Publicity still of Hungarian-American Bela Lugosi in the film 'Dracula,' 1931. (Photo by John Kisch Archive/Getty Images)
Movies - TV
Bela Lugosi Thought This Was The
Key To Successful Horror Acting
Before Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman, and Leslie Nielsen depicted Bram Stoker’s Dracula, their path to playing Transylvania’s most infamous resident was paved by Bela Lugosi. Playing Dracula was without a doubt what the Hungarian-born actor was most famous for, but in order to get into character, he employed a unique method to become a vampire.
Certain journalists at the time said that Lugosi would stand in front of the mirror in full costume, repeating the phrase “I am Dracula” with different intonations. This started the rumor that he was taking his Stanislavski reading too seriously, but in truth, Lugosi was merely rehearsing the line to put himself in the headspace of a vampire.
In 1935, Lugosi expanded on the practice, saying, “The horror actor must believe in his part. [...] 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.”
Lugosi wanted to bring a great deal of dignity to horror, because horror actors were getting a bum rap in Hollywood, and to state explicitly that playing Dracula was a “proper” acting job. He wanted to show that horror actors are real professionals who take their characters — fantastical or not — as seriously as any dramatic actor.