Daniel Day-Lewis and Steven Spielberg talk LINCOLN – The man, his voice and his legacy

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Daniel Day-Lewis is the greatest living actor of our time. The man has more theatrical talent in his nose hairs than most of us have in our entire body, and has made his name in playing walking attention-singularities, just drawing in every gaze with his physical presence and booming voice.

And yet, with his latest outing in Steven Spielberg’s Abraham Lincoln biopic, Lincoln, his portrayal of the great orator and American President appears to be all reedy, high pitched voice and surprisingly lighthearted. But there’s a reason for that.

Day-Lewis and Spielberg spoke to a gathering of press at a Time Magazine-sponsored Q&A session in New York (reported by THR), after those in attendance had received a special screening of the film, where they revealed the methods to their madness. Here’s Day-Lewis on Lincoln’s voice:

“Well you look for the clues, as with any aspect of the work. You begin with the places that would have made a huge difference in his life. Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois, and the counties that he came from. There are some early recordings, but no contemporary recordings — lucky for me, so no one can say positively that it’s not what he sounded like.

“There are also a number of contemporary accounts about the quality of his voice, and I’m inclined to think that having had a voice that was intended to be in the higher register, tended to be placed more in the head tones, that helped him reach a greater number of people in his public speaking. Stump speaking was such a huge part of their lives, they spoke sometimes for two hours or more without notes, at that time regularly. And beyond that, I suppose it really was just an act of imagination.”

Lincoln would be the second film about the man to be released this year, which is rather unusual seeing as how little movies about Honest Abe there actually is. But with the first film, Timur Bekmambetov’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, trying to portray the great man as a horse jumping, axe wielding, kung fu fighting action hero, it’s almost certain that Day-Lewis will be remembered as the face of the 16th US president for a long time. Something which the British actor is very aware of.

“It’s a disturbing privilege. And for that very reason, I was extremely shy about taking on this wonderful task. I’m not keen on history being tampered with to a great extent, or any extent really, and I felt with this man particularly, that it might just be impossible to find the life in him that would help tell this story. And I hope to goodness that people that do see this film will not feel that this part of their history, which is so vital, has been misrepresented.”

That history is of course Lincoln’s passing of the 13 Amendment to the Constitution of the United States which abolished slavery, which is the period of Lincoln’s life that this film focuses on. Spielberg spoke about why he chose to use this particular period of Lincoln’s life, also addressed accusations about Lincoln’s politics.

“It couldn’t be the cutaway to the Second Wilderness Battle, or the cutaway to the snow melting, the spring thaw before the fourth year of battle was about to commence.It couldn’t be just that; that would have been a real movie. That would have been a different kind of a motion picture. That would have been a movie-movie. This needed to be inside Lincoln’s life, inside Lincoln’s process.”

“He believed that people were people. And he believed that from a very, very young age. There was the story where he explains the experience that he had, where his father showed him a slave barge. And that was his first real, less abstract and very visual concept of slavery, which his father abhorred and he abhorred.

“But he didn’t claim to be an abolitionist. He never ran on the abolitionist ticket – he wouldn’t have achieved presidency had he done that – he knew how to contort himself through political theater. But in terms of his racial outlook, he looked at everybody who is black and said, there is no difference. And as [ex-slave and leader of the Abolitionist Movement] Frederick Douglas said, he had never met a white man who looked at him for the color of his skin.”

With the possible exception of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, no other film being released in 2012 is more worthy of the label of “Oscar bait” than this one, but from what I can see it completely deserves it.

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Lincoln will be released internationally on November 16th, while a local release date has not yet been revealed.

Last Updated: October 29, 2012

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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