Daniel Day-Lewis: “I know I’m not Abraham Lincoln. I’m aware of that.”

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.”

[From The New York Times]

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.

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41 Responses to “Daniel Day-Lewis: “I know I’m not Abraham Lincoln. I’m aware of that.””

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  1. Scarlet Pimpernel says:

    Love DDL!

  2. Nar says:

    He’s brilliant.

    • ahoyhoy says:

      Totally. His methods may sound weird, but I don’t question them; I see what they produce.

      For the record, I thought DDL in “My Left Foot” was actually disabled, so he had me at Christy Brown.

      • TheOriginalKitten says:

        So many people haven’t even seen My Left Foot. It was the first movie I ever saw him in and he blew me away. I completely agree that he can justify what might seem like unconventional acting methods if his outstanding performances warrant it.

      • SusieQ2 says:

        He was absolutely fantastic in that film. Totally convincing.
        I remember he beat Tom Cruise for the Oscar that year.

      • Mira says:

        Love My Left Foot. But I liked his Oscar acceptance style better. He walked up the stage so slowly, in a relaxed way and spoke in a very soft, relaxed tone. That was more epic! Not to forget his poetic Oscar speech for There Will be Blood…he compared the statue to a bludgeon…fuck, that was amazing. Words dropped off his mouth naturally in a poetic form.

      • Beatriz says:

        He was amazing in My left foot, I watched it a couple of years ago and am watching it right now as we speak on TCM 😀

  3. Katyusha says:

    I think this will be super-duper great; in an epic way.

  4. dooliloo says:

    My favourite film of him is In The Name Of The Father… He gave me goosebumps!

    There Will Be Blood comes close second.

    Oh and Jared Harris.. Love that guy he’s a terrific actor! He’s channelling his late dad aura sometimes it’s creepy O_O

  5. bea says:

    He IS the greatest actor of our time as well as being a stone cold fox. Looking forward to Lincoln, he looks perfect as him.

  6. Naye in VA says:

    I read a piece somewhere that said based on where Lincoln was from and the time period, he probably would have sounded much like DDL does in the movie. Kind of excited to see this.

    • ahoyhoy says:

      Yes…Lincoln is recorded in history as having a high-pitched voice, and an (1800’s) Indiana accent.

  7. Shitler says:

    I’m so excited for this!!

  8. Jayna says:

    His wife doesn’t have to put up with it much, really, because he does films so few and far between. They live out in the country. He loves carpentry and loves doing that and is really talented in that way. He is with his wife and children. I read an article on him and was fascinated how he lives his life in between roles, so lowkey in the area he lives in, which I’ve forgotten where.

    The man is flatout brilliant in his roles. He said he turned it down several times when offered until Liam Neeson (who had been attached to it for years but the times never worked out and committed to other roles) talked to him and told him to do it.

    I am still not sure about the high-pitched voice. As long as it’s not annoyingly high, I trust his judgment. I hope this movie is epic an dgreat, because I love a historical movie when done right.

    I think this movie is about just one specific period of time with Lincoln I think I vaguely remember reading form Spielberg, so it’s not covering his entire life or presidency.

    • Mira says:

      He lives on an estate in County Wicklow, Ireland. It’s supposed to be in the mountains of Wicklow.

  9. Ranunculus says:

    He has the reputation for being the ultimate method actor. He insisted to throw real bowling balls at Paul Dano and the crew had to refer to him as his characters name in “There Will Be Blood”
    He was amazing in that one (as was Paul Dano, who had only very few time to prepare for his role, because the actor who was initially cast was completely intimidated by Lewis), but in interviews he seems to be a real full-of-himself-idiot.

  10. LadyMTL says:

    I’m actually very excited to see this…when Spielberg is really on his game the results are fantastic. Plus DDL is amazing no matter what so yeah, I’m thinking this will win all the awards, lol.

  11. Bird says:

    Stay alive, Daniel Day-Lewis! I WILL find you.

    • Ducky la Rue says:

      And THAT’s my favourite DDL film. Everyone else goes for the epic, I go for the pretty. 🙂

    • megsie says:

      Oh, yes! That might be precisely the moment I fell in love with Mr Lewis.

      Astoundingly brilliant actor. We too generously allow mere celebrities to claim that word, but Lewis is the real deal. I am very much looking forward to this film.

    • Cali says:

      I feel in love with DDL at 16 when I saw Last of the Mohicans and have followed him every since then. I still listen to that soundtrack too :-).

  12. Tiffany says:

    The film is suppose to cover the last months of his life. I am excited for this film and I don’t believe that it will disappoint. I am pretty sure there will be some weak moments, but with a cast like this can more than carry it.

  13. arock says:

    this should be amazing, hes such a brilliant actor. his choice of roles is so well thought out theres no doubt the energy put into this will make it a stand out performance. and hes hot;)

  14. Eleonor says:

    I wonder if even Lincoln can’t stand the stupid Megan character.
    DDL is one of my foreverdong: talented as hell, and one of the hottest men on earth.

    • j.eyre says:

      “I wonder if even Lincoln can’t stand the stupid Megan character.” – Ha! maybe Lincoln could get rid of her.

  15. keats says:

    Was this filmed in Pittsburgh? The pirates get a shoutout, and that basically never happens. If there’s another pirates fan out there, I must know!!

  16. Happy21 says:

    I’m so looking forward to seeing this movie! So much in fact that I have entered to win passes to the local premiere like 15 times!

  17. LucyOriginal says:

    He is one my favorite actors, if not my favorite!

    I cannot believe I missed him at NYFF, :(. People who saw the movie as the secret screening this year at NYFF were really impressed. I cannot wait to see it.

  18. citygirlsf says:

    God, he gets better-looking every year. He’s sexier now than ever.

  19. Scarlet Vixen says:

    I actually saw this movie last week! I was a history major and love Civil War era American history, so even tho I love DDL I definitely went into it cautiously. He was MESMORIZING. Most movies you go to see with an A-list actor it’s difficult to separate the actor from the character–every Tom Hanks or Tom Cruis movie I see it’s just Tom playing a part. I really felt in this movie that I was watching Abraham Lincoln. DDL put so much thought into his chuckle, his walk, his squint, etc.

    Oh, and it doesn’t cover his entire life–it only covers a few months at the end of Lincoln’s term where he’s trying to get the House of Representatives to pass the 13th amendment abolishing slavery.

  20. Jen says:

    The movie’s based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals”, so it shouldn’t be the whole scope of Lincoln’s life, just his complex relationship with his cabinet during his presidency.

    Sometimes I can find Spielberg’s films to be a bit schmaltzy for my tastes, but this looks quite good. But I’d see it no matter the director, because I find DDL fantastic.

  21. Ella says:

    It’s been a while since I heard a good joke about the Vicksburg campaign.

  22. Issa says:

    I can’t wait to see this movie!!!! It is my most antcipated movie this year. The book Team of Rivals is a great book, and a lot of the movie is based on it. DDL is no doubt one of greatest living actors. His co-actors are saying he’s thoughtful, nice, shy, and texts poetry a lot, lol. He always has a lot of respect from other actors. So he’s probably a descent man to receive so many compliments. BTW…..he’s IMO one the most beautiful men in Hollywood.

  23. mollination says:

    I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. We got to screen the film last night here in Seattle, and first of all, it’s 2.5 hours. It’s no quick dip. But they did such an amazing job of focusing on him as a person, that all of the things he accomplished don’t need to be touched on. It centers around the vote for the 13th ammendment, and frankly, it’s enough (what with us all knowing history) to put ALL of his legacy into context. It blew me away, and I’m not usually into period pieces or historical take films. It was very well done.

  24. Ariel says:

    Wow, unexpected Mad Men spoiler.. thanks.

  25. EmmaStoneWannabe says:

    I love to hear how some of the character actors actually do stay in character between takes…I remember reading about Meryl Streep when she was filming Prada..she apparently never cut up on set. Said she would have to stay away from the cast between takes so as not to get distracted from her villianness…pretty intense, but it must work for these people! Wonder if Depp/Jack Sparrow was the same way..