Sunday, March 18, 2012
Interview: Benjamin Walker on "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"
The Washington Post's Speakeasy caught up with actor Benjamin Walker at WonderCon this weekend. In this interview, Walker discussed his leading performance in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, directed by Timur Bekmambetov:
Speakeasy: What did you first think of the project when you saw that outrageous title?
Benjamin Walker: Look at history and the past events of the last 100 years. There’s plenty of outrageous things out there. Of course, my first thought was who is directing it. They said Timur and I said great, I’m in. It could have been toilet paper and I would have been interested.
What were the producers looking for in a physical type and how did they fit you into that mold?
He has to be tall and it depended on who the prosthetics are going to work on. Greg Cannom and Will Huff creating a Lincoln sculpture that moved and became my face. You get to see Lincoln age from a young boy to an old man. They’re not doing computer generated stuff. It’s proper mask work.
Is it difficult to act through all of that makeup?
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.
How long did it take to apply your Lincoln face?
How did you fill those six hours in the chair? Language tapes?
Actually, sort of. 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.
Did you do much historical research to get into the role?
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.
How did you merge that melancholy side of Lincoln with the action hero?
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.
What kind of physical training did you do?
Timur 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 your body.
Was the action pretty tightly choreographed? Or could you add your own flourishes?
As I got good at it, they let me have some freedom with it. Timur was very insistent on me doing it. Timur didn’t want to cut away to the back of some guy’s head. They wanted Lincoln’s face and ax killing a lot of people. So I did everything they let me do.
The ax work looks amazing.
Thanks, it’s the symbol of honesty and now it’s loping off the head of vampires. It’s a different way of looking at an icon and Lincoln.
Photo credit: Dennis Nishi