Benjamin Walker: Hollywood’s next action star?

Elena Torrijos
Singapore Showbiz

Benjamin Walker stars in the title role of upcoming film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

President by day and vampire hunter at night?

That's the premise of upcoming vampire thriller, "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a bold new project that could signal the arrival of little-known Benjamin Walker as the next big action star.

In this vampire thriller, Walker stars as the venerable 16th president of the United States, who rules the country by day and slays vampires by night.

Best known for his film appearances in KinseyFlags of Our Fathers and his critically acclaimed portrayal of Andrew Jackson in Broadway play "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" last year, big things are predicted for this Julliard-trained actor, who also happens to be the son-in-law of legendary actress Meryl Streep.

It may also help that the 190.5cm- tall Walker bears a striking similarity to one of the busiest stars in Hollywood today.

Frequently told he looks like a younger Liam Neeson — who himself is going through an Indian summer as an unlikely action star — Walker actually played the part of a younger version of Neeson's character in "Kinsey".

Walker, who met this and other reporters in New York on a recent trip hosted by Twentieth Century Fox, said he wouldn't take offence at all to be being compared to the star of 2008 sleeper hit "Taken" and "Star Wars Episode I: Phantom Menace".

"No, (Liam) he's gorgeous. He fights wolves, he's a Jedi. What's not to like?" said the ruggedly good-looking 30-year-old, who also bears a passing resemblance to Eric Bana of "Hulk" fame.

Cross Liam Neeson (left) and Eric Bana (right) and you might get Benjamin Walker. (Yahoo! Movies stills)

To look like the lanky Lincoln, Walker shed nearly 15 kilos. He also trained for months to learn how to deftly handle a specially-made axe and civil war-era weapons.

"I trained with Don Lee and Justin Eaton. These guys are just martial artists, they are spectacular. They created this fighting style that would be unique to Lincoln. They taught it to me and they were willing to stand there while I swung an axe at their heads," he said.

Yet, probably the worst thing he had to endure was the arduous transformation into "old" Abraham Lincoln.

"The make-up was the most trying by far," he acknowledged, explaining that he had to sit still for six hours while the make-up artists did their work on him. "You just sit there and it burns and you sweat and [you feel] the fumes."

His co-star Anthony Mackie said it was "painful" to watch Walker during make-up. "You would come in and he was like comatose."

Anthony Mackie (left) as Will Johnson and Ben Walker as the older version of Abraham Lincoln. (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Despite the far-fetched premise of having one of his country's greatest presidents supposedly having a secret life as a vampire slayer, Walker said he was unfazed when sounded out on the project.

"My first question was who's directing," he said. "And they said Timur (Bekmambetov, who directed "Wanted") and I thought 'Awesome!' It could have been a roll of toilet paper and I would have been interested."

For Walker, Lincoln's humble origins fascinated him and helped him prepare for the role.

"He was an ordinary man that did extraordinary things," the actor pointed out.

"He was born in a log cabin. His mother died when he was young. They were poor. He was largely self-educated. I think that kind of underdog story is something everybody can relate to. And it was certainly my window to understanding him."

Walker with director Timur Bekmambetov. (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

On whether people would object to having such a renowned figure imagined as a vampire slayer, Walker doesn't think so.

"You know what we do is we take people like Lincoln our great leaders, people we admire and we put them up on a pedestal and we almost worship and in a way we rob of them of their humanity," he said.

The movie, he added, "shakes the snow globe a little bit. It allows you to see another side of it and creates a debate about it."

When one reporter pointed out that it may help that Lincoln is dead and can't say anything about the film, Walker chuckled and wryly noted, "Yeah, I know. He's not tweeting about how I screwed up his legacy."

His mother-in-law, legendary actress Meryl Streep has herself had experience in that regard, having received some flak for portraying real-life figures in "The Iron Lady" and "Julie and Julia".

Walker married actress Mamie Gummer, Streep's daughter, last year.

The actor, however, believes that Lincoln's legacy is so big and so safe "there's room for us to make our little movie".

To see what the film holds in store for viewers, watch this music trailer featuring alternative rock band Linkin Park below.

Beyond Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Walker has several projects coming up.

He's completed the comedy "Wolfe with an E" co-starring brother-in-law Henry Gummer, and he's now filming the HBO movie"Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight" in which he plays a Supreme Court clerk who supported the boxing champ in a legal battle.

He'll even be heading to Asia when he starts filming the thriller "The Great Wall" set in China.

So it seems this axe-toting actor will be breaking out on screen much more often. Not only vampires, but other Hollywood stars may have to watch out.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter will be showing in cinemas in Singapore on 5 July.