EXCLUSIVE: Joaquin Phoenix is the front-runner to play the mentor who teaches the 16th President how to kill bloodsuckers in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter for 20th Century Fox. Phoenix has met on the project and I’m told that it’s his if he wants it. He would join Benjamin Walker, who last Thursday was set to play the title character in the Timur Bekmambetov-directed adaptation of the Seth Grahame-Smith novel whose producers include Tim Burton. It’s an encouraging sign that the fine actor might be returning to form after a surreal detour in I’m Still Here, the mockumentary directed by his brother-in-law Casey Affleck that purported to be Phoenix’s attempt to build a career as a rapper. While both Phoenix and Affleck initially maintained the docu was legit, they later acknowledged it was an artistic ruse. It was a waste of his considerable talent. From Gladiator, To Die For to We Own the Night and Walk the Line, Phoenix consistently turns in fascinating performances and this is a showy return role. The role is Henry, a mythic, ageless figure who turns Lincoln into an axe-throwing expert slayer of vampires. The pic’s produced by Bekmambetov, Tim Burton and Jim Lemley. Phoenix is cagey and could decide not to go forward. Stay turned to see if his deal makes. WME reps Phoenix.