Tribeca Film Festival’s retrospective screening of “Schindler’s List” marked the first time the cast had seen the acclaimed movie in 25 years.
“I feel so blessed I had the opportunity to tell this story,” said Steven Spielberg, who won Oscars for best directing and best picture for “Schindler’s List” in 1993. “Twenty-five years later, I sat through the whole film, which I hadn’t done in so long, and I was just proud.”
Spielberg and cast members Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Embeth Davidtz, and Caroline Goodall were greeted after the screening with a standing ovation at the Beacon Theater in New York.
During the panel, Spielberg set the record straight on the origins of “Schindler’s List”: Is it true Martin Scorsese could have directed it? “Yes, that’s true.” Is it true Mel Gibson could have been cast in the lead? “That’s not true.”
The lead role of Oskar Schindler went to Neeson, who admitted he was “feeling unworthy,” despite being cast by Spielberg himself. Neeson recalled having difficulty putting on weight for the part. “However, pints of Guinness in Poland did work,” he joked.
Neeson reflected on a memorable scene that was shot outside the gates of Auschwitz. Producer Branko Lustig went up to him and said, “See that hut there? That was the hut I was in.” Neeson said, “It hit me, big f—ing time.”
Spielberg said when he was about three quarters done filming, he started to fear people wouldn’t believe “Schindler’s List” was a true story. “I’m so known for films that are nothing like this,” he pointed out.
In turn, conquering that fear led to one of the most poignant and powerful moments in the film, where survivors and their cinematic counterparts put stones on Schindler’s grave in Jerusalem.
“That was a desperate attempt by me to find validation from the survivor community, to be able to certify that what we had done was credible,” Spielberg explained.
To keep his spirits up on the somber set, Spielberg said he would watch “Seinfeld” episodes and talk to Robin Williams on the phone once a week. “He would call and do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” Spielberg recalled. “He never said bye. He hung up on the loudest laugh you gave him.”