‘Renfield:’ Ben Schwartz on How « Bananas » It was to Work With Nicolas Cage

In director Chris McKay’s very long-time coming Dracula sequel, Renfield, Hollywood icon, Nicolas Cage, plays the classic vampire count, opposite Nicholas Hoult as the deeply devoted titular servant. Taking a very bloody yet comedic approach to this timeless tale, Renfield also stars Ben Schwartz, best known for his stand-up comedy, as Jean-Ralphio in Parks and Recreation, and as the voice behind the title character of the live-action Sonic the Hedgehog movies. During the junket ahead of the movie’s release, Crumpa’s own Steve Weintraub sat down with Schwartz to discuss what it was like for him to portray a heavily tatted, gun-toting baddie.


Though the movie focuses on, well, Renfield, Schwartz’s character, Tedward “Teddy” Lobo, is a wannabe crime lord who poses a threat to the city of New Orleans. While he may not be the highest-ranking criminal, or even the greatest danger considering Cage’s Dracula is on the prowl, Crumpa’s Maggie Boccella says Schwartz is “a phenomenal scene stealer” in her review from the Overlook Film Festival.

In their one-on-one, which you can watch in the video above or read below, Schwartz talks about his character’s head-to-toe ink, how people reacted to it when he went out on the town, and how much input he got as far as what tattoos Teddy sports in the movie. He admits to geeking out with Cage on set and comments on the “Hollywood icon’s” commitment to the role, the challenges they faced filming with so much practical blood, and tons more. Schwartz also shares details on upcoming projects like Die Hart 2: Die Harter with Kevin Hart, whether we’ll be seeing Jim Carrey in Sonic 3, and being the first improv performer (maybe?) at Radio City Music Hall.

Crumpa: You have been doing some really cool stuff the last few years. Have you been able to sort of take a step back and be like, ‘Oh my God, look what I’m doing.’?

BEN SCHWARTZ: No, this is it. It takes someone telling me that. Someone had said that, someone was like, ‘Hey, you just did [The Afterparty] and [Sonic the Hedgehog] and this,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I guess those are very different. That’s so exciting.’ But it takes someone to– I’m getting better as I get older, [but] I’m always worried about what’s next, and I very rarely take the time. But I’ve been way better when something happens, to be like, ‘Oh, I’m really happy, I’m really proud of that.’

I was really proud of The Afterparty and I took my moment with that, or like Sonic 2 doing so well was like, ‘How exciting is that?’ So like with this, I’m so excited to do something totally different. Like when you and I are talking, it’s rarely about something this gory, or you know, me doing fight scenes, or me wielding guns and trying to kill people. So for me, this is very exciting, Steve.

Image Via Apple TV

You have tattoos and stuff, you have a different look in this movie.

SCHWARTZ: I do! And slicked back hair.

Oh, 100%, and if I had those tattoos and that outfit – and looking like you without that stuff – I would absolutely want to leave set and just go out with it.

SCHWARTZ: And I did.

And that’s what I want to know. How did you get treated when you went out with all that stuff?

SCHWARTZ: It was so funny. Some people were like [makes a face] because there are a lot of tattoos. If I wore a short-sleeved shirt, you’d see they go all the way up, literally all the way up, and around my chest. It was connected. Christien Tinsley and (key makeup artist) Corinne [Foster] put them on. The gentleman who created the way that we do these tattoos, called Tinsley transfers – so Christien Tinsley, that gentleman – was the person who put them on and created them, which is great.

But, I would wear them like in the elevator or when I’m in the hotel, and then go and get food. There’s a place in New Orleans that I went a bunch to get breakfast at, the same place every day, and you could see that people look at you a little bit [differently.] Some people are like [makes a face], and then other people are like, ‘Oh, very cool!’ Some people want to connect with you about the tattoos because they’re sleeves, it’s a choice I’m making. It’s not like one little thing that says, like, “hope.”

But if you look [closely] enough at the tattoos, they’re all terrible. They’re like guns and werewolves yelling at each other, and drugs and eight balls. And so if you look closely at people, from afar [they would] be like, ‘Oh!’ Then [they would] be like, ‘Oh, man, what is this guy into? What is he doing?’ Yeah, a lot of bad life choices.

Ben Schwartz in Renfield
Image via Universal

Did you have any input on the tattoos?

SCHWARTZ: Yeah, they gave me a bunch of things, and then I got to, you know, every now and then be like, ‘Oh, what if we did this?’ or, ‘What if we change this to this?’ or, ‘If, instead of this name, let’s have it this name,’ or, you know, stuff like that. So I got to play with that a little bit.

I know you’re a movie fan, and I can’t imagine what it was like your first day on set with Nic.

SCHWARTZ: Oh my God. As Dracula! So it’s not even just Nic Cage, it’s, ‘I’m in front of Nic Cage as Dracula,’ which is bananas. It’s like two worlds, two idols, clashing to become one super idol.

Super Idol would be a good TV show we could probably write. Don’t you think?

Um, 100%. I don’t know if American Idol will not sue you, but there’s a chance.

SCHWARTZ: Right, right, right, we’ll see, we’ll see. It’s Super Idol, it’s so different.

Right, so I know you’re a fan of Nic Cage. How many days did it take before you started getting geeky with him, asking him some questions?

SCHWARTZ: First day, over. Literally, first day. Same with Jim Carrey. When I met Jim Carrey the first day I asked him about Ace Ventura. There was no – because I was like, ‘I don’t know when I’m ever gonna be near this person again.’ [Laughs]

So, first day [I’m] talking to him about stuff, and talking about movies, and talking about things he likes. I’m always interested in, like, the people that I’m watching and stuff, I’m always interested in what they’re watching, or unique experiences. Or, we’ll just talk about somebody, and they’d be like, ‘Oh, right, yeah, that’s my close friend for this many years.’ It’s like, ‘Oh, right, you’ve been doing this forever, you know everybody, you’ve encountered everybody.’ So it’s great. He’s a museum of knowledge, it’s amazing.

Image via Universal

What actually surprised you about working with him in his process on set?

SCHWARTZ: Yes, he was so committed. He was so committed, and he was there on time every day. Sometimes, people that are big stars, they feel like they can play the system a little bit and get there at the last second. He was so prepared, [and] game for anything. When I improvised with him he was totally down and excited to improvise. When he was supposed to be Dracula and angry, he’d get himself angry right before, and then someone would say, ‘Action,’ and he’d come into the scene. So, it was everything I’d hoped one of those Hollywood icons would be.

What did you borrow of his costume? Because I know that’s the most important.

SCHWARTZ: Man, I didn’t get to keep anything costume-wise. My costume is bananas, and his costume, like to have that cape, or– I mean, he looks incredible. He has so many different looks in this thing. It’s amazing.

You got to participate in some of the action–

SCHWARTZ: Yes! Did it look believable?

Yeah, no, 100%, but you should thank the editor.

SCHWARTZ: [Laughs] Yeah, that couldn’t have been me jumping off of a balcony.

No, but one of the things that I was really surprised at in the movie was, I wasn’t sure, going in, how much action there would be, would there be blood? I really didn’t know. And there was a ton of blood, and I guess it was all done practically.

SCHWARTZ: There is a lot of blood. You’re the second person that told me that. Kevin McCarthy was like, ‘There’s a lot of blood in this!’

Image via Universal

Oh, I was all in. I love that kind of stuff when it’s just over the top. So, what was it like on set? Because people don’t realize when you have that much blood, and you’re doing it practically, when you reset it takes a while.

SCHWARTZ: Oh, the worst. And also, there are scenes where you’re coughing up blood all over yourself. Now that’s a change of your outfit, or like your whole face is bloody, then they gotta reset. Or, if it’s like getting shot with squibs, you have to do that, then you have to reset everything and put new bullets in – you know, not bullets obviously, but the squibs – and a new outfit.

So for me not doing action movies ever, this was like a whole new thing for me to learn. Same with the after party, learning choreography and singing, that was all new. So it’s so fun to learn different things, and also, see the Michael Jordan of everybody’s field. So like, Chris Brewster is one of the best stunt coordinators in the universe, so to work with him and stuff like that, it’s really fun to learn. And then I spent a lot of time with that stunt team because I was in New Orleans a lot. So I’d hang out with all the guys, and Marvin Ross is in this, who’s like– there are just awesome people there. So you’re just learning. I love learning about everything because it feels so lucky to be making movies.

Doing action is time-consuming! Is it something that, after doing this, you are more excited to do action, or were you like, ‘This was a little more…’?

SCHWARTZ: It would have to be worth it. Because you’re right. Because, first of all, I had to get in shape a little bit, so I can do the stuff, and then I had to learn the choreography, so I’m here like three weeks earlier than I would ever be in a movie to do all the choreography, to learn it, to train and all that stuff. And so, the action would have to be worth it. It would have to be cool, or the movie would have to be awesome. If it’s just like, ‘Ehh,’ I’d be like, ‘Oh, it’s not worth it.’ But if it’s like, so cool–

I mean, it was heaven, it was heaven. When you see what it looks like, I really got to do a lot of stuff. I was on wires, I was getting pulled, I was getting punched, I was throwing real punches and stuff like that. So, I loved all of it. But you’re right. If the movie is like, ‘Ehh,’ I’m like, ‘We don’t need to do this.’ You know what I mean? It’s a lot of work, and the people who are stuntmen and women are extraordinary. They’re so incredible. It’s incredible.

Before I run the time with you, have you started recording on Sonic 3 yet?

SCHWARTZ: No, I haven’t done anything yet. I haven’t done anything.

Promotional image for 'Sonic the Hedgehog'
Image via Paramount Pictures

Have you been told anything about it?

SCHWARTZ: No, I hope that I get to do this movie.

It comes out next year, I’m confident that–

SCHWARTZ: A year and a half, but I hope I get to do it!

I’m pretty confident they’re not making it without your voice.

SCHWARTZ: Okay, that would be nice. That would be great.

The thing that I’m really curious about is, Jim has said that he is close to retiring.

SCHWARTZ: I know! I was doing press with him last time when that came out, while we were doing press. I hope he doesn’t retire because I love Jim Carrey. I can’t imagine a world where we’re watching films and Jim Carrey isn’t in them, but I understand him, and the idea of him being like, ‘You know what? I’ve done so much already that maybe…’ You know, he deserves to do whatever he wants. But my comedic heart, I was like, ‘Man, it’s too fun to see him as Robotnik.’ So I hope he comes back. I hope we all get to come back.

As you said, he should do whatever the hell makes him happy. The thing I know, because he’s talked about it is, he gives so much when he’s on set to every role that he does, including Sonic. So I’m so curious, is he gonna do it or not? Because he’s such a big part.

SCHWARTZ: It would be wonderful if in the next couple of months, we saw an article that said all of us are coming back. That would make me very, very happy. So let’s cross our fingers and hope so. Because how fun? Sonic 3 with all these guys, and then we have Shadow? Come on. I hope he’s there. It would make me sad if Jim Carrey wasn’t there.

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I have to ask, does Yasper make an appearance in The Afterparty Season 2?

SCHWARTZ: That’s a great question. I mean, how could he? He would have to be in jail.

But that doesn’t stop anybody.

SCHWARTZ: I guess you’re right. The specifics of the way it would have to happen are so specific that it would be very hard. I’m very excited to see if I’m in the second season [laughs]. This much is certain, I’m not in it a lot, or at all?

Listen, I’m fishing, you know, just seeing. But listen, I know that you have Die Hart Season 2–

SCHWARTZ: Yes! And Radio City Music Hall. I’m playing Radio City Music Hall in New York in September, my improv show. And Die Hart is me, Kevin Hart, John Cena and Nathalie Emmanuel, and Paula Pell. It’s really funny, and that comes out on Roku.

It’s crazy because right now all my stuff seems to be coming out at the same time. For some reason, everything times out where it’s like batches of stuff for Afterparty, Space Force, and Sonic, and now it’s Die Hart, Renfield, and We Lost Our Human, which was a Netflix interactive choose-your-own-adventure thing.

But Die Hart’s really fun, and Kevin Hart, he’s like a machine. It’s unbelievable. I’ve never seen one human being do so many things in my entire life, and do them at the level that he’s able to do. But the show is really funny. And then, Ben Schwartz & Friends, rejectedjokes.com, you can buy tickets there.

die hart
Image via Prime Video

I don’t know if you’ve played Radio City before, but what does that–?

SCHWARTZ: No improviser has ever played Radio City Music Hall, supposedly. That’s what Radio City told me. I don’t know if that’s true, but Radio City said that I would be the first-ever improv show that’s playing that venue.

So, I really want to know, when you’re doing something like that and you’re playing at a venue that is so historic, iconic, world-famous, right now, even though it’s improv, how much are you thinking, ‘Maybe I need to have a few things in my head.’?

SCHWARTZ: [Laughs] No, never. You can’t go in with anything. The whole idea is, ‘I got this far without anything.’ We go in there with nothing and we create on the spot. The only thing that it is is, I don’t get nervous on tours, but when I play Carnegie Hall, I did the Beacon Theater, which you came to twice, and Radio City. Radio City, I’ll be a little bit nervous beforehand just because it’s so big. It’s 6000 people. It’s by far the biggest crowd, I’ve done 3600, but I’m so excited, but I’m nervous, but I’m so excited. I can’t wait to see if it works. Nobody’s ever tried a venue that big. I think nobody ever [has], I don’t know the real facts.

So then, obviously nothing’s planned beforehand, but it’s bananas when you go backstage and it’s like 100 dressing rooms for, like, Rockettes, but it’s just us, me and my three friends, in a small room being like, ‘Alright. So let’s have a good show…’ you know what I mean? We’re so bare-bones, the whole thing, but I’m really excited. Ben Schwartz & Friends, the tour will already be announced by this time this comes out. And then I don’t know when I’m gonna speak to you next, which is a bummer. You and I usually speak a lot.

Well, you can attend some of my screenings, just throwing that out there. On that note, I’m gonna say congrats on this, I really hope it’s a huge hit.

SCHWARTZ: Thank you, man, I’d love to keep playing bad guys. It was very fun.

Renfield is in theaters now. For more, you can check out our interview with Nicolas Cage & Nicholas Hoult below.

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