For the past nine years, comedy fans have gotten to know Creed Bratton for his role as a fictional version of himself on NBC's The Office. Those fans will see him in a completely different light in his new role as Senator Charles Sumner in the indie drama Saving Lincoln, debuting in theaters February 15.
I know what you're thinking. Yes, another Abraham Lincoln movie, timed perfectly for Honest Abe's birthday earlier this week. However, this is not at all what you are likely expecting. First off, this drama tells the essentially untold tale of Lincoln's bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon (Lea Coco), who spent more than four years thwarting assassination attempts during the Civil War. It also paints a rather intriguing picture (both literally and figuratively) of Lincoln (Tom Amandes) and his behavior towards the end of his life. I recently had the chance to speak with Creed Bratton over the phone to discuss this movie, which uses actual historic photographs as backdrops to give this a visual quality like you've never seen before. Here's what he had to say.
At what time did you first hear about this project? Were Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter being developed at that time, or was this before or after?
Creed Bratton: No, no. (Co-writer) Nina (Davidovich) and director Salvador (Litvak) had this project about 10 years ago. They're both aficionados of Lincoln and totally interested in it. They wanted to do the movie, because they thought the idea of his bodyguard was something that hadn't been touched before. They waited and heard that (Steven) Spielberg was going to do the Lincoln film, and I guess quite a few years went by, so they thought he wasn't going to do it. As soon as they got the money and started production, boom, Spielberg's movie, boom, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. My Lord. That's how that went down.
I think it might be beneficial to come after. The story is completely unique, and I've never heard of the bodyguard either. I had never heard of Ward Hill Lamon before. What was also interesting was they way it was presented and shot. These are all historical photographs that were used as a backdrop.
Creed Bratton: The photos were exactly of the time period. What you see is what Lincoln would see if he looked out the White House.
I've been on sets where they have these huge drapes they pull across the set with these huge blown-up photos. Is that how they shot it or was it all green screen?
Creed Bratton: No, no, it was all green screen. There is just a table and a chair, and I would say, 'What's going on?' He would say, 'Look in the camera' so I would and there are 3D plates programmed inside the camera. You look in the camera and you see the walls, you see outside to the street, the horses and buggies out on the street. You look up and there's just a green wall there. I had never seen anything like that before.
That's very interesting. As far as your physical sets, were they painted up to a point then?
Creed Bratton: No, it's just a green room. They would put a table and a chair for us to sit at. Once we would put our hand on something, we'd have to have something real and tangible there, but everything else was programmed in. It was pretty amazing.
Did you delve into a lot of Senator Charles Sumner's background at all for this? Was there anything interesting that you found out that you didn't know before?
Creed Bratton: When I first read the script, I first thought, 'Oh my God, this is the guy who was beat up on the floor of the Senate.' He was almost killed. The guy who did it, got a slap on the wrist, and all these Southerners sent him all these canes with gold heads on them, as a congratulations (Laughs). There was one scene where I grab Lincoln's hand and I put it on my head, and I tell him the story. Sumner and Lincoln were friends, they had dinner many times, but he was better friends with his wife, Mary Todd. They were both close, but he was closer with Mary and they joked around a lot. That was a scene where I thought I could get something going, but I asked Sal about it, and he said they cut it out. That's disappointing, but oh well, it happens.
Can you talk about Salvador's style and approach to this, and what really struck you about his work?
Creed Bratton: He knew exactly what he wanted. The Brahmin accent had not been solidified yet. It was still going between the British and the Western, merging into the Brahmin accent. I kind of hinted at it a little bit, but I didn't go extensively into it, because I thought it would be disconcerting, and he agreed it would be disconcerting if I went too far with that accent.
How long were you actually shooting this for?
Creed Bratton: They shot it for quite awhile. I was just there for a couple of weeks. I'd there and shoot a couple of days, then I'd go back and shoot a couple more, depending on what scenes what they were doing. I thoroughly enjoyed shooting with Tom (Amandes) and Bruce (Davison) and Penelope (Ann Miller). Of course, in between takes, we're all telling war stories and just having so much fun. We didn't sound like we were the head of the government, at that time (Laughs).
I honestly wasn't sure how I would react to Tom's version of Lincoln, after seeing the first two already, but I rather enjoyed it.
Creed Bratton: I loved his voice. There were a couple of times when I was working with him, it was so disconcerting it was surreal. I really felt like I was talking to Lincoln. He was great, and great to work with. A total professional.
One thing I noticed was during the war he'd get all these cables with the casualty numbers and it would just crush him, like he wasn't expecting the casualties would be so high.
Creed Bratton: I think it's because he used humor to divert his sorrow. He never accepted it. They would ask him stuff and he would skirt the issue, but with his close confidants, he would let the pain to rise to the surface more.
We saw on The Office last week that Andy (Ed Helms) is back at Dunder Mifflin, and that has obviously caused quite a change within the office dynamic. Are there any developments you can tease about the next few episodes?
Creed Bratton: Well, someone is going to get fired. We know that. There is the love triangle now with Pete (Jake Lacy) and Erin (Ellie Kemper) and Andy. Angela (Angela Kinsey) and Dwight (Rainn Wilson), there's a possibility they may start flirting with each other again. (Executive producer) Greg Daniels was telling me various things for Creed, and is about time, by the way (Laughs). We only have a few more months left, and I want to tie a little ribbon on Creed's character. I'm going to miss him, but I'm also very, very excited to go on and do other characters too. We've just got a couple more episodes left to shoot, then the hour-long finale, which will be an eight-day shoot, and then we're done forever.
NBC just announced when the finale is going to air, so I wasn't sure where you're actually at in the season.
Creed Bratton: Yeah, we're ahead of it. We finish in March, and that's in the middle of May, so we're about two months ahead, when we're shooting.
Is there something in particular that you really want to do with Creed in these last few episodes?
Creed Bratton: The things they're talking about, I can't talk about, because it would give away stuff. Things change too, so I might say something then they might get to a point where they say it's not going to work out and they need something more with Pam (Jenna Fischer). I totally understand that. People really want to see this Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam thing work out, since they're having these little problems now. We're hoping it's all going to work out, but who knows. The Office has never been one for a cheap laugh, and if it has to get emotional and uncomfortable, we go there sometimes. You'll just have to watch and find out.
We've also heard there's absolutely no chance that Steve Carell will come back for the finale.
Creed Bratton: No, no, no. He made it very, very clear. He told all of us in confidence, and they keep asking him, but no, he's not going to do it. He went out with grace, and he went out at a perfect time. By the way, I know this last season is our best one over the last couple of years. We were really hanging in there after he left, and I made it very public, after Steve left, that I would be very happy if we stopped right now, because I think we had done it with Steve. We put on some interesting shows, but I don't think we got back rolling again until this year. I do believe now, for a fact, that we are going out with our head held high, and doing some very funny stuff.
Excellent. Just to wrap up, what would you like to say to anyone curious about Saving Lincoln about why they should give this a chance on February 15?
Creed Bratton: Well, I just think they should see it just because you're going to see stuff that you've never seen before. You're going to see the real time period artifacts, buildings, furniture, and you're going to get a look at something that's never been discussed before, the assassination attempts on on Lincoln, and the prevention of these by his bodyguard. There you go.
Great. That's about all I have. Thanks so much, Creed. It was great talking to you.
Creed Bratton: It was nice talking to you. I appreciate it.