Renfield's cast and crew on making a weird and wild "R-rated co-dependency comedy" about Dracula

(Image credit: Universal)

Read Bram Stoker’s novel and Dracula’s bug-eating lackey Renfield probably won’t stand out. Watch any of the 200-plus film adaptations and he’s only memorable in a few – Dwight Frye in the 1931 movie, Tom Waits in Francis Ford Coppola’s version, Peter MacNicol in Dracula: Dead and Loving It. But here Renfield finally gets his own story – a man forced into working for a monster, sick of the job after 100 years without a promotion.

"If you asked anyone off the street about Renfield, they might be vaguely aware that he’s the guy who works for Dracula and eats bugs, but beyond that, there really isn’t much to go on," writer Ryan Ridley tells Total Film magazine (opens in new tab) in the latest issue, which features the movie on the cover. "So we had a lot to play with. Our Renfield is a regular guy who gets sucked into a horrible relationship with the ultimate narcissistic boss. And then he becomes broken down and creepy along the way. This movie, then, is sort of his journey out of that."

Director Chris McKay agrees, drawing comparisons to Evil Dead 2. Picking up the original script after Dexter Fletcher passed on it, McKay’s first challenge was rebalancing the tone of Dracula’s legacy. "This isn’t to denigrate anybody else’s movies, but I think in the past people have taken things very seriously. Sometimes that can be good. But that’s not the only way to go. We wanted to embrace the fact that these characters are scary, but they’re also romantic and sympathetic. And I also wanted to embrace all the stuff that I loved about Tod Browning and the Hammer films. So when I pitched myself as the director, I basically said, 'We should lean into the fun and the splat-stick. Make the action scenes big and exciting but do it like Jackie Chan. Make an R-rated co-dependency comedy.'"

Nicolas Hoult, who plays Renfield, adds to Total Film (opens in new tab) of his character: "He’s this guy who’s been kind of mind-washed by Dracula. He’s forced into this life of servitude, and 100 years on that’s still weighing on him. His moral compass is slightly off, in terms of what his job requires. Also, just having this boss who’s very under-appreciative and slightly abusive and manipulative and gaslighting, I guess, culturally, it felt part of the conversation nowadays in terms of relationships and work life."

Renfield opens in cinemas on April 14. For much more from stars Nicolas Cage, Hoult, Awkwafina, and creators Ridley and McKay on reinventing a classic movie monster, grab a copy of the new issue of Total Film magazine (opens in new tab) when it hits shelves (and digital newsstands) this Thursday, March 2. Check out the covers below:

Total Film's Renfield covers.

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Paul Bradshaw is a freelance film journalist who writes frequent reviews and features for Total Film. He's also a member of the London Critic's Circle.

With contributions from