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Tim Burton & Timur Bekmambetov Talk The "Superhero Origin Story" Of 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' & Why They Went 3D

The Playlist By Gabe Toro | The Playlist June 20, 2012 at 3:19PM

When Seth Grahame-Smith began to write the “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” he didn’t let the epiphany of a wacky title affect his dead-serious alternate universe story -- our 16th President, leader of the people by day, and slayer of the undead at night. Though he couldn’t have expected that the premise to catch the fancy of A-List filmmaker Tim Burton, who heard the title and experienced a brief flashback.
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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Benjamin Walker Anthony Mackie

As Mary Todd Lincoln, Mary Elizabeth Winstead found herself learning all about a First Lady of decidedly conflicted portrayals. “I heard about her, and knew what she was remembered for, which seems to be her mental institution days, and that she was the possible bipolar first lady, things like that,” Winstead says. Being a fan of the script, however, she made it a point to seek out whatever accuracy the source material provided. “She was so fantastic, so outspoken, and so many men wrote terrible things about her because of this,” Winstead says. “And the more I read about her, the more I was interested in [the part].”

Things were a bit trickier for Anthony Mackie. While he was playing a real character in Will Johnson, a former slave who ended up working alongside President Lincoln in the White House, the character had not existed in the novel. However, Mackie’s appreciation of the true-life story helped him deliver a heartfelt portrayal of a man Lincoln would call a friend. “I feel one of the reasons the Civil War was fought was [Will Johnson] being Abraham Lincoln's friend and working with him at that time had to garner a certain level of humanity, respect and dignity,” Mackie says. “When he passed away after the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln used money out of his own pocket and had him buried at Arlington Cemetery. And on his headstone, it says William H. Johnson, Citizen. And it's still there today. And it's remarkable that not only do people not know that story, but people have no idea who William H. Johnson is.” Mackie felt it important to do justice to a little-known aspect of Lincoln’s historical presidency, volunteering, “I'm a huge supporter of recontextualizing history, to make it more upbeat, instead of a boring chalkboard, with some fat lady writing on it.”

But most importantly, no matter how many physics-defying battles that occur in “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” the key was to remove any shred of humor, irony, or sarcasm inherent in the premise. “The tone of the book is very similar to the movie and [Tim Burton] was insistent on protecting this,” Walker reveals. “The joke is in the title, and that's it. So my job was to treat it like a period movie, a drama that happens to have realistic vampires in it.” Walker proudly says that during the entire production, “I can't recall a time when I thought, that's ridiculous.”

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” opens this Friday.

This article is related to: Interviews, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Benjamin Walker, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anthony Mackie, Seth Grahame-Smith, Tim Burton, Timur Bekmambetov


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