I Like Playing Dracula, by Bela Lugosi

Written by Bela Lugosi (1935)

I like playing "horror" parts on the screen. This may surprise you, but let me explain my point of view.

There is a popular idea that portraying a monster of the Dracula type requires no acting ability. People are apt to think that anyone who likes to put on a grotesque make-up can be a fiend. That is wrong.

A monster, to be convincing, must have a character and a brain.

The screen monster produced by mere tricks of make-up and lighting will never thrill an audience. It will make them laugh! It is just a machine which does not understand what it is doing.

Now, imagine this creature with a character, with reasoning power and certain human mental facilities. It is no longer a machine. It can think.

Such a monster is able to thrill an audience. It can plot against the hero and heroine. It is a menace which must be combated by brains, not by running away.

We are all more afraid of cunning than brute force. Therefore, the monster must have cunning to trap his victims - physical strength is not enough to convince an audience.

Now, perhaps, you begin to see why I find the playing of fiends interesting!

When I am given a new role in a horror film, I have a character to create just as much as if I were playing a straight part.

Whether one thinks of films like Dracula as "hokum" or not does not alter the fact; the horror actor must believe in his part. The player who portrays a film monster with his tongue in his cheek is doomed to failure.

An example of this occurred not very long ago. An actor, whose name I will not mention, played the part of a sinister foreign villain. He had been used to straight parts, and he went into this film laughing at himself. He did the correct villainous actions, but he had his tongue in his cheek all the time.

The villain was completely unconvincing and as a result the film was a flop at the box office. Later, an almost exactly similar character was played by another actor. He took it seriously. Audiences believed tin the villain and the film was a success.

I am not saying that I personally take seriously these vampires and monsters as such. I am saying that one must take them seriously when one is portraying them.

In playing Dracula, I have to work myself up into believing that he is real, to ascribe to myself the motives and emotions that such a character would feel. For a time, I become Dracula -- not merely an actor playing at being a vampire.

A good actor will "make" a horror part. He will build up the character until it convinces him and he is carried away by it.

There are, of course, plenty of tricks of the trade to be employed, such as effective make-up, clever photography, a threatening voice and claw-like gestures with the hands. These are important in the "hokum" film and must be used. But even they must be employed with intelligence or they will fail to thrill.

To leave the theoretical discussion of so-called monsters, there is another reason why I do not mind being "typed" in eerie thrillers.

With few exceptions, there are, among actors, only two types who matter at the box office. They are heroes and villains. The men who play these parts are the only ones whose names you will see in electric lights outside the theater.

Obviously, I cannot play a juvenile part -- you will not find me competing with Clark Gable or Robert Montgomery! Therefore, I have gone to the other extreme in my search for success and public acclaim.

Every year a number of films with fantastic or supernatural characters are made, and will, it seems, continue to be made, whatever may happen to the horror "cycle" of pictures. I have deliberately specialized in such characters -- and I firmly believe there will be suitable roles for me for a long time to come!

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