For a biopic to be successful, it's all about the details. And with a creative team as talented as the one behind Lincoln (scheduled for wide release on Nov. 16), nobody is looking to cut any corners when it comes to authenticity.
"When you watch Daniel Day-Lewis, you feel like you're actually watching Lincoln," says Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln served as the basis for the new movie, directed by Steven Spielberg. "He walks like Lincoln, like a laborer coming back from a field. His voice is high-pitched like Lincoln's was, not baritone -- at the time, a high-pitched voice carried over crowds better than a baritone one did."
While Day-Lewis is renowned for his chameleon-like ability to inhabit characters like Christy Brown (My Left Foot), Bill the Butcher (Gangs of New York) and Daniel Plainview (There Will Be Blood), a film based on one of our greatest presidents needed to rely on more than just Day-Lewis's method acting. It took Goodwin more than five years to finish the sprawling Team of Rivals, which chronicles Lincoln's presidency and his former opponents whom he appointed to his Cabinet from 1861 until his assassination in 1865.
Spielberg had been interested in doing a character study about Lincoln, as opposed to a violent Civil War epic that he felt would too closely resemble Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's List. When Goodwin told him that she was beginning to research and write Team of Rivals in 1999, he purchased the film rights for the book before Goodwin had even finished five chapters. While she finished the book, Goodwin also worked with Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner (Angels in America) to craft the screenplay, the first version of which came in at whopping miniseries-length: 550 pages.
"The script started out at five hours, which was too long," says Goodwin. "The edited version still managed to show Lincoln's humor, his strength, his political genius -- all the things I really care about and want people to realize about him."
When the movie made its way into the casting stage, Goodwin gave the meticulous Day-Lewis a crash course in Lincoln history. She took him to Springfield, Ill., to see all the Lincoln historical sights and sent him various Lincoln books and articles to read. Her vivid descriptions of Lincoln's political peers lent themselves to "perfect" casting choices in her opinion, from Tommy Lee Jones as rabid abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens to James Spader as quirky political operative W.N. Bilbo. But Goodwin thinks the movie is most successful in its honest portrait of Lincoln, the ultimate politician, leader and man.
"What the movie shows is just how amazing it was what he was able to do with all the radical factions within the Republican party," says Goodwin. "Lincoln had a set of convictions, but was also able to argue respectfully and get people to compromise. In the end, he had all the marks of a true leader."
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-- Sally Field as First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln
- Goodwin had initially wanted her book to be about Abraham and Mary's marriage, quickly realizing that Abe "spent more time with his Cabinet members than he did with Mary."
-- Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Todd Lincoln
- Lincoln's oldest son Robert became a captain for the Union army shortly before the end of the war. He returned to the White House April 14, 1965, the day that his father would be assassinated.
-- Tommy Lee Jones as Radical Republican Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens
- Jones is getting Best Supporting Actor buzz for his portrayal of Stevens, a belligerent abolitionist who fought Lincoln (often openly in Congress) over his compromising measures with the South.
-- David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward
- Seward was thought to be the leading candidate for the Republican nomination in 1860 before Lincoln came out of nowhere to seize it. Nevertheless, Lincoln appointed him as his Secretary of State, with Seward eventually becoming one of his biggest allies and admirers.
-- Jackie Earle Haley as Vice President of the Confederate States of America Alexander H. Stephens
- Stephens was the leading presence for the South at the Hampton Roads Conference in February 1965. The meeting was an unsuccessful negotiation to end the Civil War, which ended three months later.
-- Walton Goggins as Democratic Congressman Wells A. Hutchins
- Hutchins was one of just 16 Democrats to break with his party and ratify the 13th Amendment. He would not be re-elected again.