As important as the story of the 16th president is, the reason why people will go to see Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is because of the pedigree of the director and the performance of its star, Daniel Day-Lewis. But what’s impressive about the film is that once the lights have gone out and the projection has started, you are completely sucked into the 19th century world that the duo creates. In order to achieve this effect both Spielberg and Day-Lewis had to delve deep into the life of Abraham Lincoln, and that was the topic at hand when they spoke recently during a press conference in Los Angeles.
During the conversation, in which I participated, the director and the star touched on a multitude of subjects, including Day-Lewis’ initial hesitation towards taking on the role, the humor of the Civil War president, Lincoln’s relationship with his son, and why it may be misguided to see the film in a modern context. Check it out!
Steven, it seems like you’ve been wanting to do this all your life. What made this a passion project for you? And for Daniel, this is an iconic figure, what did you see as your greatest challenge in bringing him to life?
Daniel Day-Lewis: Apart from everything you mean?
Steven Spielberg: Okay, you want me to go first?
Daniel Day-Lewis: I’m finished.
Steven Spielberg: [Laughs] I’ve just always had a personal fascination with the myth of Abraham Lincoln, and once you start to read about him and the Civil War and everything leading up to the Civil War you start to understand that the myth is created when we think we understand a character and we reduce him to a kind of cultural national stereotype. Lincoln has been reduced to statuary over the last 60 years or more, because there’s been more written about Lincoln than movies made about him or television portraying him. He’s kind of a stranger to our industry, to this medium. You have to go back to the 1930s to find a movie that’s just about Abraham Lincoln. So, I just found that my fascination with Lincoln, which started as a child, got to the point where after reading so much about him I thought there was a chance to tell a segment of his life to moviegoers, and that’s how this whole fascination began.
Daniel Day-Lewis: I think really the most obvious thing is connected to what Steven was saying, is trying to approach a man’s life that has been mythologized to that extent in such a way that you can get close enough to properly represent it. And I just wasn’t sure that I would be able to do that. Beyond that, I felt that probably I absolutely shouldn’t do that and somebody should do it instead, but [laughs]
Steven Spielberg: It was hard to get him to say yes [laughs].
Daniel Day-Lewis: The wonderful surprise with that man is you begin to discover him, and there are many different ways in which you can do that. He kinda welcomes you in. He’s very accessible. That, that took me by surprise.