Talks & Interviews — May 30, 2012 at 11:32 am

Bill Oberst: I didn’t want to play Lincoln for cheap laughs (exclusive)

It happens all the time – an actor establishes himself in one particular genre and plays similar characters film by film, because he’s good at it.

Once in a while, he tries himself in a new part, and it quickly becomes memorable for various reasons.

Probably not the best of examples but still: Dolph Lundgren’s street preacher, Rutger Hauer’s Hobo with a shotgun, and if we’re talking something extremely low-buget – Bill Oberst’s zombie-killin Abraham Lincoln.

Oberst’s portrayal as the U.S. president in “Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies” made me think about talking to Bill about what it was like to play Abraham Lincoln.

BECOMING PRESIDENT

“The co-founder of The Asylum, David Michael Latt, called me,” Bill says. “He asked if I can go to Savannah for 3 weeks to play Lincoln, and when an actor like me gets a question like that the answer is always going to be yes”.

As it turned out, Oberst also played Lincoln on stage in a touring theater, so he knew what he was in for.

“A lot of research I did on Lincoln came in very handy,” he recalls.

“I was a bit worried about the height so I used a trick Boris Karloff used in the 1931 Frankenstein, and also asked for the sleeves on my wardrobe to be shortened to help give the illusion of longer arms”.

Oberst admitted that he read Shakespeare and The Bible on set, two of Lincoln’s most favorite books.

“He could quote passages from both of those books by memory,” Oberst says.

The actor went on by saying that despite the film being very low-budget, he wanted Lincoln to have dignity despite being used in a silly movie about zombies.

“He was a great man of history, and I wanted to honor him by not playing him for cheap laughs. So mostly I hope I succeeded in giving him some dignity,” Oberst says.

HOLLYWOOD LINCOLN vs INDEPENDENT LINCOLN

I knew in advance that “Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies” was a “cash-in” for a much bigger, 20th Century Fox produced, $70 million film “Abraham Lincoln: The Vampire Hunter”, and I was curious how Oberst himself sees a low-budget effort compared to a Hollywood blockbuster.

“I think everyone involved with “Abraham Lincoln Vs. Zombies” is also a fan of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” and no one held any illusions that our movie would compete with theirs,” Oberst said.

“Director Richard Schenkman’s very clever script was not similar to Seth Grahame-Smith’s book or screenplay, and if our “Abraham Lincoln Vs. Zombies” is a bit of fun for viewers, I think that is more than enough,” Oberst said.

Another thing that was bugging me is – how on Earth did they manage to get all the wardrobe, decorations, weapons, for such a tiny budget?

“The Wardrobe Department on this little film really did a lot with a small budget,” Oberst explains. “Judith More, the department head, was constantly sewing and repairing clothes and even shoes. She is responsible for the period look.”

He also confessed that he tied Lincoln’s bow-tie myself each day, because he had a distinctive sort of sloppy bowtie and he “wanted to recreate that” himself.

“Lincoln’s zombie-killing scythe was designed by our director Richard Schenkman, who showed me how to swing it open like a badass,” Oberst smiles. “I never managed to make it look as good as he did.”

OUCH!

Of course, just like during any production, there were problems during filming of “Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies”. Oberst tells a little about those.

“I tore a ligament in my knee doing a stunt jump so Lincoln had a little limp in some scenes. And Lincoln’s mole had a way of migrating around my cheek and changing shape depending on who put it on,” he said.

“But then again, Ron Ogden, who played the Secret Service man Chamberlain, ripped the seat entirely out of his pants during a particularly vigorous scene, so my problems were minor by comparison.”

Many sources say Lincoln was an accomplished wrestler in his youth, however this fact was never used in the film, which I thought was too bad. Oberst agrees.

“It was not in the script, however it is a great idea nonetheless. A terrific tie-in with Lincoln’s youth,” he said. “From my research I understand that he still had some wrestling moves even in his White House years. ”

Oberst added that would have loved to play Lincoln, “wrestling a zombie to the ground and throwing off others who surround him while he is struggling with that one”.

“Very physical, and I know I would have loved to have shot that,” he says.

“MEMORIES LAST FOREVER…”

While the job on the film was done some time ago, Oberst says he’s got a lot of good memories about the film and some jokes as well.

“A film set is like a mini-marriage, complete with all the love and all the bitching that goes with a marriage,” he says.

“There were on-set romances, although not for me – who wants to sleep with Abraham Lincoln?!” he laughs.

“I think one of my favorite memories was meeting Brennen Harper, the actor who played the young Abe Lincoln, and realizing that he was such a professional that he wanted to mimic my mannerisms so the character would be consistent,” Oberst recalls.

“We spent a happy hour practicing our scythe-swinging and talking about what Lincoln might have been like as a young lad. That’s the kind of thing that reminds me of why I am in this crazy business in the first place”.

Feel free to check BZFilm review on “Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies” here.



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