his clothes. I have a lot of scars in the beginning of the film before I become the vampire and it was all about a certain look, so that meant I started training for this job in May and my trainer’s been traveling with me since then and we’ve trained through two movies. He’s been to New Zealand with me and he’s with me every day on the film and we train after work every day and my diet is specific. It goes on and on and on, but you’re playing a leading role and sometimes that’s what it requires and so I’ve brought it to the table.
EVAN: It is. It’s full on. It’s hard work just being on set 14 hours a day. I was picked up at a quarter to five this morning and we were on set at eight and I haven’t stopped since and my costume, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, I can’t sit down when my full armor is on because I have these [pieces], which stop me from sitting and this swords so I stand for like three or four hours and forget I’ve actually not sat down for all that time. It’s the sort of thing you forget about and then, when everybody else goes home, I’m going to the gym for an hour. Sometimes I eat at like 9:30 at night and then go to bed at 10:30 and wake up at 4:00. It’s hard going, but it’s one of those jobs where I’m living the dream. This is an amazing job. I’m lucky to be doing this, so you just got to enjoy it. Somebody’s paying me to keep fit for god’s sake.
Is this something you want to revisit? Are you signed on for other films? Technically this is Dracula Year Zero.
EVANS: Well yeah, if you’re going to start a story anyway, you start at the beginning, right? You could go anywhere with Dracula right now. After this movie finishes, the story finishes in a very – it’s like an open book. Where could he go? He’s immortal, he’s a lonely man, he can’t go back to his family, he loses his wife, he can’t be around anybody he’s been around, so it could go anywhere. There’s a lot of discussions about that and it’s very exciting and I’m very much involved in the whole thing.
It’s very rare that an actor gets that chance to grow with a character.
EVANS: Very rare, and it’s nice to be part of something that could grow into something else and be there at the beginning of it. It’s very, very nice not to pick up from somebody else’s interpretation of the character.
For more from my Dracula Untold set visit:
- Over 50 Things to Know About Luke Evans’ Take on Dracula from our DRACULA UNTOLD Set Visit
- Sarah Gadon Talks Making a Timeless Love Story, Comfy Costumes, Working with Auteurs, Standout Lighting Techniques and More on the Set of DRACULA UNTOLD
- Dominic Cooper Talks Playing the Villain, Vlad & Mehmet’s Rivalry, Their Shared Darkness, Heavy Armor and More on the Set of DRACULA UNTOLD
- 4 New DRACULA UNTOLD Images Featuring Luke Evans as Vlad/Dracula