Mr. Day-Lewis, Mr. Spielberg, obviously when you’re creating a character out of a real human being with a tremendous amount not only of biographical data, but in this case, historical, political, etc., what I’m curious about is what thing did you each learn about Mr. Lincoln that you either did not know previously or were most surprised by as a matter of delving into historical materials through this film?
Daniel Day-Lewis: Well, it’s easy for me to start, because I knew nothing about him [laughs]. I had everything to learn, because part from a few images, a statue, a cartoon, a few lines from the first inaugural, a few from the Gettysburg Address, that would be my entire knowledge of that man’s life. I think probably the most delicious surprise for me was the humor, to begin to discover that almost…what an important aspect of his character that was.
Would it be fair to say it’s a very tactical humor?
Daniel Day-Lewis: At times it could be, but not necessarily I don’t think, no. I think it was tactical in the political sense.
Daniel Day-Lewis: Yeah, I think at times it was undoubtedly used, in a conscious sense, for some purpose to make some point. There were accounts actually, not exactly what you’re asking, but there are accounts of people that came to ask him a question, of to them great importance, and found themselves in his presence, got a handshake a story, and were out of the room before they even realized [laughs]. And that’s good politics [laughs]. But no, I think it was innately part of him. I think there was very joyful element to that actually, yes.
For you, Mr. Spielberg?
Steven Spielberg: There were so many things I didn’t know about Lincoln, and there are so many different points of view about Lincoln. With over 7000 books written, to find any five books that agree on every single facet of his life is difficult. But the thing that really surprised me about Lincoln was the weight of his responsibility, his oath he took, a constitutional oath to preserve the union, and he’s the only President that had the union ripped out from under him and torn in half. And the fact that the weight of the war that began over slavery, and that he did not himself suffer, beyond all the writings that we’ve read about how deeply low he could get in his psyche, how depressed he could get. I don’t know if some of that depression wasn’t just deep thought, going very, very deep into the cold depths of himself to make discoveries that would bring this war to a close and abolish slavery.
But beyond that, how he just didn’t crack up in the middle of his first term with the Civil War raging around him, with over 600,000 lives lost revised recently upward to 750,000 lives lost. Just in the last five months that figure was revised. And with his wife on the edge of herself, the loss of his son two years before our film begins, Willy, a son lost in infancy before that, the fact that he came through this with a steady, moral compass and an even keel just amazes me.