Daniel Day-Lewis's initial rejection letter to Spielberg turning down Lincoln

Senior Editor
01.09.13 18 Comments

Daniel Day-Lewis did his ridiculous method acting thing in Lincoln, and it’s hard to imagine the movie without him, but did you know that he initially rejected the role? At the New York Film Critics Circle Awards (which, additional trivia, Armond White is a three-time former chairman of), Spielberg, presenting Day-Lewis’s best actor award, read the Dear Steve letter Day-Lewis sent him. That’s right, a letter. Like, through the mail, with stamps and ink and everything, just like in olden times.

Dear Steven,

It was a real pleasure just to sit and talk with you. I listened very carefully to what you had to say about this compelling history, and I’ve since read the script and found it in all the detail in which it describe these monumental events and in the compassionate portraits of all the principal characters, both powerful and moving. I can’t account for how at any given moment I feel the need to explore life as opposed to another, but I do know that I can only do this work if I feel almost as if there is no choice; that a subject coincides inexplicably with a very personal need and a very specific moment in time. In this case, as fascinated as I was by Abe, it was the fascination of a grateful spectator who longed to see a story told, rather than that of a participant. That’s how I feel now in spite of myself, and though I can’t be sure that this won’t change, I couldn’t dream of encouraging you to keep it open on a mere possibility. I do hope this makes sense Steven, I’m glad you’re making the film, I wish you the strength for it, and I send both my very best wishes and my sincere gratitude to you for having considered me. [THR]

Typical Daniel Day. “There is no choice. ‘Acting?’ Nay, for that you must call an actor. I merely choose to live my life a certain way, and if that manner of living happens to coincide with a story in a script, I consent to being filmed for a movIe. For one cannot ‘act,’ only live. I would never lie to my audience.”

Spielberg later had Tony Kushner re-write the script, Day-Lewis accepted, and the rest is history. Another piece of trivia, Daniel Day-Lewis actually acquired the “Day” in his surname after marrying former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day-O’Connor while preparing for a role as a judge. Maybe.

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