By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Sarah Gadon had one request when she was cast in the role of Mirena, the fanged one’s wife, in “Dracula Untold.” “No corsets,” she begged the film’s costume designer Ngila Dickson. She’d had her fill of the restrictive garment while filming “Belle,” a period drama released in theaters earlier this year about two 19th century British aristocratic girls—one black and one white—whose lives were shaped by their skin color. Gadon got her wish.
Sure, the blond beauty would have to endure months of being splattered with mud and rain while shooting the action-packed Dracula origins story in Northern Ireland (standing in for Romania), but at least she would be able to breathe and move comfortably while doing so.
The 27-year-old, perhaps best known for playing Robert Pattinson’s wife in David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis,” stars opposite Luke Evans (“The Immortals,” “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”), who plays Vlad Tepes, the warrior king, who in a desperate move to defend his family and kingdom against the invading Turkish army, makes a deal with a supernatural being to obtain extraordinary strength and endurance. If Vlad can manage to not give in to his temporary vampire instincts to drink the blood of his victims for three days, he can go back to being himself. Otherwise, he will be cursed as a vampire for all eternity, losing his humanity and his loved ones in the process.
The fantasy drama is directed by first time feature filmmaker Gary Shore, from a screenplay by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, based on the classic Bram Stoker tale.
Gadon plays Vlad’s beautiful wife, and mother to his son. She refuses to allow her boy to be handed over to the vicious and jealous Turkish prince Mehmed (Dominic Cooper) to be trained as a ruthless warrior as his father had. Vlad struggles with the decision, which could spare his kingdom further bloodshed, but he decides at the last minute to defy the order, setting him on the course to make a deal with a Master Vampire (Charles Dance), living a cursed life in a cave high in the mountains.
Gadon recently spoke by phone from New York, where she was promoting the film. “Dracula Untold” kicks off a planned reboot of Universal Pictures’ classic monsters, with remakes of “The Mummy,” “Frankenstein” and “The Wolf Man,” in the pipeline, to create an “Avengers”-like crossover franchise.
Indeed, without giving away too much, the ending of “Dracula Untold” leaves the door open for more neck-biting action.
Q: “Dracula Untold” is gothic, romantic, spooky—everything a Dracula movie is supposed to be. How did you come onboard and what was the attraction for you?
Gadon: I met with Gary Shore (director) to talk about the film. While we were having lunch and he was telling me about the project, we looked up and Francis Ford Coppola (who directed “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”) was having lunch a few tables over from us and I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is a sign. I have to be in this movie!”
Q: Did you say anything to him?
Gadon: We were both a little star struck. I don’t think either of us had the audacity to go up to him and speak to him but it was a real kind of crazy, surreal moment. Then, a few months later I screen-tested with Luke Evans for the part and I knew immediately that we had this kind of connection between the two of us and we would be able to do something special with the love story. As strong and powerful as Luke is as a leading men, he also has this ability to play sensitivity and vulnerability in a love scene. That’s what’s really special about him and really helped our storyline.
Q: So you and Luke got along well?
Gadon: Oh yeah. We got on like a house on fire. We were really in it together. In as much as it was Gary’s first film, it was Luke’s first major leading role and my first major studio film so there were a lot of firsts and we were all just in it together.
Q: This film is basically an origins story. It explains why Vlad became who he became. Were you interested in that human aspect of him?
Gadon: Absolutely. It was a really interesting take that we were pulling apart at the myth of Dracula and looking at the man behind the legend. Of course, that was very intriguing to me because it was about the humanity of the story, which I think is very interesting. It gave us a great starting point. Knowing the violent past of Vlad the Impaler and the violent past he had being raised by the Turks, it was a really great place for us to start because we knew what he was capable of even though we meet him in this very peaceful time of reign.
Q: How was it shooting for five months in Northern Ireland?
Gadon: Amazing. As much as there were blue screen and green screen in the film, we shot on some spectacular locations—the Ben Nevis Mountain, Tollymore Forest, the Giant Causeway. All of those settings helped create a real atmosphere and tone for our film. Atmosphere is so important for a Dracula film.
Q: Before this, did you have a favorite “Dracula” movie and were you a fan of vampires when you were younger?
Gadon: Absolutely. I grew up on Coppola’s version of “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and I think that’s why I was so star struck on the day we saw him. Then, as a teenager, I was a huge “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fan.
Q: Did you read the Bram Stoker novel growing up?
Gadon: Oh, I loved the novel and I’m a big fan of gothic romance literature. I’m a big fan of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” “Jane Eyre” —a lot of gothic romance novels. It’s just a genre of writing I loved as a teenager.
Q: Was there a particular scene or bit of dialogue that challenged you in this film? Did you have to battle the elements?
Gadon: Yeah. Even though we were shooting in the late summer, we shot all the way up until November and Northern Ireland is pretty cold and rainy and we were outside a lot of the time making this film. It was just kind of us against the elements. One of the hardest days, physically, is when we were shooting the Borgo Pass scene and we were running through Tollymore forest on night shoots in the middle of the night. It was freezing cold and it just starting pouring rain and the whole forest became like a mud slide and you couldn’t trudge equipment up there. We were all stuck up there and there was nowhere to go. It certainly was the antithesis of the glamorous Hollywood filmmaking. (She laughs.)
Q: Vlad ruled Romania in the 1400s. Have you ever been to Romania?
Gadon: No, but I’ve really love to go. As an actor, when you’re making a film, you don’t always have the luxury of a lot of prep time to go off and do your own thing. Everything we experienced in the story we read about or were given by the art department or the director. It would be amazing to go there, though. I shot something in Budapest (in Hungary), which was really fun.
Q: The ending kind of leaves the door open for what could happen next in the Dracula situation. Is that part of your contract? Are you signed for more Draculas?
Gadon: Your guess is as good as mine as to whether we’ll do more sequels. I’m not really in control of that. I will say that I loved working with Luke Evans. He’s a wonderful actor and a wonderful man. I would sign up to do anything he’s going to be a part of.
Q: You just finished filming “The Girl King?”
Gadon: Yeah. I shot that earlier this year with Mika Kaurismäki and it’s the story of Queen Kristina and a relationship she had with her lady-in-waiting Ebba Sparre. We’re in post-production with it right now. Malin Buska plays Queen Kristina, Michael Nyqvist is in it as well as Francois Arnaud.
Q:What’s the status of “The 9th Life of Louis Drax?”
Gadon: I’m going to leave to shoot that film at the end of this month in Vancouver.
Q: You’ve worked a lot with director David Cronenberg. Have you talked with him lately about what might be next?
Gadon: Well, we did “Maps to the Stars” together and that’s coming out closer to Christmas. We premiered it at Cannes and it played the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s a very satirical look at Hollywood. I’m very proud of it. Julianne Moore is the star of the film and she is just absolutely incredible. I get to play her dead mother haunting her posthumously in her subconscious, which was really fun. I shot that right before I shot “Dracula.” It was ironic shooting a very satirical film about Hollywood before going and making a Hollywood film.
Q: Do you have any special Halloween plans?
Gadon: Not right now but I’ve already thought up my costume. I really want to go as Tippi Hedren from (Hitchcock’s) “The Birds.” I want to wear that green suit and have my hair in a bouffant with a bird in my hair and blood running down my face.