Ideally, Nonso Anozie would love for his new series “Dracula” to get picked up beyond the initial 10 episodes. But with networks dropping new shows almost as soon as they air the 34-year-old British actor won’t know the series’ fate for two weeks or so but thinks viewers will appreciate the newcomer.
“I’ve seen a couple of episodes and I think it’s just amazing. “Dracula”—[he whistles] is luxurious; it’s like eye candy. Not just the way it looks but it’s also written well, it flows well,” explains an assured Anozie, who stars as R.M. Renfield in this reimagining of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel.
Something else that may help this newbie? It debuts Friday after NBC’s well-liked supernatural drama “Grimm.” Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars as Dracula, whose alter ego Alexander Grayson is posing as an American entrepreneur desiring to bring modern science to late 19th century London.
“Dracula” isn’t Anozie’s—who’s born to Nigerian parents—first go at American television. He starred as Xaro Xhoan Daxos in the HBO “Game of Thrones’” season 2 and was seen earlier this year as Samson in the TV miniseries “The Bible.” Next week you can see him on the big screen when he stars alongside Harrison Ford and Viola Davis in “Ender’s Game,” premiering November 1. Anozie will play Embee in the much-anticipated “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” in December.
Anozie talks exclusively to XFINITY TV from London about his R.M. Renfield portrayal, black actors working in Hollywood and whether we’ll see him back on “Game of Thrones.”
You mention how “Dracula” is well-written. Why else should people tune in?
In the first episode there’s so much going on but you seem to have a handle on everything. And I think what a lot of clever writers are doing on TV now is that they’re trusting the audience is smart enough to keep up with a complicated plot, which I think is what “Game of Thrones” does so well. And [the audience] can handle that; we are intelligent. You don’t have to spoon-feed up everything with exposition. You can give us the whole kabob and we’ll eat it all —I think I just coined something [laughs]. I think [TV series writers] now trust us to be as smart as we’ve always been. I think that’s what “Dracula” does so well like “Game of Thrones.”
Tell me about your experiences playing R.M. Renfield in this series?
It was such a great character to play. It was just one of those characters that make sense. Alexander Grayson is Dracula—that’s his alter ego. He’s a wealthy businessman who comes to London in order to exact revenge on the people who killed his wife hundreds of years ago. I play his lawyer, confidante and the closest thing that you can describe as a friend. I know his dark secret and I’m the only one who does. I go around in the daytime and conduct “business” that he can’t do in the day. I protect him—I wouldn’t say from physical attacks—but I would say from himself, sometimes. I’m probably his voice of reason as well.
This Renfield differs from the original character in Bram Stoker’s classic.
In the book Renfield is a mental case. He’s far from that in the series. He may go there a little bit; he may go there one day, I don’t know. It depends if the series continues, if we’re blessed enough for it to go on, which I’m quite hopeful that it will. I would love to explore that kind of thing. I do get excited by playing characters that are a little bit on the edge or a bit crazy and offer a psyche I can explore. I like playing those kinds of roles. If there was a journey into that mad depraved character that’s in the original books that would be interesting to play because it’s so far from what I’m playing right now.
Another difference is that this character has historically always been Caucasian. Did they have a black person in mind?
You know what, I have no idea. All I know is that I went in for the role and I got it. I do tend to get a lot of roles where they weren’t originally intending to cast a black person. Or, if they were, it’s just the kind of role where it’s just really unusual to see a black man in that kind of a film. Right from the start, [my first professional role was] playing King Lear. The rest of the cast was white, I was black. My daughters were white. It was kind of colorblind casting. They liked me so much they just cast me as King Lear. And the same thing happened when I did “Atonement.”
Actors including Viola Davis and Anthony Mackie have been vocal about the lack of quality roles available for black actors, particularly black women. How do you choose your roles?
There needs to be leading roles – roles that aren’t just leading but he’s a thug or a rapist. To be honest with you, that’s what I look for in my roles and I think any actor worth his salt looks for roles that are exciting, and different and new, something he hasn’t played before. I probably say no to more roles than I take because it’s probably so easy to stereotype me. Because unlike the other guys that are out here, I’m 6’6” and built like a linebacker. It really is so easy to put me in a role where it’s “Oh, he’s the big guy in the back” or “Oh, he’s the thug.” If you really want to work as an actor, you can work if it’s just about money. But if you want to actually make a difference and do some good work that means something, then you’re going to be picky about the roles that you do. Like Anthony Mackie is saying and like a lot of actors are saying it really shows up how few of those roles are available for black people.
You’ve played a myriad of characters from various backgrounds. How do you master the accents?
When I got out of drama school, I kind of said to myself, what parts am I going to play, what am I going to do? I knew I wanted to work in America so I really worked hard on getting my American accent right. I also worked on my African accents and my Nigerian accents — not just Igbo, you have to be specific, because an Igbo accent is very different from a Yoruba accent Is very different from a Hausa accent and that’s just in Nigeria. There’s so much that you have to take on when you’re playing a Yoruba or an Igbo or a Ugandan or you’re playing a South African. There are a lot of things I did in drama school to get myself up to speed with what I would be playing. And it’s still a journey. You never learn everything.
Tell me about your first professional acting job.
The first job I did when I came out of drama school was to play King Lear for the Royal Shakespeare Company. I became the youngest person ever to play King Lear in this country. I was 23.
You star as Sergeant Dap in the movie “Ender’s Game.” Did you get any advice for Harrison Ford or Viola Davis?
I asked him what advice would you have liked to have gotten at my age. And he said, “Do it your own way and don’t be afraid to not take advice. Don’t be afraid to say screw what they think and do it yourself.” I talked to Viola as well but that was more of a social thing. We didn’t have any scenes together. Whenever I was coming on to do a scene she was finishing, she would say hey and we would shoot the breeze. And she is the most down to earth, real lovely person. She’s a great person. And when you see her from how she is to talk to and when you see her play her character, the difference is amazing. It’s very subtle but it’s a big difference. She came up in the theater, I gather, and you can really tell.
I like many others became familiar with you from “Game of Thrones.” How did starring in that hit change your world?
If you’re on “Game of Thrones” your world will be changed. I recently came back from Jamaica with my girlfriend and we encountered a couple who had a Khaleesi and Khal Drogo-style wedding. That was an experience! And they thought it was message from God that I was there in their presence. They went crazy that I had been in “Game of Thrones” and I acted with Khaleesi and I was having holiday on their honeymoon with them. They had lost it. Never had I been in anything that had brought out that kind of reaction in people. “Game of Thrones” has brought out some serious reaction in people.
When I was in New Orleans when the second season was airing last year, this woman just stopped dead in front of me on the street and just started screaming the most hysterical scream I had ever heard. Everyone in the vicinity just stopped and stared. She went, “Ahhh! You are Xaro from ‘Game of Thrones!!!’” I was thrown off because I first thought she was having an epileptic seizure or something. It’s great to be involved in something that has done that much for recognition, for my career and it’s given me a nice platform to show a bit of what I could do to a larger audience. It helped me get involved with a lot of other shows and a lot of things I haven’t before. I’m very grateful for the show. You never know, Xaro may get out of that vault.
Are you trying to tell me something?
I just said you never know. That’s all I said, that’s all I said. If you read the books, then you know Xaro comes back. But, but there’s a lot of things in the books that was supposed to happen in the third season that didn’t happen. So you can never know.
“Dracula” premieres at 10 p.m. EST Friday on NBC. You can watch it here.