The Van Helsing Interviews: Richard Roxburgh

The Van Helsing Interviews: Richard Roxburgh talks with Van Helsing's Dracula.
Updated: 04-08-2004

Richard Roxburgh: Dracula

Q: (Roxburgh comes in, in casual street clothes and short hair) You don't look like Dracula.

ROXBURGH: (Laughs)

Q: Do you get to fly as Dracula?

ROXBURGH: I do get to fly. In fact, we're just about to go and practice some flying in here.

Q: You haven't practiced yet?

ROXBURGH: Oh, yeah. We've done some flying. Done some flying, done some roof walking. Actually, I haven't done any flying as such. I've done roof walking, I've done column walking, 50 feet sideways and that kind of stuff. Levitating over my coffin I've done.

Q: Is this your first supernatural character? Have you played one before?

ROXBURGH: Let me have a think about that. No, I don't think I have. No, I haven't, actually. This is my first supernatural being.

Q: How do you balance what people know and love about Dracula, versus what you want to bring to the character?

ROXBURGH: It's a really interesting area because part of what this film is trying to achieve and what Stephen is after, and what I think is a kind of worthy cause, is an homage to the iconography of the thing. And also Universal's relationship to this genre. But you also have to breathe fresh life into it. And of course, this is the first time a lot of these characters are being brought together into one thing. So there's that. Beyond that, you know, to me, I don't feel like I'm just doing sort of my bit in a way that you feel like you're doing your bit in what is a well known, famous kind of role. Onstage if you do that, you have to bring your own stuff to it.

Q: How does the role compare in physical difficulty to Moulin Rouge?

ROXBURGH: Contrary to what you might think, I don't actually have to wear false teeth for this, which I did in Moulin Rouge. So in that way it's kind of a day to day level. My most difficult thing so far, to be brutally honest, has been to waltz as if I knew what I was doing. Luckily, we had experts on hand; some of the world's leading authorities to guide me through these particularly sort of tricky things. So that was really the hardest thing, to be perfectly honest. To waltz as if I was a master of it.

Q: So you don't have a background in dance?

ROXBURGH: No. I have absolutely no dance background at all. Nor a singing background. People, for some reason, think I can. And I don't know why that is. I sort intoned in Moulin Rouge, through facial hair and buck-teeth, but I don't really call it singing. But yeah, the dancing's definitely been the hardest thing. The fun stuff has been walking – you know, we literally walked across this ceiling right here above us, so that was great. And we hung upside down and that was OK.

Q: How hard was it to hang upside down for long periods of time?

ROXBURGH: We did that for probably half an hour, in total. Not in one go; we were brought down and taken back up again. I didn't mind it. Walking up the walls I found, actually, just fun. The more I treated it as a matter of course, that I walk over here while I'm talking to my brides, and I just walk up this wall like that, I found it easier every time I had to do it.

Q: How do they get you up there?

ROXBURGH: All on wires. They've got this fantastic wire team.

Q: Was it hard not to hold your breath, going sideways?

ROXBURGH: Yes, it was, but once I got over that kind of turning point, it was actually OK.

Q: Do you bring anything different to the Dracula character?

ROXBURGH: I'd say there are quite a lot of things about him that I haven't seen, particularly. I mean, I am kind of interested in... I really was keen on not doing his as a heinous arch-villain. But as person who was, at some state, a complex psychological being and a warrior on par with Van Helsing, and in fact a sort of brother in arms to Van Helsing. So one thing I attached myself to quite early was a kind of... because they come from the foothills of the Carpathians and nobody knows what the hell people looked like or spoke like back then, you know, 500 years ago. One thing that I kind of attached myself to was a sort of gypsy look. There's always been Romany going through that area. There's a look that's drawn from that history and apart from that, there are sound psychological reasons for why Dracula does the things that he does in this story, and I like that.

Q: No fangs?

ROXBURGH: No. But when he gets very excited, the teeth do make an appearance.

Q: What about the garlic and crosses and holy water?

ROXBURGH: Ugh! That doesn't work on Dracula. No, no, no. We've moved on. In fact, I actually asked if I could wear a crucifix, but I wasn't allowed. They thought that might be taking iconic blasphemy too far.

Q: Do you have bat wings when you fly?

ROXBURGH: Luckily, not actually [on] me. It's CGI.

Q: Do you have any prosthetics in this?

ROXBURGH: No, thank god, I don't. I'm very relieved to say I have actually none at all. Just contacts in the eyes, but that's it really.

Q: Do you wear the signature cape?

ROXBURGH: I've been having that bloody cape poked at me since day one. And I have managed assiduously to avoid it, so far. Of which I am very proud. The one thing that helped me in this is that I said it made me look like the Count from Sesame Street. I think in continuity terms I've managed to keep the cape largely at bay. Although apparently it does look kind of great when it's on... but I'm not a huge fan of it. There is a kind of line where you want to draw from the good textures that other people have brought to the thing in art.

Q: Does your Dracula have the long, dark hair?

ROXBURGH: Yes, it is, actually. That's the kind of tribal things that we have going on. I was really keen on that. It sort of makes sense to me that it's less European gentleman and more dark and ancient and tribal.

Q: How does your Dracula compare to Gary Oldman's? Or is he more old school, like Bela Lugosi?

ROXBURGH: I don't think he is, really. He's not really like Bela Lugosi, although I have to say I love Bela Lugosi's Dracula character. And of course, because it's so imbedded in him, it became sort of a problem. I suppose it's pretty distinct from the Gary Oldman one as well, in that the story we're telling deals with completely different things. The tone of it is also different. There are lives it touches as well, but I'm keen on making sure that there are darker tones and that we don't lose those.

Q: What makes Dracula get excited enough to show his fangs?

ROXBURGH: Dancing with Kate Beckinsale made me very excited. I think that was the last time the teeth came out. It's a reasonably apparent Freudian conclusion you can draw there.

Q: Is there erotic subtext in your portrayal of Dracula?

ROXBURGH: Yeah, there is. This is an area you always need to address when you're dealing with Dracula is the fact that there is something kind of attractive in his darkness – which there isn't in other horror characters. I've tried to make sure that there is a real sexiness in the relationship that he has with his brides and in his dance with Anna Valerious. He's a very, very passionate soul and there's something attractive about a person who is so brave that they would make a pact with the devil.

Q: Have you made up a back story for Dracula with the brides?

ROXBURGH: I sort of do my own stuff, and I've talked to the brides about this. I don't want to kind of inflict my stuff on other actors because a lot of the time it seems that people don't... um, it's not their story. I think what's relevant only is whatever you can bring to the screen. I've done whatever worked in those areas that I needed, to make sure that the relationships had meaning.

Q: How old is your Dracula?

ROXBURGH: Four hundred and something years.

Q: What's Dracula's attitude towards his underlings?

ROXBURGH: He does have a distinct attitude. I've been trying to give him moments where he's sort of disgruntled with his small minion, the Dwergie, and where he finds Igor slightly repulsive and wishes that he could get more attractive help. The relationship with the brides is very interesting because they have power over him in some ways. They could tug at his heart, if he had one. They can sort of arouse a feeling of pity when he hears their wailing, when sees their pain. It arouses a kind of faint sensation of what it was to feel pity, and so his relationship to them is very different.

Q: How are you approaching playing this character? Do you want to scare people, or move them, or...?

ROXBURGH: I think it's a combination of all those things. He has to be this figure of terror in the story, but I also want to arouse a kind of admiration if not for the way that he's going about things, at least because he's trying to do something that is integral to everyone's experience, which is to propagate his own kind, which is fair enough. The way that he's going about it might be sort of inapt to people, but also to kind of arouse an admiration for the person that he might have once been. Which a warrior, highly intelligent, evolved, every bit a match for Van Helsing. And a great dancer! (laughs)

Q: What's it been like working with Hugh, the two of you being fellow Australians?

ROXBURGH: I've known Hugh quite a long time. This is the first time he have worked together. But Hugh has been busy with being manly. This is a bloody big role, so we've had just a quick cuppa. But it's been great.

Q: It's a very international cast.

ROXBURGH: Yes. It may help the sort of Transylvanian-ness of it.

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Interview by Staci Layne Wilson for Interviews conducted on the set of VAN HELSING in Los Angeles, CA., May 2003.

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