As we approach a heated presidential election, there's been a lot of talk about what makes a great president. It turns out that Abraham Lincoln had it all figured out. Just pick up an ax and start hunting down vampires.
That's pretty much the basis of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," a genre film that's part AP U.S. History and part "Queen of the Damned," written by author Seth Grahame-Smith and produced by Tim Burton. While the concept may sound ridiculous, Grahame-Smith told The Huffington Post that the "joke ends there."
"There tends to be a reaction that goes one of two ways," Grahame-Smith said. "People either go, 'F--k yeah, I can't wait to see that!' Or they go, 'What the hell is this? They must be kidding.'"
But no, the best-selling author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was not kidding. In fact, he took Lincoln's vampire-hunting tale quite seriously, making historical accuracy his priority.
HuffPost Entertainment sat down with the author and screenwriter to talk about the film, why Tom Cruise could never play Abraham Lincoln and how the 16th President of the United States was the Peter Parker of the 1800s.
You said that when it comes to this film, the joke ends at the title. What did you mean by that?
The whole point of what we're trying to do is to take that silly, ridiculous premise and deliver on it in a very straight forward and serious way. When we started making the film, Tim [Burton] and [the director] Timur [Bekmambetov] were completely supportive of that, and they realized that if we did this in a humorous way, we would just be putting a joke on top of a joke. It's the same reason that I don't think we could have gotten a movie star to play Lincoln in this film. Imagine Tom Cruise in this. The premise is already so ridiculous, so if we threw Tom Cruise in this, we would have no chance of getting the audience to accept the character as being real.
I feel like people's initial reactions after hearing about "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" are very negative. Do you feel that way?
Keith Olbermann took to Twitter to say, "This concept proves that the morons have won," and in his Keith Olbermann way, he sort of dickishly dismissed something that he didn't know anything about. Now, I like Keith Olbermann, but I don't like it when he comes after me. But I understand that reaction. I think one of the great surprises of the film is that we actually take it seriously.
I went into the film expecting an occasional wink at the audience.
We do not wink! In fact, that word, "wink," was kind of like our catchphrase. It was our no-no word. If we ever felt like we were winking or being corny, we took it out of the film. What we intended to make was a visceral, muscular, over-the-top action movie, but at the same time, weirdly original and something that you haven't seen before.
Why Abraham Lincoln?
I know this is crazy, but I kept thinking of him as Peter Parker in "Spider-Man." Like Peter Parker, he loses someone he loves early on in his life, and he doesn't have any prospects, he's not really going anywhere, and like Peter Parker, fate kind of presents him with this extraordinary gift, and he has to decide whether he's going to use it selfishly or for the greater good. He has to make a moral choice. The real Abraham Lincoln was a superhero, and I mean that literally. He had no business being the president of the United States, but he just had that innate determination and strength. He saved the country and made himself into a living legend.
[WARNING: Spoilers ahead]
You changed the book's ending in the film. You left it a bit more open-ended. What we do know is that in present day, Henry (Dominic Cooper) introduces himself to a man in a similar fashion to the way he introduced himself to Lincoln. Did you ever want a Barack Obama lookalike in that role?
That's me, by the way. That's the back of my head. But yeah, of course we thought about having a lookalike, but then we thought that it would be a little too on the nose. We didn't want people to bring their own politics to it. We kept it very bipartisan for a reason.
All I want to know is who makes a better vampire hunter: Abraham Lincoln or Buffy Summers?
That's an interesting question. I think Abe would be the better vampire hunter.
Because he has an ax?
Yeah. He's just more of a physically imposing figure. Buffy, by the way, is terrific. I love Buffy, and obviously, Joss Whedon is a god. But my money is on Abe.
I know that you were inspired by the "Twilight" craze at the time, but I'm just happy that you didn't make your vampires sparkle.
You're welcome. In all fairness, I don't begrudge Stephenie Meyer and her sparkly vampires. Those books aren't for me, but I applaud her for getting a bunch of young kids to read. With that being said, our vampires are much more badass.
Do you have any desire to write more genre-crossing mashup novels?
I don't want to become a parody of myself, but I also want to entertain people. I know what the expectation is. I grew up reading genre fiction, like Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. I would love, at some point, to write those broader, genre books like the ones that my heroes wrote. I guess the only thing stopping me is the fear of throwing readers for a loop if all of the sudden I wrote something different. So I think, yes, there are definitely more dark, bloody, historically based books in my future, but I don't think I'm going to do anymore "This and this meets that" books. I don't think there is a George Washington: Werewolf Tamer in my future.
I know that you're a huge fan of Tim Burton's work, so what has been like to work with one of your idols?
I remember very clearly seeing "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" before I knew that he directed it or even knew what a director was. I just fell in love with that movie, and then "Beetlejuice" was a huge seminal movie for me. I remember in the summer of '89, standing outside in the sun, in Connecticut, waiting to see "Batman" for the fourth time in the theater. I can even remember seeing "Edward Scissorhands" -- in the middle of winter -- and being completely transported by that movie. He would be uncomfortable with me saying this, but he had a tremendous effect on me growing up. He's one of the reasons I wanted to get into film.
You also have similar macabre sensibilities.
Yeah, and that's the thing. We both appreciate dark humor, and the intersection of camp and horror and humor. I would follow Tim into the mouth of a volcano if he asked me to. As long as he will tolerate working with me, I'll keep coming back.
You know, someone made a great observation today that the moon in the "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" poster actually looks like Jack Skellington.
Wow ... holy shit! I had not noticed that until just now. I hope that was on purpose. That would be amazing if it was. I got a 3D television just so I could watch the 3D Blu-ray of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" when they re-released it.
What's the status on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?
We can't hold onto a director on that movie. That's the problem. The book sold a bazillion copies, so there's definitely an audience for the film. The film is not that expensive to make, and we have a great script, by David O. Russell and Marti Noxon, we have two great movie-star parts for Darcy and Elizabeth and no director. We've had some great directors on and off the movie, but for whatever reason, it's just come and gone. The frustrating thing is that I'm not a producer on that movie. I'm just the author. I can complain, but I don't really have the ability to affect production. I'm just sitting on the sidelines like everybody else.
Now that you and Tim have a couple of projects in the works, would you ever ask him to direct?
No, he was never in the mix. I think he would do a great job with it, and I think Timur would also do a great job with it. But we're all busy doing other things at the moment, so right now it's in the hands of the good people at Lionsgate.
"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" hits theaters on June 22.