As fans of Steven Spielberg‘s “Lincoln” probably already know by now, Daniel Day-Lewis originally rejected the role, and the world’s most famous living director had to chase the notoriously discerning actor for nine years before he agreed to take the titular part. Obviously, he eventually relented. “Lincoln” has already grossed a terrific $144 million domestically and it’s poised to be one of the biggest Oscar nominees when the nods are announced on Thursday. Spielberg recently unveiled the rejection letter that Day-Lewis sent him circa 2003 (via THR), leading him to go after Liam Neeson, before circling eventually circle back to Day-Lewis).
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 describe 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.
An entirely new script was written and Day-Lewis rejected it yet again. Then Spielberg turned to his “Munich” collaborator Tony Kushner and he whittled down a 500 page script into the more-focused character-study picture you see today.
“Daniel had about six years to think about it from the first time I offered him not this Lincoln, not the Tony Kushner-written Lincoln, and not the Lincoln written from Doris (Kearns Goodwin’s) book, but an original Lincoln script that I developed,” Spielberg told Deadline in December. “After turning me down to play the character, I don’t think he ever forgot our encounter.”
How did he get the actor to change his mind? Friends in high places. “What really did the trick was when he read the Tony Kushner script, and I was able to get a take two, because my good buddy Leonardo DiCaprio simply called him up one day and said, ‘You need to reconsider this. Steven really wants you for this, and he’s not willing to make the movie without you,’ the filmmaker recalled. “So Daniel, based on Leo’s phone call to him, offered to read the Tony Kushner script, which he had never read, and also the Doris Kearns Goodwin script, which he had never read. That was the beginning, and I think that’s when the courtship was over. Once he read the script, then he really had to come to terms with the big decision he would eventually have to make, which was, ‘Can I, with honor, equip this character in a way I’ll be able to live with the rest of my life?’ ”
“Lincoln” is in theaters now.