Move over, Twilight. While presidential scandals hitting the tabloids these days are more likely to involve stuff like sex, drugs and the stock market, director Timur Bekmambetov not so playfully postulates that the famously bearded prez more commonly known as Honest Abe, may have had something rather sinister to do with, well, vampires. On hand to talk about his turn as the 16th US president in the retro action thriller Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Benjamin Walker seemed to relish casting doubts related to this undead yarn and the determined demystification of an icon, about what may have actually been historically true or false, for real. No, not those ears and artificial nose he sports for the movie. Though his hair was emphatically quite another matter. But Ben did take the bite, so to speak, when tossed a couple of other loaded questions.
1. You do some pretty sick things with that ax in this film. Was there one particular move that was hard to master? Oh yeah! I had great people who taught me. You know, the best stunt guys in the business. And they kicked my ass! And they were also tough enough to stand there while I, you know, would hit them in the face with a rubber ax. But because of the 3-D, there were a number of…accidents.
2. Did you ever imagine that one day you’d be playing Abe Lincoln in a Hollywood blockbuster vampire movie? I guess that I hadn’t ever fully imagined that they’d give me a shot, so no. But they had already kind of offered it to somebody else, a big name movie star. So the fact that they were courting me, just seemed like a long shot in my mind. So there wasn’t much pressure. I was mostly fascinated to meet Timur. I loved his movies, Nightwatch and Daywatch had kind of blown my mind. So I was excited to meet him, and hoped he’d liked my work. But hey, fear is for pansies!
3. What kind of research did you do, like did you look at John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln? You look a little like Henry Fonda in that movie. I take that as a high compliment! But yeah, we watched that. And I read a number of books. There’s a great book about the melancholy of Abraham Lincoln, that lends itself nicely to the story we’re telling. You know, about his love affairs before Mary Todd, his suicidal tendencies, his journals, and his depression. He took mercury pills for years, imagine what that does to your psyche. I mean, it’s truly astounding. But it’s a lot of fun, doing this movie. In that it’s a thriller, but it’s a period thriller. We’re really taking it seriously, and are really committing to the time period and the events that took place in Lincoln’s life.
4. How about juggling the Lincoln everyone knows, with this supernatural world of vampires and action, and things that didn’t really happen? You assume! But wait until you see the movie, because you haven’t read the research that we’ve been reading. So I think that it’s not as far fetched as you’d like to imagine that at night, he could be an entirely different person than he was during the day as a politician. And what would go on in his life. And that leap becomes smaller, the more you learn about the real Lincoln. Because as Americans, he’s on the five dollar bill. So we’ve idealized him. And part of the fun of the movie, is that in this fantastical context we look at a real human being. And in a way that we aren’t necessarily as comfortable doing today.
5. Talk about all that makeup that turned you into the spitting image of Abe. Well for example, that isn’t my nose. I’m wearing a rubber nose! And we’ve built a progression of Lincoln from boyhood through his later life, based off his death masks and actual masks and casts. So that’s worth the price of admission right there, to watch Lincoln grow old in front of your eyes in a film context. And in terms of vocally, there wasn’t anything flattering about his voice in particular. You know, it was kind of a shrill, raspy, annoying voice. But in our movie he’s a superhero, so we’re trying to marry the two. And also, he’s a hero. So we get to enjoy seeing him come to be that. And as young man, he goes through all the things that a young man goes through. Which is fear, and his voice cracking and growing into his own lanky form. And how that becomes the hero that we know today.
6. Anything else that is not actually you? How about that hair? Yeah, my ears are fake. That is my hair. Believe it or not!
7. What are you taking away from this experience of being Abe Lincoln in a movie? If I have to go back to waiting tables when this is over, I can feel satisfied, fulfilled and proud of the work we have done. It certainly comes and goes. And to keep my health insurance! You know, I don’t think there is ever a moment where you say, I’ve done a big movie, health insurance is an assured thing. No, it will be Tylenol and bourbon before long!