Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the second part to my big Romanian trip. The last report was pretty much my travelogue as I traveled all around Romania, Transylvania and the Carpathian Mountains and can be read here. This one is my 20 minute sit down interview with Luke Evans about the history of the real Vlad Tepes, finding the man underneath the legend of Dracula, the upcoming Universal Monster Combined Universe and how awesome Ben Wheatley is.
Oh, we also reminisce about co-starring in The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies for about 5 seconds. That, too.
It's a good chat, especially when we start coming up with scenarios of Vlad watching all cinematic Draculas over the decades. Give it a read, will ya'?
Luke Evans: You were in (Battle of the Five Armies) right?
Quint: I'm in a shot with you, when you're gathering up fighters in Dale.
Luke Evans: Yeah, I remember.
Quint: I think Peter Jackson said in an interview that he held on that shot a little too long to make sure I got some screen time. That was very nice of him.
Luke Evans: Ah, bless him. He's such a good guy. Yeah, his son is in that scene as well.
Quint: When I saw Billy that morning getting into costume I was like “Cool! I'll actually make the theatrical cut on this one!”
Luke Evans: If you're in a scene with Peter's kids you'll be in the film!
Quint: So, it's been a really fascinating last few days for us because they've been carting us all around Romania.
Luke Evans: That's right. You've seen more of the country than I've seen!
Quint: I don't know about you, but pretty much all my understanding of Dracula came from Bram Stoker and forward. I knew very little about Vlad Tepes before the movie and this trip and it's been pretty eye-opening talking to historians and even regular people and realizing just how much of a hero he is still considered to be today. Was it as surprising for you to dig into the history of Vlad Tepes as it was for me?
Luke Evans: I did a lot of research. There was so much information to be watched, read and listened to... some great books, some not-so-great books, some very contrasting opinions on him. What I took from most of the information was that somebody who lived such a long time ago can have a lot of different stories written about them depending on who wrote them. I mean, the Germans hated him, so a lot of the German documents written about Vlad are scathing and they exaggerated a lot as well.
It was interesting sorting through a lot of that information and coming to an idea of what you wanted to present. Basically I wanted him to be a man. I wanted him to be human, a man who had feelings and responsibility and represented a man who wanted to protect his kingdom, his people and his wife and child. Those are things we can all relate to... maybe not protecting a kingdom, but that sense of protection and self-sacrifice. I thought bringing the human story to the vampire story completely detaches us from anything that has been done before. That's what I liked about it.
Quint: It's interesting finding out just how keen of a military mind he had. One of my favorite things I've heard on this trip is a grotesque story that followed his famous impaling of 23,000 Turks. Everybody has probably heard of that part, since he's now commonly known as Vlad the Impaler, but it was a surprise to me to hear that he also had these soldiers decapitated and sent their heads back to Istanbul. It wasn't so much of a “Fuck you!” to the rulers, but that way the heads were loaded onto carts that traveled throughout the countryside so everybody could see that the Turks weren't this invincible army they were believed to be. It's brutal, but also the only way he could have shown the people they don't have to live in fear of this army.
Luke Evans: In those days you didn't have newspapers or media. You just had a visual impact. He was not a stupid man, he was a very clever man. It sounds ruthless and it was ruthless, but look at England. Look at London. They used to hang, draw and quarter people. I mean, they're dead. Stop! It was gruesome, too. Their heads would go up in front of a castle. You look up at it and go “Right. If you steal that'll be your head someday.” It was a visual impact. That's how (Vlad) became a successful ruler. He even says it in the film. “I put one village to the stake, I save ten more.”
He also took away corruption from his country. When he became king his father had been assassinated by the Boyars, who were like the knights of this country. He got rid of them all. He didn't just get rid of them all. Did you hear this story?
Quint: I don't think so.
Luke Evans: He brought them all to dinner and said, “Who of you know about my father's death?” He knew they were all part of it. He captured them all and sent them all to work building his castle. The story goes they worked until their clothes fell off. Some of them were naked building the castle in the freezing cold temperatures and died building it.
I mean, he was ruthless, but that's a warning to his people and to the surrounding countries about how he played the game. Harsh to us nowadays, but maybe in those days that was how you had to do it.
Quint: It was interesting to see how closely some parts of the movie followed the real legend. We stood in the court where the Turks actually demanded Wallachia's children.
Luke Evans: More people should come to Romania and see the authenticity that we brought to the film!
Quint: Universal needs to offer the ultimate Dracula Untold experience! Buy the Blu-Ray and get a trip to Romania!
Luke Evans: I'll be the first to go on it because I've not seen any of this stuff.
Quint: You're here now! Go make the rounds!
Luke Evans: I know, I know. I'm heading back this afternoon, unfortunately. It's a flying visit. Next time. I think I'll wait until the weather changes because it's a little bit bleak out there.
Quint: It is, but also really beautiful. We went out to the island monastery which is one of his supposed burial sites and it was shrouded in fog, the grounds covered with snow. We had to cross a frozen lake on a bridge where you couldn't see the other end because the fog was so think...
Luke Evans: Wow! What a brilliant trip. You guys are so bloody lucky!
Quint: Just saying, now's not a bad time to check these places out! So, one of the more interesting things about what you guys did in the movie was how it wasn't a story about a man made into a monster. Even when he becomes Dracula as we know him now, he's not sitting there drinking the blood of virgins, you know? He's still very much the man he was before.
Luke Evans: Even when he's drunk the blood, I'd say he's still 90% human and 10% vampire. Because he is who he is and he comes from the background he's come from... he's had a hard life. He's a fighter, he's mentally incredibly strong, he's strategic, he has a military background, he's been through pain. He has fought for his country, fought for his throne, he was imprisoned for 12 years. This man is a fighter and a survivor. I feel like no drinking of any blood is going to completely transform him like that (snaps fingers). It's going to take a long, long time. I feel like this is a strong human who will be able to fight that.
Even in the film you see a man who is essentially still just a man dealing with this very bad addiction. That's how I always felt I wanted to portray it, as an addiction. It's something he is semi in control of.
Quint: I also got the impression that if things hadn't gone badly in the final moments of the story that Vlad would have been able to resist the urges, spent his 3 days as a monster and gone happily back to his mortal life.
Luke Evans: Yeah, I think he totally believed it. His promise to his wife was completely sincere, but tragedy and life dealt a very different card.
Quint: It's also interesting watching this movie and the evolution of this character with the knowledge that it's the foundation of a bigger shared universe with the other Universal monsters. I'm really curious to see how it all comes together. I definitely would want there to be some gothic horror in there, but the most intriguing thing about this movie kicking all that off is the focus on character first. In a weird way mixing period character study and genre elements is what's intriguing audiences right now. Just look at Game of Thrones.
Luke Evans: The complexity isn't scary anymore. People don't go “How is that going to work?” They're intrigued to see how it's going to work. I think that's what's fun about this whole idea. It's a big, grand prospect. The project is huge. When we see how it's all intwined and interconnected and how my character jumps into whatever it is... whatever it is will be very intriguing.
Quint: There's also a lot of story left untold with that finale, with that jump to modern day London.
Luke Evans: Yeah! Where has he been? When I was doing that scene I was like, “How do I play this? Jesus, the last time I was in character I was in armor at the bottom of a tower with my wife in my arms in the 15th century!” I just thought about what he must have gone through from the late 1400s to 2014. He's been through two world wars, he might have been in the Spanish Inquisition, he could be rich, he could be poor, he could have loved and lost... How many people has he lost? How many people has he nursed to death? How many people has he brought into his fold? How many people has he killed? Who has he met? Did he meet Bram Stoker? Did he intrigue Bram Stoker? Did he sit in a theater and chuckle to himself at this interpretation of the man he is? I love the idea of all these things that could have happened to him and where he could have appeared, what he has experienced in his life, and how much that informed who he is in that final scene in Dracula. There's a load that's still untold.
Quint: Dracula: Still Untold!
Luke Evans: Yeah, exactly.
Quint: Now I just want a movie where your character is just watching and commenting on all the vampire films from Nosferatu to Bela Lugosi's Dracula to Christopher Lee's Dracula...
Luke Evans: (laughs) Can you imagine? That would be hilarious! Watching Gary Oldman...
Quint: And Udo Kier! “Zee blood of zees whores is keeeling me!”
Luke Evans: That's definitely a sketch we should be doing at some point.
Quint: If you end up on SNL, feel free to steal that idea. I won't mind. Oh, and you should be eating a bowl of Count Chocula as you're watching.
Luke Evans: (laughs) Perfect!
Quint: Before I let you go, I just want to say that I think it's cool that you're working a lot with Ben Wheatley. I really dig his stuff, especially Kill List and Sightseers. Ever since I started following his work I've been eager to see where he's going to go as a filmmaker. You've got one movie you've wrapped and one coming up with him, right?
Luke Evans: Right. He's a really great man and a really interesting filmmaker. He was somebody I wanted to work with. I liked his way, how he worked. (High-Rise) was a hard film to shoot and it was a difficult script to get my head around, but he was the man for the job. I think he was perfect to direct High-Rise. It's full on, I mean really full on, but he did it. We had such a great experience that he's asked me to be in his next one and I jumped at the chance. It's nice to have a connection with somebody.
Quint: In that case did you look at the script first or just immediately say yes because it's someone you trust directing? I remember Jon Favreau said he had three criteria to check before he agreed to be in a movie. First was script, second was director and third was who else was in it and that if two of the three weren't there then he'd pass.
Luke Evans: Sounds about right. For me it's obviously the script first, obviously, and then it's the director. Even if I'm not completely sold on the script... because scripts change so much. You can't completely make a decision solely on a script prior to shooting because scripts massively change. I'm prepping for a film now and I've just been told there's an enormous draft coming through and I'm just like “Are you fuckin' serious?!?” That's fine, I should know because this happens every time I'm prepping for a film, the bloody script changes and I'm halfway through really getting into it.
So, as much as you might not be 100% sold on a script if there are elements that are triggering something positive inside you then you meet the director. Sometimes the director will clinch it in the way they sell it to you and the chemistry you might have with that person or it's the opposite and you're like “This isn't going to work.” Most of the time the directors I meet are people I respect and people I'm intrigued about meeting because I like their work. That happened with Ben. I sat down with Ben in Covent Garden and we ran out of time, but we were still sort of chatting away. We could have kept on talking for hours. We connected on a personal level and I thought, “This is a really good guy. This is someone I could work with and I think I understand him and I think he understands me.” That's how it works. Obviously when you see a good cast being created and put around you that's always a positive thing as well.
Quint: You've got to have that relationship when attacking a movie. It's not just something you half-heartedly do, they're always super intensive.
Luke Evans: It really is and all the roles I play seem to be so intensive. I don't do anything half-heatedly. It seems every role I pick... they're killers. Not killer as in being killers, but they kill you almost because they're so intense.
Quint: Thanks very much for your time, man. I appreciate it.
Luke Evans: Nice to see you again. Take care.
That's it. Thanks for reading!