On the screen in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Sadie Frost is such a delicious flirt that three men fight over her affections before the Count gets his fangs into her. In Los Angeles, however, relaxing after a photo shoot, the lady who becomes a vamp has no time for being coy. ”I hate all that flouncy, girly stuff,” she says. ”I’m not very feminine. I’m adventurous and physically boisterous.”
And a good thing, too, because her breakthrough part in Francis Ford Coppola’s sexy smash requires Frost not only to break hearts but to vomit blood, snatch a child to devour, and become intimate with a wolf of the four-legged variety. In a movie packed with such stars as Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder, and Gary Oldman, it is Frost’s performance as Lucy Westenra, the upper-class coquette with loose red curls and an eagerness for sexual experience, that leaves moviegoers breathless.
How did the virtually unknown, 25-year-old British actress prepare herself for her bizarre scenes? By pretending she was doing something else entirely. ”I wasn’t just lying there alone, being sexual,” she says of the scene in which she writhes in rapture while Dracula watches from the window. ”I imagined I was lying in a bed filled with honey. And I didn’t feel self-conscious stroking my leg and touching my breast because it was all honey.”
Frost learned early on how to distance herself from the disturbing. Her mother, a stage actress in Manchester, was 16 and unmarried when Sadie was born. ”So my mother ran away to London and hid,” says Frost. ”For a long time, a lot of my family didn’t know I existed.” Her father (the couple never married) was a psychedelic artist who once painted murals on Carnaby Street and on John Lennon’s Rolls-Royce. ”In the ’60s he was spiked with acid and had to go into an asylum,” says Frost. ”As he’s got older, he’s got saner, because he hasn’t got the physical energy to be…He’s just a very intense man.” By the time she was 11, Frost, who has 11 siblings from her parents’ various marriages, had been raised by her mother and a succession of different men, the last a follower of the Indian mystic Baghwan Shree Rajneesh. ”So suddenly we were all wearing orange and I was in this religion I didn’t want to be in.”
She discovered the magic of being center stage when she was 4 and confined to a hospital bed because of a collapsed lung. ”I was kind of a star because I was sick,” she recalls. ”I loved going to doctors and hospitals. I’d make things up so I could go back. To me,” she says with a giggle, ”the hospital was a really secure place.”
At 11, she won a scholarship to a private theatrical conservatory. But she shaved her head and quit at 14 because ”I wanted to have fun and be bad.” Eventually she went back to acting and at 16, while performing in a video for the now-defunct ’80s synth-pop group Spandau Ballet, she met the band’s guitarist, Gary Kemp; they began dating five years later and married shortly thereafter. (Kemp, 33, became an actor, starred in 1990’s The Krays, and can currently be seen in The Bodyguard.) With their 2-year-old son, they divide their time between homes in London and L.A.
It was her role as Gabriel Byrne’s precocious younger sister in 1990’s Dark Obsession that brought Frost to the attention of Coppola, who asked her to screen-test for Dracula in London. ”I tell you what,” Frost said to her agent, ”I’ll pay for my ticket and fly (to L.A.) to meet him.” She rests her hand on the little bird she had tattooed on her ankle at 16. ”If I’ve ever done anything sensible in my life, it was that.”
Though her daring performance in Dracula is not one that moviegoers will quickly forget, it may take a while before they connect the naturally dark-haired actress’ name to her face. And that’s fine with Frost. ”After I saw the movie, I went to the ladies’ room and 20 women were all talking about Lucy. They looked at me, and no one knew who I was,” she says with satisfaction. ”Sometimes in a movie you can see yourself in it. With this one, I forgot it was me.”