“I don’t know if I ever knew that playing Lincoln was the right choice.”
No stranger to tackling difficult material, Daniel Day-Lewis, 55, plays America’s most revered president, Abraham Lincoln.
The award-winning actor, often described as a recluse, doesn’t talk about his personal life, but graciously granted this interview to talk about his transformation into the 16th President of the United States.
ADS: What did you see as your greatest challenge in bringing this iconic character to life?
Apart from everything you mean? (laughs) I think really the most obvious thing was trying to approach a man’s life that has been mythologized to such an extent that in a way you can’t get close enough to being able to properly represent it. I just wasn’t sure that I would be able to do that. Beyond that, I felt that probably I shouldn’t do it (laughs) and somebody else would do that instead.
Q: Obviously when you are creating a character out of a real human being with a tremendous amount of biographical data but also in this case, historical, political information as well, what did you learn about Mr. Lincoln that you did not know previously? What were you surprised by?
Well that was easy for me because I knew nothing about him, so I had everything to learn and apart from a few images, a statue, a cartoon, a few lines from the first inaugural, a few from the Gettysburg Address, that would be my entire knowledge of that man’s life. I think probably the most delicious surprise for me was the humor. To begin to discover that was an important aspect of his character. Q: Would it be fair to say that it was tactical humor? At times it could be, but not necessarily I don’t think, no. I don’t think it was really, I think it was tactical in the political sense, and I think at times it was undoubtedly used in a conscious sense for some purpose to make some point. It’s not about what you are asking but there are accounts of people who came to ask him a question, which to them was of great importance, and found themselves in his presence, got a handshake, a story, and were out of the room before they even realized (laughs) and that’s good politics. (laughs) But no, I think it was innately part of him, I think there was a very joyful element to him actually, yes.