Steven Spielberg Reveals Letter from Daniel Day-Lewis that Initially Rejected ‘Lincoln’ Role
It’s given that Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln will win many Academy Awards. Not only did it score the most nominations, but it is the exact type of film that the Academy loves. And while it wouldn’t be a surprise to see masterful star (and Golden Globe winner) Daniel Day-Lewis get his third Oscar for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln (and he would also becoming the first actor to win three Best Actor Oscars), he actually almost passed on the role because he thought he’d rather watch the movie than star in it.
An actor as acclaimed as Day-Lewis doesn’t take just any project, and during Spielberg’s long process of trying to get Lincoln made Day-Lewis wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to star as the 16th President of the United States. To prove this, Spielberg revealed that Day-Lewis once wrote him a letter rejecting the role and made that letter public:
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 in which it describes 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.
Day-Lewis obviously changed his mind, since he eventually starred in the film. Still, it’s clearly something voters will have to consider as they vote for the Best Actor Oscar, and I guess nobody can fault Spielberg for trying to nudge voters in that direction.