Cary Elwes on Bram Stoker’s Dracula at 30: ‘Gary Oldman spent most of the time sleeping in a coffin’
Lots of people have wanted to put the story of Bram Stoker's Dracula (back in UK cinemas in 4K now for its 30th anniversary) on the big screen, but at the beginning of the 1990s, James V Hart’s screenplay was languishing in development torpor when Winona Ryder read it and decided it had to be made.
She took it to Francis Ford Coppola, possibly to build bridges after quitting The Godfather III just before filming. Coppola liked Hart’s take — baroque, expansive, authentic — and set about making it.
Cary Elwes was forging a Hollywood career after breaking out in 1987’s The Princess Bride, which he’d followed up with Tom Cruise vehicle Days of Thunder and 1991’s Top Gun spoof Hot Shots!.
Read more: The Godfather is a legendary film forged in legendary turmoil
“I read it had been greenlit and that Francis was doing it and Winona was attached,” the now-59-year-old Brit tells Yahoo.
“I called my agent, I said, ‘you got to get me on this picture, I have to work with Francis.’ We were fairly relentless. It turns out Francis was amenable to the idea.”
Elwes was cast as Lord Arthur Holmwood, posh fiancé of Lucy (Sadie Frost), the best friend of Ryder’s character (and Dracula love interest) Mina Harker.
Read more: Princess Bride remake rumour sparks swift backlash
He set about rehearsing with co-stars Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing, Keanu Reeves and fellow Englishman Gary Oldman, who was playing the iconic vampire.
“[Francis] brought tons of material for us to look at,” remembers Elwes. “What he wanted was for his actors to immerse themselves in that world.
"He set all of us little tasks to help us find the character. He arranged for me to go hunting on his property, he wanted me to live the lifestyle of an aristocrat, which was very fun. We went ballooning and all kinds of things… no expense spared when it comes to Francis.”
He certainly had a more enjoyable preparation than Oldman.
“We were having a great time – poor Gary spent most of the time sleeping in a coffin.”
As part of the vampire-hunting gang, Elwes got to a spend a lot of screen time with Hopkins, only recently off his Oscar-winning breakout Hollywood role in The Silence of the Lambs.
“He’s very playful,” Elwes reveals of Hopkins. “He would try to get me to giggle during a take. He was very naughty.”
Lavish and spectacularly designed (it was Oscar-nominated for Art Direction and won for Costume Design, Sound Editing and Makeup), the movie has also had an amusing afterlife thanks to Keanu’s meme-worthy English accent and the story that he and Winona were accidentally married for real during a wedding reshoot.
“I know that Francis really had a Romanian wedding,” says Elwes. “I don’t know whether they said ‘…and wife.’ I wouldn’t be surprised if they were actually married.”
The actor has since gone on to a slew of cinema and TV roles, including Saw and Stranger Things. But we were particularly interested in his reunion with Tom Cruise in the pandemic-shot and much-anticipated Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.
So, can he tell us anything about it? “Not much,” he admits. Not even a little? “[It was] great fun, so I’m excited for the fans.”
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is back in UK cinemas in 4K for its 30th anniversary now.
Watch a teaser trailer for Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One below