Idris for Everything: Dracula

Contributed by
Feb 22, 2018

It is a truth universally acknowledged by those with good taste that Idris Elba can and should play every role. The Golden Globe winning actor of ceaseless charisma and enviable talent has become a symbol for so much in modern Hollywood. Find any fan-casting on the internet and there’s a solid chance Elba’s name will appear. His range is boundless, but it is seldom given the material it deserves. Our cultural pantheon is rich with layered and malleable characters who deserve new adaptations or revivals to satisfy our hunger as fans. With that in mind, I present to you my argument on why Idris Elba should play Dracula.

Yes, that Dracula.

First, some context. Dracula, both the novel and the eponymous character, remains the definitive icon of vampire fiction. Bram Stoker’s novel has had an immeasurable influence on horror, speculative fiction and mythology following the 121 years since its publication. There have been dozens of adaptations for screens big and small alike, some of which helped to change the very face of modern film-making. Dracula is a figurehead of cinema as much as literature, and to this day he fascinates us. There’s a reason we keep trying to make new movies, TV shows, stage shows, musicals, video games, role-playing systems, and much more from this novel (and it’s not just because it’s in the public domain).

Part of Dracula’s enduring popularity is rooted in the durable flexibility of the vampire metaphor. Vampirism can be an allegory for anything, from sex and death, to disease and bigotry, to religion and politics. Every Dracula adaptation puts its unique spin on the character and mythos: The Andy Warhol produced adaptation played up the class battle, having a sickly aristocrat Dracula battle with the hunky communist worker; Dracula 2000 added a religious origin story for its villain that hinted at fascinating subtexts of faith; A BBC reimagining from 2006 drew parallels between vampirism and sexually transmitted diseases, emphasizing the metaphor of sex as a monstrous deviation of Victorian ideals.

Dracula has always been a potent metaphor for xenophobia – the very image of a dashing but insidious Eastern European aristocrat coming over to England, buying up property and seducing innocent women is one that would have inspired much fear upon its publication. This is a story of the ultimate ‘other’, one who deliberately shuns the genteel hypocrisy of the British empire and seeks to bastardize it through primal forces. That can be played a number of ways on screen. You can make Dracula the hero in such a story or play it straight with him as the sinister foreign force. It’s been done before, but even, with those wildly varying and creative takes on the story, they remain bound by one uniting force: all of their takes on Dracula have been white.

Indeed, it’s super rare to find an adaptation where the lead has been played by an actor of colour. Guy Maddin’s Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary, a ballet drama, starred Zhang Wei-Qiang as the lead vampire, and the Indian comedy Dracula 2012 gave the part to Sudheer Sukumaran. Yet our image of the count remains one defined by whiteness. That's partly due to the character's European origins - although there haven't exactly been many Roma actors playing the role either - but that feels so limiting on a creative level.

Enter Idris.

Idris Elba can play seductive as easily as he can breathe, but he is also mightily capable of bringing that dangerous edge to his performances. As enticing as he is to so many, he can also repel you with equal force should the occasion call for it: think of his turn as a loathsome and utterly terrifying general in Beasts of No Nation. It’s not a side of Idris we get to see often, but when we do it’s exceptionally memorable. Even his work in Luther exudes the shades of internal conflict that would be crucial for playing a role like Dracula.

With Elba in that role, the artistic possibilities for the creative team open up to exciting and undiscovered new levels. You would have an actor who could play the role in so many different ways. He could be a tortured romantic hero, the charismatic anti-hero, a love-to-hate spiteful villain, someone somber and quiet, or loud and dramatic. Whatever way you want to tell that story – and we’re still not out of new ideas, even 120 years later – Elba is an actor who would be a guaranteed dynamo in the role. Having Dracula as a handsome and charismatic black man is a take we haven’t seen before, and it could revolutionize a character many viewers have grown tired of. Think of the various stories you could tell: a powerful black count who takes on the racist and classist forces of Victorian – or contemporary – London; a reimagining of the era’s fear or foreigners and infection through the eyes of the apparent villain; an origin story that exposes the xenophobic metaphors that permeate vampirism. Hell, you could go full action man warlord with Elba as Vlad Țepeș, and he could make it work.

It’s been a few years since we had a Dracula adaptation, and even longer since we got one that was truly brilliant. Even the best ones, stories that eschew the novel’s narrative and use its foundations to expand ideas and themes, remain so staid in various ways. When we refuse to see so many of our cultural canon’s icons being reimagined as not white or not male, it severely limits both our creativity and our perceptions of the world. It also means that amazing figures like Elba get less opportunities to show us how wonderful they are. It may be a while before we get another Dracula story, but if Universal are keen on giving it another reboot they should look to Idris for inspiration.

Let’s be honest, wouldn’t you love to see Idris Elba as a vampire?