Who is Renfield? Dracula character in new Nic Cage movie explained

Nicholas Hoult as Renfield, with Dracula's hands on his shoulders.Universal Pictures

Renfield is both the title and protagonist of a new Nicolas Cage movie that drags the Dracula story kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Here’s everything you need to know about this fresh take on a classic character.

Renfield stars Nicholas Hoult as the title character, and Nicolas Cage as Dracula, the vampire with whom he has a powerful bond.

The film’s official synopsis is as follows: “In this modern monster tale of Dracula’s loyal servant, Nicholas Hoult stars as Renfield, the tortured aide to history’s most narcissistic boss, Dracula. Renfield is forced to procure his master’s prey and do his every bidding, no matter how debased. But now, after centuries of servitude, Renfield is ready to see if there’s a life outside the shadow of The Prince of Darkness. If only he can figure out how to end his codependency.”

Article continues after ad

That’s the new version of Renfield, while the following is a brief history of the character, from book, to screen, to this new reworking.

Who is Renfield?

Renfield is a character in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a gothic horror novel that was first published in 1871. In the book, he is the titular Count’s familiar, which essentially makes him both servant and slave.

Renfield is locked in an asylum, where he’s described by his doctor John Seward as being a man of “sanguine temperament, great physical strength, morbidly excitable, periods of gloom, ending in some fixed idea which I cannot make out.”

Article continues after ad

Renfield does Dracula’s bidding in exchange for insects – which he consumes – and the promise of immortality. Though ultimately the Count beats him to a pulp, then later breaks Renfield’s neck.

Renfield in the movies

While a version of Renfield appears in F.W. Murnau’s Nosferartu, the first proper celluloid incarnation of the character is in Tod Browning’s Dracula.

In the classic 1931 horror he’s played by Dwight Frye, and is an estate agent sent to Transylvania instead of Jonathan Harker. The new movie is a direct sequel to this adaptation, meaning Nicholas Hoult is playing the very same Renfield.

Article continues after ad

Klaus Kinski performed Renfield as a mute in 1970 (before playing Nosferartu himself in 1979). Tony Haygarth’s Renfield was a lowly workman, opposite Frank Langella’s acclaimed Dracula.

But the most memorable Renfield of the modern age appears in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. Rock star Tom Waits plays quite the weirdest incarnation of the character in the 1992 movie, while Coppola makes him the visually arresting Renfield we’ve ever seen.

Casting Nicholas Hoult as Renfield

Nicholas Hoult – of About a Boy, X-Men: First Class, and Mad Max: Fury Road fame – plays Renfield in the new movie. Hoult’s version is very different from what’s come before, being charming, misguided, and full of regret.

Article continues after ad

“Renfield’s just exhausted with the prospect of continuing to do Dracula’s dirty work,” Hoult says of his character. “He’s worn down, beaten down and looking for an escape or some sort of spark to return to his normal life and what he misses. It’s a toxic relationship between Renfield and Dracula – they’ve been together for so long and they really know how to push each other’s buttons and work against each other.”

Of the decision to cast the English actor, director Chris McKay says: “Nick Hoult was an actor I’ve always really liked. I was so excited that he said yes because honestly there would be no movie without him. He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever met. Just throws himself into everything. And he’s so smart and funny. Nick has no ego and just wants to have fun. He’s super thoughtful about the script and the characters. He’s the best f*cking partner to have on a movie.”

Article continues after ad

“There are a lot of ‘barriers to entry’ to falling in love with Renfield, who eats bugs and murders people,” producer Bryan Furst adds. “Yet Nick is so endearing and appealing that he really lets the audience love him despite what outwardly would seem like disqualifying, despicable behavior.”

As for Hoult himself, he says he looked to Dwight Frye’s 1931 performance for inspiration, bringing the character full circle. As Hoult explains: “I stole what I could. I tried to pepper in little nods to what came before, though, obviously, the tone of this is very much a comedy-action film and a modern interpretation of the character. It gave me a lot of freedom to do what I want with the role as well.”

Article continues after ad

Renfield hits screens on April 14, 2023. Find out more here.

Related Topics