Max Schreck’s performance as Count Orlock is still one of the most compelling in film history.
It’s a strange coincidence that Schreck (meaning “fright” in German) was his actual name. His rat-shaped head, hollow eyes, pointed ears and exaggerated fingernails would make you think that he truly was a vampire himself.
The director of the film Nosferatu Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau explains, “Schreck is a practitioner of method acting, trained by Stanislavsky himself, and so will remain in makeup throughout the production – but also have to admit he meets the role’s requirements.”
Friedrich Gustav Maximillian Schreck was born on September 6, 1879, in the Friedenau section of Berlin, Germany.
From a young age, he was interested in acting, but his father was against that. However, his mother managed to provide him some money and he started taking acting lessons secretly and after his father died he went to an acting school and that is how his career in the theater began.
Before he joined Max Reinhardt’s famed theatrical group in Berlin, Max Schreck toured Germany for 2 years appearing at many theaters. Max Reinhardt was responsible for launching the career of the future film star.
Later, he started to land film roles in silent movies. His first role was in Bertolt Brecht’s first motion picture – Der Richter von Zalamea and in 1921 he was cast in his most famous role as Count Orlock in Murnau’s Nosferatu.
Nosferatu is the first but unauthorized adaption of the story of Dracula by Bram Stroker. Since it was unauthorized the name of the main character and a few other details of the story were changed. However, it was the world’s first feature-length vampire film.
Max Schreck was simply a perfect fit for the lead role of the monster and the brilliant makeup made him look like a true vampire. Because of his convincing performance, some people thought that Schreck really was a vampire
Nosferatu was banned by a German court due to copyright infringement and almost all copies were destroyed. The film was a big success in the United States but Schreck did not receive much of a boost from his appearance in the movie.
He was 43 years old when he played “Count Orlock” in Nosferatu. He continued to work in German films and on the stage for the rest of his life acting in 40 films before he died in 1936 of a heart attack. He was buried in an unmarked grave at the Wilmersdorfer Waldfriedhof cemetery in Berlin.
Max Schreck inspired the actors who followed in his footsteps, such as Bela Lugosi and Klaus Kinski.
In addition, the video below reveals more fun facts about the iconic film