Playing Literature’s Icons: A Different Kind of Challenge
by Jeremy van Meter
I just did an internet search for the names of the actors who have embodied the character that I am currently playing. Now, to be honest, I do not do the same search for every character that I play. That search is saved for only the iconic or the Shakespearean characters. And the man, so to speak, I am playing now is certainly one of literature’s most iconic.
My search resulted in seventy-seven other actors who have portrayed Count Dracula in some form or another. That search is specific to the film world which means that taking live theatre portrayals into account, that number most certainly reaches into the hundreds. Some highlights from my search:
- Judd Hirsch of Taxi fame played the count in a made for TV movie entitled The Halloween that Almost Wasn’t.
- John Caradine played the monster in Dracula vs. Billy the Kid. I promise I’m not making that title up.
- Christopher Lee played Dracula in ten different films over the course of his career.
- Robert Reed, the patriarch of The Brady Bunch, played the role in a vampiric episode of Fantasy Island.
Playing a well-known and iconic character is an interesting and fascinating challenge and, at times, can be an uphill struggle. I have known for quite some time that Scott Dixon was envisioning me as he was writing his title character in Dracula: Prince of Blood, an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. First of all, that is quite humbling and has made me take great care in how I created the character in rehearsal and how I play him in each performance. The other consideration was for all of those men who have played the role ahead of me. The one thing that I hope to never hear is that I am a reminder of Gary Oldman or that I sound like Frank Langella did when he played the role. The uphill climb of playing the iconic character is to find the specific nature and quality that makes the role “your own.” In so doing, I am being faithful to myself and my talent in not playing a carbon copy and I am being faithful to the vision of the playwright. An honest portrayal is my only task.
And speaking of iconic characters…my next role at the Commonweal is to play a radio actor playing George Bailey on-the-air in It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. The answer to your question is, “No, I will not be playing Jimmy Stewart.”
Dracula: Prince of Blood is now playing at the Commonweal through November 11.
GET TICKETS —> Performance Calendar
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you at the theatre—Jeremy.