Why it was ‘so easy’ for Ben Schwartz to act with Nicolas Cage in ‘Renfield’ | Inquirer Entertainment

Why it was ‘so easy’ for Ben Schwartz to act with Nicolas Cage in ‘Renfield’

By: - Entertainment Editor
12:20 AM April 23, 2023

Nicolas Cage as Dracula in “Renfield”


Seeing Nicolas Cage transform into whatever role he sets out to do is something that viewers and costars alike can’t easily forget, swears his coactor Ben Schwartz when Inquirer Entertainment spoke to the 41-year-old Emmy-winning comedian (“Parks and Recreation,” “Sonic the Hedgehog”) recently.

Ben, who plays crime lord Bellafrancesca Lobo’s (Shohreh Aghdashloo) power-hungry son Tedward and Dracula’s new recruit in Universal Pictures’ horror comedy “Renfield” (in Philippine cinemas beginning Wednesday), has good reason to call his first encounter with Nicolas “surreal and crazy.”


“I’ve seen every Nicolas Cage movie,” Ben disclosed. “I mean, I saw ‘Raising Arizona, ‘The Rock,’ ‘Face/Off’ and ‘Con Air,’ so when I met him for the first time, I was like, ‘Oh my god, it’s Nick Cage!’


“The crazier thing is, the first time I saw him on the set, it was Nick dressed as Dracula—which is even more bananas! You know, just seeing Nick by himself is a feat in itself and the highlight of my year, but seeing him with these huge teeth and big nails was so crazy and surreal. That makes it so easy to act opposite him, because you’re just reacting to what he’s doing.”

In director Chris McKay’s fun and unapologetically violent film, Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) tries to finally sever his ties with his abusive and manipulative boss, Dracula (Nicolas), who in turn welcomes new recruits and “familiars” (Ben) to his blood-sucking coven.

While it was a treat and a thrill for Ben to work alongside Nicolas and Nicholas, reading “Renfield’s” script, which focuses on Dracula’s aggrieved assistant, made the project even easier to accept.

“I thought it was so cool that (screenwriter) Ryan Ridley readily wrote this thing [based on a story concept by ‘The Walking Dead’ creator Robert Kirkman] that felt so action-packed and filled with horror. But, more than that, it was also very funny!

“By funny, I mean it wasn’t just ‘down the middle’ funny, it was ‘alternative comedian’ funny. It’s the stuff that comedians laugh about, like those jokes that go a little bit too crazy—which I thought was awesome. The fact that this movie was conceptualized as an R-rated hard comedy with action made it immediately fascinating to me.”

For his part, Nicolas may be known for his “idiosyncratic” roles (“Adaptation,” “Wild at Heart,” “Moonstruck,” “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” “Guarding Tess” and 2021’s “Pig”), but they’re characters with a lot of thought and gumption put into them.

Ben Schwartz

Ben Schwartz

Not the first time

It isn’t Nicolas’ first time to play a vampire, however, because he already played one 35 years ago, in “Vampire’s Kiss,” where he portrays a publishing executive who thinks he’s turning into a famished bloodsucker.

In a separate interview, the Oscar-winning actor (“Leaving Las Vegas”) shared how he created his version of Dracula, along with his “unexpected” inspiration for it: “With the line, ‘I am Dracula,’ I wanted to channel a little Transylvanian voice. By and large, my favorite Dracula is Christopher Lee, who has a British sound.

“But my father was the biggest influence for my Dracula, because he had a mid-Atlantic sound. What I didn’t want to do was have a goofy Transylvanian sound for the role. So I thought my father, whom I also channeled when I made ‘Vampire’s Kiss,’ was a great starting point for the way this Dracula speaks.

“So much can be conveyed with one’s voice and even just your eyes. So, even when I’m under 20 pounds of makeup, the performance can still come through, which is why I didn’t want to wear contact lens too much, because I still wanted my eyes to talk.

“Thankfully, Nick (Hoult) is someone who has tremendous wit and comic timing, so we were able to riff off of each other.”

Schwartz (left) facing off with Nicholas Hoult

Schwartz (left) facing off with Nicholas Hoult


Dracula’s familiar

Speaking of character riff-offs, Ben explained why his character Teddy thought he’d be a better familiar for Dracula than Renfield.

“A good familiar is someone who has to have the same mindset as his crazy boss in order to pull it off. That’s why Teddy cannot wait to be Dracula’s familiar,” Ben said. “The second he sees that possibility, he thought, ‘Oh my God, I can team up with this guy and take over the world!’ All the things that Renfield thinks is bad about being a familiar are also all the things that Teddy thinks is good about it.”

When asked what vampire movies he likes, Ben said, “I love a lot of vampire movies. But the one that I’ve seen the most is Mel Brooks’ ‘Dracula: Dead and Loving It,’ because I love comedy so much. So, I’ve probably seen Leslie Nielsen’s Dracula more than anybody else’s. I also played a lot of Castlevania as a kid, so I’m also familiar with the vampires in it.”

What were Ben’s references in creating inept gangster Teddy?

He answered, “Chris McKay said, ‘You should watch the following movie: ‘Donnie Brasco,’ ‘Mean Streets’ and ‘Scarface.’ Teddy’s not quite those people, but he has those posters on his wall—like, that’s what or who he aspires to be.

“I thought it’d be really funny if you played the bad guy and people would say, ‘He wishes he was as bad as these guys, but he’s not. He’s really a weakling! He doesn’t have what it takes to be one.’ It’s like a kid who’s trying to be those people, but can’t quite be like them (laughs).”

Then, Ben talked about the movie monsters he grew up watching.

“I love Frankenstein,” he began. “I love the idea of viewers connecting to characters who convey what it’s like being an outcast. I love Dracula, the Wolfman, and the Invisible Man—they’re all super fun.

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“I find that the movies I connect to the most are the ones that had that underlying theme of what it’s like being an outsider. It’s the same with this movie. I hope people connect with the toxicity surrounding Dracula and Renfield’s relationship and, as a result, try to break free from anything that feels abusive and overbearing.


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TAGS: Ben Schwartz, Dracula, Nicolas Cage

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