Playing a president always piques the public’s attention, and actor Benjamin Walker has not one executive role, but two under his belt.
In Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the Julliard-trained actor plays the instrumental leader himself from the age of 19 to his death at 55. Here’s what Walker really thought about the script and why he’s so good at handling an axe.
So you played Andrew Jackson in the Broadway musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and now you’re playing Abraham Lincoln.
Yeah, I got the market cornered on weird presidents.
Which one did you enjoy portraying more?
That’s tough. As Americans we’re fascinated by our leaders, but I think Lincoln, people are more familiar with his legacy so there’s a bit more expected of you when you play Lincoln. The Andrew Jackson that we did was a very absurd interpretation.
What did you honestly think when they gave you the script?
I wanted to know who’s directing it. That would tell me what kind of project it would be. When they told me it was Timur (Bekmambetov, who directed Wanted), it kind of put my mind at ease.
How did you prepare for the role?
I read three or four books. The most helpful one was called Lincoln’s Melancholy, because it’s about his childhood and how he dealt with death and misery and the more gothic side of who he is. That certainly lends itself more nicely to the story we’re telling.
What was the most surprising fact that you found out about Lincoln?
Probably the most helpful fact that came to light was that he was an ordinary guy that came from very humble beginnings. That’s what makes him extraordinary: In spite of those things, in spite of the death that beset him early in his life, he did extraordinary things in spite of it.
What did you study to get the mannerisms of Lincoln down? There’s not really that much footage from those days…
As in no footage from those days? The thing about our movie, for example Lincoln’s voice. What we know about how Lincoln spoke we know from people that wrote about it. We know that it was kind of high pitched and some people described it as annoying. Those things, we started with that and the producers didn’t like it because we’re making an action movie — and I had to play from 19 to his death and his voice has to age through the movie. There has to be a difference in young Lincoln’s voice. So some of that stuff is helpful, and some of that stuff we didn’t do.
Was this the first time you picked up an axe?
No. What’s ironic is I spent the summer before that working cutting down trees with a chainsaw mind you, but yeah, I know how to use an axe!
Now that you’ve played Jackson and Lincoln, which president would you like to play next?
Ooh that’s good. I think Woodrow Wilson would be fascinating.