“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” tweaks history onscreen as America’s most iconic and beloved president Abraham Lincoln is portrayed as a vampire slaying powerful political figure of his time.
Visionary filmmakers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov (director of “Wanted”) bring a fresh voice to the bloodthirsty lore of the vampire, imagining Lincoln as history’s greatest hunter of the undead.
Taking the role of the multi-faceted Lincoln in the movie as politico, husband and the person he became when his mother died at a young age is stage actor Benjamin Walker who has also appeared in Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers” and in the movie “Kinsey”.
Before Walker takes center stage as Abraham, the audience will meet the character as a child. His journey begins when his mother Nancy is stricken with a disease of unknown origin – but recognizable to young Abraham as resulting from a vampire’s bite. Nancy was a woman of intelligence and heart, imparting on her son the notion that, “until everyone is free, we are all slaves.” Abraham never forgot those words, which came to define his views toward slavery. Nor would he ever forget the eternal evil responsible for his mother’s death: a vampire (and local businessman) named Jack Barts, portrayed by Marton Csokas, against whom Abraham swears revenge.
Finding an actor able to wear that burden was a process, says Bekmambetov. “There were two main reasons we settled on Ben Walker,” he reveals. “The first was that he shared Lincoln’s personality. He has an unbelievable, grounded and sarcastic sense of humor and he’s a very straightforward, honest man. The second reason was strategic: we wanted to choose an actor who brings no baggage to the screen. We wanted the audience to believe they were seeing Lincoln, and not a movie star playing Lincoln.”
Walker is aware of the challenge inherent in accepting the role. “As a country, we’re always looking for heroes, and Lincoln is the quintessential American hero,” he says. “He’s self-created, self-educated and a common man who made himself extraordinary. I think we’re fascinated by that.”
For Walker, the story works as an allegory for Lincoln’s real struggle. He may not have fought vampires in real history, but he certainly waged plenty of battles of his own. “In everyone’s life, there comes a point where you have to choose how you’re going to live and what kind of person you’re going to be,” says Walker. “And Lincoln finds that in his life: how he’s going to truly defeat this evil, whether with an axe late at night or whether he’s going to put those things away and become what we know today.”
For Seth Grahame-Smith from whose book of the same title the movie was adapted and who also serves as screenwriter and executive producer for the film, meeting Walker on set for the first time was quite an experience. “It was very eerie at times,” he laughs. “Ben’s a classically trained theatrical actor who went to Juilliard, and he approached the role with intense seriousness. His research and his physical and voice training were all very intense, and he didn’t approach it as a genre movie; he approached it as an historical drama. I think that’s one of the things that make this movie special. It has a central performance that’s stronger than you usually find in these big summer movies.”
“Abraham Lincoln” Vampire Hunter” opens July 4 in theaters nationwide in 3D and 2D format from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.