MCM London: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Claes Bang & Sue Vertue Talk ‘Dracula’
Whilst we were at MCM London Comic Con this weekend, we were treated to a great panel with the people behind the upcoming tv adaptation of ‘Dracula‘, which comes to BBC One “soon”. The panel included ‘Sherlock’ creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, along with exec producer Sue Vertue (‘Doctor Who’, ‘Sherlock’) and Dracula himself, actor Claes Bang.
Unfortunately, we were not allowed to film this panel, which is usually the case when they show exclusive clips… However, the only clip they did show was the trailer which has now been released online (see below), so I’m not entirely sure why that was. Maybe Mark or Steven were having bad hair days, or they just didn’t think Claes would show up on camera (he is Dracula after all!) We were, however, allowed to take notes, so here is what we learnt about the new show!
How did the Dracula TV Series come about?
Mark Gattis explained the “strange genesis” of the duo deciding to created the Dracula tv series… and it was due to a photo Mark had on his phone. “We had just started season three of Sherlock, and we’d only been shooting for a couple of days, and I had a picture on my phone of Benedict, silhouetted against Mrs. Hudson’s door with his collar up,” commented Mark. “We showed it to Ben Stevenson, who was then head of drama commissioning. I said, ‘It looks like Dracula, doesn’t it?’, And he went, ‘Do you want to do it?’ That was years ago. That was the sort of beginning. It wasn’t immediately all guns blazing, but that was the seed of it, really.”
The influences and history
Dracula is one of those characters where there is no definitive version. Sure, there are well-known versions, such as Nosferatu or Christopher Lee, but each has its own differences. “We were fans of the novel obviously, and of the many film adaptations,” adds Steven. “All the wonderful Christopher Lee movies, the incredible BBC version with Louis Jordan and Frank Finlay. I mean, it’s one of those books a bit like Sherlock Holmes, I suppose, where it’s always become a genre more than it is one individual book, and so many people have had a crack at it. There have been so many Draculas. It’s just irresistible to have a crack at that, because something that is done so often, and has been a success many, many, times, has got something special inside it. It’s not normal. Not every Sherlock, not every character that does what Sherlock Holmes does, or Dracula does, or I suppose Tarzan, or Doctor Who, if I dare say that. It’s an unusual thing, and you just want your version.”
Mark, being the huge horror geek that he is, went to London Library and the Library of Philadelphia where Bram Stoker’s original notes are stored. “there’s lots of stuff in his working notes, which are just marvellous, that he didn’t do,” he comments. “No one can paint Dracula or take his photograph because it never looks the same twice. I love that. Didn’t use it. But in the book, Dracula walks around in the daylight quite easily. It’s only Nosferatu which introduces the idea that sunlight destroys him.”
He goes on to add that you can see the moment Stoker actually comes up with the name Count Dracula in those notes. “There’s an amazing little Rosetta Stone moment, where it’s like three characters are essentially Van Helsing, and then he just… It all pops together, and on the same piece of paper. The character was originally called Count Vampyre… It’s like being called Dr. Bad. And then suddenly, he sees this book in Whitby Library, and there it is… the name. He writes on this piece of paper, three times, ‘Dracula’. Crosses out ‘Vampyre’, puts ‘Dracula’, and then underlines ‘Count Dracula’. That’s kind of the moment.”
The setting and the locations
Unlike ‘Sherlock’, this version of Dracula does not pull the character into the modern-day but stays closer to the original setting. Although, as Mark points out, Bram Stoker himself was updating the idea of vampires in that novel. “If you read the reviews of Dracula, which is still an extraordinary thing to be able to do, but you can. It feels like it’s been forever, but it’s 120 years old,” he mused. “There’s a lot of comment on how clever Stoker is for taking this mediaeval monster, and bringing him into Victorian London.”
Whilst the setting might be the same gothic era, the story itself does talk a more Sherlock-like approach, taking the original text but remixing things. To paraphrase the great Eric Morecambe “All the beats of the novel are really in three episodes, but not necessarily in the same order…” commented Mark.
“What the boys have done is given it their turn on it in as much as I think the big difference was in the book and a lot of the films, you hardly see Dracula at all,” adds exec producer Sue Vertue. “Whereas in this, he’s in most scenes. You’re not just waiting for him to appear from the shadows. And, he’s funny, and he’s sexy, and so I think they’ve written in that way of Sherlock.”
In terms of locations, not only did they shoot parts in Slovakia’s Orava Castle, the castle from the original Nosferatu, but also shot at Bray Studios, the home of Hammer Horror. “They were closed for quite a lot of years and we suddenly heard that Bray was opening again for business, so we went,” Sue continues. “I was just negotiating, trying to get in there, and I couldn’t let Mark know that we might get there, because he’d be so excited.”
“It was amazing,” adds a very enthusiast Mark. “We were on some of the same sound stages and it really hasn’t changed a lot at all, so that felt like a nice hand on our shoulders. Or fangs on our neck, I’m not sure.”
Other areas where things differ from the novel include expanding characters and sequences from the source material. One example they used of this is the journey on ship that brings Dracula to the UK. “Those of you who have read the book have surely had the experience of realising that there’s a tiny bit in the book, like four to five pages, which is Captain Sutler’s account of this doomed period on the ship the Demeter as they are stalked by Dracula,” said Steven. “And you have thought, ‘Wouldn’t it have been great if that went on for longer?’ Well, it does now. So those of you who have longed for that, I think we’re going to provide you with that treat.”
Creating their Dracula
So, how do you go about creating a new Dracula? First, you find an amazing actor, in this case, Claes Bang. “I think what we wanted to do, what we talked about, was trying to get this as real as possible so that we don’t just get your sort of slightly cartoonish Dracula, but a three-dimensional one,” said Claes about creating his character. “So, I actually really approached this as any other thing that I do as an actor. I always just start with myself, and just see if I can look for bits and parts inside myself, and I’ve found a lot in there that I could use. So, it just felt like me with fangs, to be honest. If I was looking at it and thinking, ‘I’m walking on set as Dracula right now’, I would probably not be able to do it. I need to fuel on something else. I need to put myself out there for this, and in order to do that, I can’t start thinking I’m Dracula. I need to start with something inside, that actually drives it. So, you need to get down to what is this character like? What is he?… He’s like me. He’s just slightly older. He’s got different needs, but he’s got needs. So, it’s like transforming yourself and making everything that’s already there fit with the character, and hopefully, that will make it truthful and authentic, which is what we tried to do, because that was important to me. That you don’t look at someone and think, ‘Okay that’s interesting, but it’s so alienating that I don’t understand it.’ I wanted to get inside you.”
Once you have the character of Dracula nailed down, you need some vampire rules… and there have been a lot of different versions over the years. “We had a lot of conversations, and indeed a lot of episode one is really about the rules, because you have to have your own version,” said Mark. “Dracula is simultaneously almost super-human, and vulnerable to virtually everything, so you have to work out which ones you’re going to do. Otherwise, he can turn in a mist, he can do anything. If he can be destroyed by sunlight, running water, fire, yoghurt, then you’re done, really.”
Is it Scary?
“Yes,” comments Steven. “It’ll give adults nightmares. It’ll properly frighten you, but it’s scary like a ghost story. It’s fun, it’s exciting, but yes, you will be unable to sleep, ever again.”
“Children should definitely not watch it, and therefore definitely must.” joked Mark.
You can see for yourselves just how scary in the little teaser trailer below. A warning – If you are squeamish about things going into eyes, you might not want to watch!
‘Dracula‘ does not yet have a premiere date, but it is “coming soon” to BBC One.
Dave has over 20 years experience in the digital industry, and is founder and editor of Geektown. Obviously a huge geek himself, he can often be found in front of the latest tv show or movie, on various video games, or with his head in a comic book.