The provocative, sexy new drama Dracula is set in late 19th century London, with the iconic vampire posing as American entrepreneur Alexander Grayson (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a man who wants to bring modern science to Victorian society. At the same time, he hopes to take revenge on those who cursed him with immortality centuries earlier, but his plan threatens to unravel when he becomes infatuated with Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw), who appears to be a reincarnation of his dead wife. The show also stars Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Jonathan Harker, Thomas Kretschmann as Abraham Van Helsing, Nonso Anozie as R.M. Renfield, Katie McGrath as Lucy Westenra and Victoria Smurfit as Lady Jayne Wetherby.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen talked about how he got involved with this show, who this version of Jonathan Harker is, how the love triangle will come into play this season, the mutual admiration between Harker and Alexander Grayson, how quickly Harker will suspect that Grayson has ulterior motives, and what it’s like to work with Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did you come to be a part of this show? Had you been looking for a television series?
OLIVER JACKSON-COHEN: I’ve been offered quite a few network shows, over the past couple of years, and always turned them down because I never wanted the commitment. The way that it works in America, you do a pilot and then you wait, and I just thought that wasn’t really what I was interested in doing, in that moment. And then, I was filming another show (Mr. Selfridge) in the U.K. that went out on PBS in America, and they called me and said, “They’re making Dracula.” My immediate reaction was, “No!” And then, they said, “Jonathan Rhys Meyers has been cast as Dracula,” and I thought, “Oh, fuck, that’s genius! That’s genius casting!” So I said, “Okay.” They said, “NBC is making it. They’re only doing 10 episodes for the first season.” I think it’s very rare, as an actor, that you get to a script, or an idea of a script, and you go, “Oh, I just have to do that!” It fell into place very quickly.
But, it was just hilarious how my first reaction was, “Oh, no, it’s another vampire show. I’m not interested.” And then, I read the script and thought it was brilliant. They’ve taken this tale and they’ve adapted it, and they’ve done so in a way that remains in a period setting, but it’s still exciting enough for a modern-day audience. Personally, I wasn’t very familiar with the book. I went to a French school, so we didn’t study Bram Stoker there. I just thought it was a genius thing. This isn’t just another vampire show. It’s something entirely different that I personally feel I’ve never seen on American TV before. That’s what drew me to it. And it is exciting, going back to the original story. There’s been so much, over the last few years, with vampires and, if I’m perfectly honest, I’ve never seen Twilight, I’ve never seen The Vampire Diaries, and I’ve never seen True Blood, or anything like that. Going back to the original tale, but then doing a twist on it, is really exciting. Vampires have been romanticized, and this is bringing it right back to being vampiric. I think there’s something sexy and raw about that.
Were you concerned about the show not being able to go far enough on network TV?
JACKSON-COHEN: On network, you have limitations for how raunchy it can get and how violent it can get. But, I think it’s a blessing that the show is on a network because it forces everyone to use their imaginations and be creative. The power of suggestion comes back. So, in the sex scenes, no one is ever fully naked, but I feel the suggestion is so much sexier. Nowadays, everything is so gratuitous. The violence is suggested, and it’s much more impactful than showing everything. When you watch it, there’s very little that’s actually on screen, but there will be one image that’s very powerful, so it stays in your mind. All of that stuff is so very clever.
Who is this version of Jonathan Harker?
JACKSON-COHEN: In the book, he’s a solicitor who is imprisoned in Dracula’s castle. With this, they wanted Harker to be the good versus Dracula’s evil. When I read the script, I said to one of the producers, “I know you probably want him really fluffy, but I’m not gonna do that. It needs to be a mask. There needs to be a duel between Harker and Dracula.” So, he’s a lot darker than he’s ever been portrayed in the past, or written in the past. He comes from a very disturbed background. He has no money. He’s striving to succeed. He’s in love with the love of his life, but he’s riddled with insecurity that he’ll lose her. What I like about him is that he’ll do whatever it takes, in order to set his life up, and get himself and the woman he loves secure, so he enters into this work relationship with Dracula. But he needs something from, and Dracula needs something from him. There’s a very great dynamic between Harker and Alexander Grayson, and then Mina, who’s stuck in the middle. It’s a great love triangle. I made a point of it that I wanted Harker to be flawed. I didn’t want him to be the perfect antidote to Dracula. That’s the kind of diversion that we’ve come up with for this show.
Because your character is unaware of the vampire world, do you even really think much about it being a Dracula story, when you’re working on it?
JACKSON-COHEN: It’s actually really interesting that you say that. We read the scripts, but Jess [De Gouw] and I are completely taken out of the hunts and anything with Van Helsing. We’re just living our lives, as our characters. We’ll see an episode and be like, “What the fuck is this? This is not the show we’re making!” With five main characters, some are kept in the dark, and it’s great. You end up doing a bunch of different storylines that all end up gelling together, so it is very, very bizarre. But as the show goes on, Harker gets darker and darker, and further into that side of it all. All of the worlds end up colliding and meshing together.
Having Dracula believe the woman you love is the reincarnation of his one true love has to throw a wrench into any relationship. How will things evolve within that love triangle?
JACKSON-COHEN: I feel like the core of the show is the love triangle between the three of them. There is an awful lot of other stuff that happens, but the main narrative that runs throughout the whole 10 episodes is the three of them. Will she leave Harker? Will Dracula steal her? Will Harker keep her or lose her? Will Dracula and Harker end up going head-to-head to fight for her? It’s definitely the core storyline of the show. It keeps you on your toes. When you start a show, you get an outline, but you don’t really know what to expect. We get the scripts and we’re like, “What’s gonna happen next?!” It’s a hard thing, when you’re setting up a new show, especially in a pilot or the first two episodes. You have to establish all the characters and stuff. But after Episode 3 or 4, you start to really understand the world that all these people are living in, and the stakes get higher and higher, as the show goes on. For me, the scripts just got more and more thrilling, as every episode came through.
Can there ever truly be a genuine friendship between Alexander Grayson and Jonathan Harker?
JACKSON-COHEN: I think there’s an admiration between the two of them. We decided, very early on, that Harker has no family, whatsoever. He comes from a very, very, very rough upbringing. And so, the fact that this man, who no one really knows anything about, comes to London and picks Harker to work with him, there’s a mutual respect between the two of them that builds, and a friendship that builds. But then, you slowly realize that it’s built on complete and utter ulterior motives. So, there’s a lot of deception, and there’s a lot of breaking of trust. The Harker and Grayson relationship is a very interesting one, especially how they deal with it throughout the series. It builds and it cracks, and then it builds, and that it confuses you. It keeps you on your toes. But, I think Harker regards Grayson as a father figure. He gives him everything that Harker has ever really truly wanted, and he takes care of him, but it’s complete and utter deception.
Does Harker become suspicious of Alexander Grayson’s motives?
JACKSON-COHEN: Oh, 100%. Right from the get-go, Harker doesn’t trust this man. It takes an awful lot to build up his trust. I feel that Harker represents the average person, dealing with this man who is a force that everyone is enamored and so impressed by. Harker is the one who is thinking in his head about it. There’s something that just doesn’t add up about this man. Especially in the time this is set, if you’re put in those situations where you get kicked out of your house and you live on the street, or you sell your soul to get everything that you want. So, Harker doesn’t trust him, but he has no other trust. It’s a great moral play. He’s got no choice, so he’s just got to do it.
How has it been to work with Jonathan Rhys Meyers?
JACKSON-COHEN: He’s amazing! When I found out he was doing the role, it was one of the main reasons I said, “Sign me up!” He’s incredible because he cares so much. I haven’t really been doing this an awful long time. I’ve been doing it four or five years, but I’ve been fortunate that I’ve worked a fair amount. You work with seasoned actors, and sometimes you realize that they phone it in. But, he’s so there with you, in every single scene and every single take. Even if the camera is not on him, he will give you everything he’s got. His main objective is that he wants to make the show the best it can possibly be. We’ve all lived in each other’s pockets for several months. We’re all like a family now, which is so cliche and everyone says that, but it’s really true. It’s quite incredible, working with these people. You learn so much, working with these actors. He’s been doing it since he was 16, so that’s nearly 20 years that he’s been doing it. Some of the stories he has are incredible. I also think his portrayal of Grayson is so spot-on for what the show required. He goes above and beyond.
Are you personally a fantasy/sci-fi fan, or do you like the fact that this story is drawing in actual historical elements and finds a blend between the two?
JACKSON-COHEN: I rarely watch TV, and in the past two years, I’ve done three TV shows. It’s quite interesting. I think that what drew me the most to it was that it felt, to me, like it’s something that hadn’t been done. I haven’t ever seen a period drama that has a fantasy element to it, that’s set in London, that’s as lavish as it is, and that’s made for American TV. That’s what drew me to it. There’s something very exciting about being a part of something that feels very new. There are so many procedural dramas. There are so many sitcoms. So, when you get to be a part of something that feels exciting to you, you just want to be a part of it. It was more that than being a Dracula aficionado. But, I did think it was a great twist on the tale.
Dracula airs on Friday nights on NBC.