Preparing to play legendary president Abraham Lincoln would be difficult enough for an actor—but portraying him as a vampire hunter seems like it would be considerably harder. But Benjamin Walker (Flags of Our Fathers, Kinsey, Broadway’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) decided to take on the challenge in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which opens in June.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Walker said, “We did a lot of research and a lot of training. But the most interesting part was reading up on Lincoln. Doris Kearns has a great book, though it mostly covered his politics. Lincoln’s Melancholy fit right into what we’re doing. It’s about his depressive nature, his poetry, his relationship with death.”
The film, based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, required Walker to invest a lot of time and effort into the part. First, Walker had to adjust to working with prosthetics on his face. He said, “You do have to recalibrate what you think you’re exuding. I went to Julliard and we did a lot of mask work there, and I remember thinking in class, when am I ever going to use this? And now here we are.”
The makeup process to create Lincoln’s face took about six hours. However, Walker found a way to keep busy. He said, “We put up a little flat-screen TV and we just watched movies. I got to watch all of the great movies that I never got to see like all of [Japanese director Akira] Kurosawa, which was great for me. Not so great for the makeup people because they can’t read the subtitles so don’t know what’s going on. They just hear some Asian man crying for four hours.”
Another step in preparation was the physical training Walker took part in. The director, Timur Bekmambetov, “wanted the fighting style to be unique to Lincoln, so we did a lot of wushu and stuff they made up—a combination of ballet and violence. They also drew on bo staff, for example, this continuous motion that incorporates the entire length of the body,” Walker said.
The final step was getting into Lincoln’s possible mindset. Walker said, “We’re playing Abraham from 19 to his death. You have to take into account the things that are affecting him through life to really affect him physically. The war must have been crippling. Just look at old photos that show him to be gaunt and translucent. Add the vampire storyline and you have a lot of material to work with.”