Although Timur Bekmambetov had been working in the Russian film industry for decades prior, he only became a recognizable talent stateside after Wanted, the comic book action flick that sported Angelina Jolie driving cars through trains. The movie earned him plenty of cred, and Bekmambetov rode the success to a handful producing credits. Now he’s finally back with a new directorial effort: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a historical riff that turns our 16th President into a supernatural superhero.
During a visit to the set of the movie, Bekmambetov fleshed out the ideas that he was preparing to tackle in his summer blockbuster, how he’s keeping things real in a movie about Presidents fighting vampires, and how his sensibilities will mesh with the material:
Finding the right tone for the story:
Timur Bekmambetov: I think the most important technique is to ground everything, to make the fantasy world grounded and relatable. Just great characters you will follow, you will understand, you will fall in love with. To move them through the action scenes, through the adventures and to develop, to open with them with the new world with new rules, with new ideas and it’s what we do. To find the character, to fall in love with and to go with him through this adventure, it’s like in any movie.
There is a lot of humor, but it’s not a tongue in cheek humor. Its humor makes this story relatable and grounded and makes them real.
Ben Walker as Abraham Lincoln:
Timur Bekmambetov: He really believes and he is really determined to make this character great. I mean he is him for me. He is Lincoln and it’s a choice. It’s very simple to explain why it’s him because Lincoln—we’re making a movie about a historical figure and it’s very important to us to have an actor who will be behind the Lincoln. He will be—he can stay behind. It’s not about a famous actor playing Lincoln. It’s just Lincoln.
How his creatures stand up to modern vampires:
Timur Bekmambetov: Vampires in our movie they are very violent. They are mean and violent, but as human beings, because we are not good either, they represent us. It’s not different—it’s not a creature. They have human qualities. They have tragic back stories. Vampirism is just a physical manifestation of our problems or our class.
The emotional message of the movie:
Timur Bekmambetov: This movie is about freedom and Lincoln gave us freedom. He held us to be free and the vampires, they have their own understanding what freedom is because they just live much longer and they feel they are a superior race and they have their own understanding—who has the power of course has to rule the world.
There was one line we were trying to use to remember why we are making this movie. It’s a Lincoln phrase that says, ‘Until everyone is free we’re all slaves.’ And it tells a lot about him and about the movie. He had a unique ability to make very tough decisions and to recognize what is good, what’s bad and at the same he was very open. He believed that the human beings can help themselves, can change their lives. They don’t need somebody else to rule them. They don’t need somebody else to teach them. We are smart and powerful enough to change our world as we need.
Integrating his distinct style into a period piece:
Timur Bekmambetov: No, it’s a paint. It doesn’t matter what kind of paints you use. I’m following the same rules. I made a lot of period commercials in Russia in the 90s. It was really fun because there was no film industry in that time and there was one bank that supported me to make shorts and to make 17 maybe shorts about different kings and queens all around the world and I think it’s just world. It’s like a fantasy world. It’s like the period environment. It’s interesting to discover with the audience, to go there and to discover that world. I mean of course horses are not as fast as cars or airplanes, but they’re not so controllable too.
The 3D featured in the movie:
Timur Bekmambetov: We are shooting in 2D with. We made a lot of experiments and we understood how to do it. If you plan ahead, if you know what you’re doing then it even helps you to create the convergency. We’re using convergency not as a technique just to create 3D movies, but as a film language element. You can use it as a tool to break the rules of the world.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter hits theaters June 22.