Most Americans will probably know actor David Tennant from his stint as the tenth Doctor on BBC’s long-running sci-fi show “Doctor Who,” but in Craig Gillespie’s upcoming remake of Fright Night, we get to see a very different side of Tennant, playing Peter Vincent, the flamboyant and mostly drunken Vegas stage magician who Anton Yelchin’s Charley calls upon to help him against his pesky vampire neighbor Jerry, played by Colin Farrell.
In the original movie, the reluctant vampire hunter was of course played by the late, great Roddy McDowall, but Tennant plays the character in a very different way, pretty much stealing the movie whenever he shows up. Part of that is the way he’s dressed with long hair and beard and tight leather pants, but it’s also the way he’s transformed Vincent into the most pretentious and pompous character we’ve seen on screen possibly since Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow that makes Fright Night far more effective at last in a comic sense than the original. Sadly, we don’t see his character very much in the commercials, but we think it’s going to be the character that most will remember as they leave the theater.
ShockTillYouDrop.com got on the phone with Tennant earlier this week, and though we didn’t have very much time, we did try to sneak at least one Dr. Who question in there.
ShockTillYouDrop: Were you already familiar with the original movie or character when you first got offered the role of Peter Vincent?
David Tennant: I didn’t know much about it when the script arrived and I thought, “Oh, funny, I recognize that from the â80s when I was growing up.” Beyond that, I was in the dark until I read it, and then I was very excited by the whole thing and by this character in particular, who just sort of leapt off the page, and then when I got home to do it, I was thrilled.
Shock: Did you go back and watch the original movie or did you know you wanted to do something different and didn’t want to see what was done with the character originally?
Tennant: Well, I sort of knew that from my point of view, it was sort of different anyway, but I watched the original movie out of curiosity really. If I knew that I was doing an absolute retread of what Roddy McDowall had done, I might have been more scared of checking out what he did, but because this Peter Vincent comes from quite a different place, I was really quite happy to just sort of enjoy the original movie from a curiosity point of view. I knew I wasn’t going to even be trying to compete with the legend that is Roddy McDowall. I had something very different to try and achieve, so I felt liberated by that.
Shock: Was all of what the character was like and his quirks in the script or did you have some of your own ideas or conversations with Craig about how he should be developed from the script?
Tennant: Well, certainly the idea of who he is and the fact that he’s in Las Vegas and all the difficulties he has in terms of his life, that’s all in there. There was a certain amount of allowing things to develop and seeing what went where. On set, Craig was always quite keen to explore maybe how drunk he was here or whether he slept with that particular member of his stage crew and things like that, which some of which made it into the final film, which I think adds to the richness and the darkness and hopefully gives him a couple of nice gags as well.
Shock: Of course, I’m sure you’re going to be asked this, but was Russell Brand at all an influence on him or was it just a coincidence because you have long hair and a British accent and are kind of flamboyant?
Tennant: No, it wasn’t, no! I guess he’s still linked to that look nowadays, but we weren’t thinking Russell Brand particularly, but yes, the idea of skinny jeans and long dark hair and a goatee is very much Russell’s territory, so I hope he doesn’t feel like we’re infringing on it. But I think that’s the look, isn’t it, the kind of gothic, grand guignol thing is a very recognizable, perhaps slightly a fashion that has past for stage illusionists, but I think that’s very much the point, that Peter Vincent isn’t really quite at the cutting edge of his profession anymore, so I think that looked kind of found itself really.
Shock: You mentioned that he might sleep with some of his crew and I think the chemistry between you and Sandra Vergara as your assistant is just amazingâ¦
Tennant: Oh, thank you!
Shock: I just loved that. I’ll probably rewatch the movie over again just for those bits because you both were so brilliant. Was that tense relationship as evident in the script or did that just develop on set as you worked together?
Tennant: I think a bit of both. I mean, it was in the script, but I think what Sandra brought to that part really made it sing, and all those scenes with her, I think really sprung to life because she was such a live wire and was so great to play opposite. I’m really glad you liked those bits. They’re sort of incidental to the plot in a way, but I think they’re very telling to who Peter is and what his life has become, so I love all those scenes, and it was great to work with Sandra.
Shock: I actually didn’t realize who that actress was and when I realized she was Sofia Vergara’s sister, I wondered what was with this family that they have all these really beautiful and funny women.
Tennant: Yeah, well, you know, I’d like to meet their parents.
Shock: Your character has a great arc in the movie because he starts in a really selfish place and transitions more into a hero. What was your favorite aspect of playing the character? You get into some of the action later on as well.
Tennant: There’s something very appealing from an acting point of view about a reluctant hero, I think, someone who is struggling to do the right thing, who needs a drink to strap his stake gun on, I think that’s a very interesting area. I loved all that stuff, but then of course, it’s also fun to have the freedom to swear as much as he does, to have that foul a mouth. There seemed to be some takes where I thought that I just couldn’t get any more disgusting, but Craig laughed it up and was encouraging me to go further, but not all of that has made it into the film, you’ll understand. It was a great liberation to be foul-mouthed and disgusting and get paid for it.
Shock: Whenever you introduce comedy into a horror movie, it’s tough because when people make jokes it sometimes takes away from the danger they’re in, but it works in this so how did you guys balance that? Were you always aware that you had to make sure it was scary and there’s danger but keep it fun?
Tennant: I think you’re right. I think that was always going to be what was going to make or break this film because getting that tone right is really tricky, so the funnier stuff or the darkly comic stuff doesn’t puncture the horrifying stuff and doesn’t make it all seem a bit preposterous. I think that’s what Craig has done brilliantly. I couldn’t quite tell you how he did it. I think he did it very skillfully and sort of invisibly on set I think, but he obviously had an eye on getting that tone absolutely right. I think it’s a talent he clearly has. If you’ve seen “Lars and the Real Girl,” which is another film with very unusual tones and a very specific sensibility about it, which is quite hard to describe and quite hard to know howâ¦ I don’t know if you’ve seen that film but he makes the story of a man falling in love with a rubber dollâwhich is essentially ludicrousâvery touching and very moving and very human. I think it’s a completely different trick that he’s pulled on this film, but he’s managed to make those tones fit together perfectly without puncturing a single moment in the wrong way. I think that’s completely one of his great skills.
Shock: There’s been rumors if this movie does well, they might do another one with Peter Vincent featured more prominently, so have you heard anything about that? Is that something you’d want to do in terms of exploring this character some more?
Tennant: I couldn’t tell you, to be honest. I mean, I’d love to explore the character. I’d love to know what else there is to know about Peter and I think there’s plenty still in there, but you know how it goes, Edward. It all depends on how this weekend does, won’t it? I’m probably not meant to say that. That’s a very British self-depecrating way of looking at it, but I’m sorry, America, you know it’s true.
Shock: I’ve been a big Dr. Who fan since I was a kid, so do you ever foresee there being some sort of episode like “The Five Doctors” where you rejoin some of the others who played him? Is that possible?
Tennant: Well, nobody’s phoned me up. I guess it’s always out there in the ether as a possibility, but it’s not any conversation that I had yet, but never say never.
Shock: Have you had any conversations with Matt Smith since he took over the role?
Tennant: Oh, yeah! Matt and I have talked a few times, particularly at the beginning when he was sort of taking over, we chatted a lot about what he might do, but all I could offer was some of my experiences and hope that was helpful, but it’s Matt’s now, and I think he does it with such vim and vigor and success. No, I’d love to catch up with Matt. It’s been a while since we chatted, but it’s a thrill to watch him.
Fright Night opens in 3D and 2D theaters on Friday, August 19. You can watch video interviews with Gillespie and the rest of the cast here.