Axel-In-Charge: Navigating the "Civil War II" Landscape, Bringing DMC to Marvel
As writer Seth Grahame-Smith walked on stage, he admitted the whole thing was kind of surreal. “Just a few years ago, I was down there with all of you,” he said. He and writer Damon Lindelof, hosted 20th Century Fox’s special preview of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the Alien quasi-prequel Prometheus Saturday at WonderCon in Anaheim, California. The screenwriters of the respective films presented clips and chatted with the directors and stars.
Grahame-Smith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter introduced director Timur Bekmambetov and star Benjamin Walker. As soon as the director sat down, he teased a clip, saying, “We will show you in the sequence. It’s a story about how Abraham Lincoln saved the country.”
In the sequence, Lincoln is told that Gettysburg is the key to preventing the Union from falling to the vampire hordes. He and his valet William Johnson (played by Anthony Mackie) are dispatched to derail a train delivering munitions to the battlefield. Attacked by several vampires, the 16th president uses little more than an ax to slay his assailants until Adam Rufus Sewell) proves to be his match.
After the clip, Grahame-Smith opened the floor to questions. The first fan asked how he brought such random elements as vampires and Lincoln together. “I get drunk and write a book about it,” the author joked. He then said it came to him while doing a book tour for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, recalling, “It was 2009, and it was the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, and every bookstore I went to in the country had a Lincoln display and a Twilight display.” After a laugh from the crowd, he continued, “The more you read about Lincoln, the more you see a superhero origin story. He really is the first and only American superhero.”
That notion led to the second question, concerning the group’s research into the actual Lincoln. “[There’s a] book called The Melancholy of Abraham Lincoln, and that kind of gothic take on him really helped,” Walker said. He also praised the accuracy of Grahame-Smith’s research with a quip: “From the mysterious death of Lincoln’s mother onwards, it’s a period movie with some vampires in it.”
The writer added, “As an American, I want to know that our leaders are strong. I want my president to make the tough decisions and cut some heads off.”
The filmmakers worked in collaboration with producer Tim Burton. “He is really important for this project,” Bekmambetov said. “He made the great movies that inspired us.”
Grahame-Smith expanded on that thought, saying, “One of the big contributions that Tim made was protecting the way we wanted to do this. It’s such an absurd ask [for viewers to take on] that title, that we knew we couldn’t wink at the audience. Tim really supported us with that and protected that vision.
The next question came from a Disneyland cast member who works at the “Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln” show. He told Grahame-Smith that the book is available in their gift shop. “Yes!” the writer shouted. “Victory! Take that, Lindelof!” He also expanded on the sort of research he did in writing the book. “It’s the same as trying to get the language of Jane Austen,” he explained. “The more absurd the project, the more dedicated you have to be to getting it right. We read the letters that Lincoln wrote to loved ones and colleagues and it helped a lot.”
Asked how much of the novel made it into the film, Bekmambetov responded, “I liked the book, and it was important to keep the tone of the book. The fun and smart story is what we fell in love with.”
Grahame-Smith elaborated, saying, “For me to adapt my own book was kind of a weird experience because you have to murder some of the things you love. There’s not enough space.” One major difference is the novel’s lack of a central villain. For the film, Grahame-Smith created the Sewell character. He also added William Johnson as a partner in crime for Lincoln. “[The book] also doesn’t have a kick-ass train sequence,” he said. “It’s all about putting your trust in Timur.”
Walker added that one of the keys to both the novel and the film was using Lincoln’s real life as a structure.
The next fan wondered if there were, perhaps, too many vampire movies in the marketplace. Grahame-Smith answered, “It’s the only vampire movie this summer with a president killing them.” All three agreed the vampires in the film harken back to the 19th-century vision of the creatures as opposed to the more romantic view common today.
“It’s also a return to the practically of it,” Walker added. “What does it mean to have someone living down the street from you who is all-consuming evil?”
“The vampires in this movie are real and we’re trying to ground them,” Bekmambetov added. “Our vampires can be outside in the sun. In the 19th century, the vampires developed sunscreen.”
The last question concerned the current president. “Could Obama be a slayer, and what would be his weapon of choice?” a fan asked.
“Diplomacy,” Walker quickly responded.
Grahame-Smith laughed and then considered his answer: “I think Obama could pull it off. He’s tall. He’s in shape. His weapon … yeah, it’d be diplomacy. ”
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter opens June 22.
When the three left the stage, Prometheus writer Damon Lindelof took their place and echoed Grahame-Smith’s earlier comments. “This is very trippy experience for me to be here. It’s always very surreal for me to be on stage,” he said before relating a story about the first time he watched Alien.
He was 7 or 8 years old, and the film was on HBO. “I was four or five minutes into it and my dad came in,” he recalled. “He told me not to watch it and that it wasn’t right for me.” A few days later, Lindelof caught the movie again. “[My dad] was right,” he laughed. While the film left him scared, it was the first time he saw a real film. “It was profoundly and strangely poetic. And now I get to share the stage with the man who made this film.”
Director Ridley Scott joined the writer to the applause of the WonderCon crowd. Although he hasn’t made a science fiction film in more than 25 years, his early features Alien and Blade Runner cast a long shadow over the genre even today. When Lindelof asked him about the origins of the film, Scott admitted it came from his sci-fi absence. “It’s been a long time since I did science fiction — and not for lack of trying — but I couldn’t find anything of interest to me, and I came back to this idea [in Alien] that hadn’t really been examined,” the filmmaker replied.
From the new full trailer that immediate followed Scott’s statement, the idea appears to be the Space Jockey, a bizarre skeletal creature that appeared briefly in the original film. Beyond seeing this character clearly walk in the new preview, the clip also makes it clear the characters played by Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender are in search of a civilization that apparently left a message behind on Earth. It leads them to a ship fans of Alien will recognize.
Stars Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron then walked on stage, where Lindelof asked how they became involved with Prometheus.
Theron recalled her unusual initial brush with the script. “We were exchanging emails,” she said, referring to the director. “I was in Malaysia during monsoon season and Ridley said, ‘You have two hours to read this.” With the rains making her Internet connection spotty, the actress climbed a hilltop to get a clear signal.
When Lindelof posed the same question to Fassbender, the actor retorted, “Same thing, minus the monsoon.”
“I had two hours to read it and on each page there was something new,” he continued. “It was such an intelligent piece of writing and then with the master at the helm, it was such an opportunity. Hopefully, it will do you proud, fans.”
The group touched upon the secrecy surrounding the film and its status in the Alien franchise. “We’ve experienced this thing where friends and loved ones ask us what Prometheus is,” Lindelof said.
“I told my family it was a romantic comedy,” Theron said. “So they’re going to be shocked.”
Scott explained his casting process, saying, “I spent a great deal of time thinking with the casting director. I’ve already got pretty good preconceptions of who the main players will be. Hopefully, they’re available.” Knowing that an actor is capable of the performance he’s looking for, Scott then spends a few hours talking with that person. “I [get to] know who they are and find [if they are] a person who is a partner with me on making the movie.” He said he always tries to cast an ensemble as it produces better work.
Lindelof asked Theron if being in an ensemble was a relief from headlining a film. “I think even when you are the lead, you can’t think that way. It muddles what you’re supposed to do and can throw you off the track,” she replied. “I will say, though, I love being around actors. That’s when I’m at my best. There was something about this cast that was the driving force behind me wanting to do this.”
After a pause, she joked, “Everyone but Michael Fassbender was great.”
Lindelof and Fassbender went back and forth on what his character David actually is. “A synthetic person? An android?” asked the writer.
“A robot,” Fassbender answered.
The actor explained that they chose early on not to be coy about the nature of the character, saying, “It wasn’t going to be a [big] reveal of any sort.”
In preparing to play an artificial person, Scott suggested a Dirk Bogarde film called The Servant. Fassbender took that to heart and considers his role as “a butler type” character. “He’s there to service the aircraft and the crew,” he said. Olympic Diver Greg Louganis also inspired him: “The way he walked before he dived, there was something funny and loaded, but a real economy of movement.” The actor also pondered how long it would take for a robot programmed to interact with humans to eventually develop its own self-programmed personality. “It was just playing around with that. Is this guy taking the piss or is he for real?”
“Do robots piss?” Lindelof asked.
“Only to make humans more comfortable,” Fassbender replied.
The writer then wade into Twitter questions from the audience, and asked about the use of computer graphics in the film.
Scott recalled the practical way he realized the Alien in the original film. “I had a very tall guy called Bolaji [Badejo]. … He was the guy in a suit because there was no other way to do it back then.” The filmmaker said that today he can do anything with computers. On Prometheus, though, he learned the importance of rough pre-production animatics. “The more you animate initially, the better plan you get,” he explained. He also mentioned the biggest challenge is “how original you’re going to be.”
The second question concerned an Internet rumor that Fassbender’s character would give birth to mankind.
“Absolutely,” the actor answered.
Asked describe the smell of Fassbender, Theron claimed it was a “combination of musk and chilies, sometimes mixed with a little mint.”
The last was for Scott. “Was it difficult return to the genre?” Lindelof asked.
“No. The four of us sitting on this stage are just damn lucky to do what we do,” he said. “It was a great pleasure coming back.”
Closing the panel, Lindelof said, “On behalf of all of the fans, we’re appreciative that you have. ”
Prometheus opens June 8.