Abraham Lincoln’s choice of actor for the role of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln” would have been Daniel Day-Lewis. Not only because Daniel Day-Lewis could walk like him and talk like him, but because Daniel Day-Lewis is the son of a poet. That voice of a poet’s son can be heard in the video Nightline from ABC News : Lincoln: Daniel Day-Lewis, Steven Spielberg on Movie’s Personal Impact which was published on Nov. 9, 2012, by ABCNews.
When Diane Sawyer tells 55-year-old Daniel Day-Lewis (born April 29, 1957) and 65-year-old Steven Spielberg (born Dec. 18, 1946), “I’m trying to imagine the two of you as children”, Daniel Day-Lewis laughs and says, “We still are.”
In the interview with Diane Sawyer, Steven Spielberg recalls his first encounter with Abraham Lincoln over 60 years ago.
“I have this recollection from my childhood when my uncle took me to the Lincoln memorial. And you’re led into this dark kind of rotunda and there is a giant sitting in a chair … I felt he was looking directly at me. And that was it.”
Daniel Day-Lewis’ childhood memories of Abraham Lincoln, on the other hand, were quite different.
“Certainly [I] was aware of him in some form or another from a fairly young age and I think it might have been from the cards that you got with bubble gum.”
For Steven Spielberg it was no easy task to convince Daniel Day-Lewis to play the role of Abraham Lincoln. Daniel Day-Lewis, who grew up in England and Ireland had his own reasons for saying “no” to the role.
“It seemed like such an important thing. I, last thing I wanted to do is to desecrate the memory of the most dearly loved president of this country. So, … hm, it took some time. It took a lot of time and a lot of shyness around it.”
Daniel Day-Lewis’ hesitancy, respect, and shyness about taking on the role of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln” is deeply rooted in his family’s history.
Daniel Day Lewis’ father, Cecil Day-Lewis (1904 to 1972) was the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 to 1972.
Abraham Lincoln, Cecil Day-Lewis, and Daniel Day-Lewis share more than their love for literature.
According to the Poetry Foundation,
“The roots of Day-Lewis’s vocation and inhibitions as a poet lie in his childhood… He was born in Ireland of Anglo-Irish parents; the family name had originally been Day, but his grandfather added the surname of an uncle and called himself Day-Lewis. The poet’s inverted snobbery in dropping the hyphen in his name on his publications (beginning in 1927) has been a source of trouble for librarians and bibliographers ever since. The family moved to Malvern, Worcestershire, in 1905 and to Ealing, West London, in 1908, when the poet was four years old. His mother died soon after the move, leaving Day-Lewis, an only child, to bear the full brunt of his father’s love and need for love, mixed with unpredictable spurts of paternal discipline. The father was a clergyman, and it was assumed that Day-Lewis would follow in his steps. Educated at home until he was eight, he says in his autobiography, The Buried Day (1960), that he began by writing verses, ‘short stories and sermons with a fine impartiality.’ It was an atmosphere of high expectations and high demands, and Day-Lewis’s later memories of it seem dominated by guilt over his failure to meet the expectations and his inability to respond to the emotional demands. Day-Lewis’s account of his schooling is dominated by a pattern of early promise followed by failure and disappointment. At his first school, Wilkie’s in London, he began well but was humiliated by repeated failures to pass the Mathematics Certificate.At Sherborne School in Dorset, which he entered in 1917, he rose to be head boy in his house but had to stay on an extra year after failing in his first attempt to secure a university scholarship. At Wadham College, Oxford, he found himself less and less able to concentrate on his studies, ending, he said later, with ‘A fourth in Greats—and it is a mystery to me why the examiners did not fail me altogether.’ Day-Lewis may have somewhat exaggerated this pattern in the interest of heightening the contrast of his eventual return to Oxford as elected Professor of Poetry in 1951—he actually secured a third in Greats—but the pattern seems real enough.”
Like his poet father, Daniel Day-Lewis failure and disappointment in an academic environment were a recurring theme. Daniel Day-Lewis’ biography describes Daniel Day-Lewis as
“such a poorly behaved student as his South London public school that his parents sent him to a private school in Kent, called Sevenoaks, but Day-Lewis did not fare much better there. Despite his lack of success in school, Day-Lewis had plenty of other talents. He shared the Balcon family inclination to act, but he was initially more drawn to working-class pursuits than to the stage. Enamored with woodworking and craftsmanship as a teenager, he focused for a time on these pursuits rather than on acting. Eventually, the future Oscar winner allowed chance to play a role in his future, and he applied to only one theater program. When he was accepted to the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Day-Lewis threw himself fully into the craft of drama. After his years at the Bristol Old Vic and several forays onto the stage, Day-Lewis made it to the silver screen with a small part in Gandhi (1982). He continued to appear in films and plays for several years, during which time he developed his much noted and intense acting style. Applying the same ethos to drama as he did to woodworking, Day-Lewis became a method actor who devotes himself physically, psychologically, and emotionally to getting in character for each of his roles.”
Similar to Daniel Day-Lewis and his father Cecil Day-Lewis, Abraham Lincoln experienced the challenges of a move (Daniel moved when he was two years old to south-east London, Abraham Lincoln’s family had to move because of his father’s land title difficulties), the early death of a mother (Abraham Lincoln’s mother died when he was 9), facing emotional trials (Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, suffered from depression), and the struggle to get an education that mattered.
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin told Charlie Rose during an interview that for Abraham Lincoln,
“Reading was a part of these people’s lives in the older days in a way that it’s probably not part of ours in the same way. They didn’t have as many distractions. I mean for Lincoln, he had only 12 months of formal schooling. All the rest he got on his own. It was said that when he got a copy of the King James Bible or Shakespeare’s plays, he was so excited. He couldn’t eat. He couldn’t sleep. That’s what you want.”
The way Abraham Lincoln threw himself into reading, Cecil Day-Lewis threw himself into writing, and Daniel Day-Lewis throws himself into acting seems to indicate that all three man share much more than their height (Abraham Lincoln was 6′ 4″ (1.93 m), and Daniel Day-Lewis is 6’ 1”).
For Abraham Lincoln, there would not have been any better choice of actor to play his role in Steven Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln” than Daniel Day-Lewis.
When his son Daniel Day-Lewis was born in 1957, Cecil Day-Lewis was 53 years old. In honor of his son’s birth, Cecil Day-Lewis wrote the poem The Newborn for Daniel Day-Lewis.
“This mannikin who just now
Broke prison and stepped free
Into his own identity–
Hand, foot, and brow
This morsel of man I’ve held–
What potency it has,
Though strengthless still and naked as
A nut unshelled!
Every newborn seems a reviving seed
Or metaphor of the divine.
Charged with the huge, weak power of grass
To split rock. How we need
Any least sign
That our stone age can break, our winter pass!”
Abraham Lincoln would have agreed. Seeing a reflection of himself, he would have chosen no other than Daniel Day-Lewis.
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