Briony's World of Buffy (2001) - ORMFP

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Briony's World of Buffy (2001)

Press-Archive > 2000-09

Rudolf Article at "Briony's World of Buffy" (thanks here to Briony!)

15. February 2001
Original source unknown (perhaps

Rudolf Martin has done what few actors have—played both living and dead versions of the same character. He enlivened Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s nights as the vampiric Dracula on the series’ fifth season premiere. But he also lent a deadly gravity to the bloodsucker’s progenitor, the real Vlad Dracula in the USA network movie Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula.

While Martin may prefer one version over another, he can’t compare them, claiming that Buffy “is obviously a tongue-and-cheek show, whereas [with Dark Princes’] Vlad, we tried to play it for real.”

Realism predominates Dark Prince. Shunning supernatural trappings, the film explores the life of Vlad Dracula, a man who, in an effort to preserve his Romanian homeland from the Muslim Turks, committed barbaric atrocities to terrorize his enemies. He executed friend and foe alike at the slightest provocation. Though regarded as a hero in his Romanian homeland, he’s known worldwide as a sadistic butcher. Despite this, Dark Prince attempts to portray Dracula in a less damning light. “He was feared but respected all over Europe,” asserts Martin, “because he was very passionate, but also very righteous. As cruel as he was, he didn’t tolerate any crime. People feared him because he basically declared the death penalty for everything. There was a line in the movie that’s cut out now where he says, ‘All crime is treason.’ Like everything has the death penalty.”

While Martin jokes that his “natural propensity for evil” won him the role, he’s actually amazed to be playing the dark prince. “Seriously, I didn’t think I would play Dracula,” he notes. “I came in for a meeting to possibly play his brother Radu.” That probably explains why the actor knew practically “nothing” about real Transylvanian noble when he first auditioned. “I knew that Dracula the vampire was based on a real person named was Vlad the Impaler—a Romanian prince famous for impaling people. That’s about as much as I knew and I think that’s as much as most people know. As soon as I started reading about him, though, I became fascinated with the story. I read everything I could get my hands on about 15th century Europe, which was a very bloody time. Everybody was constantly fighting for survival, politically and literally.”

As impressed as Martin was with Dracula, he was also awed by the prince’s homeland—and the film’s shooting location—for both its raw beauty and its historical resonance. “Romania was really exciting because it’s the real location,” he says. “When I got there, my heart started beating a little faster because I felt like I could touch the [country’s] history. I saw the ruins and realized that this isn’t just a story; this is real. The [original] buildings are still there, and some of the battlefields. And all of that is used in the film. We shot at the monastery where [Dracula’s] supposed to be buried, and we shot right in front of the house that Dracula was born and grew up in for the first five years before he was imprisoned by the Turks. You would never know that this is the house; it’s sort of a footnote or tribute piece for the movie that shows it’s authentic.”

The film’s authenticity won over many Romanians, too, who were initially skeptical that anyone would make a serious Dracula film. “They laughed because they thought we [were just making] another vampire movie,” notes Martin. “Dracula’s a folk hero to the Romanians, but they use [the vampire myth] for tourism. Tourists ask about him not knowing anything, so the Romanians laugh and tell these false stories. When the Romanian extras realized that we were shooting an accurate historical film about Dracula, they were really surprised. They had never seen the true story filmed. There are two Romanian movies that tried to show the historical Dracula. One was more of a communist movie shot in the ’60s under Nicolai Ceausescu.”

Rather than emphasizing Dracula’s brutality (though it’s there, rest assured), Dark Prince examines the man behind the mayhem and those close to him. Radu (Michael Sutton), the brother kidnapped by the Turks who opposes Dracula, figures predominantly, as does Dracula’s wife Lidia (Jane March), a woman whose love isn’t strong enough to survive her husband’s tyrannies. “Jane was perfect as Lidia,” beams Martin, “because she brought a focused seriousness and a simplicity to the role, which really made it work—and if that love story doesn’t work, the movie falls apart. She was great, plus she’s so beautiful, which helps.”

Peter Weller, who played Father Stefan, an orthodox Christian priest whose motives prove as godless as Dracula’s, also impressed Martin. “I really enjoyed working with Peter,” says the actor, “He brought a lot to the project. He’s very interested in history. He studied Romanian history and rewrote some of his stuff, which made his role better because his character’s storyline was complicated. He brought some historical perspective to it. Also, I’m a big fan of Naked Lunch.”

Another Important figure was Hungary’s King Janos (Roger Daltrey), who financed the dark prince’s Romanian coups, and contributed to his downfall. “Roger Daltrey was a great piece of casting,” Martin says. “His character is the composite of two Hungarian kings, actually. The main king of Hungary who he’s portraying, Janos, was a terrible procrastinator. He just wasn’t a fighter like Dracula. But Roger’s attitude really works; you can’t help liking him.”

Martin also waxes effusive about his director, Joe (Phantoms) Chappelle. “Joe really understands the language of film,” he says. “Things weren’t vague, but he left interpretation very much to the actors. He had his hands full, of course, with a half-Romanian and half-American crew. He was always very focused, though; he already had everything in his mind.”

Though he downplays a confessed evil streak, Martin admits to enjoying a few “heart-wrenching” scenes. “I like when I cut out of heart the previous prince, Prince Carl,” he says. “I also enjoyed the love story—it’s so romantic and contrasts so well to the rest of this world’s brutality. Of course, I enjoyed the impaling scene (Dracula impales all his nobles in one scene, then dines amidst them, watching them die). It was a very tough scene to shoot for everyone else, however. It was really hot that day, and those guys up on the stakes were very uncomfortable. One of them almost passed out.”

For a movie that boasts such historical veracity, one scene was fictional—the climax where – SPOILER ALERT -- Dracula perishes at his brother’s hand. As Martin explains, “Dracula wasn’t killed by Radu. His brother actually died before he did. But I don’t mind this at all; I think it dramatizes the real story of these two brothers wanting to kill each other, and especially Radu pursuing Dracula to his death.”

Dracula doesn’t survive Dark Prince. But Transylvanian Counts don’t die, do they? They just guest star on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “That was fun,” Martin says. “I had worked with Sarah [Michelle Gellar, Buffy] before [on All My Children]. It was such a closure for the Dracula character, playing this tongue-in-cheek vampire. At first I thought I could play it straight, but reading the script, I saw that wasn’t possible. So I had fun with it.”

Though Buffy staked Dracula by episode’s end, he didn’t seem to want to stay dead. Does suggest that he might return? “I have no idea,” says Martin. “I don’t know if they are trying to bring him back.” Not that the actor’s chomping for yet another chance at bloodsucking, nor is he terribly concerned about being boxed into vampire roles. “I don’t think I’m particularly good at playing the vampire,” he confesses. “As far as Vlad Dracula, I tried to play him as a person. When you play more than a two-dimensional person, you’ll never get typecast. Since you’re not playing a type, you’re playing a person.”

Besides his Dracula outings, Martin will soon appear in the Bedazzled remake, a comedy starring Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley. He admits it “was fun, farcical. It was great to work with Harold Ramis. In my scene, Brendan makes a wish to be rich and powerful, so he wakes up a Colombian drug dealer. He’s married to the woman (Frances O’Connor) he loves, but she’s blatantly cheating on him with my character (who’s O’Connor’s English tutor).”

Martin, who was born in West Berlin and schooled in New York and Paris, took to acting at an early age. “I read many plays as a kid, and that got me,” he notes. “My inspiration was not from watching movies or TV but from reading plays. My mother has volumes of drama writings. I read them all as a kid, and that’s why I have such a vivid imagination in bringing characters to life. When you read a novel, everything is beautifully laid out, and a play’s a bit different. I had to imagine it.”

And imagine he does, taking the bloody myths of a Dark Prince and adding a human element. But rest assured, Rudolf Martin is the first to acknowledge he harbors the “potential” for darkness.

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