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Spielberg Chased Daniel Day-Lewis For 9 Years, Wanted Him Before Liam Neeson To Play ‘Lincoln' & More About The Film

The Playlist By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist November 7, 2012 at 1:03PM

Now that President Obama is back for a second term, some Oscar pundits are claiming Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the titular leader, is a shoo-in lock for a Best Picture win at the Oscars. We wouldn’t go that far, but the political drama, which hit theaters this weekend, is certainly going to be up for a handful of Oscar nominations at the very least.
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Lincoln, Spielberg, Day-Lewis

Now that President Obama is back for a second term, some Oscar pundits are claiming Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the titular leader, is a shoo-in lock for a Best Picture win at the Oscars. We wouldn’t go that far, but the political drama, which hit theaters this weekend, is certainly going to be up for a handful of Oscar nominations at the very least.

And while we weren't overly impressed by our first look at the movie in October, calling it somewhat of a dry history lesson, we also said the movie was about as thrilling as the examination of a ratification of an amendment could be. However, the story of Spielberg's passion project is a fascinating one. It’s been at least a decade in the making, with different leads attached (Liam Neeson as Lincoln at one point) and whenever the notoriously choosy Daniel Day-Lewis eventually gets involved in a film, there’s always a good story to be told. “Daniel was like a feasibility study to see whether he would allow himself to go near [the role],” Spielberg said of the actor's tentative decision making.

Thus, with the election in our rearview mirror and “Lincoln” in theaters this weekend, here’s seven things we learned from the film at the press conference in October and via various press outlets.

Daniel Day-Lewis Lincoln
1. While many know this “Lincoln” project started with Liam Neeson in the lead, Daniel Day-Lewis was actually the first actor Spielberg went after.
According to the New York Times profile on Daniel Day-Lewis this weekend, Spielberg approached the actor for the role in 2003 with a very different script. He didn’t like it and thought the idea of playing this figure was preposterous. And Spielberg himself confirmed this during the “Lincoln” press conference.

“The timeline was simply -- I approached Daniel first to play Lincoln eight, nine years ago. We had a very healthy flirt about possibly doing this together. He turned me down,” he laughed. “And then Liam. And then we both decided to do other things. And then I came back to Daniel.”

Why Neeson left is unclear, but during the press conference, Spielberg said, "We both decided" to move on. Day-Lewis made pains to explain that he and Neeson are friends and tried to explain further, noting that he would have “never considered” the role if his friend was still attached.

“From the moment that Liam decided it was not no longer something that he would be engaged with... he has been in touch with me about it since, and has given me incredible encouragement and in the most generous possible way,” he said. “I was undecided about whether I should do it he gave me encouragement towards that decision as well. “

Tim blake nelson, James Spader, Lincoln
2. While Day-Lewis liked the new script that came to him in 2009, he still didn’t want to play the part.
The new and improved “intimate storytelling approach” was what helped to convince the notoriously selective Day-Lewis according to the LA Times. Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner flew to Ireland to try and persuade him to take the role based on their new script.

“I found it quite intriguing,” Day-Lewis said of the script that landed in front of him in 2009. “I thought it was a great idea — for someone else.” Even after he had accepted the part, he wasn’t convinced he was making the right choice. “I thought this is a very, very bad idea,” he said. “But by that time it was too late. I had already been drawn into Lincoln’s orbit. He has a very powerful orbit, which is interesting because we tend to hold him at such a distance. He’s been mythologized almost to the point of dehumanization. But when you begin to approach him, he almost instantly becomes welcoming and accessible, the way he was in life.”

Spielberg said that after some 10 years in development, he would have scrapped the project had Day-Lewis turned it down. “At that point I had just accepted the fact that I would make 'Lincoln' if Daniel decided to play him, and I would not make 'Lincoln' had Daniel decided not to play him,” he said in the press conference. “It was as simple as that.” According to the New York Times, Day-Lewis studied Lincoln for over a year, pouring over every book he could find and studying photographs of the president.

This article is related to: Interviews, Lincoln, Steven Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis


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