Day-Lewis, left, and Spielberg in early November (Photo: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni)It's no secret that Daniel Day-Lewis didn't want to play the part of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln -- at first. It took several years, Liam Neeson bowing out, and a new script before Day-Lewis would even reconsider.
On Monday night, as Steven Spielberg presented Day-Lewis with an award for Best Actor at an annual New York Film Critics Circle dinner, the "Lincoln" director recited a letter the actor had written him, initially turning him down for the role. Reminiscent of a breakup letter Lincoln himself actually wrote, Day-Lewis set out to let Spielberg down gently, ending his note with "I send both my very best wishes and my sincere gratitude to you for having considered me."
Spielberg said he received the following letter from Day-Lewis during an early period of the project when the script, according to him, more resembled his WWII film "Saving Private Ryan" -- but set during the Civil War era:
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 of which it descries these monumental events and in the compassionate portraits of all the principle characters -- both powerful and moving. I can't account for how at any given moment I feel the need to explore one life as opposed to another. But I do know that I can only do this work if I feel almost as if there's 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 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.
With also a Golden Globes nomination for Best Actor to his name (and being in that awards show's most-nominated film), not to mention his seeming lock on an Oscar nod and even a win, it's a good thing Day-Lewis finally came around.
Watch Daniel Day-Lewis and Steven Spielberg discuss 'Lincoln':