Spielberg Reveals 'Lincoln' Rejection Letter from Daniel Day-Lewis
Though the historical drama Lincoln from Steven Spielberg is now getting plenty of accolades and acclaim this awards season (it was just nominated for a DGA award), but it's been a long road to get here. The film had been in the works for years with Liam Neeson once attached to the role, but after years of waiting and on-and-off development, Spielberg set his sights on the picky Daniel Day-Lewis to play our nation's 16th president. But getting the movie made wasn't as simple as that decision since the Oscar-winning star of There Will Be Blood, Gangs of New York and My Left Foot actually turned Spielberg down.
In fact, Spielberg finally revealed the letter Day-Lewis sent him to pass on the first version of the film. As you read the actor's description of the historical figure in the first attempt at the script, you can tell Lincoln was once much different. Here's the letter Spielberg read at the NY Film Critics Circle awards (via THR):
It was a real pleasure just so 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 in which it describe these monumental events and in the compassionate portraits of all the principal characters, both powerful and moving. I can’t account for how at any given moment I feel the need to explore life as opposed to another, but I do know that I can only do this work if I feel almost as if there is 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 that 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.
After reading the letter, Spielberg explained that he had the script completely rewritten, but was again turned down by the actor. Finally, that led Spielberg to try one more time with the help of writer Tony Kushner. What began as a 500-page script was narrowed down to the film that we saw in theaters, and it was that version of Abraham Lincoln, with his heart on his sleeve, and his sons' future uncertain, that really struck a chord with Day-Lewis. The story of a political leader struggling with passing the 13th amendment and the influence of his family and closest colleagues in such a tumultuous time is one of the finest films of the year (which is why it's #4 in my Best Films of 2012). But how will Lincoln fare with Oscar? Stay tuned.