Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - Benjamin Walker & Anthony Mackie interview (DVD)
Compiled by Jack Foley
BENJAMIN Walker and Anthony Mackie talk about some of the challenges of making Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and what it was like to work with the film’s visionary director, Timur Bekmambetov.
They also discuss how they went about making some changes to Seth Grahame-Smith’s original novel with the help of Seth himself and, in Walker’s case, how he got into character for playing such an iconic historical character.
Q: Ben, the title telegraphs quite a bit of information and prompts some very interesting reactions. What were your initial thoughts on being part of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter?
Benjamin Walker: First thing I thought was: “Who was directing it?!” [laughs] When they said Timur Bekmambetov, I said: “I’m in.” It was that simple. I was excited about it. I like the idea of looking at history from a different perspective.
Q. What did you learn about Abraham Lincoln and how did that affect your portrayal of him in the film?
Benjamin Walker: I learned a lot. What was most surprising about him was how complicated and conflicted he was, particularly as a young man. And how much misery was laid upon him through death and illness. They were such a poor family. He lost his mother so early on that he was an ordinary guy who was consumed by misery and he did extraordinary things in spite of it. And that really moves me. I think as Americans we think he was this kind of perfect hero, but he was very complicated. His political views were complicated and conflicted. He contradicted himself and, you know, we don’t allow for that because we worship him. But the more you read about him, the more fascinating he becomes, because he is so multi-faceted.
Q: One of the strongest things about the film is how you applied yourself to delivering those famed Lincoln speeches. Where did you find within yourself the gravity to honor those words?
Benjamin Walker: That’s nice what you said. I read a lot about what surrounded the writing of those words. The Gettysburg Address is some the best political rhetoric ever written. I committed to the circumstances we’ve created and did my research. Then I sat in a chair and [effects make-up artists] Greg Cannom and Will Huff made me up and [director of photography] Caleb Deschanel was behind the camera, and Timur was behind the camera, and Anthony [Mackie] was standing next to me. All the pieces are there. And then I get such great words that Lincoln wrote, it became easier than you think.
Q: Were you nervous to be the greatest American president so far?
Benjamin Walker: Yeah! But, what’s fascinating about him is that he was an ordinary guy, and I’m an ordinary guy and we have a lot in common. What he did with his life I don’t have in common with him. But he was somebody you can emulate and learn from. There are a lot of great people that made this a good movie and it was my job not to screw it up.
Q: And now you’re a Lincoln who does a lot more with an axe than cutting down cherry trees!
Benjamin Walker: We spent weeks and weeks learning how to do it. These guys Justin Eaton and Don Lee created a fighting style that was unique to Lincoln. And, you know, I got as good as I could. I broke a lot of lamps in hotel rooms, practicing. And I hit a lot of stunt guys in the face. Every fight illuminated something new about Lincoln. Even his fighting style, as silly as it sounds, is unique to Lincoln and unique to this movie. Because it’s simultaneously violent and graceful, which are kind of the two sides of Lincoln.
Q: The film benefits from having an ensemble of actors who are adept in inhabiting all parts of a role, even one that is equal parts action and drama. Anthony, why do you think that was important?
Anthony Mackie: I think it was important for many reasons. The main reason was you needed people to be able to do both. Sometimes you can have people who can swing an ax really well, but they can’t deliver the dramatic performance. And I think you have people who can deliver the dramatic performance, but they can’t put one foot in front of the other.
I think for Timur, it was very important to have both and have the ability to have actors who can say the lines and deliver those speeches and do it in a way that makes you feel like you’re there, to have that presence of being on stage. Everything Ben did was like he was on stage, he was there with those people. I think that was very smart of him as opposed to getting someone who’s going to be “Four Score and Seven Years ago.”
Q: With every generation that goes by we’re starting to look less on the past and just focus on the immediate present. Is there a lesson still to be learned from Lincoln?
Benjamin Walker: People need to be shaken a little bit and to revisit their history. If our crazed little vampire movie makes them do that, then fantastic.
Q: Did you get a different appreciation for the history as a result?
Anthony Mackie: There are extreme things that happened in the history of the world, as far as inhumane actions towards another man. Sometimes you have to go to the extreme to figure out how could someone stand aside and allow that to happen. That’s why I love this script and love the idea of this movie, because even something as random and as ridiculous as vampires…well, the opposite of it is random and ridiculous, too. I’m just saying that we’re fighting about slavery. How can someone stand aside and allow that to happen? So, maybe the person that could stand aside and do that has to be to the other extreme.
Benjamin Walker: If we were not respectful to the history, then what’s the point? We don’t make it a joke. And we also want to tell you exactly what it is right out of the gate. So, if you bristle at the title, don’t buy it. If you’re curious about the title, buy two. We’re not trying to bamboozle you or slip something in behind you. We’re being honest in what we’re doing. And we’re doing it respectfully and commitedly.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about working with Timur Bekmambetov?
Benjamin Walker: He is professional, but he’s like a six-year-old professional. [Laughs] His imagination is wild and fancy-free. We’d always joke, because the big phrase on set that would make you sweat was [with Russian accent]: “I have idea.” It’s like: “Oh crap!” Anything you thought you’d be doing that day, you’re not doing. I like that. If we’re surprised as actors, and he’s constantly being surprised, then the movie is going to be fun and something you do not anticipate. He has to have that imagination to create what he does. You watch Night Watch and Day Watch and there’s really nothing like that. It’s something that’s so outside of the box, so visually arresting, you kind of have to be a little crazy to do it. I’ve been a fan of Timur for a long time. I’d work with Timur any day.
Q: Could there be a way to extend this story further?
Anthony Mackie: Definitely. There are so many different story lines within this single story. If you read the book, there’s so much in the book that wasn’t in the movie. We all know the outcome of Abraham Lincoln, but they recently found the writings of the doctor who was the first to care for Lincoln after he was shot. No one talks about what happened to the body. There’s a lot of speculation about what could have possibly happened. Even if you look at it factually, with these new documents being found, you can always forge something up.
Q: The ending was different from the novel. Was there a discussion about how to end the movie?
Benjamin Walker: Seth [Grahame-Smith] in particular had a very hard job because he has to protect the tone of the book and also translate it to an entirely different medium. To read a book is a commitment. To see a movie is two hours before people start falling asleep. It’s complicated in what you can fit in there. I think what they came to was a very happy compromise. It tied up everything in a way that would be satisfying and it still left you unsettled enough to where if they’re like Abe Lincoln Two, you wouldn’t say: “No way!”
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday, October 22, 2012