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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
3. At Spielberg's insistence, screenwriter Tony Kushner narrowed the scope of the movie to the short period it covers.
According to the LA Times, Kushner (“Angels In America”) wrestled with the script for five years. The “Munich” screenwriter (arguably Spielberg’s best movie in the last decade) missed multiple deadlines as he took it from a 500-page, mini-series-length first draft to a 149-minute feature. He and Spielberg couldn’t tame it to their liking, so Liam Neeson moved on to work on other projects.

The original drafts seemed much more sprawling, going stem-to-stern through Lincoln’s life. The Times says the draft that came to Day-Lewis in 2003, the one he turned down, was "less presidential and more about the Civil War."

Tommy Lee Jones in "Lincoln"
Tommy Lee Jones in "Lincoln"
4. British crew members were told not to speak to the notoriously methodical Daniel Day-Lewis in their normal accents. Day-Lewis sometimes spoke about contemporary pop culture in his high, and reedy Lincoln voice.
As you might imagine, Daniel Day-Lewis didn't break character between takes. “I just came to see him as the character. I assume he didn’t change the voice. Why would he?” Spielberg said.

The director and the actor were both concerned that actors speaking in their natural accents would distract Day-Lewis and inadvertently lapse into his normal accent so they were told only to speak to him with the American accents they had adopted for the role.

“It was sort of an extended improvisation,” Jared Harris, who plays Ulysses S. Grant in the movie, told the Times. “You didn’t go up to him and say, ‘Hey, did you see the Pirates game last night?’ It was important for him to retain the attitude, if you like, and the dialect he had created. So we would sit there and joke, for example, about the Vicksburg campaign.” He added, “At the end of the day sometimes we’d ride back in the car, and he’d stay in character but talk about ‘Mad Men,’ which of course he couldn’t know about, because television hadn’t been invented then.”

Interestingly enough, according to the New York Times, Kushner said that Day-Lewis warned him that once shooting began he would no longer be speaking to him and only to the director.

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


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