The joke ends with the title, say screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith and star Benjamin Walker
First published on 12 Jul 2012. Updated on 13 Jul 2012.
“We are not a tongue-in-cheek movie,” says Seth Grahame-Smith, author of best-selling mash-up parodies Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. “We are a muscular, kick-ass action movie, and unapologetically so.”
Based on the ‘secret diaries’ of Abraham Lincoln, the movie adaptation of Grahame-Smith’s novel sticks to the same core idea behind the book: that Lincoln (who, as a child, is witness to his mother’s death by a vampire) leads a superhero existence – Republican by day, and axe-wielding vampire slayer by night.
The film is dark, not comedic, and all-action. Working with Russian-Kazakh director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch; Day Watch; Wanted) and producer Tim Burton, Grahame-Smith maintained control over the adaptation of his book as the film’s writer and executive producer. However, there are significant differences to the story, such as new character, vampire lord Adam, played by Rufus Sewell. Checking his ego at the door, it was a shift in creative power for the writer: “I know it sounds cliché but you have to become a team player [when writing for film], so my job was to protect some of the core principles of Lincoln’s legacy, and of the book, but also to invent quite a bit, and to change quite a bit, to fit a [movie] format.”
Playing America’s 16th president is relatively unknown actor Benjamin Smith, who hails from Georgia and happens to be married to Meryl Streep’s daughter Mamie Gummer. At 6’3” (1.91m), he’s only an inch shorter than Lincoln was reported to be, and he had the résumé for the job, having played America’s seventh president in Broadway show Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. “Timur is a mad scientist; he’s a mad genius,” says Walker. “Tim [Burton] was the curator of the film, he was the one who wanted it initially and protected what was good about the book. Timur, he was the one who really wanted us to do it without flinching, without apologising.”
So when the kids start to believe America’s Civil War was really about a vampire uprising, the blame will have to be pinned on the whole team. With fantasy filmmakers by their side, neither author nor star had cause for concern. “When you have this kind of creative team surrounding you,” says Walker, “your job simply becomes not screwing up. The whole movie is about re-envisioning Lincoln. It’s a period movie that happens to have some vampires in it.” he laughs. “We take it seriously. The joke is in the title, we get it, [but] that’s where it ends and we commit to that.”