With the release of the brilliant action horror Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter today we talk to two of the main stars, Dominic Cooper & Rufus Sewell about all things bitey!
How was it for both of you to take command of your darker sides to give your roles, well, plenty of vampire bite? Is swagger essential?
RUFUS SEWELL: It’s a fine line. Like someone once said, “If you’re going to play the part, you better wear the eye patch.” You need to perform the function, you know.
DOMINIC COOPER: It helps certainly with this. I thought the screenplay was so well written, so you’re not just putting on an evil swagger or you’re…
SEWELL: I was! [LAUGHTER]
COOPER: Well in the book, certainly for Henry, there’s a lot about him and that comes from his many of his diary entries and his acting out, so you get a very good understanding of who he is. Aside from him being a vampire, you just try and make him as believable a character as possible. What you see, where he lives and how he treats his life and what he thinks of his life. The kind of, what’s the word, when you have opposites, what’s the word?
SEWELL: Schizophrenia? Polarity?
COOPER: [LAUGHS] Kind of. He was a complex character
At some point we saw something in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter that you normally don’t get in a blockbuster film, truly rich characters that are well defined.
SEWELL: As far as I was concerned yes, I’m a bad guy, yes. Actually retrofitted by a guy who wasn’t in the book. But what I was given to play was an objective, an objective that was clear. That I was a character who wasn’t just going round and round for no reason. His objective is to make a nation for vampires utilizing the human livestock, you know. That he’s been around for thousands of years, he’s been around long enough to go beyond the day-to-day requirements of a vampire.
He’s acquired the next level of consciousness, as far as I was concerned. And he wants to set up the perfect society as he sees it. He’s someone who wanted something for his people and was doing what he could to get it. Quite clearly. And when he got a chance to explain that to someone, he talked to him as an equal. I viewed him as a kind of cigar room dealmaker. You know, a politician vampire. That was in the writing.
You’re both British actors and it is an interesting case of happenstance that you’re both cast in this very American narrative.
SEWELL: That’s certainly true. But, you know, it’s good to remind yourself that you’re lucky to be working at all. It’s very easy to get into the mindset of ingratitude and I battle with it all the time. And for a while though, I’ve certainly said I don’t want to do any more bad guys, then I sit and don’t do anything for a while and then think, “Okay, one more.” [LAUGHTER] If you can find a way of playing it that is much respected, you can. And I’m not fussy about the medium I work in. I’ll do television radio, you know. I have to, because that’s the only way I can do continually good roles. I mean, you’ve kind of broken through that, haven’t you?
COOPER: I don’t know. It’s I suppose it’s good to see it from the outside, or how other people perceive it. And it is hard. But the truth is lots of films are made, the majority of which are terrible. There’s very few, so we’re only exposed really to the high end ones, and very often people who are being offered those roles have already very much established themselves one way or another.
SEWELL: Yeah there aren’t too many blockbusters.
Do you have to find new challenges if all you’re doing are blockbuster-type projects?
SEWELL: That’s why I say I’m not fussy about the medium I work in. If I was to say “I’ll only do movies,” then I’d struggle to find a varied career. My priority is an interesting career, that’s why I keep a low rent, I don’t go on big holidays, and I keep it very simple. I’ve done a thing in England every six or seven years. The reason I live in America is because I mean literally every six or seven years I’ve done something in England.
The last lead I had in an English film I did was 1998. So that’s why I live here. It’s because I get more work. I’ll travel back for radio, you know what I mean. I’ve just got to consider myself to be living in the middle of the ocean, and that way I have a really nice career, if I’m prepared to do television, radio, theater, and film.
COOPER: That’s absolutely correct. And that’s where you realize you get satisfaction from having a varied career and trying different things. You get very pushed into this mindset of what success is and how recognized you. You think getting into those big movies is hard for British actors and there are very few roles, then the truth is sometimes it’s a choice. And sometimes the roles you’re being offered, leads in films aren’t good enough.
Actually it’s you’re better going and doing a radio play or a decent TV. People’s opinion of that has been shifted. You can be offered a number of things and if they’re not good enough, you shouldn’t go and do them. And then the ones we’re talking about now, think how few blockbusters there are or how few things there are on our radar, actual films that are on our radar. It has to do with publicity and you guys and what gets out into the mainstream and what people know about.
How do you rate quality in terms of the projects that come your way?
SEWELL: Quality is subjective. There are quality blockbusters; there are quality versions of every genre and it doesn’t necessarily mean money. But yes, my idea of quality is my own idea of quality. What I do and what I want to do next is my business. The next thing I fall in love with might be what you think is rubbish. But as long as it’s what I think is good, I mean, the last BBC thing I did, Zen, there’s no way I’d have been able to do that if it was a film, do you know what I mean? So for a chance to do something as quality as that, I’ll go to whatever medium that is.
COOPER: Unfortunately, it also functions as a business as well. You don’t want to let that affect or infect your decisions, but it seems as though to get to the next point or to get to where you maybe have more decisions to make yourself and choices, you do have to operate as a business would.
So do you have a career plan?
SEWELL: I’ve given up on that. [LAUGHTER] I don’t have any kind of plan anymore. I have a plan that I want to be what I think of as a really good actor. I want to be the kind of actor that I like, and it’s an ongoing process. No one else can tell me whether I’ve succeeded or not, it’s not something that you can achieve. Because everything else is so unquantifiable and unmanageable, and even if you manage to achieve it, it could be quite confusing. So I think it’s the only one that works, because, you know, I’ve never been able to force my career to go where I want and actually there’s more happiness in just trying to do good work.
Obviously choice is very important to you both? Do you really give serious thought to what is offered to you, Dominic?
COOPER: I do. I have to. And I’ve been guilty of not and I’ve been upset with myself for not considering properly or considering it or not considering it for the wrong reasons. And actually been quite regretful. But you can’t second-guess what’s going to happen or what turn of events are going to take place. You know, you do something like The Devil’s Double, which changed things for me dramatically in terms of certainly being offered things. But the things I was offered, it was amazing, my immediate spontaneous reaction was, “Yeah, leads in a film, don’t do it.” But actually I had to sit with myself and go, “However tempting this may be it’s not right.”
SEWELL: And that’s probably the time when you need to be most careful, isn’t it?
COOPER: Yeah, I mean not that there’s any rhyme or reason and not that you ever know which ones will be successful or whether your taste is right anyway. So it’s just a mind field.
What appealed specifically about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter?
SEWELL: For me? To me I hadn’t worked for eight months and I was really hungry to read a decent part. So when I read it, having said no more bad guys, I thought, “F*ck that! [LAUGHTER] I thought, “I’ve never played a vampire, really cool people involved, you know what, get over yourself, Rufus.” In the end, you need to work and it’s okay. The last few things I’ve done haven’t been bad guys. I proved to myself that I can do other stuff. Had it made a difference in the offers I got, no. So let’s not worry about that.
Genre fans are a demanding sector of the audience. Given their criteria, does this movie deliver?
SEWELL: It depends which genre you’re talking about because this title is a couple of different genres, isn’t it? It’s very difficult to come up with one thing that pleases one specific core. The people who just want the splatter, the people who just want the winking at the audience. I think in general it succeeds. But in terms of the died in the wool specific genre fans, no one’s going to make some of them happy.
Can you talk about that epic final train scene. How was it set up? How was it shot?
SEWELL: Not on a train. [LAUGHTER]
COOPER: It was really difficult. It was really hard. Hard to picture, our imagination doesn’t quite stretch when your director has it so perfectly in his head and you have to just fully trust that this is going to be great. But when it’s six in the morning and you’re hanging off a steel frame shouting at the top of your voice, “Jump! Jump! You must jump!” and then you have to do it 400 times? [LAUGHTER] You start to lose the will. You know that the people around you are making something incredible, but as an actor it’s very, you know, that’s…
SEWELL: [OVERLAPPING] When you see it there’s a cohesion, there’s a beginning middle and then there’s satisfaction there. You don’t get any of that when you’re doing it. It’s very easy to lose your place and you know that for camera you’re having to do some weird kind of swivel that you might do all afternoon. And you don’t know why you’re swiveling anymore, you’ve just got to trust. And actually having seen a lot of those sequences, I’m glad I did, because it looks spectacular. But at the time it doesn’t feel spectacular.
After the umpteenth take, is it hard not to want to check out?
SEWELL: But they might be the good takes, you never know! Sometimes you’re just purely where you might be feeling it, your body might not look right. It’s such a different technical kind of exercise. Actually something that looks good on camera might not be what you associate with feeling good. You see people who do action movies, it’s a very different kind of art, physicality, that kind of balance they have and look really good on screen. Which I’m envious of!
Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is out now. You can read our review right here:Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.