Steven Spielberg’s 2012 film “Lincoln” is by far the best of the filmmakers, and it’s not even close. “Lincoln” tells the story of the fight of the 16th American president to pass the 13th amendment after signing the Emancipation Proclamation, in the hope of thwarting efforts by southern states to entrench slavery after its abolition, but – made in 2012 – it had more in mind than just a historical document. “Lincoln” was written by playwright Tony Kushner, who finally legally married her husband Mark Harris in 2008. Same-sex marriage slowly became legal across the country in 2012 after far too many years of struggle – the landmark case Oberfell v. Hodges would be decided until June 2015. Given the climate around same-sex marriage, one can see Spielberg using historical precedent to explore a modern political issue. “Lincoln” was about slavery, but it was just as much about same-sex marriage.

Spielberg can be seen taking a similar approach in his films “Munich” (as much about 9/11 as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) and “The Post” (as much about Trump as Nixon).

Irish actor Daniel Day-Lewis played the titular character in “Lincoln,” who would (deservedly) win an Oscar for his performance. In American myth, Abraham Lincoln has become something of an untouchable figurehead, often representing – as a symbol – the best that the presidency has to offer. This vaunted image of Lincoln isn’t helpful, of course, when trying to play him as the real human being he was. Day-Lewis, notoriously devoted to the Stanislavski method, had to delve into Lincoln’s identity as a man and how he would have communicated personally. It has been reported in The Observer and other places, that Day-Lewis would text Sally Field (who played Mary Todd Lincoln) in character.

It was important for Day-Lewis to pinpoint Lincoln’s voice. However, since no recording of Lincoln’s voice exists, Day-Lewis had to do a lot of research on the matter. The Hollywood Reporter reported on a Q&A day Lewis did in Manhattan with Time Magazine explaining how he arrived at the voice he did. Contrary to what one might assume, the 6’4″ Lincoln lacked a deep bass voice.

No one can say for sure

In the Time Magazine Q&A, Day-Lewis revealed some of his findings on finding the correct Lincoln voice:

“Well, you look for the clues, as with any aspect of the work. You start with the places that would have made a huge difference in his life. Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois, and the counties from which it came from recordings, but no contemporary recordings – luckily for me, so no one can positively say that’s not what it sounded like.”

A strong, deep voice, Day-Lewis pointed out, was not always the only tool for delivering great eloquence in the 1860s:

“There are also a number of contemporary accounts of the quality of his voice, and I’m inclined to think that having had a voice that was intended to be in the upper register, tended to be placed more in the head tones , it helped that he reached more people in his public speeches.Stub speech was such a big part of their lives that they sometimes spoke for two hours or more without notes, at that time regularly.

But, in the end, Day-Lewis got creative license:

“And beyond that, I guess it was really just an act of imagination.”

The challenge

Despite Day-Lewis’ notable praise as an actor, he doesn’t always approach every role with confidence. Indeed, portraying such a well-known historical figure as Abraham Lincoln was intimidating for the actor, as he not only wanted to respect him as a man, but also do the story justice:

“It’s an unsettling privilege. And for that very reason, I was extremely timid about undertaking this wondrous task. I don’t like history to be altered to any great degree, or in any extent, and I felt particularly with this man, that it might be impossible to find in him the life that would help tell this story. And I hope that people who see this film will not have the feeling that this part of their story, which is so vital, has been twisted.”

“Lincoln” was nominated for twelve Oscars, including Best Picture, but only won two for Day-Lewis and for its production design (this was the year Ben Affleck’s “Argo” won the award for best film). Day-Lewis has only done one movie since “Lincoln”: Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread” in 2017. Shortly before that movie was released, the actor announced he was retiring from the business. . whatever his next endeavor is, one can only hope he will be happy to do so.


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