Every good vampire slayer needs a mentor (even Buffy). For Lincoln, that turns out to be Henry Sturgess, a 500-year-old vampire who has tired of his peers’ bloodlust and attitude towards humanity. For that role, the filmmakers chose Dominic Cooper, who saw his career enjoy a boost with the likes of “Mamma Mia” and and “An Education” and won plenty of acclaim for “The Devil’s Double.” But Cooper wasn’t quite sold on the idea when he was first handed the script. “I said, ‘I’m not reading that. Goodbye!’ It sounded like a bit of a joke. I mentioned to someone else that had read the book and they said the book was brilliant and I thought, ‘this is ridiculous,’ and then… when I started reading it… We never knew about him as a man. In my studies in England, I loved finding out about him, what incredible man he was and what he achieved in his life. Then I read the book and the script at the same time. The book is so rich with ideas and concepts and I was wondering which one they were going to pick for the movie, how they were going to condense it to a film. I thought that the original screenplay picked all the really interesting dynamics of the characters and I immediately wanted to be part of it. Because it didn’t take itself too seriously, it wasn’t a serious biographical piece, but at the same time you learned a lot from it. And I also thought that Timur has an incredible vision and I love the way he shoots action sequences. He shoots action like no one else. So I get that plus Tim Burton’s crazy imagination.”
Lincoln’s journey begins when his mother Nancy is stricken with a disease of unknown origin – but recognizable to young Abraham as resulting from a vampire’s bite. Nancy was a woman of intelligence and heart, imparting on her son the notion that, “until everyone is free, we are all slaves.” Abraham never forgot those words, which came to define his views toward slavery. Nor would he ever forget the eternal evil responsible for his mother’s death: a vampire (and local businessman) named Jack Barts, portrayed by Marton Csokas, against whom Abraham swears revenge.
But his first attack against Barts fails, and Abraham narrowly escapes with his life. He is rescued by the charismatic Henry, a high-living and refined ladies’ man. Henry, portrayed by British actor Dominic Cooper, is not interested in Abraham’s simple quest for revenge. Instead, he instructs Abraham to control his rage, become stronger, and fight for the greater good of mankind. “It’s a choice,” Henry tells Abraham, “between doing something extraordinary or being satisfied with simple vengeance.”
“Henry finds the young man’s thirst for revenge to be uninteresting,” says Cooper. “But he sees Abraham of being capable of so much more, and thinks he can help him rise above a selfish quest.” Henry instructs Abraham – physically and intellectually – on the fine art of vampire hunting, for a purpose far greater than revenge. But the teacher is far from being a righteous figure. “Henry is at the top of his game at being a vampire hunter, but he’s also very flamboyant,” says Cooper. “He enjoys life to its fullest and often goes to extremes in doing so.”
“The actor has to be somebody who can play 20-55, and they have to play it convincingly. You move differently when you’re 40 and your centre of gravity shifts. So you make a list of all the criteria and a list of those people you could cast, it’s a short list! I remember hearing Quentin Tarantino talk about casting Inglourious Basterds and if he hadn’t found Christoph Waltz it would have been hard to make. Same for us. If we didn’t find Ben Walker, it would have been very hard to make the movie. Somebody said, ‘you need to go see this guy in New York, he’s in this play called Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.’ So we flew to New York to see the play and he just owned it. And then we started working with him. Just working with him without make-up on, meeting in New York, Los Angeles and doing all these things that ultimately lead to a process where Greg Cannom, the make-up artist made him Abraham Lincoln. And he came and delivered the Gettysburg Address to us, and it just gave us chills. Unbelievable.”
He’s quick to point out the appeal of the fanged fiends: “There’s something extremely sexy about vampires. The idea that you can live forever is something mysterious, and I think we all secretly have that desire. We are completely compelled and fascinated by vampires. They are all tragic figures and they don’t necessarily want to be in the position they’re in. There’s a million ways to play them.” For Cooper, one of the main elements of Sturgess he had to get his head around was playing him as an ancient creature. “Ultimately someone who has lived for 500 years must be pretty bored. You have seen all the riches in the world, you’ve got all the money, you probably fulfilled every desire a man could have, and you have tried everything out. And that’s why he is a person that goes to extremes and tries so desperately to have some sensation in life. He probably just wants to find the love in his life that he never had. But he also is very wise and a great mentor to have. But there definitely is a dark itch and a lot of desperation.”
“ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER” opens July 4 in cinemas nationwide in 3D and 2D cinemas from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.