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Tim Burton on why he elected to produce 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter'

In a summer season being lambasted by all corners of the entertainment media for unfulfilled expectations, championing the arrival of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter may not be in favor. But look again. Timur Bekmambetov's "pull out the stops" adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith's wildly imaginative bestseller brings some much-needed sizzle to the box office. Find out what made the project one film the legendary Tim Burton could not wait to produce in this Personalities Interview.

Tim Burton at the June 18th premiere of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" in New York.
Charles Sykes, CHARLES SYKES/INVISION/AP

Purists may have a hard time accepting the existence of so-called genre mash-ups. Then again, projects titled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter are also not for those with delusions of replacing the late Andrew Sarris as film critics extraordinaire. Yet, if you read Seth Grahame-Smith’s bold literary revision of such an iconic historical figure, you will understand why filmmaker Tim Burton, 53, wanted to bring it to the big screen.

Perhaps this tale of Lincoln as a vampire hunter is better suited to the printed page or the graphic novel. But in the hands of Burton, Grahame-Smith and, especially, director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Wanted), it stakes a claim as being a visceral – and entertaining -- popcorn experience. For Burton, the possibilities afforded by the novel were just too enticing to pass up before it even hit the shelves.

“When I heard the title,” Burton said, “it was the kind of movie that I would have loved seeing when I was a kid in the 70’s. It sounds out there and all, but it wasn’t a joke and it’s not a joke. It actually makes a lot of sense. I remember looking at images of Lincoln and just looking at the guy, going like, ‘Boy he looks like he’s up at night hunting vampires.’ He’s got that vibe about him.”

With imagery and themes in keeping with The Burton Universe, the filmmaker still opted not to direct the film himself. Grahame-Smith, who has since forged a creative alliance with Burton (with Dark Shadows, Beetlejuice 2), was engaged to adapt his own novel. As for who would helm the project, the ideal candidate was literally right in front of him during initial discussions. This would be imperative in terms of maintaining unified creative front with potentially risky material.

“Originally we were going to produce,” Burton continued. “As I started talking to Timur, I could just see how into it he was getting. I just thought he’s the perfect director for it. It just made a lot of sense that he did it, Also, the fact that America’s basically a country of immigrants, it seemed to make sense that somebody from Russia could really bring something to it. I was so happy that he was so into doing it. What Seth wrote made sense. It’s got this kind of surreal idea about it, but everything was based on strangely accurate historical accounts of Lincoln. The key was to just treating it seriously.”

While reviews for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter have been decidedly mixed, Burton remained optimistic for positive audience reactions to the film while conducting this interview during its New York press junket. Despite the moody lighting and background of the television suite, the famously shy Burton did not disappoint in terms of living up to his iconic status. He is every bit the fan boy fan boys look up to for a reason.

“He’s kind of like the original Batman in a way,” Burton said. “He’s a guy who’s got a day job and then he does this other thing. I was a really lousy student, but this version of Lincoln made me really interested in him. Life is comprised of so many things. Light and dark, funny and sad, dramatic and I think I’m drawn to material like that and that’s what I liked about this.”

As for whether Burton sees himself as a “vampire” or “patriot,” taking a lead from the film’s viral campaign?

“I’m both,” he concluded with a sly tone. “I go both ways.”

To see the full Personalities Examiner with Tim Burton, click on the embedded player located to the left of this page.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is now playing citywide. For tickets & theater information on 3D presentations, go to Fandango, MovieTickets and NCM

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