The lunch crowd at Schiller’s Liquor Bar one gray afternoon is sparse and still while the faint sound of dub songs plays on the sound system. Seated in a discreet corner of the restaurant, still smelling of the cigarette she quickly ran outside to smoke, is Erin Wasson, the supermodel, fashion muse, stylist, jewelry designer, skater, tattoo aficionado, and now, potentially, a budding Hollywood movie star.
The 30-year-old Dallas native—whose pale yet fierce blue eyes and guttersnipe, tomboyish sex appeal have landed her modeling and designing gigs with Victoria’s Secret, Maybelline and Zadig & Voltaire—is just one day away from flying to Los Angeles for a screening of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, an absurd, hyper-violent take on the “great emancipator’s” fictional battle against the undead.
She admits that she had spent the previous night dancing at the Boom Boom Room for the CFDA after party, but she is enjoying a moment of peace before a possible life and career-altering event (in the form of a nation-wide movie opening) takes shape. “I just don’t have a whole lot of that in me anymore,” she claims, referring to the late nights in New York City. “I cannot wait to get on this plane tonight and get to L.A., because I get two-and-a-half days of being just a block away from the beach.”
Her moment in the sun—and in her home in Santa Monica, complete with a half-pipe, vintage cars and a tree house—will be brief. (By the end of that week, Wasson would be shipped out to the Middle East, where she and co-stars Anthony Mackie and Benjamin Walker would screen the film to over 1,800 sailors on the USS Abraham Lincoln, the first time a major motion picture held a debut screening for the nation’s armed forces stationed in the Middle East.) “I’ll be living on a boat for about a week in the Middle East, with all the troops and soldiers,” Wasson explains, her sharp elbows resting comfortably on top of the table as she shows off a loose-fitting shirt with a simple axiom: “Keep it Neil.” “‘Keep it Neil,’ aka ‘keep it real,’”she clarifies.
Despite the globetrotting, Wasson has grown accustomed to this nomadic experience. She admits she is incapable of staying in one place for two weeks at a time. “I’m just sort of conditioned to live that kind of life. I have been living that life for so long—I have not been in any one place for more than three months in 12 years,” she says. However, the opportunity to test her stationary skills arrived in early 2011, as she was relaxing on a beach in Melbourne, Australia. She received a phone call from producer Jim Lemley and director Timur Bekmambetov about the role of Vadoma, a “vampire assassin” who has it in for Abraham Lincoln. “We were really looking for kind of a crazy, sexy vampire, and somebody who was visually interesting and had some kind of interesting aura about her,” says Lemley, during a phone call from his office in Los Angeles. Lemley, who lives in France, called agents he knew in Paris, most of them suggesting that he take a look at Wasson. Both he and Timur liked Wasson’s look and almost-effortless intensity (musician Andrew W.K., an old friend of Wasson’s, said she had a “vampiric face”).
Lemley dropped her a line.
“I peeled myself off the beach one day and I put myself on tape. Three days later I was doing a Skype with Timur,” she recalls.
One week later Wasson was flown into New Orleans, where the film’s production team took one last look at her before they thrust the new-ish actress (she had a brief cameo in
Sofia Coppola’s 2010 indie film Somewhere) into a $69 million Hollywood film. “It was just an instinct thing—she looked right and had the right attitude, like ‘let’s try it,’” says Lemley.
She was hired on the spot, and had just three weeks to train with an acting coach to learn the basics. Still, Wasson had enough confidence and honest-to-goodness smarts to make up for her lack of professional experience. As Bekmambetov, a Kazakhstan-born director whose command of the English language is still in its infancy, puts it: “Erin is strong and charming. Boys like it.” “I kind of went into it very organically,” she says. “I said ‘well, if I did it the first time from a very personal perspective, and it worked, then moving forward I’m just going to have to create a balance.’ And that very first day when they go ‘okay, let’s shoot,’ you walk on set and all of a sudden you’re not you, you’re Vadoma, and you’re in the 1800s, and you’re telling this goddamn story.”
For three months she was marooned in New Orleans—a foreign experience in a foreign city—living out of the Westin Hotel in the French Quarter in a 12-by-12 box. “When you get off from work at 4:30 a.m. and you’re walking through the French Quarter and there’s a bunch of drunks stumbling around everywhere, it can be a little disenchanting,” she admits. She would spend her off-hours hanging out with local artists, running from gallery openings to music shows and trying “to have an experience inside the experience.” “I’d have these experiences of, like, days where I’d walk on set and we’re re-enacting the civil war, and then I’d go out and I’d be listening to the most bitchin’ jazz music at night.”