There's another vampire movie heading to theaters next year, but it has nothing to do with sparkling creatures who drink from animals rather than people. Nor does it have anything to do with telepathic half-fairy waitresses or doopelgangers and werewolf hybrids. The Vampire Academy book series stands on its own, written by Richelle Mead who's created an intense, engaging, and well-developed world in which her vampires and other characters reside.
The first movie based on Mead's bestselling series will be released by The Weinstein Company (dipping their toes in the young adult franchise market for the first time) in theaters on February 14, 2014. Directed by Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Mr. Popper's Penguins), the cast is led by Zoey Deutch as Rose and Danila Kozlovsky as Dimitri. Lucy Fry, Sarah Hyland, Joely Richardson, Cameron Monaghan, and Gabriel Byrne also play key roles in what is, hopefully, the first film of a lengthy series.
Exclusive Interview with Author Richelle Mead:
What was your initial reaction to the first script you were given to read?
Richelle Mead: "I was thrilled, actually. I went into the book-to-movie process with open eyes, fully aware you could get something back that in no way resembles your book. I accepted that; it's a risk you take. Authors don't keep the rights that way and so here I was, 'Okay, what am I going to get? Is it going to be like a werewolf army movie that they totally just morphed it into?' And I was just so pleasantly surprised how true it was, how it kept all the main points from the book that I felt needed to be there to tell the story in that first volume.
And also, [screenwriter] Daniel Waters kept the things that I tried to do in my books. I don't try to do all action, all comedy, all romance. It is just kind of layers of that stuff, and he kept that same feel. There's a little of all of that in there. I don't think that's been apparent to people yet because there's been so little media out there, you know? There's just been the teaser trailer which was cut to kind of play up the snarky angle, which is one piece of it. All of the other stuff is still totally there: the cutting edge action and drama. He's got it all there. It's all mixed together just like I did in the book, which I love."
That would be difficult to show in just a two-minute teaser. Was there anything you told Daniel absolutely had to be included in his screenplay? Any particular scene or character that you requested he not change or alter?
Richelle Mead: "No. I had no contact with him prior to that first draft. I was just kind of amazed that I had so little feedback when I finished the script, like there was nothing that really jumped out at me that was like, 'Oh my gosh! If you do that the entire Vampire Academy universe is going to crumble!'
I think probably the biggest thing I warned him on was there were a couple ... I can't even remember now, but there were some plans initially to tweak some of the characters' appearances. I did send feedback on that. I said, 'Fans will forgive certain things but if you significantly alter the appearance of some of the main characters, I think that's going to be unforgivable.' And that wasn't just his call. There were other people who are in on part of that, too, and they definitely heeded that. Some of the periphery characters vary a little from the description, but the key cast stayed pretty true, which I think is great."
When you think of these characters that you created for the Vampire Academy series, do you now picture them as the actors who play them or do you still picture them in your mind as how you wrote them?
Richelle Mead: "Usually how I wrote them still, and sometimes kind of a morphing of the two. [Laughing] They've kind of like merged in my head. Since none of the main characters are significantly different enough, it doesn't clash too much that if I do think of them one way or the other, it's fine. The one that's probably going to be hardest for me to think of in my head is Victor Dashkov as Gabriel Byrne. I love that casting choice, but he's so gorgeous I have a hard time. The Victor in my head is such a villain and I love Gabriel Byrne, and I'm like, 'No, no, that's not really him. Gabriel is nice!' But that's more of my own personal hang-up and less anything about the casting choice there. But, yeah, I was super thrilled with that when I found out they had him. I'm overall really happy."
Who do you think made the leap to the screen with the fewest changes in how you envisioned them?
Richelle Mead: "I would say Zoey Deutch as Rose. She is so similar to what I envisioned in my head. There was a book cover that came out close to when Vampire Academy did and it had a girl on there, and I remember looking at it and thinking, 'Oh, I wish that was Rose. I wish they had put that on my book because that's how I pictured her.' And I saw that recently - it's been years - and I was like, 'Wow, she looks so much like Zoey Deutch.' It's so interesting, and I never showed that to anyone.
She's very similar, not just in appearance but also just her attitude when you meet her. Zoey's very outgoing, she's very energetic, and she just kind of radiates that same personality. And so I think that was such a smart choice for them because there's any number of beautiful, dark-haired girls in Hollywood that they could have cast that would have fit that description, but to actually kind of be able to channel that personality too I think was just a huge triumph on the casting people's part."
I read the Vampire Academy books before I knew there was going to be a movie, so I'm familiar with the tone of the series.
Richelle Mead: "You'll come in with an interesting perspective. It's neat for me to see both sides - people like you who have read all of the books versus those who have heard nothing, and their first exposure will be the movie."
That's a tough line for a filmmaker to walk because they have to satisfy both of those demographics.
Richelle Mead: "Yeah, and that's another reason that some of the changes we were talking about get made because they have to have an eye on that, on the new viewers. Current advertising for the movie has been skewed a little bit towards people not familiar with it. That first teaser was cut very much in kind of that [direction]. We had some of the action in there but there's definitely that Mean Girls snarky vibe in that first teaser, and that was for newer people who don't have any exposure to the series who hear 'vampire' and think, 'Oh, melodrama, boring.' They wanted to show, 'No, this is an edgy series.' That's kind of why they wanted to get that out there, and fans were hoping to see, like, 'No, no, where is the deep romance and action?' They may think it got lost - and it didn't. It's just that fans know what's there, but we need to get these new people and let them know what's going on in the series.
You're absolutely right, it's so hard to try to please everyone. I think that's why a lot of young adult movies have been having trouble."
And there are people who haven't read the books who could mistakenly believe this is another Twilight when it has nothing to do with that type of story.
Richelle Mead: "Yeah, I think that's an unfortunate thing that people lump the vampire genre altogether. I think of everything out there that's there that's big, like Twilight, Vampire Diaries, True Blood, they're all vampire stories and they're just wildly different. And mine is wildly different from them as well. Anyone who looks into all of those would see they've all got their own unique take, which is totally cool. I wish people not familiar with the genre would give that a chance and not just write them all off. They just assume, 'Vampires? It must be this,' and I don't know if people do that with other genres. I never see that. When Firefly came out, people weren't like, 'Oh, it's got a spaceship. It must be like Star Wars.' No one said that. You would get your ass kicked if you said that at a sci-fi convention. I don't know what it is about vampires that they have the stigma that they are all just carbon copies."
What did you think about the casting of Danila Kozlovsky as Dimitri?
Richelle Mead: "I am really happy that they picked a Russian actor for it. It literally adds authenticity to it. I didn't know anything about him when they first mentioned it. He was, I think, the only person I got any tip-off in advance. All the other casting announcements I was as much surprised as the viewers were.
Mark Waters and some of the producers said, 'Hey, here's this guy we're thinking about for Dimitri. He's like Russia's actor of the year.' He's super famous and very renowned there for his vast array of work, and I was so surprised because it's no one I had ever heard of or considered. The more I just watched the range of his work and also just ... I don't know. There's just something. Maybe because he is a little older than the rest of the cast and had more acting experience, it translates well into Dimitri because that is what the character is to the rest of the characters. It's funny. If you listen to the way the younger cast talks about him, it is like in the books. It's like the way the characters talk about Dimitri there's this reverence there, like, 'Danila, he's so good at everything. He's so funny and he's so calm.' He brought that Dimitri vibe to the movie and I know he's at least read through the third book, and that was a while ago. I don't know if he's read through the whole series now. I think that's really cool, too, that he went and sought that out to figure out what's happening to his character, to see that progression as well.
He's into it and that's super important to me to have actors who really want that, who want to be that character and bring them to life, as opposed to someone who's like, 'Oh, it's a job,' and walk out when it's done. So, yeah, I'm happy with it."
Is he as sexy and brooding as we want him to be?
Richelle Mead: [Laughing] "Yeah. It's funny, when you meet him he's so easygoing. We ran into him as we were leaving set on the first day because he hadn't been there for what we saw being shot. He showed up and he was just so easy and approachable. He's almost so charming that you almost think like, 'Wait, isn't Dimitri like this hard-edge, badass guy?' and then when you see him turn on, it's just like bam! He is there, he is that person, and that's incredible to me that he can flip like that. He can just be this great guy that you can hang out with, no cares, and then suddenly he'd become that kind of warrior character. That was really cool and that's a sign of a good actor that he can turn it on like that."
Where did Dimitri's love of Western books and wearing a duster come from?
Richelle Mead: "That's a good question. I don't know that I've been asked this very much, but there's a concrete story here. I took an accelerated German language course as part of my Master's Degree. I had to prove I could read German, and I could for that semester and then I forgot it all. But while I was taking that course, we learned a lot about Germany and pop culture. I guess that there is a huge interest in the American West, not just in Germany but in Eastern Europe. Kind of like we have Renaissance festivals and get really excited and dress up, and I guess there are old West things like that in parts of Europe where they're super fans of the American West and dress up like Cowboys. I just thought, 'That is just the funniest thing.' And at first you think, 'Oh, it sounds so silly,' until again you go to a Renaissance festival and you're like, 'No, this is awesome.' They have the same attitude and so I just thought it was a funny personality quirk to write into him after hearing that.
I don't know how strong this is in Russia compared to, perhaps, Germany, but it was just kind of a fun little thing that was unexpected to give him. I guess there is kind of a higher symbolism there, the noble cowboy as well riding off to serve justice. That kind of resonates with Dimitri's personality as well, so there's kind of a couple of things going on there."
- Watch the Vampire Academy trailer