Nonso Anozie returns to the small screen for a new adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic tale of Dracula, in which he takes on the role of Renfield.
We caught up with the actor to chat about the new show, delivering a new take on the character of Renfield, and what lies ahead.
- The first season of Dracula is heading to DVD, so can you tell me a little bit about the series for those who may not have seen it yet?
Dracula is a Sky Movies and NBC’s retelling of Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula story. Unlike the original story, you are rooting for Dracula to get what he wants. Dracula is played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and he does a fantastic job in playing him that way as a lot of people are on his side: I think that is what they intended when they embarked on the series.
I play Renfield, his loyal right-hand man. Together they plot and scheme about how they can bring down the Order of the Dragon; they are an organisation who actually created Dracula and cursed him to become a vampire hundreds of years ago.
- We have seen the story of Dracula told in a whole host of different forms over the years, but what was it about this interpretation that interested you? And how perhaps does it different to what has come before?
I always like when people do a different version of something. I was really intrigued by the fact that Renfield wasn’t the bug eating and insane maniac in the corner; that would also have been fascinating to play. I think it was just interesting that they have gone in for something different in each character.
You always have the archetypical characters such as Dracula, Harker and Van Helsing. Even Van Helsing is different this time around, as he is a comrade of Dracula; which is totally the opposite in the original as Van Helsing is a famous vampire hunter.
Therefore, I thought that was a great thing to go for something different and do something different in this version. That is what really attracted me to the show.
- You take on the role of Renfield in the series, so can you tell us a bit about the character and how we are going to see him develop throughout the series? As you say, he is completely different to the character that Bram Stoker created.
Renfield is a cool, calm and collected lawyer. He is a lawyer by trade but he is Grayson’s right hand man. Many people will wonder why they are so close together, but I have described their relationship as a myna bird and a crocodile; the myna bird perches on the teeth of the crocodile and picks the teeth clean. Therefore, the crocodile gets its teeth clean and the myna bird gets a full belly.
There is always the danger that the crocodile could snap his teeth shut, and this is what their relationship is like. They are happy to live with this relationship because they do need each other. It is not only a fascinating thing to watch, but to play.
You will see Renfield develop more and more throughout the series and prove himself as a loyal friend and not just a servant to Grayson/Dracula. I think that many people have responded to the friendship and the loyalty that we see from this character.
People want Dracula to get what he wants, and that was the most difficult thing because we were embarking on a series where Dracula is the good guy or the anti-hero. My character has been described in a series of different ways; the one that I have had most recently is ‘sexual chocolate’. That made me blush. (laughs)
- This series sees you work very closely with Jonathan Rhys Myers as he plays Grayson, so how did you find working with him?
I have loved working with him. He is one of those actors that really does put in the hard work. He works so hard before we start shooting, and so when he comes to set he will know everything about vampires, the genre, and will build the character from the ground up.
I love it when you get to work with someone who has done that much work on a character because I like to think that I work hard as well. You can play at such a high level and you have so many options because you understand the script and the character on the level that gives you the freedom to do that.
- That does lead me into my next question. I was wondering what sort of research and reading you did as you were preparing for this role? Do you look at other performances and works?
I didn’t want to watch other people’s performances of Renfield because I thought it would influence me; I learnt that when I played Othello. I didn’t want other people’s version of Othello because I would have ended up doing an impression of that. I just wanted to take what I had in the script and create the character myself.
The research that I did do looked at black people in the 1800’s in London and in North America; particularly well educated black people and people who were free. I looked at people who were lawyers, engineers and people who worked in those kinds of fields.
I tried to find photographs to see how they dressed, and that gave me some idea of the clothes that he would wear; that is why I went for the three-piece suit. He is a bit of a dandy and he loves a bit of colour and flair in his suit. It was great building the character.
That was really the research, him as a black man and an educated man in this country and America. Other than that, it was more about my imagination and inspiration in the moment; I love improvising.
I also then build physical aspects of the character, such as how he used his face, how much he smiles and laughs, and if he has a sense of humour. I considered all of these things when building a character.
- Throughout your career, we have seen you move between TV and film, how do the two mediums compare? How easy is it to jump between the two?
When I first started out in 2002, in America it was considered a bad thing to do TV if you wanted to go into film. Now, there is so much money going into TV that it is almost like working on the same thing. When I first started out in television, you had one camera and a couple of people sitting around; I did lots of TV over here such as Prime Suspect.
It has developed so much, the budgets are huge and so you have two or three cameras; it is just like working on a film set. You still take more time in film, to shoot one page then you do in TV; television just has a faster takeover because they need to get it out in the same year that they film it.
I just finished filming Cinderella before Christmas for Walt Disney, and that is not coming out until 2015; that shows you the kind of time that they have to create something.
With TV, you film it and then it starts airing only a couple of months down the line. The quality of work is getting closer and closer. I really do love working in both
- Finally, what is next for you?
I am just about to start working with Jim Broadbent and Rafe Spall up in Leeds on a British Christmas family movie called Get Santa. It is directed by Chris Smith and will be out at Christmas.
Dracula: Season 1 DVD is out now.
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