Talking Vampires with 12 Stars of ‘Buffy,’ ‘Moonlight,’ ‘Dark Shadows’ and More

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Kate Beckinsale as Selene

UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS, Kate Beckinsale, 2016. ph: Larry Horricks. ©Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Underworld — and its ongoing saga of the war between vampires and werewolves — has encompassed five films so far, four of which have starred Kate Beckinsale as the leather-clad Selene, a Death Dealer (killer of werewolves) who uncovers truths about both species as the struggle between them heats up. At the time of the release of the fourth film — Underworld: Awakenings — Kate discussed what it was like stepping back into the role six years after she had last played it.

UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION, Kate Beckinsale, 2006, (c) Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Returning as Selene: “It’s weird, because I’ve never done a part multiple times except for this one, and the last time we did it was several years ago. I think every woman who has to put on exactly what they wore eight years ago, the exact same thing, all they’re going to say is, ‘Wow, I look tired,’ you know what I mean? It was great coming back, but you forget how the costume feels after lunch. I remember having a stomach ache for six months on the last one, but this is great. The original Underworld was a very special movie for me, because it changed many things in my life — some of them which I’m still reeling over, some of which I haven’t gotten accustomed to. Just the fact that I get to run around and be this character is still unbelievable to me; it’s so far from what my sensibility is.”

UNDERWORLD, Kate Beckinsale, 2003, (c) Screen Gems/courtesy

On the Public’s Perception: “I know how these movies are perceived, that there’s no acting required, which actually isn’t the case. It’s just a different set of muscles, and I think for an actor — it’s all very well to stay in whatever your comfort zone is, it’s best to get out of it, and I’m surprised that I get as nervous as I do doing the stunts and action for Underworld, considering that I’ve done them a few times. But I do, every time — it’s like suddenly you’re told you have to dance, and you’re not a dancer — and then it is a bit like riding a bike, but I haven’t reached that point where I’m, like, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’ So those things that scare you and freak you out — I think if you have the opportunity as adults to freak yourself out, it’s a good thing.”

Alec Newman as Barnabas Collins

(Warner Bros.; Dan Curtis Productions)

In 2004, the CW produced a pilot for what would have been the third television incarnation of Dark Shadows. While it didn’t go to series, we had the opportunity to speak to Scottish actor Alec Newman right after production wrapped about his portrayal of Barnabas Collins. By all accounts that version of the show would have very much followed the storyline of the other two, though there was a shift to younger actors which could have potentially given it a different sort of energy.

(Warner Bros., Dan Curtis Productions)

His Approach to Barnabas Collins: “The character may be considered a terrible creep by some people, but he’s a tortured terrible creep, who we should be able to understand why he is the way he is. In the pilot, we delved into some of those areas a little bit. I think he’s a man who, to some extent, is battling his own state. I always look for something very human. I’ve been in some quite far-flung sort of fantasy-esque projects with Dune and certainly Frankenstein. I don’t know whether there’s some pattern emerging, but I like to apply very simple humanity and aim for a very simple truth in these apparently far-flung fantasy epic kind of environments. It seems to work for me.”

(Warner Bros., Dan Curtis Productions)

Barnabas’ Motivation: “I think there’s en epic love story driving him. What he has is a supernatural ‘condition’ — he doesn’t treat it as a curse. I mean, he knows who he is. Somebody was telling me that in one of the original episodes the character of Dr. Hoffman gave him the option to not be a vampire, and the reason he wanted to do that was to be with Victoria Winters, even though as a man, as a human man, he knows she is not really the reincarnation of his lost love. But such is the height of his pain about what happened 200 years ago. That’s very, very powerful.

“So one of the essential driving forces of Barnabas emotionally is love and regret, and trying to make that love tangible. The director and I were talking about those scenes with Victoria and looking at her like you look at a lover, and she just does not who you are. It must be extremely painful. That’s really the area that I was interested in, and certainly the area that the director, P.J. Hogan, was pushing for. I think there’s a lot of mileage for where that particular element can go.

“It certainly took … a lot of hard work on an airplane trying to bust my way through it sort of psychologically. It almost defies the approach that I would use with any other material. You kind of have to just fly with it and trust the material. So, hopefully, I did that at least a little.”

Vampirism and Barnabas Collins: “There is an exploration on the nature of what he is, and how in control of this affliction he is. And I do think of it as an affliction. There are genuine documented stories about vampires, mostly found in medical journals. That, of course, is no accident, the theory being that it is possibly an actual blood condition. That’s fascinating, and suddenly makes it all very tangible. It’s certainly interesting for me to think about it that way, because this is a man constantly in turmoil emotionally and, perhaps, even physically; as though he’s suffering from a disease. He does what he has to do to survive, which is not necessarily independent of what he wants emotionally. It’s kind of the metaphor for his emotional condition, if you like, while coexisting with that at the same time.

“You keep peeling back the layers and you find more. You get a scene where Barnabas bites blah, blah, and you go, ‘Well, why?’ And once you find out why, you know how to bite them. You know what I mean? I’m looking forward to seeing what the writers come up with.

(Warner Bros., Dan Curtis Productions)

“An interesting take on the vampire, and one I identify with, was Frank Langella’s Dracula, because he had that romantic element going of wanting his lost love and all that stuff, but yet you wouldn’t screw with him because he could project that sort of menace. It’s just like you wouldn’t screw with Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, the Creature. And yet he is, in many people’s eyes, the most sympathetic character in that novel. And that’s exactly where these things succeed. I think Frank Langella was probably on to something with Dracula there, you know? Because if he’s unsympathetic in the end, it’s a simple story about good guys and bad guys, and we’ve seen that before.”

Drawn to the Darkness: “My working method is to just very simply try and make things ring true, even if you are a vampire. And coupled with that is … I do seem to be attracted to darker elements in anything that I read, or decide to go and do. I suppose what I mean by dark is those elements of any one of us that are maybe not so nice to look at, although to get the whole picture it’s essential to look at those areas of one’s self. I do hope I’m not purging some kind of extreme doubt about myself as a human being. I don’t think so. Whether it’s the emperor of the universe, or a vampire who’s come back from 200 years prior, the same rules apply, and that’s nice. The way I was trained, you can kind of battle your way into anything using those very similar rules. And it’s a different challenge with every piece. So, yes, I am attracted to maybe the darker side of the human psyche. Maybe I should run off and do a slapstick comedy? Otherwise I’ll probably end up being very depressed. The thing about comedy is that it comes out of the same kind of truth anyway without necessarily being black comedy.”

Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen

(Summit Entertainment)

For vampire purists it may have been polarizing, but there’s no denying the impact of The Twilight Saga, consisting of Twilight (2008), New Moon (2009), Eclipse (2010), Breaking Dawn — Part 1 (2011), and Breaking Dawn — Part 2 (2012). The reason? The romance between human Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), and the challenges of being together as well as the pain of being apart. Prior to Twilight, the British born Robert Pattinson was perhaps best known as Cedric Diggory in the fourth Harry Potter film, The Goblet of Fire.

(Summit Entertainment)

On Being Cast as Edward Cullen: “The Edward in the book is this sort of perfect creature. It’s like a combination of everything that’s supposed to be perfect about a man, and he just embodies that. So everyone has projected their own image onto him. The amount of different people who the fans kind of wanted for the role was so varied. People were saying people like Leonardo DiCaprio — the guy’s supposed to be 17. It’s completely crazy. But then [author] Stephenie Meyer — who I met with — kind of gave me the okay. Literally overnight all the fans — virtually all of them — completely changed their minds. And then if anyone kind of says anything negative, people will attack them and say, ‘No, Stephenie says he’s right.’”

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN – PART 1, from left: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, 2011. ©Summit Entertainment/courtesy Everett Collection

The Edward/Bella Connection: “I read the book before I read the script and literally every single description was like that. I couldn’t even get through it, because there was just no way to play it. No one in the entire world could play this. And then I read the script and a lot of the descriptor things were taken out, and I was, like, ‘Okay, I kind of get it a little bit more.’ And then I did a screen test with Kristen Stewart, still having no idea how to do it. She just kind of played Bella in a really unexpected way, like really strong. And she’s not really strong in the book. Well, she’s kind of strong, but not really, in the book and Kristen is just naturally quite a sort of tough person. And it made me play Edward as kind of weaker. He’s this kind of all-knowing thing in the book and I went with the character from there, saying he’s this kind of demi-god, but she has all the power over him. And he’s just kind of a wreck, really. She completely dominates him and that’s kind of how I did it. I guess it’s not really the same as in the book, but I just couldn’t figure out a way to play perfect.

(Summit Entertainment)

“When you look at what Edward says, it seems that he always says the right thing. He’s always just the perfect gentleman. But when you put it in the context of his actual life situation, it doesn’t compute that he would be this completely easy-going, normal guy. That’s what he was before, but then he got bit. He’s still trying to be a nice guy, but he’s also killed, like, 50 people, so he’s kind of in a state of constant penance. A lot of the story is Edward going against his base instinct. He knows he’s a vampire and he knows what vampires do, what’s kind of the whole idea of being a vampire. Denying that is kind of boring. The more Bella says, ‘I’m not scared of you, you’re not a monster,’ the more I believe it myself and I kind of forget that I am a vampire and what my urges are. I try and kiss her, and obviously it kind of ends up being a nightmare. She has a hormonal rush and I have a kind of ‘I want to kill you’ rush. But it ends up being quite sexy in a weird sort of way.

“He knows his relationship with Bella is right, but he can’t stand the fact that he keeps hanging around her. It’s, like, ‘I know I’m in love with her. I know that’s all well and good, but I shouldn’t be doing this. I’m a vampire, I should just accept that and kill myself now.’ It’s a lot of self-loathing, and I wanted to play it 100% self-loathing the whole time, and nobody would let me. They had to kind of lighten me up a bit.”

Peter Mensah as Lemuel “Lem” Bridger

Recently aired on NBC is Midnight, Texas, based on the novels by Charlaine Harris (who also happens to be the creator of True Blood). The show deals with a community consisting of humans and supernatural beings, among them a witch, a fallen angel, a demon, a shapeshifter and, of course, a vampire. That vampire — Lemuel “Lem” Bridger —is played by Ghana born Peter Mensah. The character is described as a vampire with a dark past who first came to Midnight in the 1950s and never left. There he met, fell in love with and eventually married freelance assassin Olivia Charity (Arielle Kebbel).

What Drew Him to the Role: “Well, here’s the thing: In the books, Lem is essentially an albino and sort of super white, which is everything that I’m not. First of all, playing vampires is always fascinating, because the vampire lore is so complex and so rich. And then to be called in to play an established character in a novel, and yet to be so different. That brings a challenge in itself to sort of win the fans over and try and bring it to life. And I think the thing that appealed to the creatives was that they decided that Lem was someone who walks into a room and everyone immediately stares at him. It was sort of funny having that going for me.”

MIDNIGHT TEXAS — “Pilot” Episode 101 — Pictured: Peter Mensah as Lemuel — (Photo by: Cathy Kanavy/NBC)

Energy Vampire: “We developed the idea of Lem being an energy vampire. Lem is very human as a vampire and he’s very in touch with his emotions and feelings. He doesn’t want to kill, right? So he requires, in his initial phase as a vampire, blood as any vampire does. That usually meant killing people around him. So the fact that he’s a vampire who’s found a way to exist in a community of humans and others without killing, is really fascinating.

“Added to that is the complexity of actually having a role of caring for a partner and caring for his community. So I really enjoyed the complexity of what Lem had to be in order to exist. It’s a lot richer than I could’ve imagined. What’s really fascinating about Lem is he’s in love with a human who is far more volatile than he is. And for all the power that  is within him, he is, as I said, really connected to his feelings. So he’s a fascinating vampire to play. I’m really enjoying it.”

MIDNIGHT, TEXAS — “Last Temptation of Midnight” Episode 108 — Pictured: (l-r) Arielle Kebbel as Olivia, Peter Mensah as Lemuel — (Photo by: NBC)

The Evolution of Lem: “In that first season there was a certain amount of exposing of who he is. His part of this story is his relationships within the community of Midnight and especially his relationship with Olivia, who at the end of season one becomes Lem’s wife. Season two pushes further into their relationships and therefore exposes Lem through his connections within the community and how that impacts him and, especially, his relationship with Olivia now that they’re married. The complexity of a vampire/human marriage exposes a lot of the journey that Lem goes through in season two.”

The Appeal of Vampires: “I wish I knew. One of the things that certainly seems to be intriguing about them is they’re human, but not. They have heightened abilities. I think it’s the fact that they are closely related to everyone, but something has shifted in them and they can see beyond where most of us can. I’m sure that has something to do with it. I think we all would like to be a little bit more powerful than we are.  The vampire lore allows so many fantasies to exist within the character of a vampire, which could be part of the appeal as well.”

Where He’d Like to See The Character Go: “In Charlaine Harris’ books, Lem actually takes off and goes exploring the world, trying to discover a number of hidden secrets . I think Lem traveling around the world would be fascinating; going to Africa to find original roots, going into the East to discover the secrets of temples. I’d say Lem traveling around the world would be pretty cool.”

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