Here is the letter that Daniel Day-Lewis sent to Steven Spielberg soon after being offered the role of Abraham Lincoln in the iconic director’s historical biopic — which was still at that point just a script in Spielberg’s eye. The gist of Day-Lewis’s note? Thanks but no thanks, Mr. Spielberg. But good luck with the movie. Would Liam Neeson, who was Spielberg’s second choice for the presidential role (and very nearly graced our screens in the pic now tipped for Oscar domination), have nailed it?
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 one 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.”
Spielberg read this letter aloud before presenting the award for best actor to Day-Lewis at the New York Film Critics Circle awards on Monday evening; the Hollywood Reporter was on hand to transcribe it.
Aren’t we all glad that Day-Lewis chose to pursue a career in acting rather than writing?
Read more in Vanity Fair‘s new issue.