Max Schreck relaxing behind the scenes of Nosferatu, 1922
Little is known about Max Schreck’s life and film career, a fact to which his biographer, Stefan Eickhoff, can attest. According to Eickhoff, the actor’s colleagues regarded him as a “loyal, conscientious loner with an offbeat sense of humor and a talent for playing the grotesque.” The star of over 40 motion pictures, Schreck is best remembered for his haunting portrayal of Orlok in Nosferatu.
Fittingly enough, the man’s last name is the German word for “terror.” Schreck’s performance was so effective that some viewers wondered if the mysterious thespian was an actual vampire in real life. Film critic Ado Kyrou popularized this idea in 1953 when he wrongly claimed that the name of the actor who played Murnau’s monster had never been revealed. “Who hides behind the character of Nosferatu?” Kyrou wrote. “Maybe Nosferatu himself?” That suggestion was subsequently used as the premise of Shadow of the Vampire (2000), which features John Malkovich as Murnau and Willem Dafoe as a bloodsucking, coffin-loving Max Schreck.