Movie Talk

First ‘Lincoln’ trailer debuts Daniel Day-Lewis’ presidential voice

Movie Talk

We've seen him as Lincoln, but this marks the first time we have heard the voice of Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th President of the United States in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" -- seen here (above) in the film's first trailer, released Thursday.

[Related: Daniel Day-Lewis called 'Mr. President' on Spielberg's 'Lincoln' set]

If you're perplexed by the sound of Day-Lewis as President Abraham Lincoln, it may help to key you in to something historians have long known: Lincoln's voice was actually somewhat high. The trailer also seems to hint at Lincoln's health problems, as Day-Lewis is shown more than one time wrapped in a blanket while delivering his lines.

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(Photo: DreamWorks)

In spite of the fact that Lincoln was a whopping 6-feet 4-inches tall and strong, his speaking voice was higher and more shrill than that of politicians who dominated the American landscape back in the 1860s, according to leading Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer [via Smithsonian.com]. His actual voice was likely in stark contrast to other actors' past portrayals, including the deep booming voice of Gregory Peck as Lincoln in '80s CBS miniseries "The Blue and the Gray." But don't be mistaken, "People said that his voice carried into crowds beautifully," says Holzer, adding, "Just because the tone was high doesn't mean it wasn't far-reaching." (Incidentally, Day-Lewis is not-so-shabby 6' 1".)

The trailer indicates Day-Lewis used leading historical thought to guide his portrayal. Both Lincoln's voice and looks are said to have thrown people off initially, but he won over crowds with his sense of ease and the thrust of his ideas. "It's that combination of gesture, mannerism and unusual timbre of voice that really original people have. It takes a little bit to get used to," says Holzer.

But the film, which focuses on the last four months of Lincoln's life, takes place well after he had won over his constituency as well as the needed number of Americans to elect him to office. The trailer packs in Civil War battle scenes as well as appearances by the film's monstrous ensemble cast. Featured characters include Ira Clark (David Oyelowo, who narrates the trailer), Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field), Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn), Francis Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook, who also played Lincoln in 1985 TV miniseries "North and South"), Alexander Stephens (Jackie Earle Haley), Tad Lincoln (Gulliver McGrath -- who recently appeared with Haley in Tim Burton's "Dark Shadows") and Fernando Wood (Lee Pace) -- with glimpses of other characters including Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Todd Lincoln and Gloria Reuben as Elizabeth Keckley.

The trailer ends with Day-Lewis saying in his high vocal tone, in a presumable reference to the Civil War, "Shall we stop this bleeding?"

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In case you were wondering, no recordings of Lincoln's voice exist. He was killed a little more than 10 years before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph -- the world's first sound recording technology.

"Lincoln," based on a book by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, enters theaters November 9.

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