EXCLUSIVE: There are few hotter projects in Hollywood right now than Twentieth Century Fox’s macabre 3D Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter based on the Seth Grahame-Smith novel (he also wrote the script) that will be directed by Timur Bekmambetov and produced by Timur, Tim Burton, and Jim Lemley. The studio has set a June 22, 2012 release for the film and has been focused on casting since November. Now we can tell you the list of actors who’ll be screentesting for the role of young Abe Lincoln this week and next: Benjamin Walker, James D’Arcy, Adrien Brody, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and Josh Lucas. It’s a very interesting mix of semi-knowns and unknowns, stage and screen vets.
Twentieth won the project after a hard fought auction that included Sony and Paramount and Universal and Summit. Bekmambetov and Burton liked it so much they used their own money to option the book earlier this year, and Fox had existing relationships with both filmmakers — Timur dating back to when the studio talent-spotted him in Russia and released his first movie Night Watch worldwide. The movie is a 3D re-imagining of Lincoln’s life that depicts the 16th president as an axe-throwing, highly accomplished killer of vampires, an obsession of his since those bloodsuckers supposedly took the life of his mother. Taking revenge, Lincoln wreaks havoc on the vampires and their slave-owning protectors. Only in Hollywood would such wild fantasy with the reputation of one of America’s greatest Presidents be in such demand. Fox wanted the project so badly that when the filmmakers came onto the lot, the studio had bloody axes and bloody footprints strewn about, and arranged for a bugle player in a Confederate uniform playing “Taps” to accompany them to the meeting with studio executives. The script has already been written by the book’s author when it was put out for bid, and we heard widely that every studio was impressed with the whole pitch, as well as the prospect of having the next directorial effort by Bekmambetov and a take honed by Burton. The only reticence was the ask: the film’s budget is a reasonable $69 million, but Deadline was told that the first dollar gross request was just north of 25% (insiders said it wasn’t quite that high). The final deal was rich. But Fox, led by production president Emma Watts, now has a major tentpole teed up.