Bruce Davison says he felt confused when he first read the script for Saving Lincoln.
“I didn't get [the title] at all,” the veteran actor tells Big Hollywood, thinking of that tragic night at Ford's Theater back in 1865.
Davison wasn't familiar with Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln's trusted bodyguard and friend who saved the president's life on multiple occasions before John Wilkes Booth fired that fateful shot. It's one reason Davison is glad to be a part of Saving Lincoln, an independent film chronicling the bond between Lincoln (Tom Amandes) and Lamon (Lea Coco) in the years leading up to the president's assassination. The film illuminates a part of Lincoln's legacy not regularly chronicled on film.
Davison, star of such diverse features as Willard, Apt Pupil and X-Men, plays Secretary of State William H. Seward. Davison doesn't resemble Seward, something he notes with a laugh is clearer now thanks to director Steven Spielberg's Oscar-nominated take on Lincoln.
"[Seward] was virulently anti-slave long before Lincoln," he says of his character, a fact that led to plenty of pragmatic discussions within the Team of Rivals over the best ways to proceed on passing the amendment ending slavery.
Davison's deep film resume has covered plenty of thematic ground, but with Saving Lincoln he got the chance to act against mostly green screens. The film uses Lincoln-era photographs as backdrops, inserting the cast into the frame via computer wizardry.
“That's what fascinated me most of all, taking daguerreotypes and stills that existed during the period and turning them into three-dimensional sets,” says Davison, adding he didn't change his approach at all except for making sure he hit his marks precisely. Otherwise, his character might stroll into “the third dimension of a hallway,” he says.
The actor isn't up for any major awards this year, but he did receive an Oscar nomination for his work in the 1989 film Longtime Companion. The movie was one of the first major releases to grapple with the AIDS crisis.
“There was an awful lot of blowback over the fact that not all races, creeds and colors were connected to the film. It was just one story being told about a great group of friends,” he says, adding the charges weren't fair to the project.
He sees another Oscar-themed unfairness with actors boycotting Zero Dark Thirty for its alleged endorsement of “torture.”
"I don't feel that the film takes a pro-torture stance at all. It's reporting in a pretty accurate way what happened," he says.
Davison's next big screen projects finds him working under director Rob Zombie in The Lords of Salem, set for an April 19 release.
"He's always outrageous in everything he does," the actor says of the rocker turned horror auteur, adding audiences will howl over the film's trio of witches (including actress Dee Wallace). Just don't ask him to reveal much of his part of the story.
"I don't know what the hell it's gonna be by the time he's done editing it," he says. It's part of life as a character actor, the names who don't always make the marquee posters.
"I never know where I'm gonna be kicked next, and that's kind of fun," he says of his colorful career.
Davison says the recent flood of interest in all things Lincoln reminds him of how pop culture embraced Benjamin Franklin during the country's bicentennial. The actor appeared in one of the era's Franklin projects, playing the celebrated figure's bastard son in the 1976 miniseries Benjamin Franklin.
"I think it's a wonderful idea to explore that period of time. It reflects who we are," he says. "Lincoln's story has so much to do with the evolution of our country and who we became ... there are so many stories to be told within that span."