As mash-ups go, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter promises a lot, leading lady Mary Elizabeth Winstead was “just along for the ride”, she tells Paul Byrne
Having decided that Jane Austen’s tragic lovers needed some thoroughly modern problems, in 2009, comedic US author Seth Grahame-Smith followed up his explorations of porn, Spider-Man and supposed letters of apology from George W. Bush with his third book, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies. It quickly turned into a monster hit. Fittingly enough. Before you could say “Look out behind you!”, the novel had gone on to sell over a million copies, getting translated into over 20 languages along the way. Obviously, there was money in them their mash-ups, and so, one year later, Seth was at it again, this time deciding to recast America’s much-loved 16th President of the United States as a vampire slayer. Another best-seller, it didn’t take long before Hollywood came sniffing around Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the resulting big-screen adaptation hitting Irish cinema screens right about now. For leading lady Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs The World, Live Free Or Die Hard, The Thing), playing the part of Abe’s wife, Mary Todd, was all about keeping a straight face.
“I just thought, this is such an insane idea,” laughs the 29-year old actress, “and I was happy to be just along for the ride. My main fear was, am I going to keep laughing here, and ruining a take? The good part was, Mary Todd is largely oblivious to her husband’s secret life until late on, so, I was able to play just the love story. Not the love story with fangs and super freaks jumping all over me. “The whole thing was just a blast…” If only. As sexy as the idea of Abe Meets Blade sounds, Hollywood’s take on Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel makes you realise that some ideas are simply best left on the page. This is a one-note joke, a Grindhouse trailer that consistently, persistently, fails to live up to its tantalising title. Playing the part of Abe is Benjamin Walker (who looks a young, dopey Liam Neeson), aided in his quest to find the monster who killed his mother by the mysterious Henry Sturgess (Brit actor Dominic Cooper, trying desperately hard to channel Robert Downey Jr.). The undead swine they’re after is Adam (Brit no-hoper Rufus Sewell, who probably comes with his own long black coat at this stage), whilst everyone involved is in locked in a losing battle with dodgy CGI. If TV3 made movies, chances are they’d look an awful lot like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
“I don’t think people will go expecting to see The Godfather,” says Winstead, clearly feeling the need to defend her latest outing. “This is a fun movie, and it’s meant to give you a little scare and a lot of laughs. It’s probably closer to Twilight than anything else, only the laughs are intentional. And there’s better action.” Not true. You can’t help feeling that Seth Grahame-Smith is the only one who’s going to be laughing all the way to the bank here. His next novel, Unholy Night, retells the birth of Christ as three thieves on the run, and has just been snapped up by Warners Bros. for the big screen. Lord have mercy. Better to talk about something else, methinks. Such as how the hell did a nice young ballerina hopeful from Rocky Mount, North Carolina end up making so many dark and twisted movies? Along with the Abe bloodsucker reinvention, there’s been Final Destination 3, Black Christmas (both 2006) and Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007). “You know what, I think it’s the simple fact that I look so sweet and innocent,” smiles Winstead. “That’s always the best kind of face to have when it comes to the dark and twisted movies. If I looked a little harder, a little more like I could handle a knife in a fight, I think I would still be drawn to these kinds of movies. Only I would be the one causing the terror, not the one trying to survive it.”
Winstead survived the early disappointment of having to abandon her dream of being a professional ballerina when, even by the age of 13, she was simply too tall. So, like so many other lost souls desperate for the spotlight, she turned to acting. Which, on the plus side, can be just as judgemental and crushing as the world of ballet. “That’s why I made the quick leap to the right,” nods Winstead. “I needed to know that, wherever I ended up, I would be constantly judged on my looks, on my weight, and on my talent to perform at the crack of a whip. Acting gives me all that, and I get to travel a little bit too. What more could a young girl want in life?” Well, a hit movie would be nice. Winstead has come close quite a few times – Disney family film Sky High (2005) and Final Destination 3 did well enough without breaking box-office records, whilst the likes of Death Proof, Scott Pilgrim vs The World and the recent remake of The Thing all fell far short of studio expectations. Still itching for that one big hit? “I think everyone involved in filmmaking always longs for that one big hit that just hits every corner of the globe with a bang,” says Winstead, “but you can’t make films thinking like that. There are, believe it or not, more important issues at stake – such as, will this be a film I can be proud of? “I loved making Scott Pilgrim, for example, and Death Proof, and The Thing, and now this movie. Would it be nice if they reached millions and millions of people? Sure. But I’m just happy that these films were a challenge and fun to make, and that’s kind of the most important part. “The rest is just business.”
Words : Paul Byrne
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is in Irish cinemas now