Bernard Behrens' Letter


Mr Behrens' introduction Days off
The character of Gustav The series' end
Filming the series in Luxembourg The other actors
Favourite roles, TV, books, and films Gustav vs. Mr Behrens
"Do you like schnitzel in real life?" The unfilmed second season
Favourite episodes & amusing incidents Other neat facts

August 1, 1998

Dear Laura Petix,

Thank you for replying to both Mark in California and Matthew in Toronto and for sending me your "interview sheet". Your "Lucard's Home Page" is brilliant and has obviously sparked a tremendous amount of interest. I think the best thing for me to do is ramble on about my involvement in the project and then respond to your questions.

Stu Woolley has already talked briefly about the wonderful writing quartet of Laurin, Davis, Bedard and Lalonde, so I will just mention how I became involved with them. (Actually I have just finished working on their first feature film, a very funny piece titled The Top of the Food Chain, which starts Campbell Scott and Tom Everett Scott).

I had done guest roles on several of their series, and on the Hitchcock Presents, I did three different roles, and on the final show of the series played the head of the FBI in a spoof of North by Northwest, titled "South by Southeast". Laurin and Davis played two of my agents, and unbeknownst to me, liking what I had done, decided to write the role of Gustav with me in mind. I went to read Gustav for Laurin and a producer quite some time later, and couldn't even remember who Laurin was. At that period, Gustav was suffering possibly from emphysema, was attached to an oxygen tank and wheelchair, would sent the children out on mission with explicit orders what to do, but always managed to drag himself to the rescue when they ran into trouble. I was also asked to speak with a slight German accent. Happily both those ideas were dropped.

We had recently returned to Canada after fifteen years in the US - five years at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, and ten in Hollywood where I worked steadily in TV and film - and did not know any of the other cast members by name or reputation. On the flight to Amsterdam I met Mia Kirshner, and Geordie Johnson who was trying to sleep as he was recovering from a strep throat.

The pilot was filmed, if I remember correctly, in seven long days and nights, mostly in the castle at Vianden. This was extremely hard on the crew people as all the equipment had to be brought in and removed every day, with trucks returning to the city, often held up behind slow moving farm vehicles. When word came from Exec producer Robert Halmi in New York that he was extremely happy with the early rushes, we automatically thought that we would all be replaced with American "name" actors, and instead of relaxing and sleeping during our non work periods, we raced about trying to see as much of Europe as we could. This included "doing" the Grand Duche [of Luxembourg], and visiting Germany's oldest city, Trier, with an incredibly well preserved architectural mixture starting back from the 2nd Century AD (it was the seat of the Roman Imperial government and occupational forces for northwest Europe) on up through the 16th century to modern times.

"Who came up with Gustav's wonderfully awful fashion sense?"
One thing that worried me was not having a "character". As soon as I arrived in Luxembourg, the wardrobe designer Paul Andre Guerin, and his associates Claire Garneau, and Dominic Girard, came to my hotel room to discuss clothes. It was suggested, over drinks, that since Gustav's wife died (or left him), he had let himself get "run down" and just wore anything he laid his hands on. I liked the idea and as we talked, I saw a physical character evolving. I suggested that he would have lost weight, and asked for all my clothes to be one or two sizes too large - which is what we did. Then I saw him as not caring about his personal appearance, and let my hair get long, and never combed or brushed it, and that I always had four days growth of stubble. The only time he shaved and greased down his hair was in episode 2, Double Cross; episode 10, Mind over Matter; episode 16, My Fair Vampire; and episode 20, My Dinner with Lucard. I remembered how I used to cut my face when I first started shaving and applied toilet paper to stop the bleeding, so we used that as a "gimmick". So I felt I had an outward character, and the internal character would develop in time because he was written so well.

By the way, Marina Anderson, who played Amber in #16, recently married David "Kung Fu" Carradine. Following the baseball game in #16, the script originally ended with a scene with Amber and Gustav in her car and it was made very clear that he was going to kill her because she too was a vampire. I think the main reason for changing the end was because they didn't want to show Gustav as killer. I believe most of the killing of vampires in the series was done by Lucard himself. The reason Gustav never destroyed Lucard, or he Gustav, was that Gustav would have nothing left in his life if he couldn't pester and pursue Lucard, and Lucard enjoyed the challenge that Gustav presented. They both wanted to continue playing the game.

In episode #1, the scene in which the two boys have rescued Sophie and they are confronted by Lucard in the Great Hall of the castle runs as two reverse master shots with little or no coverage. That was because they got behind schedule through the night and there was no time for close-ups as we had to be completely out of the castle before it opened for tourists at 8 am.

On completion of the pilot, we returned to Canada for a month while suitable "studio" space was found and sets constructed. Three spaces were found in a small business "mall" in Livange, about a twenty minute drive from the city. One studio housed Lucard's castle, another Gustav's house, and the third the production office, make-up and dressing rooms. When I say dressing rooms, I mean two small spaces, one for the women and one for the men. The "studios" were situated only a few yards from a rail track along which ran about a hundred passenger and freight trains a day. They had metal roofs and when it rained we had further interference. We developed a system to deal with the train problem. If we were filming a master shot and heard a train approaching, we would all "freeze" and then continue after it had passed. This worked and saved us from having to go back and start from the beginning again. Rain was another matter, as you couldn't have rain all through the master shot, and none during coverage, so rain often put us behind schedule.

Many of the actors (including Geordie) and crew found themselves flats to stay in. For me, life was hard enough without having to cook, clean, do laundry, etc., so I stayed on at the Hotel Pullman. When I returned to Luxembourg for the "long run", Geordie met me at the airport and, after checking into the hotel, took me to see his flat. Over drinks, he asked, "Where shall we go for lunch? France, Germany, Belgium, or just stay in the Duche?" That's what I loved about the place, we could have been in any of those countries in half an hour. You want to know, right? We went to Echternacht near the German border.

Many of the crew were European including the gennie operator who is Prince H. van Hohenzollern (from either Danish or Austrian royalty).

My favourite roles in the past? That is always a difficult question to answer. At the time of "doing", that particular role is the one I would like more than any other. However, after thirty years of solid theatre, in retrospect there might be three or four roles I probably hated doing, and loved all the others. Last summer I returned to the stage for the first time in eleven years playing the lead role in "Wrong Turn At Lungfish" and would love to do it again but that is a very remote possibility. Depending on the roles offered, I might do a season next year at the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake. There are no particular characters I would like to play any more, but if something is offered that really "grabs" me I would most likely do it.

I haven't watched television for over three years because I became infuriated by endless commercials, the cutting of films to accommodate advertising, but mainly so as not to get trapped into staring at a lot of garbage that is passed off as entertainment. I go through phases where I read myself out and then rest for a while. I love good novels, well written autobiographies, biographies, social and political subjects and histories. I think my favourite novel has to be "The Day of the Triffids", by John Wyndham, which I read about once a year, and it never fails to excite and surprise me. I must admit that I am a film addict and watch an average of 480 movies a year. We do not go to the movies any more because everything connected with such an outing is an assault to the senses. The sound levels are set so high one suffers ear aches for days after. After much complaining, I was finally told that the cinemas cannot control the sound as the levels are set into the prints, and if the projectionist (if there are any left) does try to control the decibel levels than you can't hear anything. Also because people talk, are up and down, in and out, chomping on popcorn, messing with "crackling" plastic wrappers, and swilling ice cubes. I am building a library of classic American, British, European, and Asian films which we watch many times over. I also write, which I really enjoy, and enjoy classical music, jazz, and certain soundtracks.

No, I do not like schnitzel in real life and I didn't like eating it on set either.

I did not particularly like the first three episodes because I felt I didn't know what I was doing and was not comfortable with Gustav. Once things sort of fell into place, I loved all the episodes with my favourites being #6 Black Sheep, #8 What a Pleasant Surprise--because I liked working with Kim Coates--who surprised us by walking in and sitting next to us on the flight to Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago; #'s 4 and 12, The Boffin and The Great Tickler, because of Patrick Monckton who was the only non Canadian in the cast, coming from England. He is a wonderful man, very funny, and we have remained good friends and keep in touch. #17 The Decline of the Romanian Vampire; and #21 Klaus Encounters.

There are always amusing (and sometimes hysterically funny) moments on sets, tongue twisters, giggle fits--as in the last scene of The Great Tickler with Harry Hill, Patrick Monckton and myself toasting our victory. I kept stumbling over a line and we drove the director crazy because we couldn't stop laughing. Harry Hill was recovering from a stomach operation, and although he showed no sign of hilarity on his face, he kept issuing forth a high pitched whine through his nose which was always followed by a very loud fart. How can you settle down with all that going on? Every episode had amusing incidents, but I don't recall anything weird that happened.

I would like to do the whole series again because I know I could improve Gustav 300%.

I loved Luxembourg, the people and the country--or should I say Duche? When not filming--I actually had only one long weekend off, whereas for instance Geordie and Geraint often had three and sometimes four day weekends and with two drivers could get to Prague, Paris and Amsterdam--I would take shorter trips and keep returning to places I loved--Trier, Germany, only a half hour drive from Luxembourg City; Strasbourg, France, a two hour drive; Bruges, Belgium, called 'the Venice of the north', three hours, or drive about Luxembourg itself. Our days off were Saturday and Sunday although we agreed to read through the script with the new guest actor, late Sunday afternoon, then retire to the bar with her or him, and eat and drink and make them feel part of the family so they would feel comfortable when they walked on set for the first time. They usually arrived on Friday for wardrobe etc., and if they were wandering aimlessly about the hotel on Saturday, I would usually drive them about the Duche and down to Trier.

The final episode had a lot of good stuff in it and it ended, I thought, leaving people with the desire to see more. I knew the writers were planning another 52 episodes, although I didn't find out more about it until we were back in Canada, and I liked what I heard and feel it would have been even more wonderful. On the afternoon of the last day of filming, we were in Lucard's castle, and the studio began to fill up with production people, and families. The final shot was of my hand going in and out of the fireplace and my finger tapping the watch face. After the final "Cut and print", everybody started embracing and crying. We were a happy lot and strong attachments had been made.

We occasionally see Mia Kirshner who seems to be making it well in film--she held her own very well with Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta in Mad City--and she is happily not getting big headed about it all. See Joe Roncetti (he is with the same agent as myself) and he has been gigging with his own band and still doing the odd acting jobs. Jacob Tierney lives in Montreal and we usually see him when I am filming there. He is quite tall and handsome and has been doing American films, and French television. See a lot of the crew as I often work with them on episodic TV filming here in Toronto. We are extremely close to Geordie Johnson (who lives two blocks from us), and see a lot of Lynne Cormack. We are also very close to some of the actors who guested on the show. Geordie, for the past four or five years, has been distinguishing himself at the Ontario Shakespearean Festival in Stratford. He is a magnificent stage actor and a great human being.

One little thing you might find of interest. In episode #16, the "home" that Frederic Rilling is in is actually a home for the elderly, and all the background people were real patients and nurses. During World War 2, the home was the headquarters of General Patton during the 18 month battle of the Ardennes.

Ah, the hardest question to answer--am I anything like Gustav in real life. You make me think about something I don't really remember consciously giving any thought to in the theatre or film, worrying about a "character". It always just happened as I went along. I am an intuitive actor. I am not a cerebral actor. I don't dig into backgrounds to try and find things that you can't play anyway. If a script is well written everything you need is there for you. Earlier I said I was worried about a "character" I suppose because I was in a "series", I had heard actors gab and sweat about their "character". I wasted several episodes doing that. I now realise the better the writers got to know me, the easier it was to write Gustav. So I suppose the answer is yes, I am very much like Gustav in real life because the writers used me to make him. Does that make sense to you? Do you see what I'm trying to say? As I said I can't really speak about it, I can only do it. How's that for a tangent?

A couple of things relating back to the second series--the children would literally disappear, the comedy would be much darker, and there would be flashbacks which would include a younger Gustav and involving his wife. During the first season we had a two week break and my wife and I went to London where among other things I got myself a British agent. With the upcoming second season, she asked me to go to London a month before filming started to meet casting agents, producers and directors. This I did, arriving in London 7am, and at 9pm, my Toronto agent called to say the whole thing had fallen through at the last minute. Apparently Halmi had been "waffling" for a long time, and by the time he decided to go ahead, all the other investors had pulled out. This was sad news which really hit me hard for a few minutes, but I quickly accepted it and got on with my life. Oh yes, if I remember correctly they wanted to use each guest in two episodes and to shoot two episodes a week.

Did you know why Lucard had black eyes when he became Dracula in the first episode, but had yellow eyes for all the other episodes? The black contact lenses burned Geordie's eyes and gave him a lot of pain. Yellow was, for some reason, the only ones he could tolerate.

You mention in Random Musings on Double Darkness that you "found the plot confusing… perhaps it was difficult to squeeze everything into a half hour…" Just to comment on that let me say that the actual running time for all the episodes is only twenty one minutes and fifty seconds. When we read through each episode, some would run as long as 33 or even 40 minutes. In the case of the latter that would mean 17.50 minutes would have to be cut. If the read through clocked at 30 minutes, 7.50 would have to be cut. What I'm saying is that every episode lost something good in those cuts and in a confusing story like DD, it becomes more so. I remember Geordie was not happy with the cuts in Bad Blood and had to fight for changes. I always felt (and suggested) that the show be written in the hour format which would have given us about 45 minutes running time, but it was not to be.

I hope all this will be of some use to you, and yes, please use what you want for Lucard's Home Page.

Very best wishes to you, thank you for asking me to be a part of your wonderful project and for keeping a series that we are all quite proud of alive.

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Bunny Behrens


Inside Information / Lucard's Home Page / lpetix@dpcc.com