Under the provocative direction of Francis Ford Coppola, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” put Winona Ryder and Gary Oldman at each other’s throats
Guilt, Winona Ryder likes to say, “Is an emotion that I don’t really like to tap into.” But that’s the emotion du jour on the set of . Ryder’s character, the Victorian schoolmarm Mina Murray, has just sucked Dracula’s blood — thereby consummating a “vampire wedding” that renders her soulless and Dracula’s consort for eternity. She is in love with her Lucifer, much to the horror of her mortal spouse, the stratlaced Johnathan Harker (played by Keanu Reeves). As the scene begins, Harker, vampire slayer Dr. Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins), and their companions have discovered Mina at the pierced breast of her demon mate and momentarily ruptured their lovers’ embrace. Now the twenty-year-old Ryder must swim in Mina’s self-hatred and revulsion at her unleashed sexual passion.
As Mina awakens from her lustful trance, Ryder must throw herself on the bed and break down, crying out “Unclean, unclean!” Despite the urgings of her acting coach, Greta Seacat, and Dracula director Francis Ford Coppola, Ryder tries to fake her way through the first couple of takes, hiding her face with her hand. Then slowly she begins to feel Mina’s guilt. She starts to weep. The cameras roll. Secretly instructed by Coppola, her friend and costar Reeves insults her, shames her; then, also unexpectedly, Coppola starts yelling at her. “You WHORE! YOU FUCKING WHORE!” he screams. “You! Look at you! Look at yourself!” Her red gown is soaked in blood. “And your own husband’s looking at you!”
It is just the push Ryder needs. “Waaaaaa!” she shrieks, collapsing onto the bed. Over and over again, Coppola makes her heave and sob, refusing to cut as she does the scene six, seven, eight times. “No more,” She says funally.
Coppola runs up and gathers the frail Ryder into his arms. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” he whispers. “I don’t mean it.”
It is perhaps an indication of the emotional tumult of the Dracula shoot that when asked months later about Ryder’s outburst, Coppola barely remembers the incident. Such theatrics were daily fare. “I always try to disrupt the actor,” Coppola explains. “‘Try it this way, try it that way. Eats this pizza and close your eyes and walk into the wall.’ The more I do to them, the more I’m enabling them to enrich themselves — so when they do it, it’s going to be really truthful,” The point, he says, is to “capture something that is happening rather than something that’s preplanned. It gets pretty crazy, but they like it.”
Coppola spent much of Dracula stoking the primal passions. James V. Hart’s script was inspired by the historical figure of Vlad the Impaler, a knight who helped save Transylvania — and, indeed Christendom — from the Turks in 1462. In Hart’s script, his wife mistakenly believes him to be dead and commits suicide, and Prince Vlad renounce God. For 400 years, this fallen angel searches for his lost love, and believes Mina to be her reincarnation. Their commingling suggests an intimacy beyond mortality. “Dracula’s terror and fear is not only physical, it’s also erotic,” explains Hart. “It means you’re in a fever, you’re sweating, you’re aroused. It’s sexual.” When the book first appeared, in 1897, it was read as a horror show of female sexuality run amok. In the 1992 version, it has become a tale of a young woman’s sexual and romantic awakening. (Coppola doesn’t really like to talk about the eroticism of Dracula, except to say he feels embarrased telling actresses to reveal their breasts.)
Coppola has a mantra for Dracula, one that he repeats at regular intervals with various level of panic: “I had to demonstrate that I could make a big production efficiently and not go over budget.” Wearing a battered green suit, he is a duke in his domain of the American Zoetrope offices atop San Francisco’s Sentinel Building. He sits in a leather art deco chair in his ornate penthouse office designed by Dean Tavoularis to be “the boat of a zeppelin”; below him are eight stories of the latest technilogical advances in movie-making. On the floor near his personal editing room is a bulletin board with three-by-five cards — each representing a different scene. By the end, there will be 37 existing cuts of the movie.
As Dracula needs blood to sustain his life after death, so Coppola needs Dracula to sustain his immortality, or at least his tenure in Hollywood. As he did with The Godfather, Coppola is trying to breathe artistic life into a hoary genre; besides, he can use the money to keep his company going. “I want to show the establishment the truth: that I’man extremely responsible filmmaker. The reason I keep getting jobs with these big is because there aren’t a lot of people you have done it.”
As always, Coppola alternates between self-laceration and ebullience, and the ricochet effect draws you in. “Let’s face it,” he says. “My whole career I’m always kind of a promising director who was never quite able to really…” Thankfully, he can’t finish the sentence. “I mean, people think I’m very powerful and famous, but my own view is that I’m struggling to put it together.”
With Dracula, Coppola tried to color within the lines drawn by Columbia Picture. “It was like a gigantic industrial process that I had all the responsibility for and couldn’t control. You know. it was Hollywood, and you gotta do it the way those people wanna do it,” he says with a groan. Coppola was also using a flock of fresh actors — and a new production team, whose selection was influenced in large part by the studio. “I was working with a lot of people who sort of admired me. But when they actually hear me talk and say something stupid, by their way of thinking, it gets to be a big deal. Apocalypse Now put the idea out that I was crazy, and I guess I may be, but to me, everything I say or talk about makes so much sense. I don’t understand why they think I’m crazy.” Still, he recognizes that he doesn’t think in a linear manner, that his “circuits are wired up differently.” As he told Anthony Hopkins, “I can count one to ten but not in that order.”
No matter how well Coppola tried to plan this extravaganza, Dracula will rise or fall on the performance of his leads, Winona Ryder and Gary Oldman, each of whom faces a different challenge. Ryder is aluminous hothouse flower who has danced through a number of big Hollywood movies but has never really been forced to delve into gothic, theatrical passions like those of Dracula. For his part, Oldman is an experienced, highly talented English actor who used theater as an escape route from a dreary, underprivileged background. Unknown by the masses, he feels he lacks the traditional good looks often required of a major Hollywood star.
Although they play characters who are physically linked, in reality there was unexpected discord. “The issue was not only that they did not get along,” says Coppola, “they got along and then one day they didn’t — absolutely didn’t get along. None of us were privy to what had happened.” That sudden schism — which appeared about the time filming actually began — forced some adjustments. Says Coppola: “We’d say, ‘Okay, play this scene and make believe it’s me instead of Gary, make believe it’s whoever.'”
Part of their conflicts may well have resulted from their disparate acting styles. Ryder needed an acting coach to help her evince the necessary emotions, while Oldman could hardly refrain from playing Dracula 24 hours a day. He relished his character’s mind-bending proclivities. As Oldman chortles with bad-boy glee, “I think I kind of injected a bit of hate.”
And, of course, both have something to prove — to the world and to Coppola, who in some ways needs these young actors more than they need him. Like a father tending to occasionally unruly children, he wasn’t certain how to guide them in the light of Hollywood’s changed realities. “You know today’s young actors,” he syas with a sigh. “Winona can do a picture with Cher and in three weeks see what power the cast has: ‘Oh, I don’t feel well today’ — and you’re dead. I think young actors exercise more control by the fact that if they don’t want to play, you can’t play. Two things I noticed: in the past, they didn’t do that so much, and they didn’t have as many affairs when they went on different movies. Today, that’s your biggest worry: ‘My God, is she going with him? Her boyfriend’s on that other picture. He’s in town, so you know it’s going to be a nightmare, because she’s having an affair.’ That’s my nephew’s [Nicolas Cage’s] generation.
It was Ryder who began the process that put Dracula together. She discovered the script when she switched from ICM to CAA some nine months after the The Godfather, Part III debacle. Wilshire Court Productions had originally commisioned Dracula for the cable channel USA Network, with Michael Apted slated to direct; when it arrived, the possibility of turning it into a theatrical project arose, and Hart was allowed to shop the screenplay around Hollywood. Ryder wanted to do it as a feature film. Around the same time, she got a call saying that Coppola wanted to meet with her. “I was like, ‘He would?’ I mean, I always knew that there was no weirdness between me and him. But I was surprised he wanted to possibly work with me again, because of all the controversy.” Ryder flew up to San Francisco, where she passed him the Dracula script.
The search for Dracula set off a feeding frenzy among many of Hollywood’s rising young actors. Daniel Day-Lewis was one of the first names mentioned, but he was committed to The Last of the Mohicans. Andy garcia approached Coppola but was reluctant about the sex scenes. Other actors — among them Armand Asante, Gabriel Byrne, Viggo Mortensen, Antonio Banderas, and Oldman — flew to an audition camp set up at Coppola’s Napa Valley estate. “Gary just seemed to be the most far-out. I was like, ‘My God, what’s he going to be like?'” says Coppola.
The prototypical angry young Brit, Oldman had made a name for himself playing self-destructing, perversely charming loners. “I know he’s maybe not as handsome,” says Coppola, touching on what was an obvious concern, but “if I have to choose between this handsome guy who’s pretty good or a guy like Gary who can conceivably do a great performance… It’s the same thing as choosing Marlon for The Godfather. Also, all the women were saying how sexy Gary was. Winona was always saying he’s so exciting.”
Coppola wanted an “Errol Flynn type,” someone who could effortlessly set young hormones racing to play Harker, the quintessential Victorian yuppie; he picked Keanu Reeves. He was looking for an actor who could command respect from the other cast memebers for the role of vampire slayer Van Helsing and chose Anthony Hopkins. British unknown Sadi Frost won the part of the sexy party girl Lucy Westenra, over such contenders as Ione Skye and Juliette Lewis, while Cary Elwes, Richard E. Grant, and Bill Campbell play her suitors. Tom Waits was brought in as the madman, Renfield.
Coppola tried to preplan a hit as best he could. He and Hart continued to rework the script and held a series of staged readings in the San Francisco area to get audience reactions. He spent three weeks in rehearsals with his actors; Michael Ballhaus filmed the last week to better plan the shots. Coppola says he wasn’t allowed to work with his regular collaborators such as Dean Travoularis and Vittorio Storaro, because “Columbia did not want to use the kind of people that [they perceived] traditionally go over budjet.” They decided to shoot on Columbia’s soundstages. Coppola wanted to infuse the movie with the Symbolist look of Gustav Klimt and sought to spend big monet on elaborate costumes (designed by the Japanese conceptual artist Eiko Ishioka) and save on sets, which he wanted to be just “shadows and dark limbos,” almost like a stage play.
No sale. “Quite frankly, they just wouldn’t do it,” says Coppola. Six weeks before the start ofproduction, he fired production designer Dante Ferreti and replaced him with Thomas Sanders, an art director on Hook. Against his wishes, he still wound up with Hoolywood-size sets. “there was a degree of insubordination in terms of my ideas, which were considered too radical,” say Coppola. “From the bureaucracy, from the whole… let’s face it, the people who do the sets, from the photography, to everything else.”
For Dracula, Ryder knew she couldn’t rely on “what I did in the past. There couldn’t be any eye rolling and sighing,” she says one spring morning in New York. To help Ryder and Frost, Coppola hired an acting coach who would spent hours working with the young actresses in their trailers, teaching them how to access the necessary emotions.
“This woman, Greta Seacat, she taught me… I guess it’s called the Method,” explains Ryder. “She opened a lot of doors inside me that I didn’t know existed. I had always gone on my instinct, but for this you couldn’t phone in anything. Even when it’s a reaction shot of if it’s one word or if you’re walking down the street, you have to be completely in character.” She adds ruefully, “I suppose you should do that all the time.”
“Winona is a young girl, but she’s very strong-willed,” explains Coppola. “I couldn’t sit with them in the dressing room for hours doing dream preparation. I needed someone to translate what I was looking for in term that are very understandable.”
“Sometimes he wouldn’t know how to say something to me that he would probably know how to say to Al Pacino really easily,” says Ryder. “So he would talk to Greta about it, and Greta would… tell me what source to tap into, or what preparartion. The whole Method thing that I didn’t really — I never really studied, and I got a big lesson on this one
“I worked with her throughout the movie, but he did direct me,” she stresses. “He always encouraged experimentation.”
During the vampire wedding sequence with Oldman, Ryder admits she was somewhat confused. “It was a very romantic, passionate scene,” she says, “yet this isn’t some prince she’s been seeing, it’s the man who killed her best friend. I was saying, ‘If you realize this, you can just say “Oh, I love you”‘ So [Francis] goes ‘Okay, get mad at him.’ I was, like, ‘You mean, I have permission to do whatever?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, let go.’ So at one point, I jumped on [Gary] and started hitting him: ‘You murderer! You killed my best friend and you say you love me.’ He was in shock, because he didn’t know what I was doing. It worked. We were so awakened emotionally.”
Ryder’s shifting relationship with Oldman complicated matters somewhat. According to Ryder, she and Oldman “hung out before the movie in rehearsals and stuff, but it wasn’t…” She is sitting on something she doesn’t quite know how to say. “But it wasn’t the same after we startes shooting. I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s his way of working, but I felt there was a danger.
“He’s a very emotional actor. He could cry like that.” She snaps her fingers. “Whereas with me you have to go inside a little bit. Being emotionally on the brim can be very beneficial and also very destructive: if you’re doing something where you don’t want to be that emotional, it’s like they spill over anyway. I’m not saying that happened a lot, but in rehearsals, it did. He was just very emotionally on edge. It wasn’t like we hated each other. It’s just that we both did our own thing.”
“When you’re doing a love story, you don’t always know how close you should get to the person, especially if you don’t know them really well. And you always are scared that you’re going to get in some way taken advantage of. It’s a weird trusting that happens. It’s really hard to do unless you really know the person. I’m not saying that Gary and I had a bad working relationship, we just… it was… It was odd.” One observer said Ryder seemed skittish about touching Oldman, like a teenager afraid of cooties. Often, Oldman would retaliate with some locker-room gesture to get her goat.
“We got on okay,” says Oldman edgily. “You know, we had very difficult scenes to do. And you know, it comes with a certain amount of tension and friction; they’re very difficult to pull off.”
Oldman admits that he went all out even during rehearsals. “I studied my star a bit,” he concedes. “I mean, I was the leading man playing this person everybody despised. I was very unrelenting in intensity. You get an opportunity tp play a character like this, where you’re not really restricted by any frame… It seemed insanity not to take advantage. And not only that but also to do it with Francis. Here is this sort of God of the cinema who can, when pushed, lean toward the operatic. And you think, ‘Well, why not give him a good show?'”
Oldman can almost always give a good show. It’s close to midnight in the courtyard of Dracula’s castle: a cool dark conglomeration of charred stone and rusted steel and 50-foot totemic statues of dead Transylvanian warriors. Three concentric rings of human-height white candles stand in the center; a dolly track and camera form a fourth ring, while another camera hangs from an overhead crane. Coppola sits to one side; a sense of suppressed anger and gloom seems to envelop him like fog.
Oldman has just entered, a wiry, feral figure, barely domesticated by his white evening wear. His long hair flows freely, and his delicated-featured face has been completely transformed by heavy prosthetics into a sea of crevices. This is Dracula the demon — his other incarnations include the young man, the warrior, the old man, the wolf, and the bat. In this scene, Dracula has just received a letter from Mina announcing her intention to marry Harker. Utterly destroyed, he summons the winds, one of the many elements at his beck and call.
Coppola wants to use music to set the tone. “What kind of music do you want?” he asks Oldman. “Really sad stuff?” Oldman doesn’t know, though he lists some things he doesn’t want. Coppola reels off more suggestions — unsuccessfully — until the director finally tells an assistant, “Anything. Any key. Just make it dramatic.” And pronto, dark, brooding classical music pours in along with the inevitable smoke.
“How about tears of blood?” Hart asks Coppola as he nestles back into his chair, and they try one like that. Coppola, Ballhaus, and Oldman work out the complicated sequence. Oldman sits on a bench in the center; the dolly camera starts on his back and swings slowly around the candles, ending up on his face as he rises and unleashes the elements.
On the first take, Oldman sits slumped over in Impenetrable solitude. As he rises theatrically, his normal working-class voice has vanished into a Romanian accent. He seems to suck in air and yet rasps out, “Winds….”
“I think bloody tears would be good,” says Coppola to no one in particular.
“Do you want tears?” shouts Oldman from his perch.
“Real ones?” asks Coppola.
“I mean blood ones,” responds OLdman.
Other takes go by. Oldman can’t quite get in sync with the revolving camera. Coppola approaches the ring. “I’m timing it. I’ll go ‘Now’ when you’re supposed to look up.”
The words do not seem to penetrate the prosthetics. There is a long weighted pause. As if he must assume control of the situation, Oldman informs Coppola when and how to cue him, although he essentially repeats what the director has just said. As Coppola trails back to his chair, Oldman mutters, “I can’t see anything out of this mask. I can’t see.”
Coppola coaches him through the next take. “Let the sadness get to you… Opening… opening… Reveal yourself!” Another rage-filled paroxysm, the makeup guy begins applying the bloody tears. “Was it okay?” an uncertain Oldman asks Coppola, who reassures his lead wearily and keeps plumbing for despair in the next take. “It’s very deep! I will never see you again! Action!” screams the director.
“Fuck,” shouts Oldman. “My teeth went flying out!”
Ryder calls Oldman “The King of Pain,” and it’s clear that the role of Dracula infected his mood. “you know that sense of loss that he has?” Oldman explains. “That can be depressing. But it’s a mood that one has to get oneself into. It’s like if someone’s depressed: you find yourself sleeping and taking the phone off the hook, not eating properly, drinking…. That’s the mood that one’s in. And obviously there’s a reason for it. When you play these characters, they get into your bones.”
And everyone else’s too. “He was like Dracula all the time to me,” says Sadie Frost. “Every time Gary was around, he was so powerful and so strong. I was very scared, didn’t want to get too close. He was always testing people, and he loved it… even when he was not filming.” For the erotically charged scene in which Frost’s character is sexually possessed by Dracula, Coppola asked Oldman to set the tone. “Francis was, like, ‘Gary, why don’t you talk to Sadie to get into a sensual mode?’ Gary would start talking, and…”
She giggles. “I can’t repeat any of it. He would say very hard-core things. Oh my God! He was being very, very sexual. And Francis said ‘Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I would never say anything like that. I was thinking more, “I’m going to kiss your shoulder and stroke your hair.”‘”
From the beginning, Oldman was unafraid to push his character’s envelope. He wasn’t scheduled to perform for the first couple of weeks of production and used the time to work on his various looks with the makeup designers. At first, he wanted to play the virile young Dracula in muttonchops and white makeup — “white like a billiard ball,” recalls Coppola, who was shocked when his leading man arrived for one of his first scenes. “Everyone’s looking at me, and here’s this guy with this really grotesque makeup,” he recalls. “I realized, ‘Holy smokes, I have to stop this.’ I’m about to commit suicide. Because of my penchant to encourage everyone to be creative, this guy looks, like, totally weird. Then I tried to get him to take the white off, and he didn’t want to.”
Oldman says he wanted young Dracula to be more androgynous, to unnerve people sexually; he also points out, “I don’t have that kind of square-jaw-dark-hair — I’m not that kind of Mel Gibson leading man look. You have to work with what you’ve got.” Coppola and Oldman fought vociferously. “It’s unpleasant to disagree,” adds the director, recalling his spat with Oldman. “It’s a big $40 million thing, and every argument that eats up three hours is devastating to you.” In the end, says Coppola, “I kind of made a compromise.” Oldman washed off the white guck but left much of the facial hair.
“There were… battles,” says Oldman. “I have strong opinions about things. I come with a lot of ideas. It would be a marraige, maybe sixty-forty of fifty-fifty.”
On occasion, the conflicts were exacerbated by Oldman’s drinking, says Coppola. “I wouldn’t call drinking a factor, other than a couple of times over a long period of time,” he says. “Let’s say he’s been drinking and you’re trying to explain something. How people can drink before noon is just — they put a grandstand in front of everyone. They say, ‘It’s not clear what you want me to do!’ Gets into the thing where it’s counterproductive. Sometimes an actor likes to take control of the set, and only a couple of times did I notice something like that happening and start saying he’s obviously a little high.” Off the set, Oldman was picked up for drunk driving after a night on the town with Kiefer Sutherland, for which he received a reported six-month driving ban and 89 hours of house arrest.
“That was a Saturday night!” Oldman screams when asked about the incident. “I was at fucking work on Monday. And I go out on a Saturday night — but it suggests that I’ve got a drinking problem….” And as for past reports that mention his taste for partying? “Well, I might have sone something about it.”
Other things could spark the same reaction adds Coppola, who stresses that he likes Oldman. “Usually when strangers or other people were there, he wanted to command the set and I got really pissed off. You gotta show off, the girl has to see that you’re really dominating the set. I don’t know: I’m a very young-at-heart type of person, but sometimes I think I’m getting too old.”
“I remember we were doing a very intense scene, right at the beginning,” recalls Hopkins of Oldman. “He was so concentrated, and he gets impatient with himself. And I set him off. I said, ‘You know what you remind me of? You remind me of me twenty years ago, fifteen years ago.’ I could see what he was going through, all those same kinds of energy and intensity. I used to get very angry and upset about things. But it just gets dull.”
Some of the intensity comes with the part. Oldman just plugged into the acute pain, deprivation of love that fuels the character’s rage. To play Dracula, “there’s a lot of heartache that you have to inhabit,” says the actor, who seems to have probed an old wound for the role. “I lost contact with my father when I was seven. Apart from a few moments and a few visits, I really didn’t see him for something like fourteen, fifteen years or so — and then he died. That is a loss of monumental proportions. And that you can draw on.” He sums up vampirism with a slight variation on a lyric from Sting’s “Moon Over Bourbon Street” (in turn inspired by novelist Anne Rice): “I love what I destroy, and destroy the thing I love.”
Coppola’s paternal presence sometimes stirred Oldman’s primal psychodrama. “It’s just me having to work out my own… whatever it is with men who are authority figures older than me,” says Oldman. “With Francis, there were times when there was a bit of that going on. You know, one plays out that relationship, which is a father-son relationship. And I’m in a position where I’m drawing on a well of… feelings and emotions. It wasn’t conscious. That eight-year-old coming out.”
Oldman, you see, loves Coppola. “I’ve gotten very close to him,” he says. “Talent is very attractive. And he’s got that in bundles. You can fall in love with that. I think it’s the biggest aphrodisiac going. And when it comes in the shape of Papa, this sort of warm, bright, roly-poly, tender, provocative –” He grimaces, vaguely embarrassed. “I sound like his lover.”
As August winds down, the pressure on Coppola mounts. The director attempted to incorporate the epistolary nature of the book into the movie, but that approach left an early preview audience confused about basic plot points. By the end of the month, he’ll shoot a new narration by Hopkins and a new final shot; in September, he films a new opening shot with Reeves. (Before the reshoots, Coppola had finished essentially on time. He says the sets — which he didn’t want — may have pushed the budget a little past the $40 million mark, but “they’re afraid to tell me how much.”)
Curiously, while Coppola prepares this ode to passion, he finds himself growing more isolated. This is the first time the entire Coppola clan has not joined him on location. “This last couple of years, I’ve been more remote,” he explains. “I am becoming more like I was when I was young; I really am most happy when I can be by myself and just fantasize. I no longer have that childlike thing with being lonely and romantic and wanting to have a great girlfriend. I don’t have those expectations. I’m just happy to work on my technology or write my little thoughts. Now that our kids are big and stuff… I got to be at the age where I was alone.”
Alone and facing the question of whether he could pull a great movie out of the hat one more time. Coppola doesn’t believe the Hollywood lore that you lose your creativity as you get older. Instead, he says, “you can lose you confidence. As you lose your confidence, you more and more start taking what you think is the way out that everyone will likw. And the more you do that, the more you don’t depend on what your instinct tells you to do, you can lose it — your confidence, your nerve, your ability to have faith that you’ll be able to pull it off.”
Although Michael Ballhaus has long since packed up his lights for good, Dracula’s second unit — led by Roman Coppola, Francis’s son — is still shooting and is crammed somewhat precariopusly onto the ledge that forms Dracula’s underground crypt. A thin rope is the only thing that will prevent a crew member from falling ten feet down into a field of staked corpses, gory victims of Dracula’s rampage. Coppola has just arrived on the set, turning up the energy level.
“You were a good boy. You were a good boy at the wrap party,” effuses the director as he hugs Oldman, who’s in light makeup. “I was a good boy,” agrees Oldman. “I just sat there with my drink, and people came up to me and asked me to dance. I danced with your mother.”
They sit as they wait for Roman’s crew to finish the lights for more of Dracula’s death scene. The various versions of Dracula — young man, old man, the warrior — are to dissolve rapidly one into the other, and they need overhead close-ups. Coppola wants a Christ-like image, he tells Oldman. “Look up and be impassioned.” Three costumers help Oldman into his shimmering caftan. They lay him across the crypt. Coppola crouches on a stool by Oldman’s feet, monitor betwen his legs. He rocks back and forth as he lullabies Oldman with a steady stream of film babble, favorite movies, favorite lines.
The takes start, and Coppola reads Ryder’s lines and mimes her gestures. Oldman writhes and shudders each time the imaginary weapon plunges into his heart. As if he could simply adjust his emotional thermostat, Oldman manipulates the inner dials of desperation, despair, loathing, and loss. For the sixth and final take, Coppola wants loving and erotic. Gentleness suffuses Oldman’s fatigued countenance as he lets go and looks tenderly at the woman he has loved for 400 years. “Give me peace,” he beseeches, and as the light closes in on his haunted eyes, he dies again.