Chris McKay has now had two Batman-related movies that, most likely, will never see the light of day (just like Nicolas Cage’s Dracula in Renfield, but we’ll get back to that in a bit), though he does still hold out hope for one of them. McKay seems pretty confident he’s got a killer idea for a Nightwing movie that was in development at Warner Bros. (For those who don’t know, Nightwing is Dick Greyson, who was Batman’s first Robin.) But this was a few leadership groups ago at DC now and he does have hope that the new group might like what he has in mind. At least enough he’s not going to share what the plot of that movie would be, but he does take us through what it’s like to have a superhero quietly canceled. (It does just kind of sound like they stop calling you.)
The other thing he’s confident isn’t happening is the sequel to The LEGO Batman Movie. That movie made $315 million at the box office, but since its release, LEGO signed an exclusive contract with Universal (the two The LEGO Movies and LEGO Batman were Warner Bros.), which effectively ends any chance of seeing the DC superheroes anytime soon. McKay is confident enough that’s not happening that he did share the plot of what a LEGO Batman sequel would have been.
In Renfield, Nicholas Hoult plays the title character who has served as basically Count Dracula’s (played by Nicolas Cage at an intensity you’d expect from Nicolas Cage) errand boy for generations. In return, Renfield gets eternal life. Well, Renfield has had enough and is stepping out on his own. The pair now live in New Orleans where Renfield attends an emotional support group for people who are in toxic relationships. Eventually, Nicolas Cage’s Dracula catches on to what’s happening and isn’t very happy about it, while also coming up with a plan for world domination. (It should be added, this is a very gory movie.)
Renfield is McKay’s first film in theaters since LEGO Batman. The one in-between, The Tomorrow War was supposed to be a theatrical release, but was sold to Amazon when movies in theaters were still a dicey proposition, which resulted in … well it sure seems like everyone in the world saw that movie. (And McKay does confirm there’s a script for a sequel.) Ahead, McKay takes us through all of this.
I don’t like to judge a book by its cover, but Count Dracula did some things in this movie where he crossed the line.
I can’t encourage some of this behavior.
Well yeah, I completely understand that.
That’s absolutely right. He’s the bad boss, he’s a toxic narcissist.
You know what? When he killed all the people at that support group? No sir. Not on my watch.
But we brought them back.
You did bring them back, yes. They didn’t have a very good experience.
No. There’s clearly something that they saw when they went to the other side.
So Nicholas Cage is Count Dracula — he is known as an actor who’s hard to get some emotion out of. That was my joke. Obviously, he’s going for it here.
He comes on the set and he’s ready to go. He’s got lots of ideas and he’s a lot of fun. Sometimes he’ll come in and he sees the scene as very confrontational and big. But then there would be times we’d do a couple takes like that, and then I would say, “Hey, why don’t we try this?” And he’d go all the way to the exact opposite of the way he started. He treats being on set like when he was making Super 8 movies with his cousins and his friends when he was a little kid. And he says, “I want to get that Super 8 feeling.”
Yeah, “his cousins.”
[Laughs] Yeah. Well, yeah. Yeah, that’s true.
Just these normal everyday cousins.
Yeah, just normal people like Francis Ford Coppola.
I was surprised when I read this is his first studio movie since Ghost Rider 2, is that right?
Isn’t that weird?
It is, because he’s in a lot of stuff. Is there a reason for that? Is this something you had to talk him into doing because it was a studio movie?
I think that the fact that it was Dracula was something that made him really curious. Because he’s a huge horror movie guy. He’s a big cinephile just in general. But from a horror movie standpoint, he is a huge, huge horror movie guy. And a big Dracula fan…
A guy who is not secret about the things he likes.
You know what else he likes? He likes Elvis.
Yeah. And Superman.
He also likes Superman.
Yeah, absolutely. And Christopher Lee. He loves Christopher Lee’s interpretation of Dracula. But it was weird to me too, somebody brought it up. It wasn’t even something that I was thinking about. But the fact that he hasn’t been in a Hollywood studio movie in a long time. And the fact that the studio was really… I had to do some arm twisting to get them to want to do this. But they actually were hugely behind it. So I think it’s because I think that people just want to see him play Dracula. He’s one of those actors.
I talked to you for The Tomorrow War. That was an Amazon movie and it seemed like everyone wound up watching that on streaming.
Yeah. It started off as a theatrical.
Anyway, how does this work now? What’s your experience with a movie that was only on streaming versus now you’re going back to theaters. So where are you on all this? Universal seems to put most of their movies on Peacock after six weeks.
For a comedy, I think you need to see a movie in a theater. I think it’s important. And I think horror movies and comedies work with an audience, that’s the most fun place to see those movies. And the fact that the Universal committed to that. Committed to an R-rated movie theatrically, things like that…
Yeah, this isn’t a borderline R.
No. This isn’t something where you can kind of go, “color the blood a little brown,” and you get away with it. Decapitations and all…
High body count in this one.
That idea that they committed to it theatrically was really important. And right now, I’m sure, like you said, they’re going to put it on Peacock at some point, but right now they’re just like, this is a movie in theaters. And that’s it.
Last time I talked to you, you kind of made it clear that the Nightwing DC movie you were working on didn’t look great in terms of it happening. Take me through that process. Since we last spoke they have a whole new leadership crew running things. How close was that to happening? And then when did you find out that it wasn’t happening?
Well, no one ever really said that they’re not making that movie. They sort of … deprioritized it. You know what I mean?
So they stopped calling you about it.
[Laughs] Yeah, probably. It was very clear that they were like, look, we have to… depending on which regime you’re talking about, because obviously I went through a couple.
Yeah, there have been a few now.
But there were other things. They had the Zack Snyder version, and then they had to figure out how they were going to answer the other films they were making from those movies. Whether they’re going to do more Wonder Woman movies and that sort of thing. And all that kind of thing. So our movie has got deprioritized, but no one ever said, “We’re not going to make that movie.” They just said, “Right now we have to fix these things.” And then the regimes changed. And I’m hoping now with James Gunn that maybe we can re-approach that. I’d love to still make that movie.
I assume you feel you’ve got a pretty good idea for how to do this.
I did the Escrima sticks in Renfield! He’s got the arms as Escrima sticks.
Are they still going to make the LEGO Bat-Man movies?
So that’s done?
Yeah, because it’s with Universal. LEGO is with Universal.
Oh, right. And Warner Bros. isn’t going to license out Batman…
Yeah. I think that they’re… yeah.
That’s a shame.
Yeah, I know.
That movie is really fun.
We had a really fun script with Dan Harmon and Michael Waldron, wrote a really fun kind of Superfriends. The sequel would’ve been a quasi Superfriends movie and the structure was going to be a sort of Godfather II kind of thing with Batman and the Justice League facing a modern-day problem, Lex Luthor and OMAC, while at the same time flashing back to the reasons why Batman and the Justice League – and in particular, Superman – have bad blood. It was going to explore Superman and Batman’s relationship in a very different way than you’ve ever seen it portrayed, including Superman’s alienation from humanity and how hard it is to truly be friends, real friends, for years. It was ultimately going to answer the question: How do you become Super-friends. And there was going to be a crossover with a major franchise that can only happen in a LEGO movie.
Speaking of sequels, it really did feel like everyone saw The Tomorrow War…
Yeah, because they released it worldwide on the same day. Literally, they released it around the world. I still get DMs from people from India and Brazil, and people who are discovering it, who loved that movie and loved the characters and stuff like that. Ultimately, it was a really great experience. But it was one of those things where, of course, you’re making a movie for the theaters. And then the movie was done and they were like, “No, we’re going to put it on a streamer.” It was a little bit of a hard pill to swallow because I’d seen it in theaters and I’d seen how it played. And still to this day, it still plays on Amazon. It’s still one of their number one movies to this day.
I’m surprised there isn’t another one yet.
Yeah. Well, there is a script coming for that.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.