Renfield: 6 Dracula actors you may have forgotten

With Renfield on the way, here's a handful of cinemas's most unlikely neck-biters

Dracula (Nicolas Cage) and Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) in Renfield.
Dracula (Nicolas Cage) and Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) in Renfield. (Universal)

Nicolas Cage playing Dracula? It's a casting match made in heaven... or should that be hell? Either way, it's a treat we'll all be able to enjoy on the big screen when Renfield hits cinemas on Friday, 14 April.

Directed by The Lego Batman Movie's Chris McKay, the film features Mad Max: Fury Road's Nicholas Hoult as the titular Renfield, Dracula's lackey who decides to try and end the toxic relationship he has with his blood-obsessed boss when he falls for a new love interest. Unsurprisingly, it's not that easy to do.

Having played so many different roles in so many different ways, all eyes are on Cage with regards to how exactly he'll tackle a role as rich and devilish as the Prince of Darkness. That said, he's hardly the first big-name star to give it a stab.

Read more: Renfield stars admit seeing Nicolas Cage as Dracula was 'pretty intimidating'

When a character has been portrayed so many times on screen, it is perhaps inevitable that some performances – even those from very well-known actors – may slip through the cracks somewhat. Here are a mere handful of the famous names to have tried their hand at playing the Transylvanian terror, in movies which we tend to overlook (sometimes with good reason)…

Gerard Butler

Gerard Butler as Count Dracula in Dracula 2000. (Dimension)
Gerard Butler as Count Dracula in Dracula 2000. (Dimension)

Before he attained tough guy leading man status in 300, Butler landed his first major role in Dracula 2000, a glossy modernisation of the character produced by horror legend Wes Craven and directed by Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine, Drive Angry).

Sadly this proved a rather inauspicious introduction to audiences and Butler was largely overshadowed by his co-stars, including Johnny Lee Miller as the cartoonish hero, Christopher Plummer as Van Helsing, and Jeri Ryan – very much a late 90s pin-up from her role in Star Trek: Voyager – as a voluptuous vampire bride.

Richard Roxburgh

Richard Roxburgh as Dracula in 2004's Van Helsing. (Alamy)

The Australian character actor, best known for his roles in Mission Impossible II and Moulin Rouge at the time, was hardly the most obvious choice to play the Count in Van Helsing, Stephen Sommers’ misguided mega-budget attempt to revive the Universal monster movie brand, with Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale.

Nor did the film approach the character in a traditional way, eschewing his usual aristocratic dress sense in favour of an unorthodox gypsy look, replete with ponytail and earrings. Alas, none of these risks paid off, leaving Roxburgh’s performance as just one of the many disappointments the film had in store.

Frank Langella

Frank Langella in 1979's Dracula (Alamy)

The long-standing American stage and screen actor has played some notorious tyrants over the years – notably Richard Nixon and Skeletor – but many seem to have forgotten his title role in the 1979 version of Dracula from director John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, Short Circuit).

In some ways, this isn’t surprising, as it’s hardly the most compelling take on the story ever shot, although it does go some way to reviving the romantic interpretation which would be developed further in Francis Ford Coppolla’s version, and has quite a notable co-star in Sir Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing.

Jack Palance

One of Hollywood’s foremost masters of villainy also took on the arch vampire in a 1974 adaptation directed by Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis, and scripted by legendary sci-fi/horror writer Richard Matheson (himself responsible for one of the 20th century’s greatest vampire novels, I Am Legend).

Perhaps the key reason this one is largely forgotten is that it was made for TV. Infamously, when facing off against Nigel Davenport’s Van Helsing, the Count hisses through his teeth, “city folk!” (Okay, we might have made that bit up.)

Harry Nilsson

SON OF DRACULA, US lobbycard, bottom from left: Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, top from left: Freddie Jones, Harry Nilsson, ringo
Harry Nilson and Ringo Starr appeared in 1974's Son of Dracula. (Alamy)

That’s right, the man who sang Without You and Everybody’s Talkin also portrayed the king of the vampires… sort of.

In one of those utterly bonkers-sounding films that could surely only have happened in the mid-70s, Nilsson played Dracula’s heir Count Downe (groan) in Son of Dracula, a 1974 musical comedy (not to be confused with Universal’s 1943 film of the same name, which also made a curious casting decision in Lon Chaney Jr. as the new Count).

Just in case it doesn’t sound strange enough already, the film also features Ringo Starr as Merlin. Panned on release and hard to find nowadays, allegedly Starr owns a copy but says he can’t bring himself to watch it.

Rutger Hauer

No, we’re not confusing this with the Blade Runner icon’s appearance as the villainous Lothos in 1992’s original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie.

Hauer portrayed the most famous vampire of all in one of his lesser-seen films: 2005’s Dracula III: the Legacy, a direct-to-DVD second sequel to Dracula 2000, following on from Gerard Butler and Dracula II star Steven Billington (bit of Doctor Who-ish regeneration going on there).

Hauer later returned to Bram Stoker’s classic, this time taking on the role of Van Helsing in Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D. Neither film is likely to be held up as a career highlight.

Renfield will be released in cinemas on Friday, 14 April. Watch a trailer below.