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Various interviews concerning Dracula
Winona Ryder, who tested with Oldman, remembers, "He had a real character in his head already. It was startling."
Associate producer Susie Landau also recalls the screen tests, "As we were watching Gary's playback, we got chills. It was singular and mercurial. He had a tremendous weariness, which none of the other actors who read for the part had. Dracula has been around for 400 years. He's totally isolated and lonely, and Gary made that real."
Born in London in 1958 in London, Gary Oldman first encountered Dracula at age five when he masqueraded as the vampire at a fancy-dress contest. The actor's serious theatrical career began in drama school and regional theatre; later he moved on to the London stage at the Royal Court Theatre. He originated the role of Corman in Serious Money and won the 1985 British Theatre Association's Drama Magazine Award for his performance in The Pope's Wedding. The award was shared the year - for the first time in its history - with Anthony Hopkins.
Oldman has also performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company and in British TV dramas. His film roles include punk-rocker Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy, playwright Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears, and most recently, Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK.
Known for his intense preparation, Oldman researched Dracula in numerous books. But his chief insights about vampires came from Anne Rice's Interview With The Vampire. The novel left him with the sense that vampires do exist but are not happy with their immortal fate. "Vampires are fascinating. They are selfish, destructive creatures who half despise what they're doing yet can't avoid doing it."
Oldman came to see his character as a fallen angel, a tortured soul. "I didn't play him as out and out evil. It's a delicious cocktail because you know he is like the devil. But I've tried to show the good and bad paralleling one another - there's a dynamic there. The film image I can't get away from is Bela Lugosi. He was really on to something: the way he moved, the way he sounded. I based my voice on his a little."
Vocal preparation was just one of the skills Oldman had to practice for Dracula, working with a vocal coach to lower the register of his voice almost an octave. He also had a dialogue coach for his accent, and a Romanian teacher to learn scenes in that language. He studied dancing and swordsmanship, spent hours in costume fittings and the makeup chair.
Though rehearsals went on for weeks, Oldman resisted the temptation to simply "mark" the part and didn't hold back on intensity. "I think if you're essentially a leading man, you have to rally the troops," he asserts. "You've got to get a sense of what you and the other actors are going to do. The only way I could get into this part was to go for it. The scenes where I was howling or screaming - you have to really prepare for it physically."
As he descended into the role, other cast members found him scary at times, especially during an improvisation exercise suggested by Coppola. In the scene where Dracula confronts the Vampire Killers, Oldman was having trouble. He felt trapped in the costume: how could he feel his supernatural powers over them?
“Francis felt they didn’t look frightened enough. So he blindfolded me the cast and told me to go and whisper in the ear of each one – something horrible and personal and scary.” Oldman followed directions with relish, and his fellow actors were chilled and repelled.
Yet the other side of Dracula was never far away. Screenwriter Jim Hart says, “Gary told me that he felt most comfortable in the old-age character because when you’re old, you’ve survived. As dark as the role can be, he has brought compassion and a tenderness to it that other people haven’t seen in Dracula before. My heart breaks for him, you know.”
(Copyright: The Making Of Bram Stoker's Dracula.)
(Copyright: TV Times)