Ben Schwartz still can’t believe he got to work with his idol, Nicolas Cage – even if it was the most surreal team-up imaginable, for the new horror comedy Renfield.
“It was an amazing experience”, star Ben Schwartz told Zavvi. “After you do a scene, they’ll say cut and we’ll go to our chairs together whilst he’s still dressed Dracula. I just wanted to ask him about all my favorite movies, and I’ll never forget talking to him about Adaptation while he still had the Dracula fangs in his mouth.”
Schwartz stars in the black comedy as Teddy Lobo, a New Orleans mob enforcer whose path crosses with the world-renowned bloodsucker after his assistant Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) strays away from his master, unwittingly foiling Lobo’s murder attempt on Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), the only cop in the city not corrupt enough to be on the Lobo payroll.
For Schwartz, being cast against type in a villainous role was all part of the appeal of Renfield. Best known for Parks And Recreation and voicing the cuddly Sonic in the recent live-action adaptations of the SEGA video games, he embraced the chance to play a conflicted criminal like those in the thrillers he grew up loving.
“He’s the first character I’ve ever played who would really want to kill somebody. I played another character who accidentally did that, but Teddy is the first guy who has a real intention to hurt, which is really fun to play.
“To get into the mindset of playing a villain, I watched Mean Streets, Donnie Brasco, Scarface – my character isn’t like those guys, but he had their posters on his wall and wishes he was them. It’s fun to play that type of mean character who is purely pathetic: he does all of this purely to impress his mommy and his best friends.
“I thought it was funny to put a character archetype that you’ve seen before and give him low self-esteem. He’s just trying his best to be a good bad guy – (director) Chris McKay gave me a big list of crime thrillers to watch in preparation, and watching those, you can see just how much Teddy is failing to be all of this.”
That this crime thriller unfolds within a surrealist horror comedy, which offers a quirky twist on one of the most famous characters in the genre, is all part of the excitement for the actor. Although, like many on the internet, he’s also desperate to see a full-blown Dracula horror starring Cage, telling us that “(I) would do anything with Cage’s Dracula – after working with him on this movie, I would follow him to the ends of the Earth!”
As a massive fan of Cage prior to signing on to the movie (although let’s face it, who isn’t?), Schwartz was extremely excited to be sharing screen time with his idol, but the nerves started to hit once they were face to face for the first time.
“I just needed to get one take out of the way to feel like we were on the same page, so I was naturally very nervous to nail that first take. The second that it went well, I knew automatically the movie was going to be great.
“I feel like what usually happens when you’re working with someone who is such a legend is that you know once you get in there whether it’s going to be good or not – and when it’s Nic Cage, once the take starts, you know he’s amazing.”
Outside of film and TV, Schwartz is best known for his improv abilities; alongside comedian Thomas Middleditch, he appeared in Netflix’s first fully improvised comedy specials back in 2020. These skills translated well to the Renfield set, with director McKay happy to let him explore his character’s weirder depths and bring Cage along for the ride with him.
“They cut out a bunch of it, but the big improv scene I remember the most is where Cage chokes me, and I’m trying to convince him I’m this bad criminal. We ended up shooting so much of me making up various crimes my character had committed, and at one point, he started laughing at me which was terrifying – this wasn’t in the script, and he’s still deep in character as Dracula.
“And then, all he did was reach for me, and suddenly my improv tangent turned into full horror, asking him if he was going to f**k me up and kill me! They let us go on for a while before saying cut, and I’ve still got the video on my phone to this day, it was a great moment.”
The last time Universal brought Dracula to the screen was via 2014’s Dracula: Untold, intended to be the first chapter in an ongoing “Dark Universe” of their famous movie monsters.
After the Tom Cruise reboot of The Mummy failed to set the box office alight, the idea was put on ice, but there have been several lower budget attempts to reimagine this litany of characters that have entered development since, with Renfield one of the first out of the gate following 2020’s terrifying The Invisible Man.
Seeing this trend gain some steam, Schwartz is currently honing his pitch for a brand new take on another classic movie monster.
“You know what I really want to do? A buddy comedy with Frankenstein it – 48 Hours with Frankenstein, a buddy cop comedy with me and Frankenstein solving crimes.”
If Renfield is a box office success, Universal will no doubt be on the phone to Schwartz: he has another hit monster movie on his hands.
Renfield hits theaters on Friday, April 14.