30 November 2023

My boss is a bloodsucker! Say hi to Renfield

If you love a bad boss horror story, come join Mark’s (Brandon Scott Jones) therapy group for people struggling to break free of codependent relationships with their narcissistic abusers. His latest group member, Renfield (Nicholas Hoult, Mad Max Fury Road) might have the worst boss of them all – Dracula (Nicolas Cage, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent). 

“We looked at what the ultimate codependent relationship is, which is the relationship between Renfield and the ultimate narcissist, Dracula. The second the story is put in those pop-psychology terms, people look at it and they laugh,” says Renfield producer David Alpert. 

“It’s a toxic relationship between Renfield and Dracula – they’ve been together for so long and they really know how to push each other’s buttons and work against each other,” adds Nicholas Hoult. After Renfield meets a determined and upright cop named Rebecca (Awkwafina, Paradise Hills), though, he becomes determined to claim his freedom, and start living life for himself. But how? 

It’s all in a night’s work for Renfield

On a practical level, working as an immortal evil being’s dogsbody is a grind! Renfield works late nights, every night. Instead of being sent to pick up laundry, he’s picking up victims and disposing of corpses. And Dracula doesn’t have an insane coffee order, but he does expect his blood to be fresh and screaming hot when he rises to stalk the night.  

Renfield on Showmax

“Renfield’s just exhausted with the prospect of continuing to do Dracula’s dirty work. He’s worn down, beaten down and looking for an escape or some sort of spark to return to his normal life and what he misses,” says Nicholas.  

A normal life of not eating bugs would be nice, for starters. As in Bram Stoker’s original Dracula novel, Renfield gets his powers by eating the bugs that Dracula sends him. And prop master Gary Tuers went out of his way to keep it real – ish – making 3D prints of cockroaches, beetles, worms and ants to create food-grade silicone moulds, then filling the moulds with caramel (adding the delicate spun sugar legs and feelers afterwards). “They made caramel cockroaches, so I didn’t have to eat real ones,” says Nicholas.  

But in some scenes, wiggly authenticity was required, and Gary estimates that Nicholas ate about 100 real crickets during the three months of production on the film. They were dried and came in three flavours: ranch, BBQ and salt & vinegar. One insect did not pass the crunch test, though. “I would not recommend the potato bugs. They were very buggy in flavour,” Nicholas laments.  

Renfield on Showmax

As Renfield starts to break free of Dracula’s influence, Renfield production designer Alec Hammond (R.I.P.D) wanted that to reflect in his new apartment. “This is the first home of his own Renfield’s had since the 1930s when he left his family, and he’s super excited about it,” says Alec. “In his exuberance of finally breaking free from Dracula, he just goes overboard. Renfield doesn’t know how to live as an autonomous person, so he goes way too far. There’s no sense of restraint.” 

We can expect a similar wardrobe revolution. Costume designer Lisa Lovaas (Transformers: The Last Knight) starts Renfield off in a tattered suit that’s meant to look as if he’s had it since the 1930s. “As Count Dracula’s devoted servant, Renfield has his hands completely full, with little time to focus on himself,” she explains. From there, it’s an explosion of colour and cluelessness as Renfield explores his own identity and tries to fit into modern society.  

Meet The Prince of Darkness 

Along with the wealth of existing Dracula films and books, Nicolas Cage looked closer to home for inspiration – to his father, literature professor August Coppola, brother of director Francis Ford Coppola. “My father was a very elegant man who spoke with a mid-Atlantic accent and was impossibly intelligent. He always knew he was the smartest man of any room he walked into. So, I thought Dad would be a pretty good model for this character,” he reveals.  

Renfield on Showmax

Nicolas also drew on toxic relationships from some unexpected films, including Mike Nichols’ The Graduate – casting Dracula in the role of the cougar Mrs Robinson (Anne Brancroft) to Renfield’s young Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman). “Anne’s voice started coming into my mind, which I’m very happy about,” he says.  

To lend the film a touch of immortality, and to live up to what Nicholas Cage brought to the table, Alec Hammond studied the heightened look and feel of monster movies from the 1930s. But since Dracula is in the modern United States, it’s goodbye creepy castle, hello haunted hospital. Alec’s team recreated New Orleans’ crumbling Charity Hospital, which has been closed since Hurricane Katrina flooded the city, as the set for Dracula’s bachelor pad.  

“You feel the trappings of 200, 300, 400, 500 years of accumulated wealth. It also had to be a set where you can light somebody on fire and have antiques shatter and fights happening within. It almost looks like a crumbling old cathedral, made of tile and old blood and oxygen tubes and piping,” says Alec.  

Within this magnificent setting, costume designer Lisa Lovaas wanted Darcula’s clothes to mirror his opulence and vanity. Her inspirations included 1930s movie Dracula, Bela Lugosi, glam rock musician David Bowie, and peacocking pianist Liberace. As a nod to Dracula’s narcissism, all of his clothes carry a CD (Count Dracula) monogram. And he even wears an amulet containing a portrait – of himself. “My husband did a painting of Dracula that was based on a life portrait of Vlad the Impaler. He replaced the face in the painting with Nick’s, re-made it as a miniature, and we put it behind glass. So, there’s a miniature portrait of Nick Cage as Vlad in the centre of the amulet,” reveals Lisa.  

Then, with the setting, co-star and wardrobe in place, it was time for the movie’s king of charismatic chaos to cut the brakes and chew that scenery. 

“I thought this would give us a chance to play with a tone that I really admired ever since I saw American Werewolf in London. If you can hit that bullseye of comedy and horror, you’ve got something quite special and quite delicious,” says Nicolas. 

Watch Renfield now 

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