Rufus Sewell Is President of Undead in 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter'
Comic Book Resources, 22 June 2012
Rufus Sewell has been a recognizable star of stage and screen for countless years, with a filmography that includes a stunning portrayal in 1998ís 'Dark City', as well as memorable performances in 'Tristan + Isolde', 'The Illusionist', 'The Holiday' and 'The Tourist'. The British actor has become well known for his villainous roles, but his latest turn as Adam, the undead antagonist in director Timur Bekmambetovís 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter', provided the classically trained actor with refreshing new challenges.
We caught up with Sewell while he was in New York City, and discussed the logistics of navigating razor-sharp porcelain vampire teeth, prepping for his role by listening to Orson Welles, acting in an effects-laden environment, Twilight body sparkle and the possibility of comedic roles in his future.
Iím kind of aghast that youíre just sitting here in the lobby of the Ritz, undisturbed. Itís a little surreal.
[laughs] Iím always sitting somewhere having a coffee.
Is that on your business card, ďProfessional lobby-sitterĒ?
Yeah! Layabout. Idler. Soy latte-sipper.
I have to gush first. 'Dangerous Beauty' is a movie that I revisit all the time.
Oh, yeah. Itís good stuff. You must get that a lot.
I do ó I get it in America. No one ever saw it in England!
This is just my subtle way of saying that you need to play another romantic lead, like, now.
Well, Iím up for it! [laughs]
In your role as Adam, a kind of delightfully villainous and charismatic guy, it looks like you had a lot of fun.
I decided it was a romantic lead!
Oh, did you? Iíll allow that to count.
[laughs] As far as heís concerned!
What attracted you to the role? Youíve played villains before, but never a vampire villain!
Iíve certainly thought in the past Ö to be sent a big film for a part that isnít a bad guy, Iíve never known what that feels like. And maybe thatíll change. But I have to look for the variances where I can. And for me, as far as Iím concerned, to be prepared to do television, film, theater and radio and not be trying to chase a buck means that I can play a wide variety of roles, but generally ó at the moment ó not big films. Or I canít be too fussy about the size of role, because I donít want to just play the same role again. But as far as I was concerned, a vampire ó actually ó I really want to do that! Timur Bekmambetov Ö and vampires? Yeah!
And the thing about Adam is that heís not entirely evil ó you sort of get where heís coming from.
My stance on him is he is, as far as heís concerned, the president of the vampires. Heís been around forever, you canít tell him shit. He was there from the time of the Egyptians, so heís seen human societyís empires rise and fall, rise and fall ó so the span of a human life [snaps fingers]. So heís a pragmatist, he is a great soldier and prophet for his people. And heís found the promise land. Much as they did a few hundred years ago. I mean, youíre not one of the first occupiers of this country, either! So he basically wants a new nation for his people.
Itís interesting that you discuss the government side of things with Adamís plans for a vampire nation ó it almost sounds like a prequel to 'True Blood'. Have you seen that show?
Yeah, I love it but Iím not up to date on it. But exactly, yeah!
The vampire thing is pretty trendy.
Itís trendy if youíre a teenager. I donít sparkle quite enough to be allowed into that club.
Do you know they make Twilight body sparkle? You can buy it online!
Do they? Now you tell me!
Well, better late than never!
[laughs] I donít think Iíll start wearing it now. I am, actually. I am right now. [laughs]
Did you delve into vampire research for this role? Because Adam isnít in Seth Grahame-Smithís book, and you didnít have real-life people in history to look to like Benjamin and Mary Elizabeth did.
Well, Iím not in the book, right. I studied the things that I thought were useful ó I didnít look into vampires, because as far as Iím concerned, un-research is just as useful when you play the undead. Because weíre bombarded with imagery from the moment weíre watching TV ó about vampires. You tell someone to do ďvampireĒ and theyíll go ďah ha ha ha!Ē whatever. What Iím saying is weíve already had decisions made for us, so youíve got to kind of root through those. And actually what was useful for me Ö I listened to Orson Welles reading 'The War of the Worlds', just for the kind of stately early-Hollywood voices and characters. Because I saw him as a kind of Eisenhower-era cigar room dealmaker. Like a kind of captain of industry. He considers himself to be a vampireís vampire. Heís the baby-kissing vampire.
Except heís sucking the babyís blood, not kissing it.
[laughs] Yeah, but you know what I mean ó if there was a vampire election, you can see why heíd be the leader, because he has their best interests at heart.
Which is why the movie sets up a very interesting juxtaposition between Abe, whoís rising into his political position, and Adam.
Yeah, and thatís why I want Abe on my side. I donít just kill him, I want him to become a vampire.
And the make-up in this is like nothing weíve ever seen before, as far as the vampires go. The blue veins throbbing through your face and such.
You canít see yourself while theyíre doing it, but thereís something about watching that process happen ó and the eyes. Itís really freaky! Iíve got weird enough eyes anyway, but just sticking those things in. I look like a kind of sick fox.
Those were contacts, right? Could you actually see through them?
Yeah, you can see through them. Everythingís slightly milky, which is strange. You kind of forget them after a while.
You didnít always have tangible things to work with during action sequences in this movie, since itís so effects-laden. How did Timur help you envision and realize the scenes?
Yeah, I mean, quite unashamedly, I fight in my corner. Heís very much an ally, but what I mean is heís very childlike in his imagination, heíll have a very exciting idea and heíll come running up to you, ďI have an idea! I have an idea! You can be on a bicycle!Ē And Iím saying, ďYeah, hold on ó forgive me ó but this is what my character wants. How do I do that without losing that?Ē And heíll go, ďOh, I see your problem, yes. You must realize, Iím thinking visually.Ē So letís work together ó what can we come up with that gives me what I want and also keeps the integrity of what youíre doing? And because I was quite vocal in saying that, he was incredibly responsive. And he is a visual director, but at the same time he was very enabling for me ó he wanted me to do what I do. But I had to kind of fight for my space, to start off with. It was just a communicative thing.
Do you have trouble watching yourself on screen?
Itís not so bad when you have all that make-up and stuff. Somehow, because Iím monstered out, itís like one removed. I can watch playback on set, if the soundís turned down and Iím at a distance and looking through a crack between my fingers. [laughs] I find it more difficult if Iím supposed to be looking more normal.
I hear you lodged one of your vampire teeth into Dominic Cooperís neck.
I didnít even bite, but I went ďahhhĒ like that and I didnít chomp down but still, it went in his neck! And you know kittenís teeth, you know how sharp they are? They were long, but they were sharp at the end. They were porcelain, steel-reinforced, fucking fangs!
Of your huge breadth of work ó film, TV, radio ó is there anything that you dream of tackling next? Iíd love to see you do comedy!
The thing that I started off with at drama school, the thing that people tease me about, they used to say that they couldnít look at me without laughing. Because I did comedy! I hate listening to actors going on about what they want to do ó I very rarely want to watch them do what they want to do, but I do feel thereís a whole lot of stuff that I can do. Not just in terms of comedy, but in terms of characters. So I never got the chance to do on screen what comes to me naturally. So everything else that you see is what I wouldíve considered a stretch when I was at drama school. I thought I was going to get trapped in comedy Ė thatís why I took my first straight roles so seriously.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter opens today nationwide.