Timur Bekmambetov and Jim Lemley Interview
With the DVD coming out in less than a week, Timur Bekmambetov and Jim Lemley discuss the action packed Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.
Was it a challenge to find the right actor to star as Abraham Lincoln? What brought you to find Benjamin Walker, who really gives a memorable performance in the film?
JIM LEMLEY: I want to give a shout out to Mindy Marin who was the casting director. When we started the movie, the whole thing hinged on successfully casting that role. Right off the bat she said, “You need to go see this guy in New York called Ben Walker. He’s actually playing another American president, Andrew Jackson.” Couldn’t be more different than Abraham Lincoln. So we saw him in that play. Timur and I just looked at each other and said, “He’d be great.” We had him come to California where Greg Cannom was, who has won three Oscars for creating makeup, most notably Benjamin Button. He dressed Ben up, created Abraham Lincoln and had Timur direct him delivering the Gettysburg Address.
But did you have other actors waiting for the role?
TIMUR BEKMAMBETOV: Yes, but they were not as good as Ben. He was the first on the list. As usual, you have to go through the process and to test and to understand and then we came back to him. He was the first who we met. For me casting is a process how to understand what to do. I’m using casting to understand better.
LEMLEY: To learn.
BEKMAMBETOV: To learn. I cannot really learn sitting along writing notes. The way I learn is to talk to people and test and every test it gives you something.
Was it important to you to not have audiences pulled out of the world of this film by the face of an established celebrity?
BEKMAMBETOV: Yes. It is important for this project specifically, because it’s a movie about Abraham Lincoln who is a vampire hunter. And if it’s a movie with Johnny Depp playing Abraham Lincoln who is a vampire hunter, you have too many…
LEMLEY: You already have enough things to overcome.
How do you avoid the studio committee reality in making contemporary Hollywood films. Especially with a project this risky. How do you keep your vision intact?
BEKMAMBETOV: When we came to Fox, we had a five-star presentation and we were very calm. We had a great presentation. When we came there was a huge banner at the entrance of the studio, saying “Welcome Abraham Lincoln, welcome to Fox.” There was a whole show with footprints over there on the parking lot, There was a sign, “Vampires even don’t think to park here.” [LAUGHTER]
LEMLEY: They had two Civil War buglers standing at the door.
BEKMAMBETOV: There were bloody footprints, which you followed, moving you into the corridor into the executive president of the company.
LEMLEY: We were incredibly fortunate, because we’d had many enthusiastic meetings, at all these different studios. This was an example and a display of a passion and an understanding of what we wanted to do that was very moving and meaningful. You have to find people and folks who have the same vision and want to go in the same direction that you want to go in, which is we need to find someone to play Abraham Lincoln who can just become Abraham Lincoln. Not bear the baggage of some other person. Fox from the beginning understood that exactly. They were always going in the same direction with us and then the whole process was a pleasure because of that. The whole process, right from that day to sitting here with you now was one of very little friction.
BEKMAMBETOV: Especially (Fox Chairman) Tom Rothman. He is a genius creative, the mind behind the studio brand. He helped a lot with smart ideas. He understood exactly what we were trying to do and was a great supporter.
Do you like having 3D technology at your disposal to challenge yourself?
BEKMAMBETOV: This technology has really helped us. From the beginning it was the concept to make this book in 3D. Because 3D helps you to be there. You are not just watching the story, you are there. The American 19th century becomes like a fantasy world where you want to spend time and it’s scary, it’s real. You’re there.
Do you wish that you could have worked with 3D when you were making Night Watch and Day Watch?
BEKMAMBETOV: Yeah. For me, this is very organic, 3D. When I saw Avatar, I was really jealous. Not because it’s a successful movie, because its language is very relatable for me.
Talk a bit more about the visual language of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The history truly comes alive, but it is the aesthetic is quite beautiful.
BEKMAMBETOV: When we decided about the energy of the project, as the producers, there were a few elements that were very important. The photography was really important and we were thinking, who can be the right DP for the movie. We picked Caleb Deschanel and we were lucky that he understood the idea of the movie and was very enthusiastic. Because it was very important to have a classy 19th century painting looking image. And then I can add the action scenes and CG and we’ll balance the genre and the biopic.
LEMLEY: It had to be executed with a dignity, because it’s so ridiculous. That if you didn’t execute it with some sense of dignity, we would have gone another direction.
This is a rather heady image of vampirism at a time where people rather see them fall in love. How did you want to visualize this particular aspect of the film and not make seem like a history lesson?
BEKMAMBETOV: The vampires are a metaphor. We live in a world where people are using each other, enslaving each other. Like corporations slaving workers and politicians slaving their nations. People trying to control each other is possible to do only if the society lives in fear. Fear drives us. We are afraid to lose our jobs. We’re afraid to suddenly be unstable. And fear drives the world. Lincoln was unique because he created the new idea and executed it, that a country cannot be based on fear, but on freedom. He really believed and did a lot to create the society where the people can believe in free choice, free will. Our world is so messy. So difficult to understand what’s happening with us. Everything is lie. You need some mythology or a metaphor to explain, to understand. Nobody really believes that vampires exist. But people are using this language…
LEMLEY: …to help them talk about uncomfortable things.
BEKMAMBETOV: The vampires are different in the movie. There’s two different ideas. There’s Henry Sturges, who’s quite romantic and relatable and you kind of…
LEMLEY: …You empathize with him.
BEKMAMBETOV: You empathize with him. And there’s another vampire, Adam, and his team, they are horrible. But they are really understandable because Adam said exactly what I said to you. He said they were slaves of something, yeah?
LEMLEY: “Everybody is a slave to something.” Which is one of the points of the film by the way.
BEKMAMBETOV: [OVERLAPPING] This line is great and there’s Abe Lincoln’s line and he said to Henry at the end, “Not only vampires live forever.”
Will the rest of the world be able to find relevance in Abraham Lincoln the man?
BEKMAMBETOV: We live in this world. And this country lives with the ideas created by Lincoln. And this is reality. I’m Russian… [LAUGHTER]
LEMLEY: You’re Russian? I’ve got to go. [LAUGHTER]
BEKMAMBETOV: Just to allow me, a Russian director, to make movie about an American icon. I don’t know it’s very complicated.
LEMLEY: [OVERLAPPING] By the way, the essence of what Abraham Lincoln represents to the world, those are universal humanistic traits and qualities that this just shines on a light on in a different way.
BEKMAMBETOV: Every country has this kind of character.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter releases on DVD and BluRay December 5.
R16 Horror scenes and violence.