Steven Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis Discuss the ‘Wonderful Surprise’ of Exploring ‘Lincoln’
Their first collaboration is shaping up to be one of their most successful ventures yet.
Lincoln, which stars Lewis as the nation’s Sixteenth President, is garnering some of the best notices ever for its director and star.
The film is also proving to be a hit with audiences, with Lincoln tallying over $70 million at the domestic box office – an impressive number when considering the subject matter and the current box office competition (Skyfall, Breaking Dawn — Part 2).
Celebuzz was on hand to hear Spielberg and Lewis discuss how they collaborated to make one of the year’s best films. Here’s what they had to say:
Celebuzz: Mr. Spielberg, 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 iconic figure, what did you see as your greatest challenge in, in bringing him to life?
Steven Spielberg: I’ve just always had a personal fascination with the myth of Abraham Lincoln. 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 hasn’t been a lot of—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… 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: The wonderful surprise with that man is you begin to discover him… he kind of welcomes you in. He’s very accessible… That took me by surprise. I had everything to learn and because, you know, apart 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 what an important aspect of his character that was.
CB: When you’re taking on a particular section Lincoln’s life, how do you decide which section to dedicate the film to? And where that story stops?
SS: Well we had that discussion and, we tried to write the book [on which the movie is based]. Writer Tony Kushner, his first draft was 550 pages long. We needed to focus it on a working President and a father and a husband. You couldn’t do that if [the film] was just the greatest hits of Abraham Lincoln’s [presidency].
DDL: Well, I don’t think I ever did know it was the right choice, but [I guess] I ran out of excuses at a certain point… Not that I didn’t take it seriously from the word “Go”, but it seemed inconceivable to me that I could be the person to help him to do that thing that he wished to do. And I did not want to be responsible for irrevocably staining the reputation of the greatest President this country’s ever known. It seemed to me a very difficult thing to try and tell that story, very difficult to try and do that in such a way that it could live.
SS: I met Daniel eight years ago, and I couldn’t get him to agree to come down the road with me. It wasn’t until Tony Kushner’s script that, which was more about the Presidency than the battles and the Civil War, [it wasn’t until then] that I was able to get that first shoe through the door. And then we met in Ireland, and at that point, without putting any extra pressure on Daniel… but if he had finally and ultimately said no, I would never had made the movie Abraham Lincoln. It would never — It’d be gone.
DDL: I mean, it really was for me a combination of that meeting… And then when Tony went away to continue working, I read Doris’s book, and I think that really became the platform for me, as it had been for Steven and Tony, from which I could believe that there was a, there was a living being to be discovered there, because [Doris] makes that so beautifully clear in her book.
CB: Because we’re in a politically charged moment in time when people are going to see this film, and write about it in context to what’s happening today… Do you have any interest in seeing how people interpret that?
SS: Of course. And, by the way, here’s the good news. The good news is the Constitution, the Founding Fathers, put together the principles of a Democratic Government, which are so sound that the process from 150 years ago is not that much different than the process of today. I think that really is one of the values of holding up a mirror to all of us who can only experience what we experience and have no frame of reference except what we read or what we view in documentaries about that time… And I’m really excited to see how deeply people will reach to contemporize our film far beyond how it deserves to be contemporized.
Lincoln is currently playing in theaters. Watch the trailer below!
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