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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

The Transfiguration director Michael O'Shea on vampires in the cinema

"I think as the world becomes more secular, death becomes more terrifying and vampires become more attractive"

Director Michael O’Shea. Courtesy Susan Leber
Director Michael O’Shea. Courtesy Susan Leber

The movie obsessively references every corner of vampire culture – are you a big fan of vampires yourself?

Not really, actually. Milo’s [main character] a big fan of vampires. I just had to do enough work to pretend I knew a lot about vampires, so I could convince the audience Milo was a big fan of vampires. It’s not knowledge, it’s Wikipedia. I had it in my head that Milo would be so meticulous he’d have read every book going to find out what the rules for vampires are in every different work of fiction, but then I found out that Wikipedia has this actual chart of every book ever written and what the rules are. I then had to convince myself that Milo is a very thorough boy, so he’d read the books anyway for the nuance, and because Wikipedia isn’t always correct. It was kind of a circle. I came up with this idea for the character, and then of course it turned out someone had done it already because “it’s the internet, of course someone did it already”.

Vampires have been synonymous with cinema since the days of Nosferatu. What makes the genre so enduring?

The key to the genre is immortality. I think the key to everything is fear of death, and how we handle that. I think as the world becomes more secular, death becomes more terrifying and vampires become more attractive. In the past vampires were something people really didn’t want to be. They showed that if you didn’t die you became this horrible monster that sucks blood; then somewhere through books and especially cinema, they transformed into this aspirational creature where you’ve got a vegetarian vampire who twinkles in the sun. It’s become about living forever and vampires are suddenly something we look up to, something that cheats death.

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Each era seems to have its own take on the genre, from early expressionist interpretations to the corny Hammer era, to cool 80s vampires like The Lost Boys, then teen-romances like Twilight more recently. Do you have a favourite era?

I’m with Milo. I like my films to be realistic, so he lists off basically my favourite vampire films by decade in the movie. From the 70s I love Martin, from the 80s Near Dark by Kathryn Bigelow, Shadow of the Vampire in the 90s and Let the Right One In a few years ago. I do prefer the more postmodern, contemporary stuff rather than Hammer or the really old stuff, films that comment on the whole thing a little, that are maybe a bit meta with it. I like that sense of commentary that comes with post-60s cinema.

Do you hate Twilight as much as Milo?

I don’t hate Twilight as much as the film might make it appear. I’m just kind of making fun of the whole aspirational vampire thing, and also I think it’s a very funny character idea that Milo would be confronted with Twilight. He’s a very serious hipster when it comes to vampires so for him to be confronted with Twilight, which is the exact opposite, I just thought it was funny. And then he actually reads the book, which is kind of comedy to me in a very serious movie.

There have been some incredible performances as vampires, from Max Schreck to Brad Pitt. Do you have a favourite (not including Milo)?

Off the top of my head, I’d say Willem Dafoe playing Nosferatu in Shadow of the Vampire. That’s pretty good. Though Bill Paxton in Near Dark with the boots that slit people’s throats – that’s a great action vampire. But I’m going stick with Willem, he such a great actor. It’s a tough one, but him.