ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER
About The Production
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.
Abraham Lincoln. Vampire Hunter. The very words evoke a juxtaposition that is
unexpected, if not downright bizarre. Yet it's an idea to which the filmmakers
have fully committed. Their work is a portrait of the man and leader we've all
studied and the seminal events that defined him and our nation - interwoven with
the immersive, visceral action of a vampire story.
At the same time, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER presents the Great
Emancipator as the country's first superhero. Notes producer Tim 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
That dichotomy is at the core of the Lincoln we meet in the film. "He was
ordinary and extraordinary at the same time," says director Timur Bekmambetov.
Adds screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith, who adapted his best-selling novel of the
same name: "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."
These themes grabbed the attention of Burton, his fellow producer Jim Lemley,
and Timur Bekmambetov. Even before Grahame-Smith had completed the novel, Burton
heard the title and his mind kicked into gear. "It sounded like the kind of
movie I wanted to see," Burton claims. "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
Lemley, who had produced with Burton and Bekmambetov the animated film "9,"
says that Burton's sensibilities were a perfect match for this material. "What
Tim does so brilliantly is to take conventional imagery and stories and turn
them on their head, and examine them from an unexpected perspective."
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER also fits squarely within Bekmambetov's
creative and aesthetic wheelhouse. The Russian filmmaker had previously helmed
the box-office smash "Wanted" and before that, "Night Watch" and "Day Watch,"
both offering compelling portraits of vampires in a world both familiar and
Like Burton, Bekmambetov paints on a huge canvas, presenting visually
stunning imagery. It was the project's central idea and cleverness that
attracted the Russian filmmaker, claiming, "I immediately reacted to the story
because it was so clean, simple and powerful."
Initially, Bekmambetov was to serve as a producer until Burton convinced him
to take the reins as the director of the film. "I wanted to see Timur's version
of this story!" Burton says. "A big plus was that Timur is from another country,
so he provides a different perspective on these characters and historical
The "vampire hunter" portion of the story offers explosive thrills, scares,
and stunts, but the filmmakers never forgot that they were also presenting a
portrait of a beloved figure, as well as the monumental events that shaped our
nation and continue to define contemporary discourse. "Everything had to be
presented in a very straightforward way," says Grahame-Smith. "We never wink at
the audience; not even once. Tim Burton really supported us and protected that
Grahame-Smith notes that his idea for his book Abraham Lincoln: Vampire
Hunter came from an observation he made during a 2009 tour to promote his
previous tome, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, another unexpected connection
between disparate cultural entities. The author/screenwriter recalls: "That year
marked the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth, and many of the bookstores on my
promotional tour 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."
Grahame-Smith's vampires were polar opposites to the romantic figures
captured in the pages of the books he saw on display. His creatures of the
undead pay proper reverence to the classic tradition of vampires in the movies.
"The vampires in our movie aren't romantic or funny, and they certainly don't
sparkle," he notes. "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."
The vampires' principal foe is one of history's most beloved figures, whom
many consider our greatest president. This story covers 45 years in Abraham
Lincoln's life, from 1820 to 1865, and is set in Kentucky, Illinois, and
Louisiana and, of course, the nation's capital. So, who would follow in the
footsteps of some of our most accomplished actors, and play the iconic leader
and fearless vampire slayer? The nod went to stage actor Benjamin Walker, who
coincidentally already had accrued some "presidential" experience as the lead in
the play "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," which had a Broadway run in 2010.
"Ben brings humanity and a mischievous quality, which felt very real, to the
role," says Tim Burton. Adds Jim Lemley: "Ben captures Lincoln's honesty,
integrity, courage and sense of purpose."
Most important to Walker was the opportunity to portray not only what made
Lincoln a giant, but also a relatable human being. "What's dangerous about
playing an icon is not allowing the character to be human," says the actor. "You
must allow the character to be vulnerable or even silly. Luckily, Tim and Timur
were open to making Abraham a flawed, funny and conflicted man."
"The human side is always the most important thing," Burton concurs. "And the
character has to have a sense of humor because no one could survive as a vampire
hunter without it."
Walker, a 6'3" Juilliard-trained actor certainly had the physical stature to
portray the lanky Lincoln. But could the young actor, 29 at the time, convey,
physically, the Civil War-era figure whose iconic, aged visage graces our
history books and currency? Bekmambetov, Burton and Lemley put Walker to the
test - a screen test - during which the actor donned prosthetics that aged him
to 55, and delivered one of the most renowned speeches in history, the
Gettysburg Address. Walker more than impressed the filmmakers. "My reaction was,
'Oh my god, it's Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address!" Lemley
exclaims. Looming ahead for Walker was the imperative to drop 30 pounds to
achieve the requisite Lincolnesque leanness, as well as hundreds of hours of
weapons training to turn him into the ultimate hunter of the undead.
Before Walker takes center stage as Abraham, we 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
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