A little truth, a little fiction. Nur Aqidah Azizi finds out more about the seemingly unlikely connection between Abraham Lincoln and vampires
THE glittering Harbour Bridge seemed within reach from the 30th floor of Intercontinental Sydney that chilly night.
Overlooking the harbour was Unesco’s World Heritage site, the Opera House, the landmark of the city and the multi-venue performing arts centre built by Danish architect Jorn Utzon.
It was winter in Australia, and it had been raining all night. But it didn’t dampen the spirits of actor Benjamin Walker and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith who talked excitedly about their project, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (ALVH) during an interview at the hotel recently.
Walker himself found the film title bizarre.
“I was surprised. I was like, is this for real? And I won’t blame anyone for reacting the same as I did,” he said, laughing.
“It sounded crazy the first time I heard it, especially when the figure in discussion is a prominent political figure such as Abraham Lincoln. But when I read the script, I realised that the funny part of the movie ends as soon as you’re done reading the title,” he said.
Seated beside him was Grahame-Smith, who echoed the same sentiments.
“Yes, it’s crazy. But when the lights go down in the theatre, the viewers will absolutely find that everything that they see may be possible,” said Grahame-Smith.
An adaptation of the novel of the same title written by Grahame-Smith himself, ALVH collides truth and fiction as it explores the secret life of the 16th president, and the untold story that shaped the United States. ALVH pits the former president against a sullen vampire takeover of the United States.
The film, produced in 3-D, is scheduled to be released on June 22.
Even before the best-selling novel was completed, it had already drawn the interest of visionary filmmaker Tim Burton.
ALVH features Walker in the lead role. Also starring Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas, Jimmi Simpson, Joseph Mawle, Robin McLeavy, and Erin Wasson.
To pepper Lincoln’s true life with the fiction of a vampire invasion may be pushing the envelope too far, but according to Grahame-Smith, it wasn’t his intention to make a joke out of Lincoln’s life.
“Lincoln lived in the most interesting times in history, it was challenging and dark. He was more than any other American president, who has this legend for being so big and strong, and that was real,” he said.
“He’s as close to an actual superhero as America has ever seen. Forget about vampires. Lincoln had neither family name or money.
“His mother died when he was young, and in fact, everybody that he loved, died. With no education, he became a president and saved the nation,” said Grahame-Smith.
Walker added that as a hero, Lincoln had been interpreted in many ways and ALVH is just one of the examples.
“Lincoln’s legacy is so huge. He’s a true hero,” said Walker.
With Twilight the modern vampire sensation, could it be that the writer is jumping onto the bandwagon?
“The idea to write the book came after I saw books on Lincoln’s life and accomplishment next to displays of the Twilight book, during my tour to promote my book, Pride, Prejudice & Zombies, in Illinois. Every bookstore had the same display and from there, the idea to come out with ALVH hit me,” he said.
The book, however, was not written without an extensive research into Lincoln’s background. From the little cabin in the middle of nowhere, where he grew up, to various tragedies that he went through up to his political journey, all are interwoven with the immersive, visceral action of a vampire story to make up an interesting storyline for ALVH.
“I tried to take as many real events of Lincoln’s life as I could and explained them in different context, and perhaps, to give a hint that maybe there was something different in history from what we knew,” said Grahame-Smith.
He added that getting to know Lincoln through research had also exposed him to another side of the American president.
“What people might not know is that he was a funny guy with great personality. And they can see that when they see Walker in the movie.”
For Walker, playing the lead role has been quite a journey one that he truly embraces.
“Honestly, the role was not so much of a problem because Grahame-Smith has written a great script that helped me a lot in portraying him. Lincoln was a hero (that we already know) and the movie is a new way to envision him and I found complete joy doing it, except when I had to sit for six hours for the make-up,” said the actor, laughing.
Obviously, it wasn’t an experience for Walker to cherish, but after seeing himself in the movie, Walker agreed that the result was mind-blowing.
But it wasn’t the only thing that awed him. Learning to handle the axe — a tool that was synonymous with Lincoln — was another experience that Walker treasured.
“In real life, Lincoln was known as a great axe handler. I managed to learn the skill while filming the movie as it was the weapon used by Lincoln to fight vampires in ALVH. It took hours of weapon training to turn me into an ultimate hunter of the undead,” he said.
“Lincoln is not only fighting vampires in the movie, but just like in his real life, he will also try to right wrongs, which is the basis of any superhero story.”
It starts with a simple motive — Lincoln setting out to avenge his mother’s death.
“But when the story gets bigger, you will realise that there’s more evil going on and Lincoln’s life takes on a bigger purpose. Slavery, which he fought his whole life, is also highlighted in the movie,” said Walker.
To understand the relationship between vampire and slavery in the movie, there’s no other man who can really elaborate the two, other than the writer himself.
“Vampires don’t create slavery. Slavery is the fault of people. In the movie, vampires are portrayed as parasites. They realise that slavery is here, and it’s easy for them to kill and defeat humans. Vampires in ALVH can be a metaphor,” said Grahame-Smith.
To work on a huge political personality can be risky, but both Walker and Grahame-Smith admitted that the progress of the project has been a breeze.
“We released the trailer at Lincoln Museum in Springfield, in front of many people who knew about Lincoln. If there’s anyone who is the Lincoln expert, it is the Lincoln Museum. It liked what it saw and that endorsement really put us at ease,” said Grahame-Smith.
Walker added that ALVH will also answer some questions about Lincoln.
“For example, he never drank at the bar and AVLH will explain the reason behind it, and some other habits too. Viewers will learn more about Lincoln in the movie,” he said.
Romantic moments between Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd, are also included and are some of the favourite moments for Walker.
“I like the part when they first meet in Springfield, Illinois. It’s like the whole world stops for them,” said Walker, who is married to Meryl Streep’s daughter, Mamie Gummer.
“Lincoln faced many tragedies in his life but when he met Todd, it was easy to see the spark and connection between them. And that is brought to life in ALVH,” he said.