Director thrilled to break new ground with 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter'
Bekmambetov reteams with Burton for unique spin on historical figure
It's not often that a title of a potential project says it all, but when celebrated filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov heard the words "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" for the first time, he knew it was a grabber.
And while the title alone didn't exactly tell him "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" would fly as a film, it didn't take long before the "Wanted" and "9" director plowed into author Seth Graham-Smith's work-in-progress. The ideas immediately came coursing through his veins, and he called his fellow "9" producers Tim Burton and Jim Lemley to, well, put a stake into the film.
"The title sounds like a joke, but then I read 20 pages of Seth's book proposal -- the book wasn't even written yet -- and in about 20 minutes I called Tim and Jim and said, 'We have to do this because it's crazy, but in a good way crazy.' Intuitively I felt it was a very believable story. It's metaphorical and a poem."
Opening in theaters in 2D and 3D Friday, "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" tells the untold story, albeit in a fantastical sort of way, of the secret life of Abraham Lincoln aside from being one of the greatest political figures in U.S. history. Befallen with tragedy as a child at the hands of vampires, Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) grows up and seeks retribution against the undead -- with an axe, no less -- while on his way to becoming the 16th president of the United States.
The film also stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln; Anthony Mackie as Lincoln's trusted friend and bodyguard, Will; Dominic Cooper as Henry, the vampire hunter who trains Lincoln in his lethal ways; and Rufus Sewell as Adam, the president, effectively, of the vampire legion.
For Bekmambetov, the film presented a unique storytelling opportunity to weave within the historical story of Lincoln a tale like none other.
"Nobody's certainly done it before -- a vampire tale integrated into history -- where the base of the story feels right. You think, this is how it really could have been," Bekmambetov said with a laugh.
Plus, one could reasonably argue in this day and age that politicians, while not vampires, are still real bloodsuckers.
"And it's not only in America, around the world they're all the same," the Russian-Kazakh filmmaker added with a chuckle.
One of reasons Burton had said he wanted to work with Bekmambetov on "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," was because he thought the 50-year-old filmmaker could give a unique perspective on the revered American president because he was foreign.
"Instead of deconstructing the icon and starting again, for me it was more about a beginning. I didn't have obligations or stereotypes in my head or my heart," Bekmambetov explained. "I just started from scratch and learned about him. He didn't start out an icon for me, but he became one. I understood how powerful he was and how important he was, not only what he did for the United States, but for the world."
Bekmambetov said he absorbed as much as he could from Burton, although the famed filmmaker likes to give his directors space when he's in the producer's chair.
"The theme of Tim is the theme of the movie -- he's about freedom. As a producer, he lets you be free to create your own world. Of course, with the freedom comes the responsibility all the time," Bekmambetov said, laughing. "He hates idiots and irresponsible people. Fortunately I haven't had to talk with him about being irresponsible."
One of greatest responsibilities Bekmambetov was saddled with was finding an actor who could embody Lincoln: not an easy task for a historical movie, much less a historical-horror movie mash-up.
True, he found somebody in Walker who was physically capable of the role and had the charisma to command your attention, but there was one other thing that Walker brought to the role which Bekmambetov absolutely loved.
"He gives the character a great personality. He is Lincoln. He has the personality to be the president of the United States," Bekmambetov said. "Benjamin is honest, ready to make decisions and not blame other people when they don't go right, and really knows the difference between what's good and bad."
While Lincoln is the title character, Bekmambetov said it was just as important to make the vampires as three dimensional as the human characters -- especially Adam.
"We were lucky that we found a way to create the vampires of the United States. We came up with a very cool and elegant idea that vampires, like humans, like immigrants came here to make the country their own," Bekmambetov said. "They were running away from vampire hunters in Spain, Italy, Russian, Poland and Ireland. They came from the old world to be free. But unfortunately for them, they're bad. In their nature, they think they have the rights to use us, and Lincoln says, 'No, no, no.'"
Finding his own freedom as a filmmaker, Bekmambetov said "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" is an experience he'll never forget, mainly because it's so vastly different from anything he's ever done before.
"I'm really proud that we made a movie that is not a sequel or based on a famous video game," Bekmambetov said. "It's a new thing."
In an odd sort of way, Bekmambetov said it's a superhero movie, but a different kind of movie that has the makings of the traditional superhero mythology.
"Lincoln is first in the history of real superheroes," Bekmambetov said. "He was a young boy who lost his mother, he lived a secret life and a real life, and he made tough, moral choices."
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