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Benjamin Walker is running towards stardom. After conquering Broadway with "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," he now steps into the shoes and stovepipe hat of our 16th President in "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter."
From the title you can gauge that this is no boring-ass biopic, but rather a tongue-in-cheek action extravaganza that reimagines The Great Emancipator as a monster killer of the highest caliber, and pretty handy with an ax.
We sat down with Walker in New York to discuss his take on the historical Lincoln, his upcoming monster movie "The Great Wall," and whether he could beat Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) in a fight.
Mind if we ax you a few questions?
Hey, nice! I always thought that should have been on the poster. "You better ax somebody."
You read up on Lincoln for this role and hit the obvious Wikipedia Greatest Hits: Gettysburg Address, Lincoln/Douglas debates, Ford's Theater, etc. Is there anything subtle you added from your research that people might not pick up on?
I think as Americans we admire Lincoln so much that we put him up on a pedestal. And when we do that we worship him, remove his humanity, and remove how complicated and conflicted he was. The more I learned about him, the more I read about him, the more I realized is that what's so truly heroic and fascinating about him is that he was an ordinary guy. He pushed himself. He was born in a log cabin, largely self-educated, beset by death and misery early in his life, then he chose to handle that in a different way. What was really the window into understanding him was he was a common man. That's something we can all relate to, somebody who was normal and largely unremarkable but pushed himself to do remarkable things.
Also Check Out: Everything We Know About "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"
He actually had a very high-pitched voice, correct?
Yeah, a high ... it's described as being almost irritating. We didn't do that.
Right, you did Abraham Lincoln via John McClane.
Yeah sure! My job is to play him from 19 through his death, so you have to be able to hear a difference between his voice as a young man and as president. We started with the high-pitched thing and the producers were like, "No dice, man."
Was it a relief to know Daniel Day-Lewis was going to have to follow in your footsteps [in Spielberg's upcoming biopic "Lincoln"] and not the other way around?
[laughs] I hadn't thought of that, but Lincoln's legacy is big enough and safe enough for the two of us. We're gonna have much better vampires, though.
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You could probably beat Daniel in an ax fight.
Oh, you think so? I'll take that as a compliment.
Unless he researched the hell out of it.
We'll see. He's got a lot of practicing to do.
You and your costar Anthony Mackie were contemporaries at Juilliard, right?
Yeah, he was a senior when I was a freshman. We knew each other peripherally, but you're not allowed to interact with other classes, really. But I knew of him and I admired his work.
You guys must have had a moment when you're fighting vampires on top of a moving train and you just look at each other like, "Classically trained actors."
I know! All those Juilliard loans, man. [laughs] Our parents must be so proud.
Was it a surreal experience?
It was. Whether it be fighting vampires or doing the Gettysburg Address, it was surreal.
What can you tell us about "Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight," which you're doing with Stephen Frears?
Frank Langella and Christopher Plummer play Supreme Court Justices that are trying the Muhammad Ali case. A lot of people don't know about that aspect of Muhammad Ali's life, but he was a black Muslim filing for conscientious objector status against the Vietnam War. That case went all the way to the Supreme Court. I play the clerk who tries to make them do right.
You just got cast in "The Great Wall," and it sounds like there's going to be a supernatural aspect to it?
Mm-hmm. Ed Zwick is one of those guys who thinks outside the box, allows his imagination to run wild, but actually has the chops to make a movie like that come together.
And you're doing that with Henry Cavill, aka Superman.
Yeah, the man himself! We'll be shooting in China and I think a little New Zealand, but I have no idea when we start.
You were in "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" on Broadway, now "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter." When are you going to do "Millard Fillmore: Bikini Inspector?"
That's brilliant! If somebody will put that together I would love to do that! That's very funny.
Have a lot of people been pegging you as the president guy?
Jokingly, yeah. I'm not too worried about typecasting.
What sort of training regimen did you have for your ax-fu?
Ax-fu! Nice! First they made me lose 30 pounds because I was big and bulky for "Andrew Jackson," and then these guys Don Lee and Justin Eaton created this ax-fu you speak of. We started training about six weeks early in New Orleans, and I practiced every day, and broke a lot of lamps in my hotel room, got as good as I could.
Was a lot of it achieved through doubles and post processes, or is the majority of what we see on-screen all Benjamin?
Timur doesn't like to cut to the back of some stunt guy, he likes to move the camera -- go from your face to the spinning back to your face -- so there wasn't much fudge room to have somebody else do it. He was pretty insistent that I get it down right, and that's fun. That's one of the fun things about being an actor is you get to learn new skills.
You started as a theater guy and a comedian. What made you want to be in movies in the first place?
When I was a kid, my father owned a movie rental store. I developed these relationships with movies and movie boxes. My favorite part was watching the people come in and pick movies and discuss them, creating this community of people that liked seeing stories. That really solidified me wanting to do this.