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The Hot Seat: Seth Grahame-Smith

The author and screenwriter discusses working with an idol.

Photograph: Matthew Rudenberg

Seth Grahame-Smith can’t seem to escape the supernatural. The writer is best-known for his books Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, both pioneering works in the genre of literary mash-ups. More recently, he wrote the screenplay for Tim Burton’s adaptation of the cult soap opera Dark Shadows, which chronicles the story of a 200-year-old vampire who is brought back to life in the 1970s.

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You’ve collaborated with Tim Burton on a few projects: Dark Shadows, for which you wrote the screenplay, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which he’s coproducing. How did you end up working with him?
I got a call that he wanted to option Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter for a film. Working with Tim is the fulfillment of a dream for me. His films shaped what I wanted to do with my life.

Any truth to the rumors that you’re teaming up on a sequel to Beetlejuice?
We’re going to be producing it together. If everything works out, I’m supposed to write it later this year.

How closely did you stick to the original series for your adaptation of the supernatural soap opera Dark Shadows?
Pretty closely in the sense of the characters and their relationships. What [Burton and star Johnny Depp] love about the show is that it was very dark and brooding, but it was also unapologetically weird—there was nothing on TV like it at the time. Dark Shadows was an outright homage to the horror genre and would take its influences from Poe and other gothic classic literature. We wanted to infuse the film with the same atmosphere and soap-operatic characters.

The original show has quite a following, as do the subjects of your two novels. Do you worry about upsetting those fans?

It’s something that’s always in the back of my mind. But I try not to shy away from the original idea or the story I want to tell. With Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, no one expected it to be even remotely as big as it was, so I started to worry, What are the Jane-ites going to think of this? I was pleasantly shocked that Jane Austen fans have a tremendous sense of humor. They’re not the dour, monolithic group of librarians that some people think.

Your latest book, Unholy Night, is a retelling of the story of the Three Wise Men—the Bible is a much thornier thing to tackle.
Yeah, it is. You’re dealing with something that’s more sacred than Jane Austen or the 16th President. I wasn’t out to make a mockery of anything—I just wanted to find a way into what I thought was an incredible story that had only been told from one angle. I wanted deeply faithful people of any denomination to be able to read this book and say, “That’s a fun, page-turning ride that made me think differently.” And for the most agnostic of readers, I wanted them to say, “That was just a fun ride, and I don’t really care about the faith.”

You’ve got a lot on your plate, between writing several film scripts and promoting Unholy Night. Do you ever wish you could take a break?

No. I’ll never complain about it, because this is what I’ve dreamt of. The way I look at it is, inevitably everybody ends up washed up in Hollywood or in publishing, so I’ll have plenty of time to sit on a beach when nobody returns my calls anymore. [Laughs]

Dark Shadows opens Fri 11.

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