Movie Talk

Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis admit fear drove them toward ‘Lincoln’

Movie Talk

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Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis

Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis (Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)


When it came time to tell the story of the 16th president of the United States on film, both Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis admitted they felt a certain degree of fear.

Both the director and the star of "Lincoln" spoke candidly during a Q&A session that was streamed live exclusively on Yahoo! Movies Wednesday evening.  And while the two are both multiple Oscar winners and have been considered for decades to be the top talents in their fields, they each spoke to how valuable being afraid of a seemingly impossible challenge can be.

"I require fear in order to run towards something," Spielberg explained, adding that the feeling of fear in his filmmaking reassures him that he has chosen his project wisely. "The more frightened I am, the more I have to run into what's scaring me to figure out what it is," Spielberg said. He concluded, "The work that I'm proudest of is the work that I'm most afraid of."

'Lincoln' Q&A: The Role of Fear

[Related: The actor who almost played Honest Abe in Spielberg's bio-pic]

"Fear is obviously a stimulating emotion," Day-Lewis said, admitting earlier in the conversation that he didn't want to take the part of Lincoln initially. "It seemed a preposterous idea to me so I fled." What brought him around, he says, is when he met with Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner in Ireland. Day-Lewis had become intrigued by an updated draft of the script, as well as Doris Kearns Goodwin's book "Team of Rivals," on which the film is based. Eventually, Spielberg and Kushner won the actor over. "I essentially ran out of excuses," he said. "I really have to feel in some sense that there's no choice... in this case in that moment I felt I have no choice but to try and understand this thing."

Spielberg and Day-Lewis revealed that their working relationship became extremely close -- almost hinting at a level of mutual obsession in making the film. The production schedule was grueling and at the end of each day, when most of the rest of the cast and crew were done and away, Spielberg and Day-Lewis would plan. "Quite often when the set was just ours to play with at the end of the day and it was quiet, we started to explore ideas of what the next day would bring," Day-Lewis said.

[Related: 'Lincoln' trailer debuts Daniel Day-Lewis' presidential voice]

And when it came time to develop Lincoln's voice -- one that Spielberg said didn't sound like "the Abraham Lincoln at Epcot Center" and one that historians say was high -- the two teamed up in such a way that may remind you of a secret club at a summer boys camp. "One day I received an envelope with a small tape recorder... It was like 'Mission Impossible'," Spielberg recalled during Wednesday night's conversation. Day-Lewis had drawn a skull-and-cross bones on it, indicating it was for Spielberg's eyes only. Spielberg joked that he wondered if it was going to explode. But it was a first recording of Day-Lewis as Lincoln. "Without hesitation my eyes welled up," Spielberg said. "Abraham Lincoln was talking to me on that little tape recorder."

'Lincoln' Q&A: Finding the Voice

Spielberg explained he has been a fan of Lincoln ever since he was young, admitting later in the conversation that the last day of shooting "Lincoln" was "a very hard day." Day-Lewis, too, said he experienced "a tremendous sense of sadness," adding that portraying Lincoln "will remain to the end of my days one of the great privileges of my life."

"Lincoln" opens in limited release on November 9 and expands nationwide on November 16.

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