'Dracula': Fast times for a sexy monster
LONDON -- Sexy monsters are a bit of a specialty for Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
In "The Tudors," the Irish actor made King Henry VIII an attractive despot who dispatched wives and enemies while strutting, sulking and seducing his way through 16th-century England.
Rhys Meyers is back in NBC's new series "Dracula," playing the world's most famous vampire as a sleekly alluring bloodsucker.
It's easy to see why "Dracula" producers cast the 36-year-old as a brooding vampire. Even dressed in jeans, leather jacket and Doc Marten boots, he's a striking presence with chiseled cheekbones and piercing eyes.
Modern-day vampires, he acknowledges over a salt beef sandwich near his north London home, are an irresistible combination of the repulsive and the attractive.
"If all vampires in all films had been made to look like Klaus (Kinski's bald, sepulchral predator in Werner Herzog's in ‘Nosferatu') nobody would be interested in vampires," he said.
"As soon as they made vampires kind of good looking -- well, there you go," he said.
In "Dracula," the undead Romanian count disguises himself as Alexander Grayson, a brash young American industrialist. He turns up in 1895 in London's high society, seeking revenge on a secret vampire-hating cabal called the Order of the Dragon.
Dracula's carefully prepared plan is threatened when he meets Mina, a medical student who bears an uncanny resemblance to the wife he lost centuries earlier.
Rhys Meyers, one of the show's producers, says he was determined that his Dracula would be free from bats, Gothic cobwebs and mock-Transylvanian accents.
"I wanted him to appear more like a Howard Hughes or a Citizen Kane than I wanted him to be ‘Drrac-ula,' " he said, rolling the "r" with Bela Lugosi-style menace.
Horror fans, never fear, there is still plenty of blood. Dracula feeds lustily -- though he only bites women. Men are dispatched with a sword.
Instead of emphasizing the supernatural, the show conjures a highly material world of oil barons, social inequality and fast-changing technology. Its vision of late-Victorian London -- filmed in Budapest -- has an industrial, steam-punk edge.
"We wanted to do something different, something that brought into that time a little bit of the modern struggles that we struggle with now: politics, money, oil," said Rhys Meyers. "I didn't want to go and make a period drama that was stale. Because Victorian England at that time wasn't stale. It was a very keen, very eager time. "
Rhys Meyers knows something about fast times. A teenage truant who started acting after getting kicked out of school at 15, he became a pinup through early roles such as his charismatic rock star in the 1998 film "Velvet Goldmine."
He has had big roles -- he was nominated for an Emmy for the 2005 miniseries "Elvis" -- but has also struggled with alcohol, spent time in rehab and ended up in the headlines after airport altercations.
In his latest series, Dracula's enemies are the ruthless capitalist overlords of the British empire. Viewers could be forgiven for wondering whether Dracula, the outsider who comes to avenge ancient wrongs, is the true hero.
He's not, Rhys Meyers says. He's a monster -- one with a "pinhole of humanity," but doomed all the same.
"He must lose. That's the thing I like about it," the actor said. "He's a monster in the worst possible place -- in a world of humans. And we know what humans are capable of."
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