I’m looking forward to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, but at the same time, it’s not one of my most-anticipated films of the year. I mean, it’s a Spielberg film, and it stars one of the (if not THE) greatest actors of all time, Daniel Day-Lewis, in what some say is the role he was born to play. DDL does look a great deal like Lincoln, and I have enough respect for DDL’s process and research that I’m guessing Daniel knows (better than me) how Lincoln sounded and what his mannerisms were. But is it weird that I still wonder if this film is going to be the slam-dunk that everyone seems to think it will be? First of all, it’s simply difficult to put all of Lincoln’s accomplishments, his epic American story, his presidency and his legacy and his genius into one little film. Second of all… there might be some people in the Academy who feel like Spielberg and DDL have already won enough awards, you know?
Anyway, Daniel has a new interview with the New York Times, and it’s a really good read. You can read the full thing here – it’s not a major, multi-page thing, but it just gives you a sense of how deep Daniel went into the role:
DDL doesn’t want to discuss his method: “There’s a tendency now to deconstruct and analyze everything and I think that’s a self-defeating part of the enterprise. It sounds pretentious, I know. I recognize all the practical work that needs to be done, the dirty work, which I love: the work in the soil, the rooting around in the hope that you might find a gem. But I need to believe that there is a cohesive mystery that ties all these things together, and I try not to separate them.”
Steven Spielberg says he didn’t question it either: “I never once looked the gift horse in the mouth. I never asked Daniel about his process. I didn’t want to know.”
DDL turned down the Lincoln role twice before finally accepting it: “I found it quite intriguing. I thought it was a great idea — for someone else.” Even after accepting the part, “I thought this is a very, very bad idea. 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.”
DDL studied the photographs Lincoln by Alexander Gardner: “I looked at them the way you sometimes look at your own reflection in a mirror and wonder who that person is looking back at you,” he said.
Deciding that Lincoln had a high-pitched voice: Day-Lewis has a private theory that higher voices carry better in crowds, and that made Lincoln such an effective orator. “All these things are variables, luckily for me,” he said, smiling. “No one can categorically say this is or isn’t what Lincoln sounded like.” For any part, he went on, he listens for a voice, and generally he hears it at some point. “That to me was a genuine breakthrough for Lincoln,” he said, adding that being able to reproduce a voice after you’ve heard it is another matter and so, sometimes, is holding on to it.
DDL knows he’s not Lincoln, but still: Mr. Day-Lewis said that he felt a “great sadness” when the movie was done and that he still feels connected to it. “I’m woefully one-track-minded,” he said. “Without sounding unhinged, I know I’m not Abraham Lincoln. I’m aware of that. But the truth is the entire game is about creating an illusion, and for whatever reason, and mad as it may sound, some part of me can allow myself to believe for a period for time without questioning, and that’s the trick.” He laughed. “Maybe it’s a terrible revelation about myself that one does feel able to do that.”
The NYT piece goes on and on about DDL’s epic preparations for every role, and quite honestly, it sounds exhausting. I fully acknowledge that he’s one of the most amazing actors to ever live, etc, etc, deserving of all of the accolades, etc. But I imagine his wife Rebecca Miller must put up with a lot, don’t you?
Oh, and the story includes a really funny anecdote from English actor Jared Harris, who plays General Ulysses S. Grant in the film and is also known as the late Lane Pryce on Mad Men, who admitted that all of the English actors were told not to use their natural accents around DDL, lest his Lincoln accent be tainted. But that’s not all! They even had to joke around IN CHARACTER. Jared Harris says: “It was sort of an extended improvisation. 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. 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.” Ha! Abraham Lincoln watches Mad Men.
Header photos courtesy of Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times, additional photos by WENN.
Written by Kaiser
Posted in Daniel Day Lewis
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