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, actress Victoria Smurfit talked about how she came to be a part of this series, why she was intrigued by it, the dark and brutal side of Lady Jayne, how her character’s attraction to Alexander Grayson is a blinding light, and how much fun it’s been to work with Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
VICTORIA SMURFIT: I put myself down on tape, as you do. I was sweaty after a pilates class in Santa Monica, and I got a call from my very nice British agent who said, “Is there any chance you could be in West Hollywood in 20 minutes?” Our executive producers don’t know this, but I had to douse myself in cologne, throw on other clothes and race out the door. I may not have been as fragrant as I would have hoped, but it was a quick dash over there. And then, I was offered the job in the room, really.
When you first heard about another retelling of the Dracula mythology, were you immediately intrigued, or did you want to run as far away from it as possible?
SMURFIT: I was intrigued. The idea of Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Dracula, all I could think of was, why haven’t they done this with him before? It’s such a genius idea. Dracula has always been done as film, so it’s been an hour and 40 minutes. What we’re done is 10 hours of Dracula, so you have a lot of freedom with all the different mythologies and nuances. It begins with Vlad the Impaler and you get a lot of the historical context, and yet you’ve got all the traditional elements of the Bram Stoker take on it, and you’ve also got the technology of the day. It’s very shiny, glamorous, beautiful, sexy and passionate. It’s been great fun, marrying the two together. Even though the Downton Abbey boys are part of the production team, this isn’t Downton, in the sense that it’s not classic. We’re not doing things with the period exactly. We’re having fun. We’re crossing genres.
Were you concerned about the show not being able to go far enough on network TV?
SMURFIT: No, NBC were keen on it to look like a cable show. Maybe that sounds like a bad thing to say, that network wants to be cable, but they wanted the show to push the boundaries, as much as possible, but with the network rules and regulations in place. So, we’ve taken it to the edge.
SMURFIT: There are three faces to Lady Jayne. She’s very much a woman of power in society. Women, at that time, didn’t have jobs. They were fragrant and fabulous. She does that, but she also has a job, and she has a very powerful job. She goes to work, every day, at The Order of the Dragon, where she’s grown up. She is now a master huntsman. She is at the top of her game in vampire slaying, but there haven’t been any vampires in London for eight years, so she’s taken herself off the bench. When she realizes that the undead might have come back to Victorian London, she turns to her boss and says, “I’m taking this. This is mine. I’m bored of training the underlings. Let me have it.”
From that point on, her whole world opens back up to being bloody and brutal. Lady Jayne has got a very dark, brooding, brutal, vicious side to her. As an actress, the joy of being able to play the three sides of any woman, which are the glamour, the pragmatic and the one not to be messed with, is pretty glorious. It’s a gift of a part. She takes her job very seriously and she won’t be beaten by any man. She’s used to getting exactly what she wants, exactly when she wants it, but she’ll work hard for it. Nothing has been given to her. She has a dojo in the bottom of her mansion that she works out in, in order to stay strong and fit and capable. She fears nobody except for her boss at The Order of the Dragon. He’s the only man in the world who scares her. And she falls for the charismatic, dark charms of Alexander Grayson.
Will viewers learn how and why Lady Jayne is the way she is?
SMURFIT: You’ll get some reasoning, and you’ll get a little bit more of an emotional attachment to how and why she does what she does. I don’t know if Lady Jayne is justified in her actions, in TV terms. She doesn’t ask to be understood, in that way. But you will see her facade crack. She is as all-powerful as she is, until she meets her match.
How did Lady Jayne originally learn about the existence of vampires, and why doesn’t she just let them be exposed?
SMURFIT: Well, you can’t allow everybody in London to know that the undead exist. You will find out the origin of why The Order of the Dragon has made it their singular job to protect London. That will all unravel itself.
Does she start to suspect Alexander Grayson, or does her attraction to her blind her to what’s really going on with him?
SMURFIT: The attraction is a blinding light. I don’t think Lady Jayne has ever met anybody else who has the strength, the charisma, the power, the money and the six-pack. That is compelling and addictive. How she deals with him is like a low-level addiction. That was very interesting and complicated to play. We had to make sure that every time she got a sniff, he would endlessly have to come up with how and why he was human because eyebrows are raised and questions are asked. She’s a married woman, and she becomes much more flagrant about her affair with him. The people in her world start to challenge her, but she is a woman of her own convictions, so she’s hard to sway. You don’t mess with Lady Jayne lightly. She’s not going to suffer any fools.
What’s it been like to work with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, especially with some of the sexy scenes you have together?
SMURFIT: It was such a fun set to work on. It was great fun! Jonathan has done The Tudors, so those scenes, for him, are just another day at the office. He makes you very comfortable, which is great. He knows what he wants from a scene and he knows how to do it, and you trust him. Because I was playing somebody who wasn’t necessarily some acquiescent ingenue, I had to get very much involved and fight back. I had to match him, and it was fun. He’s a strong man, so I was able to be as physically strong as I needed to be and know that he would be all for it. He’s great fun to work with. He’s as charismatic as you want him to be, and he’s as professional as you want him to be. He’s a very powerful actor.
Dracula airs on Friday nights on NBC.