Ben Schwartz had a few reasons to be excited about being a part of Renfield, a new horror-comedy that sees Nicholas Hoult's titular lackey try to free himself from his master Dracula. One, of course, was working with Nicolas Cage, who brings the iconic vampire to life...
"It was amazing. The first scene we had, he literally choked me. He picked me up in the air and choked me and it's so great because, just the idea of doing a scene with Nic Cage is so exciting, but then to see Nic Cage's Dracula firsthand? It's bananas," Schwartz tells GamesRadar+. "Funniest part is, in between scenes, he and I would go to our little actor chairs but he's still dressed as Dracula so it's just me, looking at him talking about the weather... huge fingernails, blood on his face… It was awesome."
Another reason? Playing a villain for the first time in his career. "I think there's something funny in the idea that he's trying his best to be a mobster," he says of his tattooed, gun-wielding character Teddy Lobo. "Jean Ralphio [from Parks and Recreation, who he also played] can be a little annoying. He has no idea he's annoying, he thinks he's nailing it. But this guy?!"
"He's trying to impress his mom and his friends but I loved the idea of coming in and being a bad guy doing loads of drugs, learning fight choreography, and trying to kill people. I play the good guy so often, it was really fun to switch gears a bit."
Directed by The Lego Batman Movie's Chris McKay, Renfield takes place 90 years after the eponymous former lawyer devoted himself to the Prince of Darkness. Turns out, decades ago, Dracula was gravely wounded after a run-in with the Catholic Church, and, to avoid suspicion, Renfield was forced to relocate the pair. As explained via voiceover towards the start of the film, this has happened since... A lot... And each time, Renfield is charged with finding himself and his ailing boss a new place to lie low and help Dracula heal by plying him with fresh victims.
In modern-day New Orleans, Renfield's path crosses with Teddy's when he tries to off the abusive partner of a woman he's friends with at a counseling group – and it's revealed that the guy stole a ton of narcotics from Teddy and his notoriously violent crime family. Their lives get even more entangled, too, when Renfield meets Rebecca (Awkwafina), a volatile cop who has a complicated history with the Lobos.
"My mom is my Dracula and, in a way, I'm trying to be Awkwafina's character’s Dracula but she doesn't respect me," Schwartz laughs. "I'm trying but she doesn't care enough about me. I think there's such interesting, fun dynamics in all that, like, the toxic person who's trying to control the relationship versus the person who's trying to impress or get out."
Originally, Renfield featured a few more scenes that explored Teddy's anxieties over living up to the family name and following in the footsteps of his mother Bella (Shohreh Aghdashloo). "There was a little bit more – they cut out one or two scenes and in one of them, after Awkwafina or Renfield messes with me, you see my character talking to all his henchman like, 'Okay, listen, no, they can't be making fun of me. I've gotta look like I’m the boss here,'" he recalls. "You see the gears turning in his head like, 'Oh my god, I'm gonna lose all the respect and people are gonna start laughing at me if I don't kill this person. The only thing I can do is kill this person.'
"To see that, to see his pathetic-ness come out like that is so fun. At the end of the day, he's just a real mama's boy. Also, if you look closely at the scenes where we're in his headquarters, there's a see-through coffin with his dad inside; we had an actor play my dead father for every scene in that location. It had little holes in it so he could breathe and the director would yell 'cut' and he'd just get up and be like, 'Everything good?'"
Warning: the rest of this article contains major spoilers for Renfield. If you've yet to watch the movie and don't want to know anything that happens, turn back now!
Given that Teddy is Renfield's secondary antagonist, and that villainy and violence don't come naturally to him, it's hardly surprising that he doesn't make it to the end credits. Teddy doesn't die at the hands of Dracula, though – he meets his maker after a particularly brutal fight with Renfield, having aligned himself with the Count and absorbed some of his power. The action sequence culminates in Renfield walloping Teddy so forcefully in the gut that his insides, essentially, explode out of his mouth and his... butthole, too.
"I think, when I first read the script, he was going to punch my head off or kick me so hard in the torso that my head just popped off, and then [co-writer] Robert Kirkman came up to me and goes, 'I think we have a different way to do this'. I asked him what he was thinking and he pitched what happens in the movie. I was like, 'Uh, I don't think I want my character to die like that,'" Schwartz giggles.
"But he said, 'Trust me, it's gonna be great.' And then, we shot it and I saw it, and I was like, 'Oh yeah, this is the only way.' Everything's been building so crazy, this is the only way this character could die… in this insane way. It's so fun. And with this type of movie, you never really know what's gonna happen and the death plays into that perfectly."
Renfield is out in UK and US cinemas now. For more on the movie, check out our chat with Nicholas Hoult, or have a gander at our list of the most exciting upcoming movies coming our way throughout 2023 and beyond.