Jonathan Rhys Meyers Talks to IFTN as 'Dracula' Begins on Sky Living this 31st Oct,22 Oct 2013 : By Kevin Cronin
IFTN began by asking what first attracted him to the role and how this incarnation of the ubiquitous character differs from other interpretations in film and TV over the years.
I’d worked with [NBC Executive] Bob Greenblatt on ‘Elvis’ and ‘The Tudors’, so we had a relationship with each other. I flew over to Los Angeles and he said he wanted me to play Dracula. When I asked how he wanted me to play him, he said the idea was for a triptych - so I’m playing three characters. There's one central character, Vlad Tepes. Then Dracula is the monster - ‘Dracul’ meaning dragon or monster - but that only comes at the instant that he has to feed his addiction, which never ends. Alexander Grayson is the performance within the performance. It's the mask that he uses. For me that was really interesting because as the series goes further on, there are scenes where I have to switch from British to American accents within the same scene. I hope it doesn’t get confusing for people, but it was fun for me to play! It’s difficult - there’s no doubt about it. We didn’t have time for a lot of takes. We’re making big television, ten hours, which is like five movies in one.’
When asked about the appeal of playing the bad guy, Rhys Meyers waxed lyrical about Dracula’s physicality in comparison to his portrayal of Henry in ‘The Tudors’.
‘It can be more fun to play the bad guy than the hero. I suppose I often play the bad guy because there’s something in my physicality that lends me to that sort of intensity. I’m 36 years old now and when you’re younger you always want to look good. In this, I allowed myself to look good in some of it but also absolutely dreadful in other parts - to have that variation in the character. Now I only care about how good it’s going to be for an audience to watch. When I did ‘The Tudors’, I was playing a very impetuous Henry because I saw him as a spoiled boy - which essentially he was. But there was still the sense of wanting to look good onscreen, whereas now it’s completely different. I just want to really enjoy what I’m doing and enjoy the production. Because I’m not making it for me anymore, I’m making it for other people. I’d love if people see it and are freaked out by it, but still want more!’
On some of the artistic influences on his performance, Rhys Meyers was equally enlightening.
‘I’m an artist and I borrow! There’s a scene where I’m feeding in the second episode and I completely borrowed from Brad Davis in ‘Midnight Express’ when he has the fight and he bites the man’s tongue out and spits it into the air. When I was biting the girl’s neck in ‘Dracula’ - and it was a very vicious killing - I put my head up, so you could see this shower of blood. And it’s almost like he’s soaking himself in his own suffering.’
Rhys Meyers was also producing for the first time on ‘Dracula’, an experience which lent a collaborative spirit to proceedings and forced him to consider factors beyond his performance alone.
‘For the first time as producer I wanted to look at things. I wanted to look at what the pace of it was like. It has to be fast-paced. It has to be vibrant. It has to be feral. There are soft moments but then it speeds up at break-neck speed, and slows down again. So it had to have the right sense of pacing. Also I had to check what the CGI was going to be like because I wanted something that would look beautiful, almost like in a comic-book, but at the same time it has a certain sense of suspended realism to it.’
On a humorous note, he recounted the difficulties of pronouncing his dialogue with vampire teeth in his mouth, which necessitated a significant amount of ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording) in post-production.
‘I haven’t kept the teeth. I broke them on the last day so I wouldn’t have to use them! They’re actually made by a proper dentist so they’re real teeth and I put them in, but unfortunately I had to ADR everything because they gave me a lisp. And Dracula with a lisp is not going be scary! And it’s not going to be sexy! But it was an awful lot of fun to play. Doing the ADR for that was actually very funny because there’s a scene at the end, in the last episode, where I go into the billiard room - and I have a few vampires with me - and for the first time people in the room realise I’m not an American because they can hear my real accent. I turn around and you can see my teeth coming down. I say to the boys, ‘Bon Appétit’. Of course I had to ADR it because my pronunciation was hilarious! Nobody will know that! Well, they will now…’
Rhys Meyers explained his motivation in wanting to maintain a largely restrained performance, so that the moments of violence when they come would deliver a more powerful impact.
‘I said let’s hold the teeth back. Let’s hold the murdering that he does back as much as possible so when there’s brutality, it’s so brutal that it’s actually terrifying. So we’re not overusing it. Unlike ‘The Tudors’, in this I think I only shout three times in the whole ten hours. I keep it incredibly still and incredibly focused, for Vlad Tepes. Alexander Grayson is more charm. It was important for me to try to stay still within the character as much as possible and to allow everything to happen because there’s so much going on. I was actually on the phone to the producers asking for me to not be in so much of an episode because I thought it would be more effective to focus on the other characters. And I’m glad I’ve got to that point as an actor, where I don’t always have to be the centre of attention in it. It allows you to be more authentic.’
The actor reserved special praise for his fellow cast members who - along Ms Smurfit and Ms McGrath - included Australian actress Jessica De Gouw and British actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen. He also recounted the first time he and Victoria met at the IFTA awards.
‘Yeah, we actually really liked each other which is shocking. Everybody was so good at what they did from day one. And that’s shocking because it usually takes people a while to get into something. They were almost tailor-made for their parts. I couldn’t have asked for something better.’
‘Victoria and I actually only used to meet at awards ceremonies. It was the IFTAs. I was presenting something at the IFTAs and Victoria was doing a fantastic job of presenting them that evening. She was very elegant and very beautiful. I came on stage and she introduced me and I kissed her on the cheek, and that was the first time that I met her. Victoria has an incredible warmth. To describe Victoria Smurfit is to say ‘silk and steel’.
The gradual migration of big name actors from cinema to high-quality TV drama was another area that fascinated Rhys Meyers, along with the advantages of getting to know characters over a longer time span.
‘You can spend ten hours exploring a story on TV and you get to be part of people’s furniture and come into their home and be part of their night. The characters become people that viewers feel like they know. When you’re watching ‘Breaking Bad’, you’re actually thinking about Mr White - Why is he doing what he’s doing? The process for television is much more personal and you can watch a box set for ten hours in bed and really get into it. Also, because of technology, televisions have become so big, they’re home cinemas. There’s not this little box in the corner when we were watching Glenroe. I’m not knocking Glenroe, only the technology. They should rename TV ‘home cinema’ because the production qualities are home cinema. We use the best DPs, the best set designers, the best costume designers, the best make-up artists and the most fantastic actors we can get our hands on. And we got our hands on some really good ones for this one!’