Richard Bremmer agreed to take on the blood-sucking Prince of Darkness as one of three 'undead' roles offered to him. He talks to Viv Hardwick about Dracula and his pride at being Harry Potter's first big adversary on screen.

THE current Government food health scare is the perfect starting point for an actor playing Dracula, although the legendary horror character uses humans rather than supermarkets for its ready meals. "Well I'll just have to stick to drinking blood," jokes Richard Bremmer who brings Bram Stoker's ghoul back to Darlington and the North-East next week.

"This is probably one of the most fun roles I've ever had. I did resist the idea of it being fun at first but, of course, it's a fantastic character and a classic plot which is closer to the original than any of the other versions that I've seen, although it is set in modern day.

"Films tend to take one strand of the story and develop that and lose the rest of it, but this is surprisingly faithful to Stoker."

Bremmer, most recently seen on TV as Mad Kenny in ITV1's Dead Man Weds, is aware of Dracula's strong North-East connections, which still draws the tourists to Whitby and its Abbey.

"The graveyard on the hill and the bay are very accurate," he says.

He was determined to make the infamous shapeshifter his own but admits: "There are certain things that you have go along with because that's what people expect and that's what defines the character. I'm trying to play him sympathetically up to a point because this is a man trapped in a syndrome of lonely existence and searching for something he can never truly find. He is a chameleon and can be anything to anybody but tends to slip into his Transylvanian accent when speaking from the heart... but I decided that he speaks perfect English to the people he really despises."

The play is pretty bloodthirsty and the actor with an extensive theatre career jests about having the chance to "bite two very beautiful maidens on the neck every night".

London-based Bremmer also appears regularly on TV, including the role of Malcolm Phillips in Coronation Street, and in film where he's starred in everything from blockbusters like Antonio Banderas' The Thirteenth Warrior to The Sin Eater with Heath Ledger.

But it was Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone and the role of "he who must not be named" Lord Voldemort which came closest to making Bremmer a household name.

Sadly, some of the scenes involving Daniel Radcliffe as Harry and Bremmer as Voldemort were considered too scary in the first film and ended up on the cutting room floor.

With the Potter franchise proving to be as lucrative as J K Rowling's books, Bremmer's lack of fame led to him losing out on the part when the two meet again in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire.

"The producers spent a long time fighting to get me so I'm very proud to have been the first. But the role is now being played by Ralph Fiennes, who is an old mate, in the fourth film. I've been in the business a long time and it didn't surprise me they just went for a bigger name, being Hollywood led, and I'm happy to pass it on to Ralph."

He agrees that after the 'child-friendly' first film, Harry Potter plots have got darker "mainly because the audience is growing older with the films".

Luckily he's still able to meet the British public's desire for hair-raising experiences as Dracula.

Bremmer read both Frankenstein and Dracula in his youth, so he was keen to take on one of the classic evil roles when the chance to play the Prince of Darkness was offered alongside Christopher Cazenove's Van Helsing.

"I was actually at the time up for another two roles and, ironically, all three were for 'the undead'... so I'm not sure what that says about me as an actor," he jokes. "We are still working on getting the balance between the horror and the humour, but you can't disassociate the two. There are bound to be comic moments in any serious play because they tend to underline the horror," says Bremmer who is aware that, traditionally, Dracula has many of the best lines.

"The whole story is very theatrical and started it's life, back in Victorian times, with very long theatre runs before it made it to the cinema screens. He's the archetypal bad guy, but everybody loves the bad guy."

Bremmer confirms it is a "fangs, red-eyed and all" portrayal and adds: "I think the first two rows will really see the close detail of the effect of fangs and the contact lenses."

He actually had to train himself to become the red-eyed monster because he'd never worn contact lenses before.

"Somewhere along the line this whole genre became a British thing and we're stuck with it now and it's an enduring love for a story that is known worldwide."

Bremmer does have a confession about close links with creatures of the night. At one time he was converting a mediaeval church in the Black Mountains of Brecon into a home and discovered he had some unexpected occupants.

"I did actually have bats in my belfry at one point," he chuckles.

* Dracula runs at Darlington Civic Theatre from Tuesday until Saturday. Box Office: (01325) 486 555

Published: ??/??/2004