: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee JonesDirector
: Steven Spielberg Genre
: Biography, Drama, HistoryRated
: MRunning Time
: 153 minutesSynopsis
: Steven Spielberg directs two-time Academy Award® winner Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, a revealing drama that focuses on the 16th President's tumultuous final months in office. In a nation divided by war and the strong winds of change, Lincoln pursues a course of action designed to end the war, unite the country and abolish slavery. With the moral courage and fierce determination to succeed, his choices during this critical moment will change the fate of generations to come.Release Date
: February 7th, 2013 Website
About the Film"If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong."
-Abraham Lincoln, in a letter dated December 1865
In the final four months of Abraham Lincoln's life and presidency, the full measure of the man-his passion and his humanity-came to bear on his defining battle: to plot a forward path for a shattered nation, against overwhelming odds and extreme public and personal pressure.
Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" provides an intimate immersion into the American leader's most perilous and revealing moments, at a time when the dark shadow of slavery lifts and a country torn by war must be made whole.
A rich human drama plays out as Lincoln doubles down to end the devastating Civil War not merely by ending the war but by fighting to pass the 13th Amendment, permanently abolishing slavery. It will be an act of true national daring. He will have to call upon all the skill, courage and moral fortitude for which he'll become legend. He will grapple with the impact of his actions on the world and on those he loves. But what lies in the balance is what always mattered most to Lincoln: to compel the American people, and those in his government of opposite persuasions, to alter course and aim higher, toward a greater good for all mankind.
Brought to life via a layered screenplay by Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner, Steven Spielberg's starkly human storytelling and the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis leading an accomplished cast, the film invites audiences directly into the heart and soul of Lincoln's final achievements. The Lincoln who emerges is a man of raw paradoxes: funny and solemn, a playful storyteller and fierce power broker, a shrewd commander and a vulnerable father. But in his nation's darkest hour, when the times demand the very best of people, he reaches from within himself for something powerful and everlasting.
Twentieth Century Fox and DreamWorks Pictures present in association with Participant Media "Lincoln," a film directed by Steven Spielberg from a screenplay written by Tony Kushner, based in part on the book "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The film's cast is headed by Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook and Tommy Lee Jones. The producers are Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy and the executive producers are Daniel Lupi, Jeff Skoll and Jonathan King.
Steven Spielberg joins with his long-trusted team behind the camera: director of photography Janusz Kaminski, production designer Rick Carter, costume designer Joanna Johnston, editor Michael Kahn and composer John Williams-whose talents combine to make the war-torn world that Lincoln irrevocably changed in 1865 a visceral, contemporary experience. Finding Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln has long existed on the razor's edge between myth and flesh-and-blood man.
Yet, now more than ever, Lincoln occupies the public imagination. Perhaps it is because his very silhouette has morphed into a global symbol of the hope that power can be wielded judiciously. Perhaps it is because he was the only U.S. president to stare down the real possibility that the grand experiment of an American Union might be forever abolished. Or perhaps it is because his very life reveals that flawed, complicated human beings can accomplish the incredible, and inspire even those ensnared in war and dark legacies to switch directions and come together.
The idea of Lincoln, and the rarely seen but captivatingly human side of Lincoln, has haunted filmmaker Steven Spielberg since childhood. Since then, he has been reading about Lincoln, thinking about Lincoln and becoming increasingly certain that Lincoln's intensely eventful life is rife with stories that are not only inherently cinematic but are also increasingly relevant to our times.
"I've always been interested in telling a story about Lincoln. He's one of the most compelling figures in all of history and in my life," says Steven Spielberg. "I can remember being four or five years old when I first saw the Lincoln Memorial and being terribly frightened by the scale of the statue in that chair but then, as I got closer and closer, becoming completely captivated by his visage. I'll never forget that moment and it left me wondering about that man sitting high above me in that chair."
The more Steven Spielberg learned about Lincoln throughout his life, the more that sense of wonder grew. He continues: "Lincoln guided our country through its worst moments and allowed the ideals of American democracy to survive and assured the end of slavery. But I also wanted to make a film that would show how multifaceted Lincoln was. He was a statesman, a military leader, but also a father, a husband and a man who was always, continuously looking deep inside himself. I wanted to tell a story about Lincoln that would avoid the mistakes of both cynicism and hero worship and be true to the vastness of who he was and the intimacy of his life and the softer angles of his nature."
It would take Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner, who previously collaborated on "Munich" together, a decade to find precisely the right story to tell, and the way they wanted to tell it. And when they did, surprisingly, it was a story that homed in on just a few short, powerful months in Lincoln's life. Those few months would illuminate the essence of the man-as a political genius, as an anguished family man and, most of all, as a courageous defender of the United States of America.
Says Steven Spielberg: "We came to focus on the last four months of Lincoln's life because what he accomplished in that time was truly monumental. However, we wanted to show that he himself was a man, not a monument. We felt our best hope of doing justice to this immensely complicated person was to depict him in the midst of his most complex fight: to pass the 13th Amendment on the floor of the House of Representatives."
This compact, immersive concept for the film enlivened Steven Spielberg. It would, when all was said and done, engage his filmmaking instincts on a different level than any film that has come before in his extensively diverse filmography.
"My movies more often are told through pictures, not words. But in this case, the pictures took second position to the incredible words of Abraham Lincoln and his presence," Steven Spielberg explains. "With 'Lincoln,' I was less interested in an outpouring of imagery than in letting the most human moments of this story evolve before us."
In stripping Lincoln's final days down to their most electrifying yet stark moments of debate, political machinations, family ties and private fears and hopes, Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner uncovered the gripping-and unpredictably human-nature of a democracy's greatest battle in action. "The film does have quite a bit of suspense," he notes, "and it could, at times, even be seen as a kind of political thriller."
Longtime Steven Spielberg producing partner Kathleen Kennedy agrees that the film takes an interesting turn in the ongoing evolution of the director's career. "Steven Spielberg has always loved history and has made many movies with a historical context-'Empire of the Sun,' 'Schindler's List,' 'Saving Private Ryan'-and I think he recognised that some of the most interesting characters came from history," she observes. "But Steven Spielberg knew that with 'Lincoln,' he wouldn't create a conventional biopic. Instead, he and Tony attempted to find the most intimate way to show the power of Lincoln's achievements as President, through the exploration of the end of slavery and other key events that took place during his presidency." Team Of Rivals
From the start, Steven Spielberg was acutely aware of a near-infinite library of books that approach Lincoln from a stunning array of perspectives. However, he was longing for a fresh, and more directly human, take. He found that in Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," which, on its publication in 2005, became a mega-bestseller, breaking out from the biography shelves as a must-read page-turner.
Steven Spielberg started talking intently to Doris Kearns Goodwin about her book several years before she even finished it. They met at the Millennium celebration in Washington where he asked her what she was working on. He took a profound interest in it and it was several years before it was finished. "He was out making other movies, and every now and then he'd call from the set and ask, 'Well, what did Lincoln do today?' Then one day, he optioned the book," she recalls.
When it was released, the rousing reaction to Doris Kearns Goodwin's book revealed that she had hit upon a part of Lincoln that people were hungry to know more about right now: how he made profound national changes for the better in such fiercely divided times. The "team of rivals" in the title refers to the three opponents Lincoln vied against in the 1860 presidential election-only to invite each bitterly defeated competitor into his cabinet. This bold move would embody Lincoln's most outstanding qualities: his talent for getting along with his opponents, his political genius and his steady compass always pointing to the universal truths of justice and civil rights and a more perfect union.
It would also lie at the heart of perhaps his most singular accomplishment: moving the nation to support "the new birth of freedom" and end the unconscionable practice of slavery at the conclusion of the Civil War-not just symbolically but via a constitutional amendment that would make abolition a permanent foundation of the law of the land.
How did he do it? Doris Kearns Goodwin says he was driven by understanding the unthinkable consequences of not succeeding. "I think it was key for Lincoln to get the 13th Amendment passed, because if it was part of our Constitution-and he so revered the U.S. Constitution-then he knew slavery would be undone in this country forever and ever. So he put all of his political skills, every bit of his human relationships, every bit of his ability to work his inner circle, into passing the 13th Amendment passing. Then, and only then, could he know that slavery had finally ended."
She adds: "I think it came down to the belief he always had about this country-that it could be, as he often said, a beacon of hope around the world."
Steven Spielberg found the entirety of Doris Kearns Goodwin's book riveting. "You could find a feature- length film story on very nearly every page of Doris Kearns Goodwin's book," muses the director. "But the most important thing was the spirit of the man she captured. Whatever else we did, I felt it was essential to be absolutely true to that."
Early on, Doris Kearns Goodwin invited Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner to sit at a roundtable of Lincoln experts to give them a sense of the challenging territory they'd be diving into-and she was taken aback by how well they fit right in. "It was an incredible day," she recalls. "Afterwards, I got e-mail from all these historians about how stunned they were at how much Steven Spielberg knew about Lincoln, the Civil War, abolition, Mary, everything. Right after, Tony Kushner and I started e-mailing each other back and forth about every aspect of Lincoln, and I was convinced no two people could do a better job than they could." A 500-Page Screenplay and a Breakthrough
Steven Spielberg always felt that Tony Kushner-who won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for his play "Angels in America" and who turned explosive contemporary events into the Oscar®- nominated screenplay for "Munich"-had the kind of intricate mind and deep love of American history that would allow him to turn Doris Kearns Goodwin's book into a screenplay.
Tony Kushner, too, was riveted by the book, but he was certain no single film could begin to encapsulate the entire 800-page colossus. "Her book is an amazing and thrilling act of storytelling," he says. "It is also the living definition of something that cannot be turned into a two-hour movie. It's so incredibly packed with intense events and wonderful characters; there was no possibility of finding a narrative path all the way through it."
Finding a different way into "Lincoln" would become a gauntlet. Tony Kushner abandoned an early attempt to explore Lincoln's life from 1863 until his death two years later because it was still far too epic a narrative.
Inspired, Tony Kushner tackled a draft and produced a 500-page screenplay, a veritable brick of a manuscript, which he gave to Steven Spielberg. The director recalls: "It was one of the most brilliant things I had ever read-but it was sprawling, epic, and just impractical as a motion picture. As I read it, though, I thought that the most compelling thing of all that Tony Kushner had done was a 70-page stretch on the fight to pass the 13th Amendment."
Tony Kushner dove back into writing for another two years, trying to trim that draft into a leaner version. Then, out of the blue, he received a call from Steven Spielberg.
"I was driving in Connecticut when he called on the cell phone," Tony Kushner recalls. "He said, 'I'm going to make a suggestion that you might think is crazy, but what if we focus just on the month of January and the passage of the 13th Amendment?' I remember I had to pull my car over because I started to feel dizzy. Steven Spielberg said, 'I find this part of the story enormously exciting and moving.' And the more he spoke, the more I felt this was a daring decision and was going to really surprise people. This was going to be a story about Lincoln with which most people are unfamiliar."
He continues: "We both felt it was incredibly timely, because in this day and age when so many people have lost faith in the idea of governance, it's a story that shows that you can achieve miraculous, beautiful things through the democratic system. That month was also a lens through which you could see Lincoln with real clarity. It had all the ingredients that characterise him-his family life, his emotional life and his political genius. And it had the suspense of a real crisis. He faced a central dilemma: could he accomplish the end of human slavery while holding the Union together, and could he do it before the Confederacy surrendered?"
Narrowing the focus blew all of Tony Kushner's intensive research wide open and allowed him now to show Lincoln as he'd always wanted, as a real man engaged, day by day, moment by moment, in the grit and muck of politics-but driven by a larger vision for the nation and the future of his children.
The new draft also allowed Tony Kushner to zero in on some of the controversies over Lincoln's methods and beliefs. For example, Tony Kushner did not want to sidestep Lincoln's apparent support at times for allowing slavery to continue in order to preserve the Union. However, he emphasises the idea that Lincoln was attempting to walk a tightrope. "He was doing an astonishing balancing act by simultaneously trying to advance the idea that the Civil War must end with abolishing slavery and also convincing the North that their children were not dying to end slavery. This understanding of accepting a means to an end, I believe, is part of what made him a great president."
Tony Kushner also did not want to whitewash the emergency powers that Lincoln claimed during the war-the most Draconian ever utilised in the United States, including the suspension of habeas corpus and outright media censorship. "Unquestionably, Lincoln stretched the balance of powers in unprecedented ways-but out of necessity as he saw it to prosecute the war effectively and hold the Union together. Occasionally, I think he went beyond where he was sure the courts would follow. These are further questions of means and ends that are very much at the heart of the film we've made," he explains.
Those questions become something human and alive in Tony Kushner's screenplay through a ground-level realism and a dynamic immersion into the atmosphere of Lincoln's Washington, D.C. Seamlessly woven into this intimate probing of Lincoln are more than 140 characters, many of which are huge personalities and fascinating figures in their own right. "The storytelling process was very tricky," Tony Kushner admits. "But I love doing exposition because it's like a mental puzzle, putting all these pieces together. My belief is that audiences are really smart and I also trusted that my script would be in the hands of one of the greatest constructors of film narrative in history."
While Tony Kushner utilised his decade of exhaustive research and plucked many real phrases from historical records for the characters, much of what he wrote came from a mix of research and imagination. "One of the great things about this story is that we know that these events occurred but we don't know very much about what was said, so that gave me a certain amount of license and I was glad to have it. Writing this screenplay was, as it could only be, an act of interpretation," he summarises.
That was part of the script's beauty, says Steven Spielberg. "Tony Kushner immersed himself in the language of the period, and then recaptured it in his own way. It became a hybrid of historical research and Tony Kushner's remarkable artistry with language," he observes.
Tony Kushner was especially careful to delineate the 180-degree differences in party politics in 1865 versus 2012. "It can be confusing to us today that Democrats were the conservative party of that era, the party made up of Southern secessionists, while Republicans were progressive, pro-government, even radical," he explains. "It's interesting the way they have traded places."
Throughout the process of writing the screenplay, Tony Kushner used Doris Kearns Goodwin as a trusted resource. She, too, was excited by the decision to whittle the scope to a narrow window that was a microcosm of Lincoln. "You get everything about Lincoln in this story that I tried to convey in my book," she notes. "You get his melancholy, his sense of humour and his deep convictions about the importance of this amendment. You get his willingness to bear the weight of knowing that the war is going to go on longer because there would be no compromise on slavery. You get his interior fighting with himself. You get the people he trusted around him. And you get his political skills, centre stage, in this battle. By choosing the 13th Amendment as the story, the film captures at once the humanity, the political vision and the terrible weight of the presidency on Lincoln."
The final screenplay riveted everyone who read it. "Tony Kushner's writing is absolutely captivating," says Kathleen Kennedy. "He filled the script with so many layers that you are drawn into every little detail of Lincoln's world."
Tony Kushner had complete faith that Steven Spielberg could bring that world to life, even though it would take an unusual approach. "Steven Spielberg re-invents himself often. There are certainly elements you can find in all his films that are Spielbergian but there are also enormous stylistic differences from film to film. He really adapts himself to the story he is telling," he says. "Still, when I saw the final film, the starkness of it really struck me. Steven Spielberg created something that feels very handmade, with a real ground-eye view into what Lincoln was seeing and feeling. It's very Lincolnian in spirit-modest, quiet and focused-which I think also describes Daniel Day-Lewis' performance."
Doris Kearns Goodwin, who knows Lincoln's world as well as any living person could, agrees. She says that what Steven Spielberg was able to do was to hew out a living history-a visceral reality that brings people closer to an icon than they've ever been. "There's probably no one else who could have directed 'Lincoln' and made him come to life with all of his humanity and, at the same time, tell a story that will appeal to large numbers of people and isn't just a biopic about Lincoln. I think Steven felt that responsibility throughout," she observes. "This film gives Lincoln to people in a lasting way. I hope it inspires people to believe again in the possibility of leadership." Daniel Day-Lewis' Interpretation
The man audiences get to know in "Lincoln" is a hero, but a complex, contradictory, even flawed hero in the modern sense of the term. Lincoln's battle to pass the 13th Amendment was not only a turning point for the nation but also a personal precipice for the man. While craftily winning power struggles in the Capitol, on the home front Lincoln was confronting the loss of a son, a fragile rift with his complicated wife and the fear of losing another child to a conflict that weighed daily on his soul.
Both sides of Lincoln are intertwined by two-time Academy Award® winner Daniel Day-Lewis. Says Steven Spielberg: "I think Daniel Day-Lewis, like Tony Kushner, understood Lincoln on a subatomic level, one that goes beyond anything I could articulate. I never asked Daniel Day-Lewis about his process, I never questioned it; I never looked the gift horse in the mouth. I just received it with tremendous gratitude. With Daniel Day-Lewis and Tony Kushner, I felt I was in between two giant figures in the landscape of theatre and performances and I was constantly saying to myself, 'Don't get in the way; celebrate these words, capture these performances, get it in the best way you know how.' And let the actors cast their long shadows."
Daniel Day-Lewis' depiction began with Tony Kushner, who in turn took his cues to the Lincoln personality from Doris Kearns Goodwin. "The film's conception of Lincoln is very much in the spirit of Doris Kearns Goodwin's embryonic idea of Lincoln," Tony Kushner explains. "I read an immense number of books and articles on Lincoln, but I always felt Doris' take on him really went the distance. She understood him as a hard-headed politician, who could have a terrifying degree of calculation and could sacrifice friendships when it was necessary-but also as someone lyrical, poetic and with a love of jokes and humour. As Walt Whitman said, he contained multitudes."
Like many people, Daniel Day-Lewis was initially familiar with Lincoln only in broad strokes, mostly through speeches like The Gettysburg Address. "But as a human being, I had little sense of him whatsoever until I began to learn," he says. The screenplay kicked off the learning process. "In a very rich way, Tony Kushner suggested the man through his intellect, his humour and his melancholy, both domestically and in office. The contrast between those two things is something that's like food and drink to me. In Tony Kushner's script you see a man in that strange paradox of being both public and private."
He then undertook an intimate engagement with "Team of Rivals," as well as many other writings about and by Lincoln. But this gave way to something more organic. "Doris Kearns Goodwin's book was a great beginning," Daniel Day-Lewis says. "But reading accounts of a life can only take you so far, and what became even more interesting to me at a certain point was trying to grow towards a subjective understanding of Lincoln's personal experience. And in that, the legacy of his writing was hugely important. You get such a wonderful sense of him not only in his speeches but in the stories he told."
Another key to Lincoln became what Daniel Day-Lewis calls "the rhythm of the man." He explains: "He did everything at his own pace and could only do it at his own pace. He needed to arrive at his decisive conclusions by a logical process that he relied on. What looked to others like inaction or paralysis was just the physical impression that he gave. In his own mind he was traveling as he needed to do, through each step of the process, after which he could see things clearly."
A different side to Lincoln's rhythm was found in the way he relished spinning a tale to a variety of effects-to bring levity to a hard moment or move people in ways they had not seen coming. "There was somebody very dear to me who's no longer alive, but who had that similar storyteller quality, and I've known a few storytellers, but I'm not really a storyteller myself," says Daniel Day-Lewis. "That was something that kind of worried me a good deal, finding those qualities. There was an immediate sharpness to Lincoln's wit that was so beautiful. It was something I loved about him."
The spotlighting of Lincoln's humour gratified Doris Kearns Goodwin, who had found that part of him so compelling during her research. "It was really important to me that Lincoln's sense of humour come across in the movie," she says, "and that was built into the script and Daniel Day-Lewis' performance. Sometimes it was said that Lincoln could be sitting in a room and he would look so sad, but then he would start to tell a story, and suddenly he would come to life and he would get funnier and funnier, and his eyes would twinkle, and his voice would take on whatever the story he was telling. That's how I always want to think of him: in motion, telling stories."
While a few recent historians have posited that Lincoln displayed features of medical depression, Tony Kushner believes his gravity of mood was more reflective of the events in the nation. "He was a man of immense empathy and compassion," he says. "He could articulate people's sorrows in a very human and likable way. Also, he was president during a shockingly deadly war, which changed America's relationship with death. So there was a darkness to him, but the circumstances called for it."
Tony Kushner adds: "I think that's one of the things that Daniel Day-Lewis was able to capture: the terrible burden of responsibility that Lincoln struggled with and also the kind of loneliness that comes from being a rarified person who truly understands that responsibility and what must be done."
Then there was Lincoln's eerily lean, craggy physicality and his voice, which was not the baritone often imagined, but said to have been more of a higher-pitched tenor voice, especially the more impassioned he became. Daniel Day-Lewis embodied both, lending the character a rough-hewn, unadorned humanity that makes him feel truly accessible. "Daniel Day-Lewis embodies Lincoln's physicality in a remarkable way," says Kathleen Kennedy, "but he also dug deep to get to a place that makes you feel like he had access to who Lincoln was as a man. And the rapport that he and Steven Spielberg developed on set was second to none. I haven't seen Steven work with someone that closely and intimately ever before."
That rapport cantered on a shared respect for Lincoln, says Daniel Day-Lewis. "I was left with a sense of immeasurable pleasure at having been enabled by Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner to explore this man's life. There has never been a human being I have loved as much and I doubt there ever will be."
Of the working relationship with Steven Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis says: "He's very open. The best thing anyone can ever be in any creative workplace is open. And to have that degree of openness alongside his sense of structure is a powerful combination. He's also very confident. But his confidence allows for the needs and energies of everyone around him."
Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis were in agreement that the set should be a kind of oasis where only Lincoln's world was alive. To maintain the totality of this world, Spielberg asked his actors and crew to fully inhabit 19th century Washington, D.C. "To represent the mood of the nation at the time, we had to create that sense of authenticity on set," Steven Spielberg says, "where the only imposition from our times were the camera and monitors-but everything else was part of Lincoln's reality."
Indeed, production designer Rick Carter recalls a feeling of tumbling through time when Daniel Day-Lewis first came to the set: "I haven't gotten over the first time I saw him," muses Rick Carter. "Daniel Day-Lewis was not who I saw in front of me. I saw the man who was the President of the United States in 1865. I saw Abraham Lincoln. I didn't see any distinction or gap between them." Steven Spielberg Lincoln Part 1Steven Spielberg Lincoln Part 2Steven Spielberg Lincoln Part 3