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Cast and crew of ‘Renfield’ explain how codependency, ‘love’ bite through the movie
“Dracula was always love in exile,” according to Renfield star Nicolas Cage.
The relationship between vampires and their familiars has always been portrayed as somewhat toxic. For as long as there have been vampire tales, there has been a streak of codependence that runs through the master/familiar dynamic. This is especially true when the vampire is Dracula, because his familiar is the only person he ever really interacts with.
The new horror-comedy Renfield takes the main focus away from Dracula and explores the familiar's side of things, turning the story over to the Count’s long-suffering servant, R.M. Renfield. Nicholas Hoult (Renfield) and Nicolas Cage (Dracula) play out a dynamic formed by director Chris McKay, as well as Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead), who had the original idea for this take on the legend. The true codependence of Renfield and Dracula is on display like never before, and not only because the movie places Renfield in a codependency support group.
SYFY WIRE sat down with Cage, Hoult, McKay and Kirkman to discuss this theme in the movie, and whether or not there’s any real love between these characters. Do these themes extend to the characters played by Awkwafina and Ben Schwartz? We asked them too.
Warning: There are mild spoilers ahead for Renfield. If you have not seen the movie yet, it is playing in theaters right now.
In terms of the movie’s genesis, Kirkman told us that the notion of codependence came naturally out of the original Renfield-based idea.
“I think the Renfield/Dracula part of it just brought the codependence along with it,” he said. “It wasn't necessarily something I was striving for. I was just trying to find a human way into a Dracula story, to find a core character that you could kind of base the story around. And once you start analyzing what it's like from Renfields's perspective and how it is working for Dracula, I think that's where all the codependency stuff kind of naturally comes in.”
McKay added that “a real emotional conflict that felt real” was essential to what they were trying to do, going on to say, “In a movie like this, in order for the comedy to play, you have to ground everything in something that feels real so that the characters and situations drive the comedy as opposed to sort of importing comedy into it.”
Is there any genuine love between Renfield and Dracula, as played by Hoult and Cage? Kirkman thinks there is.
“In the beginning of the movie, [Dracula] is gaslighting Renfield a little bit, saying I'm your only friend and the only person that cares about you,” he said. “But you can see with Cage, he's even getting a tear in his eye when he is saying this to Renfield, because I really truly believe that Dracula thinks that he does love Renfield and care about Renfield, and he just wants him to be his servant and just do the things he wants him to do. But he really does truly love him. He just loves him in a way that's not healthy for Renfield.”
Dracula, in part, does believe that he can “fix” Renfield, as McKay told us. “I think he wants that to be true,” he said. “If you think about the isolation that he lives and the fact that the only person he really interacts with is Renfield, I think he probably sees Renfield as the source of everything that he can get in his life. And he wants to be that for Renfield as well.”
Cage agreed that Dracula’s notions about love come directly from his isolation.
“There is some kind of love present in Dracula, or at least what he considers to be love,” Cage said, adding, "I think that's the thing about the Dracula character that's so compelling for me… Dracula was always love in exile. He is constantly getting his heart broken. That's the curse. He can't move on. So everybody he loves ultimately breaks his heart and over and over and over again. If he didn't have love for Renfield, it wouldn't matter.”
That love is essential for Renfield as well, and likely at the heart of what keeps Renfield in the relationship for so long. As Hoult told us, “He feels it. He hopes for it. He has the same love returned… reciprocated as well. So that's what's beautiful about their relationship. This gray area that's not ever one thing.”
The movie (which was popular with critics) also features Ben Schwartz in the role of Teddy Lobo, a small-time gangster working for his mother, played by Shoreh Aghdashloo. Does Teddy have codependence with her?
“I think he does,” Schwartz said. “I try to play it that way. I thought it would be really funny if the thing he's most scared of is his mommy because there's a lot of boys that are like, ‘Oh my God, if I make my mom unhappy, this is going to be bad.’ I was like, I want to play it that where he's trying to shoot guns or whatever, but if he messes up, he's like, ‘Oh, my mom is going to kill me.’ I thought that'd be really fun to give him that little thing.”
The character of Rebecca (played by Awkwafina) gets caught up in Renfield’s world, but Awkwafina doesn’t think that these themes necessarily include her.
“I think that she has other issues, I think more with kind of anger and fighting for what I think that she thinks is right, but in really irresponsible ways,” she told us. “I actually think that she's the least codependent out of the other guys. I think that she has a relatively healthy relationship with that, but there are other things in her life that she doesn't deal with well.”
Ultimately, the stakes (we’re not sorry) are what really matter, and the entire team have worked to make the story feel universal. Not Universal Monsters, but universal in the thematic sense. As Kirkman joked, “It’s universal… and it's Universal.”
Renfield is in theaters right now. Go sink your fangs and buy tickets here.