Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Interview with Tim Burton, Seth Grahame-Smith, and Timur Bekmambetov
“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” explores the secret life of our 16th president and the untold story that shaped our nation. 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. At the same time, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” presents the Great Emancipator as the country’s first superhero. Bekmambetov had previously helmed the box-office smash “Wanted” and before that, “Night Watch” and “Day Watch,” which offered compelling portraits of vampires in a world both familiar and fantastic. Together with screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith, Burton and Bekmambetov brought the film to life.
Early Attraction to the Story
Bekmambetov: I immediately reacted to the story because it was so clean, simple and powerful.
Burton: Lincoln’s entire life mirrors the classic comic book superhero mythology. It’s a duality — during the day he’s the president of the United States; at night, a vampire hunter… [Lincoln's character in the film] was ordinary and extraordinary at the same time… It sounded like the kind of movie I wanted to see. It felt like it could have the crazy energy of the films of my youth, which had a lot of weird mash-ups of horror movies.
Grahame-Smith: Lincoln’s life story is an archetypal superhero origin story. He’s as close to an actual superhero as this country’s ever seen. Forget about vampires. Lincoln had neither family name nor money. His mother died when he was a youngster. In fact, everybody he loved had died. With no education, and armed with just his mind, he became president and saved the nation.
Presenting the Characters to the Audience
Grahame-Smith: Everything had to be presented in a very straightforward way. We never wink at the audience; not even once. Tim Burton really supported us and protected that vision… marked the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, and many of the bookstores on my promotional tour [for his previous tome Pride and Prejudice and Zombies] had two displays: one featured books about Lincoln’s life; the other was a vampire-themed display, including the “Twilight” and Sookie Stackhouse books [upon which the television show “True Blood” was based]. It led me to think about combining the two subjects.
Burton: We took everyday objects of that era and gave them a twist. Everyone is familiar with muskets, bayonets and axes, but nobody had thought of turning them into a single weapon.
Grahame-Smith: The vampires in our movie aren’t romantic or funny, and they certainly don’t sparkle. Our vampires are bloodthirsty and cunning – and most frightening of all, they’ve become a part of the fabric of everyday life, working as blacksmiths, pharmacists, and bankers.
Burton: The human side is always the most important thing. And the character has to have a sense of humor because no one could survive as a vampire hunter without it.
Grahame-Smith: [Lincoln] could be the life of the party, and was an exciting and entertaining man. I think he’d love our movie.
Collaboration and Perspective
Burton: I wanted to see Timur’s version of this story! A big plus was that Timur is from another country, so he provides a different perspective on these characters and historical events.
The Film’s Main Character, Abraham Lincoln (Ben Walker)
Burton: [Walker] brings humanity and a mischievous quality, which felt very real, to the role.
The Film’s Antagonist, Adam (Rufus Sewell)
Burton: If you cast off your moral assumptions, then all Adam wants is a place where he and those like him can call home. He wants freedom for his kind, but of course that comes at a horrible cost for so many.
Grahame-Smith: [With Adam’s character], I wondered what it would be like to live for hundreds of thousands of years – to have been around since the building of the pyramids. What kind of personality would emerge from that eternal existence?
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