Daniel Day-Lewis routinely disappears into his roles, but as Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln,” director Steven Spielberg says the actor reaches a new level of absorption.
“(Daniel) understood Lincoln on a subatomic level,” says Spielberg via the film’s production notes. “I never asked Daniel about his process, I never questioned it.”
The two-time Oscar winner had naturally heard of Lincoln, but Day-Lewis dove into researching the man, reading his own writings and ones written about the president. Tony Kushner’s script also proved a valuable aid.
“Tony suggested the man through his intellect, his humor and his melancholy, both domestically and in office,” Day-Lewis states in the notes. “In Tony’s script you see a man in that strange paradox of being both public and private.”
In addition to creating a craggy, slightly stooped president, Day-Lewis managed to master Lincoln’s voice, which shifted into a higher tenor register when he was worked up.
“Daniel embodies Lincoln’s physicality in a remarkable way,” says producer Kathleen Kennedy. “He also dug deep to get to a place that makes you feel like he had access to who Lincoln was as a man.”
Day-Lewis also proved generous with his co-stars, flying in from Ireland to L.A. for a day to work with future Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field). Afterward, Day-Lewis and Spielberg were both on the call to tell her she’d won the part.
“He is a towering example of uncompromising excellence,” Field says. “He makes you free to fail, free to do your own process. That work atmosphere can’t be taught.”