Daniel Day-Lewis and Steven Spielberg. (WENN.COM file photo)
LOS ANGELES -- Looked at one way, a presidential election campaign might have been one of the greatest marketing tie-ins imaginable for Steven Spielberg's Lincoln.
But the legendary filmmaker says he was determined not to release his movie, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the Republican party's Great Emancipator Abraham Lincoln, before the U.S. had made up its mind between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
"There's too much confusion about political ideologies," Spielberg said at a press conference promoting the movie. "The parties have switched places in 150 years. It's just too confusing. Everybody claims Lincoln as their own. And they should, because he represents all of us. He provided the opportunities we all enjoy today."
Timewise, he says, "I would have been very happy to have made Lincoln in 2000 when I met Doris Kearns Goodwin (the author of the acclaimed best-selling Lincoln biography). But it took her a few years to write the book, and took us more than a couple of years to get the screenplay written.
"At one time I flirted with making it for the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth (2009), but we weren't ready to make the picture yet." In that time, the lead role passed from Liam Neeson to Day-Lewis.
"People always say about this film, 'Oh, you're making a statement about politics today.' No, we were ready to make it during the Bush administration. It had nothing to do with holding a mirror up to the way we conduct our business on Capitol Hill today. Any time is the right time for a very compelling story."
And it appealed to Spielberg that no one had done a serious movie about Lincoln since the '30s (vampire hunting aside). "There's been much more written about Lincoln than there are movies made about him. He's very much a stranger to our industry."
The movie stands out in the short canon of films about Abraham Lincoln, in that it focuses only on a small portion of the president's life, the period of time when he played dubious politics (promising patronage jobs, etc.) to coerce reluctant Democrats to vote for his 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery.
"We didn't want it to be a movie of Abraham Lincoln's greatest hits," Spielberg says. "Desperate times require desperate measures. And what Lincoln and the lobbyists did to get this passed was not illegal. It was murky. To make a movie about a squeaky clean person whose moral principles hold them beyond mortal man or woman would not be interesting to me."
Despite the realpolitik, Spielberg says he came away utterly awestruck by the man. "He took a Constitutional oath to protect the Union, and he was the only president to have the Union pulled out from under him and torn in half. We've read about how deeply low he could get in his psyche, how low he could get. I don't know how much of that depression wasn't just deep thought, going deep into the cold depths of himself.
"Beyond that, how he just didn't crack up in his first term -- the Civil War raging, more than 600,000 lives lost, revised recently to 750,000, his wife on the edge, the loss of his son just two years before our film begins.
"The fact that he came through with a steady moral compass and even keel just amazes me."