Shock Interview: Cole Haddon, the Creator of NBC’s Dracula

The legend of Dracula gets a makeover in a new television series debuting on NBC October 25th.  Yes, network television is embracing the prince of darkness.  Weird, right?  But the good news is that this is coming to us from the network behind Hannibal.  Further, it stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers.  But wait, there’s more, it’s very bloody.

The synopsis: It’s the late 19th century, and the mysterious Dracula has arrived in London, posing as an American entrepreneur who wants to bring modern science to Victorian society. He’s especially interested in the new technology of electricity, which promises to brighten the night – useful for someone who avoids the sun. But he has another reason for his travels: he hopes to take revenge on those who cursed him with immortality centuries earlier. Everything seems to be going according to plan… until he becomes infatuated with a woman who appears to be a reincarnation of his dead wife.

Shock spoke to the man behind the series – creator Cole Haddon, comic book scribe and former journalist – who offered a glimpse into the show’s genesis, discusses the casting of Dracula, how the rules of vampirism are applied and more.

On re-imagining the legend icon…

It all began with a conversation almost two and a half years now.  I was asked how I felt about Dracula, by a producer.  My reaction was, I loved him because I grew up on horror fiction and I’m a classic horror nut.  As much as I loved the character, I thought the notion of him on television was more horrifying than the novel, because he’s a villain.  How can you empathize with him?  At the time, though, I was unemployed and I pulled an old book off my shelf that was about Vlad and I remembered he had been this member of the Order of the Dragon, this Templar Knights-like fundamentalist organization.  So, I figured this Order about spreading this fundamentalist vision of their religion would turn on him, punish him and accidentally create their greatest enemy.  Also, they killed his wife.  I had an origin and something that would help us empathize with him.  That gave birth to a lot of themes of the show.  Science and reason versus faith and fundamentalism conservatism.  This conflict between the ages that’s coming to a head at the end of the 19th century where the promise of science is running up against old ideas.”

On casting Jonathan Rhys Meyers…

“The first time I saw him in anything was Velvet Goldmine, one of my favorite films of the ’90s.  I didn’t know who this guy was but I couldn’t stop looking at him.  It wasn’t because of how beautiful he is, he is a beautiful man and annoyingly so [laughs] but there’s something intense about him.  This trauma under the surface in every role he’s ever taken on.  I find his characters unlikeable, they’re not great human beings but there is this humanity lurking in his eyes which makes him likeable.  This Dracula, it was important to me that we never venture away from the fact that he is a villain.  He’s a monster who kills innocent people, blood thrills this man.  How do you make people care about him?  We gave him this vengeance quest, something to hold on to there.  But that’s not enough.  We still had to make him do terrible things but give the audience something to care about.  I don’t know many actors who do that as naturally as Johnny does.”

On keeping the vampire rules intact and this season’s surprises…

“It’s funny, the most dramatic thing we did was simply follow what Bram Stoker said and that’s stakes don’t kill vampires.  It puts them in suspended animation and the only way to kill them is by decapitation or exposing them to sunlight.  Otherwise, they get better.  Beyond that, I think what audiences will find is that there are myths about vampires that people fall for that are not true and there are rules about vampirism that will be turned on their head a bit.”

On how Hannibal has helped push the limits of gore on NBC…

“All of this I attribute to Bob Greenblatt’s inspired leadership at NBC.  He previously ran Showtime and is of a cable mindset and I think that’s what he wanted to bring to his tenure to NBC.  They’re trying to break rules and give audiences something new.  Why give more procedurals?  There are plenty out there.  I think what Greenblatt wanted was to shake things up and that’s how Hannibal happened and why that’s a great success.  I hope Dracula benefits from that increasing curiosity as to whether network can give people the thrills and scares they’d have to find somewhere else.”

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