Nicolas Cage and Nicholas Hoult on their characters ‘toxic relationship’ in the comedy horror, ‘Renfield’

Nicolas Cage with Nicholas Hoult in a scene from the horror comedy, “Renfield”.

Nicolas Cage with Nicholas Hoult in a scene from the horror comedy, “Renfield”.

Published Apr 18, 2023


With horror becoming such a popular genre in recent years, especially with the proliferation of content on streaming platforms, film-making companies like Universal Pictures are ensuring they are not left behind by giving fans what they want.

This is evident in the latest release, “Renfield”, which is inspired by characters from Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula” and is a direct sequel to the 1931 movie of the same name.

And it's got a stellar cast to boot with Nicolas Cage, Nicholas Hoult, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Adrian Martinez and Shohreh Aghdashloo.

At a recently-held press junket, ahead of the film’s release, Cage and Hoult shed light on their characters as well as why they gave the nod to the project.

Cage slips into the skin of an overbearing and narcissistic Dracula while Hoult is cast in the title role and, as Renfield, cajoles empathy as Dracula’s long-suffering servant.

After recently starring in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”, Cage found himself drawn to “Renfield”.

He explained: “I thought it would give us a chance to maybe play with a tone that I really admired ever since I saw ‘An American Werewolf in London’. If you can hit that bullseye of comedy and horror, you've got something quite special and delicious. ‘Renfield’ is original, and it’s kind of like a study in toxic relationships that we see so often.

“I thought it was funny, but also poignant. There's a fine line here between tragedy and comedy with Nicholas Hoult's vulnerable approach to the character of Renfield. So, it's a careful tone that Chris McKay is hitting and something of a balancing act.”

Hoult’s introduction to the project was different.

“The Menu” star said: “I had a call with some of the people at Universal where they mentioned they had this idea for ‘Renfield’. To be honest, I didn't really know much about the character, but they said it was something they’d like me to read and see if I was interested.

“They were talking to Chris McKay about directing, and I'd met him probably five or six years previously about a different film that he was potentially going to do but didn't end up happening.

“So, I reached out to him, as we'd been kind of looking to do something together. Then I read the script and thought that Ryan Ridley had done such a brilliant job with the character of Renfield (who had a smaller role in the original Dracula), telling the foreground of what his life would be like nowadays.”

Unsurprisingly, he was keen on the role. And he made sure he fit the bill.

Hoult added: “I went back and read Bram Stoker's ‘Dracula’, picking out all the scenes with Renfield. Then I watched the classic 1931 movie where Dwight Frye played the character brilliantly.

“That was a bit daunting, as it was such a beloved performance and his laugh was so iconic, but I had to do something different with this script and its tone of action comedy. That modern re-interpretation of the character gave me a lot of freedom.

“Renfield is Dracula's servant, and in this story, we kind of pick up probably around 100 years into their relationship. So, Renfield has been working for him a long time, and to be honest he's just exhausted with the prospect of continuing to do his dirty work.

“He's worn down and looking for an escape or some sort of spark to return to the normal life he misses. And that's what this story really goes back to: this toxic relationship between the two of them, as they've been together for so long and really know how to push each other's buttons.”

To date, there have been a plethora of iterations of Dracula. As such, Cage needed to put his stamp on the character.

Cage added: “Yes, Dracula is a character that has been done a lot. The memories that I have, go back to when I was four or five, when my father would play black and white silent films, and one of them was Nosferatu with Max Schreck.

“And let me tell you something when you see that movie so young with him doing those crazy things with his eyes and his fingers, it leaves an indelible impression. It doesn't go away!

“So, in ‘Renfield’ I wanted to bring a little bit of my appreciation of the effect Schreck’s performance had on me, and also my father – who spoke with a mid-Atlantic accent and was impossibly intelligent, always knowing he was the smartest man of any room he walked into.

“Then I thought, ‘Let's open this up a little bit and look at some of the great female performances that I think might be applicable to this version of Dracula’. I was specifically thinking about the relationship that Anne Bancroft’s character had with Dustin Hoffman in ‘The Graduate’.

“So, her voice started coming into my mind, which I'm very happy about. I also believe Gary Oldman’s performance was a knockout because he brought the vulnerability, and hopefully there'll be a little of that here, even though this is more of a comedy.

“Frank Langella was terrific because he brought the charm, so I decided to play with some of that too.

“But the Dracula that I think is the most similar to mine, partially because my father looks so much like him, is Christopher Lee’s.

“It’s the performance that seemed to be the easiest and most natural to fall into. In any case, whatever I’m absorbing and receiving from these other influences I’m filtering through my own instrument.”

Touching on Dracula’s relationship with Renfield, Cage revealed: “It's a toxic relationship, with physical and verbal abuse. It's one of those things where the so-called master and the so-called servant have this love-hate relationship they can't get out of.

“Here we're applying it to a supernatural horror comedy, but the subject matter itself is not funny.

“Actually, it’s quite terrible and disturbing, even though at the root of it there is a kind of love too, but then there are moments where it’s just abuse. We are exploring the dark side of human relationships, which is not an easy subject to take on and give the spin of comedy. It’s tricky…”

Hoult’s character finds strength in Rebecca, played by Awkwafina. Her presence helps him view the situation differently.

“Standing up to Dracula is something Renfield has wanted to do for many years but never had the ability or confidence to attempt until he meets Rebecca, who sparks a complete change in him.

“And Awkwafina is just brilliant in the role. She's incredibly funny, but also heartfelt and honest, bringing so much to that character. I really enjoyed working with her,” he added.

Ultimately, Hoult says that it’s, “A story about the most narcissistic boss imaginable – who's also a powerful blood-sucking vampire – and of how his servant tries to get out of that relationship; but told in a comedic, heartfelt and absurd way.

“Renfield” is currently showing at cinemas nationwide.