Chris McKay’sRenfieldhits theatres this weekend to deliver it’s unique spin on the classic Draculastory, loaded with humor, horror, and heart. It’s a gory good time that pays homage to damn near every Dracula film that came before it, and features two downright batty performances from Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies) and Nicolas Cage (Vampire’s Kiss).
We recently sat down with Chris McKay ahead of Renfield‘s debut at Panic Fest 2023 to discuss expanding a character largely known as a sidekick, working with such a stacked cast of massive talent, and (of course) all the Dracula references hidden in Renfield.
“There’s a lot of people can play Dracula, but who’s the person that everybody wants to see interpret Dracula?”
Jonatha Dehaan of NOFS: Renfield has always been one of my favorite side characters in Horror but Renfield (2023) really expands his lore. Was that what first attracted you to the project?
Chris McKay: Yeah, the idea of telling a Dracula story, not in the traditional way we’ve become accustom to Dracula movies, but to tell it through the lens of his assistant, his familair, some body who’s in a co-dependant relationship with him for 90 years; And to see Dracula as this metaphor for talking about toxic narcissism and a boss from hell- making a workplace movie- just seemed like a lot of fun.
And then being able to cast Nicholas Hoult as Renfield, somebody I’ve been wanting to work with for a long time and the only person that, when I read this script, I saw as Renfield because Nic Hoult is unafraid to do things that are strange and weird and potentially unlikeable. He’s fearless as far as that goes, and at the same time he’s incredibly vulnerable and charming, and audiences want to root for him. You need somebody like that and I don’t think this move could work without Nic Hoult, and Nicolas Cage.
Hot at the Shop:
You know, there’s a lot of people can play Dracula, [and] maybe there’s people that can do an interesting version, but who’s the person that everybody wants to see interpret Dracula? For me, putting myself in the point of view of an audience member, that’s the guy that no matter what the movie’s doing, I want to see what that guy does with Dracula because it’s going to be interesting, it’s going to be fun.
Cage can do it all. He’s done it all! He’ll make Dracula a real human being, not a cypher. He’ll find humanity in Dracula, and he found ways of manipulating Renfield [through] gaslighting and charming, eliciting sympathy and making you see that maybe he sort of loves Renfield. Then at the same time, Renfield leaves him and Dracula’s feeling of betrayal and jealousy.
You know, Cage and I sort of reference Anne Bancroft in The Graduate as a touchpoint for that scene. And when you watch that scene [between Renfield and Dracula], he’s funny in the first half, he’s kind of menacing in the middle, and in the second half he’s really hurt, and you see a guy who’s too childish to understand how much he’s hurt by Renfield, and he’s just acting out like a teenage kid. Cage is wonderful. He did such a good job in the movie. Cage and Hoult, I’m just really lucky I got to work with both of those guys. They’re brilliant.
Kimberley Elizabeth of NOFS: Yeah, it’s been 300 years since anyone’s said “No” to Dracula so of course he doesn’t know how to handle it.
McKay: Hahahaha, exaclty!
Kimberley Elizabeth: But speaking of Draculas’, were there any specific vampire movies that you were watching or using as inspiration for Renfield?
McKay: Obviously the Tod Browning 1931 Bela Lugosi movie with Dwight Frye as Renfield, which is my favorite and Nic Hoult’s favorite Renfield- we took a lot of inspiration from that. There’s notes of “Swan Lake” in our score and things like that, and costuming. Cage was really influenced by Christopher Lee and Horror of Dracula (1958), which was the first Hammer Horror movie with Christopher Lee. We took a lot of inspiration from that, primarily in the opening of the movie.
I wanted the opening of our movie to feel like the 3rd act of somebody else’s Dracula movie. So we took that end scene from Horror of Dracula where Peter Cushing runs across a table, leaps, grabs the drapery, pulls it down, and Christopher Lee gets blasted by the sunlight and turns into a melted puppet. We took a lot of inspiration from that. We didn’t have the length of set to do a full table run but we did a similar scene where the curtain falls and Cage is hit by the sunlight, and we did a little puppet gag. Even the medallion that we made for Cage to use later in the movie which was kind of inspired by Bela Lugosi. Inside the medallion is a picture of Cage in the Gary Oldman Vlad Tepes costume.
And I don’t know if you guys remember the Frank Langella Dracula (1979), it’s this 1970 disco Dracula. But if you remember the scene when Langella and Kate Nelligan are talking at the table and there’s like a million candles. It’s a fire hazard. It’s an insane amount of candles that they’re shooting through, so I tried to populate the set with as many candles as the fire captain and everyone else would allow me. There’s a lot of things that we drew on from all of those movies. We all have a love for those movies and we wanted to shine a light on them because they’re important to us.
“Cage is wonderful. Cage and Hoult- I’m just really lucky I got to work with both of those guys.”
Chris McKay’s Renfield hits theatres April 14 and is the opening night film of Panic Fest 2023! Come join Nightmare on Film Street in Kansas City, MO April 13 for our Vampire Happy Hour ahead of the film for a rip-roaring good time of vampire trivia, Dracula-themed cocktails and blooood 🦇