Seth Grahame-Smith & Tim Burton Interview For ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’
With ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,’ visionary filmmakers Timur Bekmambetov (director) and Tim Burton (producer) present an original take on the United States’ 16th president and bring a fresh voice to the bloodthirsty lore of the vampire. When Abraham Lincoln’s mother is killed by a supernatural creature, it fuels his passion to avenge her death. Statesmen by day, hunter by night, President Lincoln sets out to crush vampires and their slave-owning helpers. The screenplay for the film is by Seth Grahame-Smith, based on his own novel ‘Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.’ The film stars Benjamin Walker as the titular Abraham Lincoln, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ is released in cinemas June 20th.
How did the genesis of the idea for ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ come about for you?
Seth Grahame-Smith: In every book store that I would go to around the country, no matter where it was, there was always the two tables in the front of the store. There was the Vampire books table, and there was the Abraham Lincoln biography table (laughs). I call it the chocolate and peanut butter moment, sort of subconscious inspiration. I started thinking, “People love this, people love Vampires and always have. And people love Abraham Lincoln, especially in the United States.” It just sparked an interesting question, in my mind anyway, which was, “Could you graft a genre story onto this extremely well known, iconic life story of Abraham Lincoln?”
Blending history and reality, iconic history at that, I can imagine that being a difficult task?
Tim Burton: Yeah, ’Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ basically takes the story of Abraham Lincoln, which Seth really went through the history of the life of Lincoln, and linked it up to Vampire mythology. The idea that his mother was killed by a Vampire, how that shaped the rest of his life. The interesting thing about it is that it’s not as far fetched as it sounds. I mean, the idea, the events leading him to be a Vampire Hunter and all the deaths he had in his family, people close to him, it makes a lot of sense and it’s actually a lot more believable than the premise makes it (laughs). That’s what was interesting. We never wanted to make fun of anything, we wanted to treat it seriously and like a human story.
Seth, how did Tim get on board with this project?
Seth Grahame-Smith: Tim was interested in what I had next and he read the proposal for ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.’ The next thing I know I get a call out of nowhere while I’m writing the book, that went, “Tim Burton wants to meet with you about producing your book as a movie.” That blew my mind wide open (laughs). And so I was like, “Yeah, I think I can fit that into my schedule.” (Laughs) The next thing I know, he had produced a film called ‘9’ with Jim Lemley and Timur Bekmambetov, so the three of them already had a working relationship. Then before I know it, I’m in a room talking to these three producers.
Tim Burton: I had first heard the idea even before Seth had written the book. I just heard the title, ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,’ all of a sudden my mind just went into overdrive. It took me back to the era of films that I grew up in, in the 60s, early 70s, where there was a weird mash up of movies. I remember things like ’Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde,’ you got these weird mix-ups of horror films. It just sounded to me the kind of a movie that I wanted to see, it really reminded me of that era. It had a crazy energy to it, a weird juxtaposition of things.
What do you think Timur Bekmambetov brought to your story?
Seth Grahame-Smith: Timur challenges you to go further. No matter how far you think you’ve gone, Timur will think about it and say, “No, I think we can go further.” What that means is that we can go further in the layers of the story, we can go further in the meaning of a piece of voiceover, we can go further in the bigness of a set piece. Some people are “less is more” people, Timur is a “more is more” kinda guy (laughs).
There’s an interesting superhero-esq duality to Abraham Lincoln in this story?
Tim Burton: Yeah. We talked about the idea of it very much mirroring the classic, comic book superhero mythology. In some cases he’s not that dissimilar from Batman in the sense of him having a dual day job as President and a night job as a Vampire Hunter. The duality of those kind of characters, that again was something that was really important. To keep the human quality of him, but then explore the mythological, superhero nature of how we perceive Abraham Lincoln. Mix those two together and that’s what we have here.
How do you hope audiences will react to ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’?
Seth Grahame-Smith: My hope is that audiences take away a couple of things. Number one, I hope they have fun and I hope they enjoy the craziness of it all. But beyond that I hope that they take away even the slightest appreciation for the things that the real man, the real Abraham Lincoln went through in his life. If anything I hope that maybe a few of them will be inspired to go and check out a little bit more about Abraham Lincoln. I think that they’ll be surprised that when they do, they will see that he was every bit the superhero we portrayed him as, only in a different way.
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