Francis Ford Coppola Thinks Perfectionism Poisoned Keanu Reeves' Dracula Performance

Francis Ford Coppola's beautiful film adaptation of "Bram Stoker's Dracula" is more than 30 years old, and it's an exquisite tale of love, horror, and tragedy full of eroticism that does the original novel justice. Nothing has managed to get as close to the novel in spirit and storyline, and it is a favorite among many horror and non-horror fans for this reason (among many others). With that said, one performance that doesn't really stand the test of time comes from a beloved actor: Keanu Reeves.

His performance wasn't well received back in 1992 when the film was released, and unfortunately, it's not one of those performances that can be rehabilitated with time. In "Bram Stoker's Dracula," Reeves portrays Jonathan Harker, a solicitor who travels to Transylvania after his colleague, R.M. Renfield, goes insane. This has left an opportunity for Harker to take over Renfield's old clients, namely Count Dracula.

While Harker is there to finalize business dealings with the Count over various properties in London, the Count has other plans upon discovering Harker's photograph of his fiancé, Mina Murray (played by Winona Rider). Believing Mina to be the reincarnation of his deceased lover, Elisabeta, the Count sacrifices Harker to his three vampiric brides while making his way to London. Eventually, Harker escapes and is drawn back into the fight against Count Dracula to save Mina's soul.

Looking back on Reeves' performance as Jonathan Harker, Coppola had his own opinions as to why the performance audiences saw onscreen didn't go how Reeves had hoped.

Perfectionism kills

When perfectionism works, it really works, but oftentimes, it sabotages more than it helps. Coppola is a pretty exacting director who expects a lot out of his actors, but that need for perfection might have been too big a stressor on Reeves' performance. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the director explained the whole thing quite objectively, saying:

"It was tough for him to affect an English accent. He tried so hard. That was the problem – he wanted to do it perfectly, and it came off as stilted. I tried to get him to relax with it and not do it so fastidiously. So maybe I wasn't as critical of him, but that's because I like him, personally, so much. To this day, he's a prince in my eyes."

The soft spot Coppola had for the young actor, as well as Reeves' perfectionism, may be to blame here, but there are also other factors. Years after the release of the film, Reeves admitted that he was thoroughly exhausted from back-to-back shoots before he took on the role of Jonathan Harker. (In fact, Reeves was in four different movies released in 1991, just before "Dracula" came along.) By the time he got to working on Coppola's film, he just didn't have anything more to give.

A lot of big theatrical performances

There was one other factor working against Reeves, and that was the sheer intensity of his co-stars. Coppola pushed the stars to really get into their characters, with Gary Oldman allegedly spending a great deal of time sleeping in coffins and Cary Elwes, who played an aristocrat, going on horse-bound hunts. Oldman's Dracula is a force of nature, and when he goes up against Anthony Hopkins' Van Helsing, almost any other actor is going to look flat by comparison. It's a shame that Reeves pushed himself so hard to try and get the accent right, because his performance as the wide-eyed, innocent Harker is otherwise great.

It turns out that, like Harker, Reeves was also a sweetheart who did his best to protect dear Mina and the woman who played her. Ryder, who was already apparently struggling while working with Oldman, who went fully method for the role, was then verbally assaulted by various cast members (at Coppola's behest) in order to get her to cry for a scene. Reeves refused, along with Hopkins, and Ryder went on to think of Reeves as her "savior" on set. The two have maintained a lifelong friendship ever since, forging something beautiful out of a fairly ugly situation.

A good guy with a crummy performance

Reeves may have had a stilted performance with a slightly silly accent that was West London by way of West Hollywood, but he still gave the performance his all and he's great as long as he's not talking. It sounds like filming "Bram Stoker's Dracula" was a pretty stressful experience, and at the very least, Reeves knows that even if he didn't give the best performance ever, he was still a really solid guy to be around, and that's what really matters in the long run. After all, it's not like one goofy performance was going to end his career, and Reeves ended up going on to be one of the biggest movie stars of his generation.

Who knows, maybe the nightmare of "Bram Stoker's Dracula" convinced Keanu to chase down more action movie roles! In that case, thank goodness for Coppola, Keanu, and one absolutely atrocious accent.