Directed by film auteur Francis Ford Coppola, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a gothic horror film inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel of the same name. Although bringing Dracula to the big screen wasn’t anything groundbreaking, Coppola added an artistic twist to his adaptation, depicting Count Dracula more as a man than a monster. Starring Gary Oldman, Winna Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, and Keanu Reeves, the film grossed $214 million off a budget of $40 million and was nominated for four Academy Awards, taking home three. See what made the film so different from its Dracula predecessors and all the immense work that went into making it.
Liam Neeson Almost Took On The Role Of Van Helsing
Professor Abraham Van Helsing has been played by several notable actors including Edward Van Sloan, Hugh Jackman, Christopher Plummer, and of course, Anthony Hopkins. However, Liam Neeson almost took on the role of the vampire-slaying professor.
Although Neeson had acted in films prior to 1992, the role went to Anthony Hopkins after his terrifying performance and the success of Silence of the Lambs. Although it’s said that Neeson desperately wanted the role, it was thought best that the part went to a more experienced actor.
Coppola Made Subtle Hints That Something Wasn’t Right When Dracula Was Around
When planning for the movie, Coppola made the bold decision to make extra work for himself that only some eagle-eyed viewers might catch. He thought it would be interesting to make it that the normal laws of physics didn’t apply when creatures like the vampires were around.
Some of the tricks he employed were having shadows move by themselves, rats running on the ceiling, and water dripping upwards. He even hired a real magician to help him perfect the scene when Dracula’s brides rise up from the bed.
The Whole Cast Was Expected To Read The Original Novel
To prepare the actors for their roles, Coppola had the film’s principal cast do a read-through of the novel out loud. In total, it took the cast two days to get through the whole novel, with Coppola putting extra emphasis on the emotional aspects of the story.
He then asked the actors what their interpretation of the novel was. One of Coppola’s biggest goals was to portray Dracula as more of a man like the books than the typical monster.
An Arguably Real Wedding On Set
In both films and television, it’s not unusual for two actors to pretend to be married while filming in the name of entertainment. Although the two characters in the book may only have been engaged, in the film, the two are married, and possibly the actors for real, depending on who you ask.
To make the wedding ceremony as authentic as possible, Coppola hired a real Romanian priest to do the honors. So, even though they were acting, the two participated in a real wedding ceremony.
Ryder Brought The Script To Coppola
By 1991, Winona Ryder was quite the busy actress, starring in five Hollywood blockbusters in just two years. Understandably, this took quite the toll on the young actress, who still had to look forward to Coppola’s The Godfather Part III. However, due to exhaustion, Ryder ended up bowing out of the production.
After discovering the novel, in order to clear the air between them, Ryder brought it to Coppola’s attention, along with an early draft of the script by James V. Hart. Clearly, that was enough for him to forgive her.
Prince Vlad’s Epic Scream Isn’t Gary Oldman
During the prologue’s climax, Prince Vlad, played by Gary Oldman, lets out a legendary scream when swearing to avenge the death of his lover Elizabeta. Nevertheless, it wasn’t Oldman.
Instead, it was Lux Interior, the lead singer of the punk rock group The Cramps, from Sacramento, California. Although they tried it with Oldman first, it turns out that his lungs weren’t up for the job, so they had to outsource to get the material they wanted.
Keanu Reeve’s Was Crucified For His Horrendous English Accent
In the history of filmmaking, there have been some poor performances when it comes to actors trying to pull of an accident. Yet Keanu Reeve’s English accent has gone down as one of the worst.
Keanu cites that exhaustion was the cause of this, stating, “I just didn’t have anything left to give…” Although Reeves has proven himself as an experienced actor and is beloved by the public, many people have a hard time letting this one go.
Few Effects Were Added In Postproduction
Unsurprisingly, Coppola insisted that most of the special effects in the film we “in camera.”This includes the memorable moment in the novel when Harker gets closer to Dracula’s Castle. The coach passes a series of rings of blue flame that rise into the night, which Coppola pulls off using optical effects.
The description in the book reads, “Suddenly, away on our left, I saw a faint flickering blue flame. The driver saw it at the same moment; he at once checked the horses, and, jumping to the ground, disappeared into the darkness.”
Columbia Pictures Saved The Movie
Even though Francis Ford Coppola was well-established as one of the biggest directors of his time, by the 1990s, his production company, American Zoetrope, was on the way out. He had more than $27 million worth of debts, and many people were no longer willing to back his projects financially.
However, Columbia Pictures agreed to front the money for Dracula, with everything being shot on sound stages to minimize any known crisis on Coppola’s sets.
Coppola Took Aspects Of Gustav Klimt Albrecht Dürer’s Art
Other people’s work inspires artists of all mediums, and filmmaking is no exception. In the case of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Coppola looked to artists for inspiration, such as Albrecht Dürer and Gustav Klimt from the 15th and 19th centuries, respectively.
Examples of the two artists’ work can be seen around the castle, with Dracula’s portrait being remodeled from Dürer’s face to look like Oldman’s. Furthermore, Dracula’s gown in the film’s climax is inspired by Klimt’s painting The Kiss. Art history buffs had a field day with this movie.
Sadie Frost Was So Convincing She Made A Child Cry
One scene in the film that was also in books is when Lucy Westenra, played by Sadie Frost, becomes a follower and returns to her crypt with a baby in her arms. Just moments later Van Helsing encourages Arthur Holmwood to kill her by driving a stake into her heart.
A scary scene for anyone in the audience, let alone the little girl in Frost’s arms. Her makeup and acting were so convincing that it brought the little girl to tears and she had to be consoled that everything was okay.
Winona Ryder And Gary Oldman Didn’t Get Along
Although the two seem to have chemistry and searing tension on-screen, the two actually didn’t get along. Of course, this isn’t uncommon for actors to not be fond of one another, but many fans found it hard to believe that somebody couldn’t like Gary Oldman or Winona Ryder!
In an interview with Interview Magazine in 2013, Ryder mentioned that she and Oldman are now close friends and that any animosity they had back then was nothing more than “teen drama.”
Coppola Hired His Son To Replace People He Fired
When Coppola said that he wanted the film’s special effects to be “in camera,” he meant it. So, when his original FX team couldn’t get the job done, he ended up firing the entire department and hired his son, Roman, to take over.
The shot of Keanu Reeves on the train, reading a journal, and Dracula’s eyes all on the same screen were accomplished using a combination of techniques including matte paintings, miniature trains, and an oversized diary.
The Inspiration Behind Dracula
While it’s known that Bram Stoker was inspired to write Dracula from the historical figure Vlad the Impaler, Coppola really made a point to show it. In the film’s prologue, Dracula is shown as the Prince of Transylvania and marching with his armies to stop the Ottoman invasion during the 15th century.
Van Helsing describes what the prince once did to Harker, explaining in gruesome detail the wickedness of the vampire’s actions. Incredibly, this isn’t all that historically inaccurate in regards to Vlad.
Gary Oldman Had A Voice Coach For A Reason
To prepare for the role of Dracula, Gary Oldman had a voice coach both on and off set to help him keep Dracula’s eerie and menacing voice. After intense training over several months, Oldman was able to lower his voice by an entire vocal range, which is not an easy task.
Not only did it help to make the character more convincing, but it also was successful in terrifying the audience, causing them to hold their breath at whatever he would say next.
Oldman May Have Had A Drink Or Two Before One Scene
It’s no industry secret that some actors are known to be intoxicated on set, even while performing, and Gary Oldman may have participated himself. In an early scene at Dracula’s castle, Harker is shaving his neck when he accidentally cuts himself.
Count Dracula then continues to assist Harker in shaving but stops after quickly licking the razor in front of the camera. It’s been highly speculated that Oldman might have been a little in his cups when filming this moment.
More Historical References
When Dracula serves Harker dinner upon his arrival to the castle, he mentions that his ancestors were members of the Order of Dracul. This is not fiction, as there was a historical Order of Dracul or “Order of the Dragon,” who were soldiers who fought against the Ottomans in the Balkans during the 1400s.
Vlad Tepes, or “Vlad the Impaler,” who Dracula was based on, was also called “Draculea,” meaning “son of the Dragon” because his father was a member of the order.
At the beginning of the film, Jonathan Harker asks Count Dracula why he purchased so many houses in different locations. Although this is never answered in the movie, in the books, it’s explained that fifty boxes of earth from Transylvania were distributed to the different houses on London’s outskirts.
This way, Dracula would have a selection of different places where he could rest and regain his strength during the day because he can only rest in a coffin or on Transylvania ground.
Many Actors Were Considered For The Role Of Dracula
A lot of thought and consideration went into casting Dracula because essentially the entire film weighed on the character. Since the character’s film debut in F. W. Murnau’s 1922 film, Nosferatu, there have been countless interpretations of Dracula, and Coppola wanted his to be a timeless portrayal, yet different at the same time.
Numerous top-tier actors were discussed to be offered the role including Hugh Grant, Antonio Bandera, Alan Rickman, Nick Cassavetes, Sting, Colin Firth, Alec Baldwin, Daniel-Day Lewis, and others.
Behind The Title
Francis Ford Coppola has gone on to say that the reason he included Bram Stoker’s name in the title of his movie is that it’s part of his filmmaking tradition. He has done so with his other movie adaptation such as Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, in 1972 and John Grisham’s The Rainmaker, in 1997.
However, others have argued that Stoker’s name is included in order to avoid a lawsuit, since Universal Studios owned the rights to the straightforward title Dracula, since 1931.