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Liam Neeson Explains Why He Wasn't Right For 'Lincoln,' Still Wants To Play Role In "Old-Fashioned Biography"

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist March 27, 2014 at 12:54PM

While he's primarily known these days for growling through one B-movie action flick after another, had things gone differently, we might have seen a more presidential side to Liam Neeson. For years, the actor was attached to Steven Spielberg's long developing "Lincoln," before he bowed out and made way for Daniel Day-Lewis. In fact, Day-Lewis was actually Spielberg's first choice for the part, but the actor initially turned him down. Persistence eventually paid off and worked out well for everybody, but what about Neeson? Well he bears no grudges and explains why he let the role go.
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While he's primarily known these days for growling through one B-movie action flick after another, had things gone differently, we might have seen a more presidential side to Liam Neeson. For years, the actor was attached to Steven Spielberg's long developing "Lincoln," before he bowed out and made way for Daniel Day-Lewis. In fact, Day-Lewis was actually Spielberg's first choice for the part, but the actor initially turned him down. Persistence eventually paid off and worked out well for everybody, but what about Neeson? Well he bears no grudges and explains why he let the role go.

Speaking with GQ, Neeson talks at length about what happened with his involvement on the project, revealing that it was during a table read with the script by Tony Kushner, when a lightbulb went off in the actor's head, and he realized he wasn't going to be able to do it. "We started reading this, and there was an intro, and then I see 'Lincoln:' where I have to start speaking, and I just—a thunderbolt moment. I thought, 'I'm not supposed to be here. This is gone. I've passed my sell-by date. I don't want to play this Lincoln. I can't be him.' " Neeson said.

"So the next two and a half, three hours of reading through it... This extraordinary piece of writing, but it had no connection with me whatsoever. It was a very strange feeling, and it was partly grief. I read very, very poorly by any standards, but then some people come up afterward and say, 'Oh, you're made to play Lincoln.' I just was cringing with embarrassment," he continued. "Afterward, Steven came over, and I said, 'Steven, you have to recast this now.' And he said, 'What are you talking about?' And I said, 'I'm serious. You have to recast it.' So I went back home, and that night I called ['Team Of Rivals' author] Doris [Kearns Goodwin], and I had a wee chat with her. And then I called Steven, and I said, 'Steven, this is not for me. I can't explain it. It's gone. It's not...' And he got it. He said, 'Okay.' And that was it."

And yet, despite all of that—and calling Day-Lewis's performance "perfect"—Neeson still feels the itch to play the great American President, and still has a desire to make movie about him. Although one with a bit of a different flavor. "I'd still like to do Lincoln's story. As much as I admired the film, there's all of America and all of the rest of the world who haven't a fucking clue who Lincoln is, who he was," the actor said. "I think the film shows him, yes, but I think I'd still like to do an old-fashioned biography of Lincoln."

It's an interesting thought, and perhaps it would be nice for Neeson to transition out of playing the wearied action hero. But can anyone touch what DDL accomplished in Spielberg's film? Can Neeson? Let us know below.

This article is related to: Lincoln, Liam Neeson


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