Benjamin Walker always feels a little simpatico with Abraham Lincoln, even while swinging a rubber ax and breaking hotel-room lamps or sitting in a makeup chair just before doing the Gettysburg Address.
The actor plays the 16th president from age 19 until his 50s, when he led the country - with a lot of monster-chopping in between - in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, in theaters Friday and based on author Seth Grahame-Smith's literary mashup.
The Lincoln who Walker favored was not the one battling an undead vampire army. It was instead the man who had just realized his power as an orator, politician and lawyer.
"He's really coming into his own and realizing that he can make a difference and that somebody needs to very quickly because the country is in turmoil," says Walker, 29.
The 6-foot-3, Georgia-bred stage actor is coming into his own himself as a film star - he already had "stand-up comedian" and "Meryl Streep's son-in-law" under his belt.
Starring in Vampire Hunter looks to be his breakthrough, after roles in other historical fare such as Flags of Our Fathers and Kinsey. And Lincoln isn't even his first president: Walker starred as "Old Hickory" in the title role of the Broadway musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which is where Vampire Hunter director Timur Bekmambetov first saw him.
"He's very energetic and ironic and smart and physical," Bekmambetov says. "It's hard to be organic and to be believable in this role."
Playing Jackson helped Walker develop his research chops, he says, which helped in determining which Lincoln books were best suited to the movie. Lincoln's Melancholy, about how he dealt with death and depression, informed Walker far more than Doris Kearns Goodwin's politics-heavy Team of Rivals.
"He educated himself, he was born in a log cabin and really lived the American dream," Walker says.
He also found a kinship with Lincoln in hearing the accounts of him staying out late and cracking up tavern folk.
"That's the kind of Lincoln we don't know much about," Walker says. "We need to think of him as a human being - somebody with a sense of humor and someone who was willing to be ridiculous and funny."