Arts, Culture & Media

Hollywood's crush on British vampires

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Robert Pattinson as vampire Edward in "Twilight" (Image: twilightthemovie.com)

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Story by Alex Gallafent, PRI's "The World"

The British Ambassador to the United States, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, recently wrote a blog post entitled, "A Bloody Good Show," extolling the virtue of British (on screen) vampires.

Sheinwald has noticed something unusual in Hollywood. Admittedly, this doesn't give much away. To explain, he notes that British on-screen bad guys are commonplace; but, he points out, there is "a less remarked-upon British contribution to American life."

Ambassador Sheinwald writes not of mummies rising from the grave, nor of zombies roaming Sunset Boulevard; but of vampires. British actors playing vampires that is.

"Could it be the British climate that creates the pale and pasty complexion necessary to portray authentically Bram Stoker's monster?" Wrote Sheinwald. "Or is it our 'deadpan' humour, putting the grave into graveyard, that makes us Brits especially suited to vampire kitsch?"

Early in the history of silver screen vampires, there was Christopher Lee, sinking his teeth into the role of Dracula. Later, Gary Oldman also played the Count. In his case, for Francis Ford Coppola.

"I had a casket up at my house. It was a gift from Francis. So I can’t reveal whether I ever used it," said Oldman.

Oldman's revelation and Ambassador Sheinwald's blog reveal a sinister though perhaps unsurprising truth: The British are more than comfortable playing pasty-faced, centuries-old bloodsuckers.

Here's Kate Beckinsale as Selene, in one of the "Underworld" movies: "You're in the middle of a war that's been raging for the better part of a thousand years. A blood feud between vampires and likens -- Werewolves."

And you wouldn't catch a British actor playing a werewolf; heavens, no. That kind of thing is left to the Australians.

This week, another movie vampire arrives, in "Twilight: New Moon." This British vampire takes on a new shape. Actor Robert Pattinson disguises his true nature under the cloak of an American accent. He's not the only one. Stephen Moyer does the same for his portrayal of Bill Compton in the HBO series, "True Blood."

"Your choices are your own, as are mine. You have my gratitude for your hospitality. I will not soon forget it," Moyer's character, Compton, says in an episode about the hospitality shown to him during the Civil War, moments before he turns bloodsucker.

But he may as well have been talking about the easy passage British vampires, or actors, have made into American cultural life.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston.

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