One of the highlights of this year’s Overlook Film Festival was attending the premiere of Renfield, with Nicolas Cage and director Chris McKay in attendance. Having seen the film, I can confidently say that horror fans are going to have a lot of fun with this one. This film has a great energy to it, with an equal mix of horror, comedy, and action that reminded me a lot of the tone of Ash vs. Evil Dead.

Not only did I have a chance to catch up with both Nicolas Cage and Chris McKay on the red carpet prior to the screening, but they took part in a post-screening Q&A. Highlights from both events are below and I’ve kept this spoiler free, only loosely referencing elements that have been shown in the trailer.

Nicolas Cage on Joining Universal Monsters:

“To be invited by Universal Studios to play Dracula is really something of a dream come true. And I don't know how you say no to that. I thought that there was room to play with the Dracula character to fit that tone between comedy and horror. I grew up watching Frankenstein, and certainly The Wolf Man, but early on, it was Lon Chaney Sr… I used to get terrified to see him in The Phantom of the Opera. That one really really spooked me as a child.”

Nicolas Cage on First Working with Chris McKay:

“Chris [McKay] invited me to his office and he showed me some previous material. I knew right away he was onto something special. He showed me bodies exploding and different looks for Dracula, and then he had his own little camera and we just started fooling around and I started coming up with these moves and thinking about, "Well, why don't we go right into the lens like the shark and gods and show their teeth?" And he's like, "Oh, I like that Nic. I like that. Do that once again."

So even before it was greenlit, we got into this creative spark together and there was a flow to it. And I felt free with Chris McKay. He would let me go places, and that's always the best feeling when you're making a movie.”

Nicolas Cage Talks Early Memories of Watching Horror Movies with His Father:

“We had a little movie projector and a little screen. My father would show me The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Max Schreck's performance of Nosferatu at five years old. And let me tell you, it was hard to sleep at that age. And I had to put it somewhere, so I think that's really where the idea (for this Dracula performance) came to me. Why not try to bring a little bit of that flavor back to modern film performance?”

Nicolas Cage on His Dracula Inspirations:

“There were Lugosi scenes, little snippets here and there [in Renfield]. They would play the Lugosi track and I would fit it. That was really a precision tactic. As great as Bela Lugosi was, he wasn't my Dracula. My Dracula was Christopher Lee in the Hammer Horror films. I liked the way Lee looked in it, that sixties hairdo and those clothes he wore and the ferociousness with which he moved. So, I moved more into that zone, but it mostly came from my memories of how my father would speak.

Believe it or not, there was some Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. I thought her relationship was a seductive Draculaesque relationship. Both, my father and Bancroft, spoke with that mid-Atlantic accent. Everything else just really comes up from the imagination and the moment when you go on set. You try to open yourself up to feeling things and certain things come in that you didn't know would. You play them and just leave yourself open to inspiration.”

Nicolas Cage on Bringing Dracula to Life:

“Chris put together just a fantastic team, and I had the good fortune of working with Christian Tinsley, who is a real wizard in the makeup department. Christien Tinsley, Chris McKay, and myself - we all kind of designed what this Dracula look would be. So, the Christopher Lee thing came into it, but also the teeth.

There were four different looks. One look was like eight hours in the chair, which was what we called the Picasso look, where my face was like a Picasso painting. That was eight hours, and I would fall asleep, and it was like this incredible sort of makeup shiatsu. And they're touching my face, and, "Nic, you got to wake up now. You got to sit up, Nic."

For the teeth, we had different levels of fangs, but it was a lot of ceramic material, and it was very hard to speak through it. So, because I wanted to speak with distinction like August Coppola, I had to take the teeth home to the hotel and really practice with it to get some clarity with the vocalizations.”

Nicolas Cage on Why He Loves Taking on Horror Roles:

“Well, the thing about specifically horror, is I had dreams of what film actors with film performance could do. I had this idea that what you could do in one art form you could do in another. So if painters could become abstract and expressionistic, so could film actors. But the thing about it is it wouldn't make any sense for me to go into that expressionistic style of acting for a movie like Pig, because the context of the movie, the situations of the character don't lend itself to that. But in a movie like Vampire's Kiss, where the character is losing his mind, it's very conceivable that he could begin to think that he's Max Schreck and start mirroring those moves. So I could live my German expressionist film performance dreams by playing this tragic character in a dark comedy about a man sadly, who's losing his mind.

Conversely, Dracula is a supernatural character who's signed a contract with dark forces, and that frees me up to be like Iggy Pop…. But the point is [that horror frees] you so that you can have these wild surrealistic, expressionistic moves and vocalizations.”

Nicolas Cage on Looking for a Project That Had a Perfect Horror / Comedy Mix:

“I had that experience [watching] American Werewolf in London and I've been wanting to hit that bullseye ever since I saw that movie as a teenager in the cinema, and I think that Chris McKay really got there with this movie. He found that perfect tone. It's just so unpredictable. It becomes, the movie becomes almost like a ride and you're laughing AND screaming.”

Chris McKay on the Cast Improvising:

“Obviously with what Ryan [Ridley] had written down, we were all really inspired by that. And it was a lot of fun, but I wanted to be able to play around and with Nick Cage. He just wanted to change certain words because they just sounded a little more antique sounding. And then you've got Ben Schwartz,Awkwafina, Nick Cage, and you've got Nick Hoult. Everyone brought a lot of fun, and I like things to feel really loose, and spontaneous.”

Nicolas Cage and Chris McKay on Why New Orleans Was the Perfect Place to Film:

Chris McKay: “Talk about a connection to the past… the reason to shoot in New Orleans is because it's the only city that feels like a European city in the United States. So there was some French and Spanish architecture and all that connected us to Europe. So it felt like we're doing something new with Dracula, putting him here in the modern world, but also still reaching back to where he came from.

And there’s things like vampire cafes here, so I love New Orleans and I always wanted to shoot here for selfish reasons.”

Nicolas Cage: “It's the perfect location for a modern Dracula film. You know what I mean? This is a city that does have an X-Factor. You don't know how to define it, but it's just in the air. It's in the feeling, it's in the mood. You can have a charming time and then in a split second you can really be a little bit unnerved and you don't know why exactly.”