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November 6, 2012
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SJP


Daniel Day-Lewis gets presidential
By JIM SLOTEK, QMI Agency




LOS ANGELES - If honorary citizenship had any standing, it would surely apply to Daniel Day-Lewis, an Irishman who has been an American in multiple centuries.

“I’m reflecting on my entire life,” Day-Lewis says at a press conference for his starring role in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, which opens in Toronto Friday and then across Canada Nov. 16.

“And I’m thinking I spent some time in 17th century America (in The Crucible), 18th century America (in The Last Of The Mohicans), and so much time in 19th century America that I don’t know if I’ll ever get out,” he finishes with a laugh.

That last century covers roles in The Age Of Innocence, Gangs Of New York and Lincoln.

In an odd twist, Day-Lewis managed to mash-up past and present, “becoming” Abraham Lincoln in 19th Century vernacular text messages to fellow actors Sally Field (who plays Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who plays son Robert Lincoln, with whom the Great Emancipator had a strained relationship).

A consummate method actor indeed, all concerned swear they never “met” Daniel-Day Lewis until the final day of shooting, after his fatal encounter with a certain John Wilkes Booth.

“I never met Daniel, I only ever met the President,” Gordon-Levitt says. “I only heard his voice, called him ‘Sir,’ he called me ‘Robert.’

“Then on the last day of shooting, I got to watch him get up out of his deathbed and shrug it off. And later that night we all celebrated, and that was the first time I personally met Daniel. And he showed up in jeans and a T-shirt and had a completely different voice and posture. Suddenly, he was one of my friends, this kind of cool artist guy. It was really something to behold.”

This metamorphosis was eight years in the making, most of it spent saying no to Spielberg because Day-Lewis couldn’t see himself in the role.

“The most obvious thing in trying to approach a man’s life that has been mythologized to that extent, is to get close enough to represent them,” Day-Lewis says. “I just didn’t know that I could do that. Beyond that, I felt that probably I absolutely shouldn’t do that, and somebody else should do that instead.”

That somebody else was one of Day-Lewis’s best friends, Liam Neeson, with whom Spielberg admits he shared, “a very healthy flirt” for the role of Lincoln. In 2004, shortly after publication of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s best-seller on Lincoln, Spielberg approached Day-Lewis and got his first “no.” Neeson eventually dropped out over scheduling, an event which dovetailed with Day-Lewis actually reading Goodwin’s book.

The script that emerged from it took place mid-presidency, with Lincoln making questionable bargains with Democratic Congressman to secure passage of the 13th amendment banning slavery as the Civil War raged. Meanwhile, his wife is still emotionally scarred from the death of another son, and Abe is pouring all his love into a spoiled youngest son Tad.

“He had a very interesting attitude toward parenthood which is surprisingly modern,” Day-Lewis says wryly. “There was a total absence of any parental authority whatsoever.”

In fact, Day-Lewis says one of his most pleasant surprises was his discovery of Lincoln’s sense of humour.

“A delicious surprise,” he says. “At times it could be tactical humour. There are accounts actually, of people that came to ask him a question of, to them, great importance, who found themselves in his presence, got a handshake and a story and were out of the room before they even realized.

“That’s good politics!”

Of Neeson, he says, “Liam is a friend of mine. And for that period of time (he was in the mix), of course, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to consider it.

“But from the moment Liam said it would no longer be something he’d be engaged with, he has been in touch with me and has given me incredible encouragement.

“In fact, he encouraged me when I was undecided if I should do it.”

jim.slotek@sunmedia.ca

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