We all know that Seth Grahame-Smith famously wrote a little book called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter that went on to become an international bestseller. What you may not know is that the author also penned the screenplay for the Timur Bekmambetov-directed film that is now out in theaters. Grahame-Smith sat down with Movie Fanatic for an exclusive interview to take us inside the process of turning a successful book into a riveting movie (check out our review) and he tells us why he chose our sixteenth president as his vampire-slaying hero.
“He is, in my opinion, the only true American superhero. There are plenty of American heroes, but he is super-heroic,” Grahame-Smith said.
“You can compare him to Peter Parker (Spider-Man) in a way. He’s a young man who’s really got no prospects and can’t really find his way in life, and then he loses someone close to him tragically at an early age. Just when it seems he’s going to go off the deep end and give in, fate calls and bestows upon him some great power. Lincoln, the real man, was super-heroic in the sense that here’s a guy who comes from nothing, no family connections, no money, no education, and yet he’s this big, imposing physical presence and has this incredible mind. Through the sheer power of his will and determination, he’s able to pull himself up by the bootstraps and become the president of the United States and save the country single-handedly. It’s an epic, super-heroic life and it wasn’t that big a challenge to add that genre element to it in the book.”
Grahame-Smith could not be more pleased with the selection and subsequent performance by the onscreen Lincoln, Benjamin Walker. “He was just the most exciting discovery of the whole process and I can’t imagine making the movie without him,” he admitted.
“We needed someone who could disappear into that role and make you forget how absurd the premise is and make you believe that you’re actually watching Abraham Lincoln. That’s exactly, in my opinion, what Ben did.”
When it came to his director, Grahame-Smith was also thanking his lucky stars for someone so visionary to take a chance on a genre-busting film and create something audiences will marvel at. “It was exciting thinking about what he was going to do for this movie visually and creatively,” Grahame-Smith said. “I love Timur, but he’s challenging for a writer because he is so constantly full of ideas and throwing new things at you,” he said and laughed. “You have to be on your toes and you have to be ready to rethink things -- even when you think you’ve rethought them already.”
Adapting his own book proved challenging as to what to add and take out, all in the effort to make a great movie. Each process, screenwriting and novel writing, is a polar opposite. “They’re definitely both different artistic muscles. I grew up being a movie lover first and foremost. I was a voracious reader and I loved reading genre fiction, but movies were the romantic end-all, be-all in my life,” Grahame-Smith said. “Getting to write screenplays is hugely satisfying. But, writing a novel is definitely more enjoyable, I think, in the moment. It’s more of a pure distillation of who you are as a person and as a writer.”
As a film requires different storytelling beats, Grahame-Smith told us certain specifics were required of him as the screenwriter. “The hardest part was all of the new material that had to be invented. The book’s laid out like a real biography or history book. And the movie, especially because you have a director like Timur, was going to be this big, kind of over-the-top thrill ride of an action movie. In order to service that, you need certain things,” he said.
For one, the Rufus Sewell evil-doer character had to be added. “We didn’t have a central villain in the book, for instance, and we needed to invent that. We didn’t have a thrilling midpoint or a thrilling climax, and we needed to invent those, including the horse sequence and the train sequence. There’s just an extraordinary amount of new material that had to be invented, in addition to the stuff that was cut.”
So, which does he prefer: Writing a novel or a screenplay?
“As the author, you’re used to sort of being the end-all, be-all of storytelling. You’re in charge when you’re writing a book,” Grahame-Smith said. “When you’re writing a movie, the director’s in charge. Writing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter the movie, it almost felt like a reinvention or a sequel rather than writing an adaptation of the book.”