In person, Daniel Day-Lewis looks almost nothing like Abraham Lincoln. (He looks something like an English soccer player.) On screen, though, Daniel Day-Lewis looks--and possibly sounds--almost exactly like Abraham Lincoln.
"It's lucky for me that no one can say positively what he sounded like," said Day-Lewis on Thursday in New York, following Time magazine's packed VIP screening of Steven Spielberg's Oscar-baiting "Lincoln" biopic.
The 55-year-old London-born actor said he spent a year trying to get into the 16th president's head.
"If you approach Lincoln head on, it's like a child in front of a monument," Day-Lewis said. "You have to come at him from an angle—behind his left shoulder."
"I try not to dismember a character--a life--into its component parts," he continued. "Because the voice is such a deep personal reflection of character, I leave it alone. If I'm very lucky I begin to hear a voice--not supernatural--but it's a powerful moment. Thank God it did happen in this case. I began to hear a voice as I drew closer to the man." (While filming, Day-Lewis would even send text messages as Lincoln to Sally Field, who played Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd.)
The star of such period films as "Last of the Mohicans," "Gangs of New York" and "There Will Be Blood" (Time magazine referred to him as "the greatest living actor" in this week's issue) said he was humbled by the opportunity to play Lincoln.
"For me, growing up in southeast London, it's so inconceivable that in my life I'd play this man and grow to love him," Day-Lewis said.
[Slideshow: Inside Time magazine's VIP screening of 'Lincoln']
The performance drew raves from those in attendance, including Bill O'Reilly, the Fox News host and "Killing Lincoln" author, who predicted an Academy Award sweep for "Lincoln."
"You'll win best picture," O'Reilly declared during a Q&A session after the screening. "Lewis will win best actor, Spielberg will win best director, [Tommy Lee] Jones will win best supporting, [Tony] Kushner will win best screenplay."
The film was based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals," but Spielberg admitted he took some artistic liberties with history for the two-hour film--for instance, changing the names of dissenting congressmen during the vote to pass the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery, to "protect the family members."
However, the "Jaws" director left almost nothing on the cutting room floor.
"I'm not going to name names of movies I made, but I made a long film and people seemed to like it. In 1993," Spielberg joked in reference to his Holocaust epic "Schindler's List," for which he won an Academy Award. "We looked at an hour and 43 minutes of outtakes for that film. There were too many things I was so sad I took out. But there were only 25 minutes of outtakes for 'Lincoln.' That's a record, at least for me."
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