More often than not, it takes quite a long time to bring a movie together, even when Steven Spielberg is your director. Case in point: it took several years to finally bring Spielberg's movie about the last four months of Abraham Lincoln's life to the big screen. At one point Liam Neeson was supposed to star as the 16th president, and earlier drafts of the film were apparently a lot heavier on Civil War action, with Spielberg noting last night during the New York Film Critics Circle Awards that one draft was a lot more like Saving Private Ryan than the politically heavy version that's now in theaters.
That earlier version of the film was also offered to Daniel Day-Lewis, and for the first time during last night's awards dinner, Spielberg read Day-Lewis' letter to him turning down the role of Abraham Lincoln as he presented him with the Best Actor award. Here's the letter below, transcribed by Matt Singer over at Criticwire:
It was a real pleasure just to sit and talk with you. I listened very carefully to what you had to say about this compelling history, and I've since read the script and found it -- in all the detail of which it descries these monumental events and in the compassionate portraits of all the principle characters -- both powerful and moving. I can't account for how at any given moment I feel the need to explore one life as opposed to another. But I do know that I can only do this work if I feel almost as if there's no choice. That a subject coincides inexplicably with a very personal need and a very specific moment in time. In this case, as fascinated as I was by "Abe," it was the fascination of a grateful spectator who longed to see a story told rather than that of a participant. That's how I feel now in spite of myself, and though I can't be sure this won't change, I couldn't dream of encouraging you to keep it open on a mere possibility. I do hope this makes sense Steven. I'm glad you're making the film. I wish you the strength for it and I send both my very best wishes and my sincere gratitude to you for having considered me."
Luckily for us, Spielberg didn't take no for an answer, and Tony Kushner's script eventually convinced the actor to take on the role. What, exactly, changed his mind? We're not sure. Less action, maybe? A story that revolved more around Lincoln, the man, husband and leader, than the war itself? It's almost as if Spielberg's determination to put Day-Lewis in Lincoln's shoes echoes the actor's own letter to him. It was as if there was no other choice. It had to be him.
Read more of Spielberg's touching speech over at Criticwire
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