Max Schreck is the main antagonist of Shadow of the Vampire. He was a fictional incarnation of the actor with the same name, mostly known for his role as Count Orlok in Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens.
In Shadow of the Vampire, he was portrayed by Willem Dafoe who also portrayed Green Goblin in Sam Raimi's SpiderMan films.
Hired for Making the Film
Max Schreck, whom stated to be an obscure German theater performer, hired by F.W. Munraw as one of the main casts for Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens as Count Orlok. To involve himself fully in his role, Schreck will only appear among the cast and crew in makeup, and will never break character.
Suspicion Among the Filmmakers
In the early days of the filming however, the filmmakers began to suspicious on him because the cameraman, Wolfgang Muller, falls into a strange, hypnotic state while Gustav discovers a bottle of blood smuggled amongst the team's food supplies, and Murnau delivers a caged ferret in the middle of the night.
One night, Murnau rushes his team up to an old Slovak castle for the first scene with the vampire. Schreck appears for the first time, and his appearance and behavior impress and disturb them. The film's producer, Albin Grau, suspects that Schreck is not a German theater actor, and is confused when Murnau tells him that he found Schreck in the castle. Soon after the completion of the scene, Wolf is found collapsed in a dark tunnel. Upon returning to the inn, the landlady appears frightened by his pale, weak appearance, and mutters "Nosferatu" while clutching at a rosary.
Whilst filming a dinner scene between Gustav and Count Orlok, Murnau startles Gustav, making him cut his finger. Schreck reacts wildly at the sight of the blood, and tries drinking from Gustav's wound. The generator powering the lights fails and when the lights return, Schreck has pinned Wolf to the floor, apparently draining his blood. Albin orders filming ended for the night, and the crew rushes from the castle, leaving Schreck behind. Schreck examines the camera equipment after they left, fascinated by footage of a sunrise.
True Nature Revealed
It's ultimately revealed that Schreck is indeed vampire, and Murnau has struck a deal in order to create the most realistic vampire film possible. Murnau has promised him Greta as a reward, but Schreck remains a difficult star. With Wolf near death, Murnau is forced to bring in another cinematographer, Fritz Arno Wagner. During Murnau's absence, Schreck approaches Albin and the screenwriter, Henrik Galeen. They invite him to join them, and question Schreck, believing he is still in character. Schreck points out Dracula's loneliness, and the sadness of Dracula trying to remember how to perform the everyday activities. When they ask how he became a vampire, Schreck says it was a woman. A bat flies by and Schreck catches it, sucking its blood. The others are impressed by what they assume is talented acting.