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THE TWO FACES OF DRACULA: Rudolf Martin
The actor discusses his dual roles as the legendary Dracula.
By Edward Gross
October 30, 2000
This television season, Rudolf Martin has offered two distinct takes on a single 'character', essaying the role of Count Dracula as well as Bram Stoker's real-life inspiration for the fictional count, Vlad the Impaler. Let's face it, the man simply can't get away from the fangs.
'Actually, I've only been in the fangs once,' explains the actor who portrayed Dracula on the season premiere of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, and tackles Vlad on Halloween night in the USA Network TV movie, DARK PRINCE: THE TRUE STORY OF DRACULA. 'At least that's the way I see it. A lot of people have asked me what it's like to play the same character twice, but it's really not
the same character. But it was
kind of interesting to play, say, the same name twice.'
Martin, who was born in West Berlin and schooled in Paris and New York, notes that he played Vlad first and had been under the impression that Vlad would inform his portrayal of Dracula. 'Originally,' he says, 'I thought it might be an interesting approach to try and use some of what I had learned about Vlad the Impaler and how I played him, but I ended up not using any of that because I thought it wouldn't have worked for BUFFY. On BUFFY, what was important to play was the vampire part of it. Because I'm playing the part, hopefully I would bring something different to it, but I thought it was important to play the Dracula stereotype a little bit. Dracula the vampire really is a fantasy, so I think on some level BUFFY is a show that uses the vampire as a symbol for something else, and I think that's what makes the show work on a lot of people. It's sort of a tongue-in-cheek, playful examination of a psyche. On some level I think the vampires are also sexual. A lot of women relate to these shows. They're an exploration of their deeper feelings and sexuality. It's a large part of Dracula as a vampire. He's very sexual, lusting after Buffy. But not on a superficial level. Now that I think about it, the one aspect I may have taken from Vlad was sort of his passionthat he lived life with a passion.'
On the surface, the notion of Buffy meeting Dracula sounds pretty campy and ridiculous, but the actor doesn't see it that way. 'It's not ridiculous because the show is called BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, and Dracula is the ultimate vampire,' says Martin, a regular on the Showtime series BEGGARS AND CHOOSERS, on which he plays Russian mobster Nicky Krasnakov. 'This is the fifth season, and Dracula has never shown up. I think it's about time. He's the most famous vampire, so it's just a matter of time before he gets there. From what I understand, he was very different from the other vampires that usually appear on the show. He doesn't live by the same rules that they do, which made him different, stronger and, hopefully, more interesting in a different way from the other vampires. But I don't really know much about that stuff, to tell you the truth. They wanted it different and apart from the other vampires, and that was fine with me.'
One of the most appealing aspects of the episode for the audience and Martin alike was Dracula's attempts to seduce the dark side of Buffy's nature. 'I think that's what it was about, really,' he concurs. 'I guess he wanted her to explore her dark side a little bit more and, obviously, she doesn't want to. On a deeper level, he wanted her to admit that she's got that in her as well; otherwise, she wouldn't have those powers for killing vampires. So she's using those powers, but she's not really embracing it; she's not acknowledging that she has them. If she did that, it would make her a much more powerful person, and I guess that's what Dracula was trying to get her to do. And to a small degree he succeeded, because at the end she was saying to Giles something along those lines. Maybe she learned a little bit about that. That's all I know about her. I just wanted to have fun with it and really had to play the stereotypes, which is why I did the Hungarian accent that people do. Not the same one I did for DARK PRINCE, which was a very subtle eastern European accent and not a heavy Hungarian accent like I did for Dracula.'
DARK PRINCE chronicles the life of Romania's Vlad Dracula from childhood through death and beyond. The film opens with the kidnapping of young Vlad Dracula and his brother, Radu, by the Turkish Sultan, Mohammed. The boys' father is mysteriously buried alive, while they are held prisoner for many years. Released as an adult, Vlad swears vengeance for his father's death and is determined to some day return to free his brother from the Sultan. Traveling to Hungary, Vlad requests to 'borrow' an army from King Janos so that he will be able to overthrow the Turks and regain the kingdom that rightfully belongs to him. What follows is the rise and ultimate fall of one of the most single-minded and ruthless rulers in history.
Surprisingly, Martin initially read for the role of Radu, but it quickly became apparent that he would ultimately be more appropriate for the starring role. 'I just thought it was really an interesting story,' he says, 'and when I found out it was the true storythat most of the material was historical factthat's when I became really
interested and thought it would be a cool project.'
Having heavily researched the role, he believes that there is a natural progression from Vlad to Bram Stoker. 'Vlad the Impaler was one of the most feared and respected characters in Eastern Europe in his time,' Martin notes. 'That was the 15th century. His reputation got somehow blackened during his life and after he died by certain people, because it was in their best interest to do so. I think when you see the film you get a sense of why Bram Stoker, four hundred years later, used Vlad the Impaler as the real-life historical model for his fictional vampire. You really see how he lends himself perfectly for the role of a mythical vampire. I think that's what you really find out in the film. Just the nature of his life story was passionate as well as simple with a lot of cruelty in it, too. I guess when you see the story, you get a sense of why Bram Stoker used him.
'I don't think Vlad was crazy,' he continues. 'I think he was damaged in how he grew up; in what happened in his childhood that really put an imprint on his behavior later. I think he felt like he was on a mission from God that he had to fulfill. Which made him almost invincible to his enemies because of how strong his passions and beliefs were. He really believed in what he was doing. It came across in how he ruled his country, how he fought his wars and also how deeply he loved the woman of his life, even though that sort of fell apart when she found out about his cruel streak and politics. I think he was a very passionate character, who used very severe methods to get what he wanted just because he really justified it all by his goals. And he did obtain some of those goals. He freed his country for a while, and he defended it for a while. He did do away with corruption and crime. His method on how to do away with corruption was to impale all the nobles. Most of them were incredibly corrupt and really weakened the country, and they still do to this day. Romania is the poorest country in Europe right now and it's been plagued in the last few decades by this kind of communism they have. It's only communism on paper, but really what it was, was dictatorships with a few privileged people sucking the life blood out of the country. Now you have a democracy, but you still have a lot of corruption there. Even though it has gotten a lot better, there are still problems. There are actually a lot of people who would like someone like Vlad Dracula. Nobody wants a dictator. They want somebody strong as long as he's sort of fighting for the right thing, which of course is an illusion. But Vlad is still some sort of a folk hero over there.
'What's really amazing is that we don't really know the story, because, considering how everybody knows the name Dracula, nobody really knows what the real Dracula did and how he lived. You don't have that situation with any other name in history where so many people know the name but know so little about the person. I think that's really one of the most interesting things about the project.'
Another highlight of the project was the apparent scope the filmmakers achieved. Amazingly, this was not Hollywood magic but was, instead, genuine locales. 'It looks like they had a lot more money than they actually did,' he points out. 'Transylvania is an amazing landscape, and some of these villages are still pretty much intact from the 15th century. A lot of the house and entire marketplaces are the same. The castles are all authentic. The monastery, where he was supposedly buried, was really there. We shot right in front of the house where Dracula was born and spent the first six years of his life. So it was very exciting. I've never had a chance to play a historical character before, so I really enjoyed it. It's inspiring, too, to be in the real surroundings.'
While BUFFY fans will find all of this DARK PRINCE talk fascinating, the real question for them is whether or not Martin will be returning to Sunnydale as Count Dracula. Your guess is as good as his. 'I hear a lot of things,' he admits, 'but nothing that I know of. Certainly I'd be interested if it's a good story. I'm always a sucker for a good story.'