‘Lincoln’ Premieres At New York FIlm Festival; Steven Spielberg Glad Film Comes Out Post-Election So It Isn’t Turned Into “Political Football”

2ND UPDATE: As Deadline revealed exclusively last week, the Steven Spielberg-directed Lincoln made a surprise world premiere at the New York Film Festival on Monday evening. It has been one of the wildcards in the Oscar conversation, with the nomination buzz for the picture and Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, and Tommy Lee Jones louder now than ever. Afterwards was a Q&A with screenwriter Tony Kushner and director Steven Spielberg (moderated by outgoing NYFF festival director Richard Pena).

Pena brought up a point that is glaringly obvious to those who watched the film and might have been surprised that it was the Republicans, and not the Democrats, leading the crusade to abolish slavery. Pena asked: “What were you thinking of, in terms of how this film would make an intervention in terms of what is going on right now”

Said Spielberg: “I just said, please don’t release this until the election is over. I didn’t want it to be this political football going back and forth. Because it’s kind of confusing. The parties traded political places over the last 150 years. That in itself is a great story, how the Republican Party went from a progressive party in 1865, and how the Democrats were represented in the picture, to the way it’s just the opposite today. But that’s a whole other story.”

Lincoln took over ten years to figure out, and Kushner, who helped Spielberg find the tone of the Best Picture nominee Munich, said that his early attempts to find Lincoln by covering various parts of Lincoln’s life resulted in an endless supply of script pages. So he finally decided to narrow the focus to the seminal last months of Lincoln’s life. That revelation came while Kushner walked picket lines during the writers strike. He still wrote 500 pages before he and Spielberg found a way to cut the script down to a somewhat manageable 200.

Spielberg said that much of the backroom political maneuvering that went into abolishing slavery before ending the Civil War came from the research done by Doris Kearns Goodwin book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius Of Abraham Lincoln. It informed the filmmakers on exactly how Lincoln’s strategy of surrounding himself with former adversaries made his administration so effective. “You could see what an amazing counterpart that [Secretary of State William] Seward (David Strathairn) was to Lincoln, and how Lincoln did use opposition and contention and opposite opinion to almost mold and form his own opinion. It was this team of rivals that brought him to the nexus of his administration,” Spielberg said.

The recent trailers of the film have brought comment on the high, reedy voice that Day-Lewis brings to his Lincoln character. Spielberg said there was abundant evidence that it was spot on. “All the research and even Ralph Waldo Emerson talked about his high shrill voice,” Spielberg said. “Everybody talked about the Lincoln-Douglas debate, where Douglas’s Basso profondo voice did not cut through Coopers Union as well as Lincoln’s higher tenor voice did. We would actually be a little criticized had we done Lincoln the way Disneyland does in Epcot Center, with that low voice. I have to give credit to Daniel. He researched that and came up with it himself. I had no input into that. Daniel completely found Lincoln, he found the voice and the center of that man, and the voice is just a small part of that.”

Spielberg said his film wasn’t completely finished, but it was close enough to have made a strong impact last night.

Related: Watch ‘Lincoln’ Ad That Aired During Presidential Debate

Comments (15)

  • I don’t really care how good DDL is, he was deserving to win for both my left foot and there will be blood, glad he didn’t win for gangs– certainly a great actor but sorry –not a third Oscar when so many other actors have not even gotten their first

    Comment by Jake — Monday October 8, 2012 @ 11:20pm PDT  
    • Uggh…I absolutely hate it when people turn the Oscars into, “Well, so and so already won it such and such times, and many other deserving actors have never won it, so that means so and so shouldn’t win it anymore.” It’s that kind of thinking (among other things) that helps to cheapen the Oscars. If Daniel Day Lewis were to make a film every year for 10 years, and each year he gave the best performance of the year, then he deserves to win the Oscar 10 years in a row. Simple as that.

      Comment by Wannabe — Monday October 8, 2012 @ 11:59pm PDT  
  • Jake, that kind of mentality is just plain stupid. If someone is the best at something, they’re the best. We didn’t deny Usain Bolt his gold medals just because he already has a couple.

    Comment by Fan — Monday October 8, 2012 @ 11:43pm PDT  
  • This is exactly what’s wrong with the Oscars and Oscar voters in general. If the man DESERVES to win 3, 4 times, then he SHOULD win every time he’s deserving. This whole “but so and so doesn’t have one yet” crap is what allows older actors to win time after time over more deserving counterparts as a lifetime achievement award instead of someone else who was actually better that year. “Oh, they’ve got plenty of time to win one”, we’ll hear. What a load of crap. How bout awarding the Oscars on MERIT, like you’re (in theory) supposed to?!

    Comment by Oscar Police — Monday October 8, 2012 @ 11:44pm PDT  
    • Agreed, but “deserving” is subjective… it’s not like the post above comparing it to an Olympic medal. That’s a race with a clear cut winner. Period. Awards are subjective – what’s one person’s best is another person’s average. So no one can really say so-and-so is deserving, and therefore should win.

      Comment by Chad — Tuesday October 9, 2012 @ 1:20am PDT  
  • In my opinion, if an actor deserves to win, then he should win, regardless of how many Oscars he does or doesn’t have.

    Comment by Tyler — Tuesday October 9, 2012 @ 12:21am PDT  
  • I thought Oscars were won on merit. If you good who cares if you win 10 Oscars.Richard Burton & Peter O’Toole both were nominated and never won. How is that possible ?

    Comment by joe — Tuesday October 9, 2012 @ 3:37am PDT  
  • I read a review on another site and they said the movie was talk-talk-talk, just one long gab fest and mostly over the fight to abolish slavery. Apparently there’s only one small battle scene at the very beginning and then it becomes a talky/preachy set piece. The reviewer compared it to Spielberg’s “Amistad” (not a good sign). However DDL nails the role and the general expectation from the NYFF is that he’ll be nominated for Best Actor again, but other predictions seem uncertain. If I go, it will strictly be because of DDL. He looks amazing.

    Comment by Jarlerguy — Tuesday October 9, 2012 @ 6:55am PDT  
  • It’s all award shows . I mean modern family won 3 times but sorry no comedy is better than it right now. Shows in the raitings, beating everything but football right now

    Comment by Jere — Tuesday October 9, 2012 @ 7:23am PDT  
    • There are a lot of comedies that are better than Modern Family, but many don’t apply to the broad audience that Modern Family does. I consistently enjoy comedies such as Happy Endings, New Girl, and Raising Hope more than I do Modern Family.

      Comment by KSM — Wednesday October 10, 2012 @ 9:26am PDT  
  • To everyone arguing with the original commenter, two things:

    -The Oscars are already cheapened. It’s a series of elections based on campaigning, schmoozing, admiration, who deserved it last time, and who wore the most prosthetics.

    -”Best” is subjective. When Usain Bolt wins a race, there’s video that proves it. When an actor wins with a really showy “Oscar-type” performance over a lesser-known actor with a more subtle but finely-tuned performance — in, let’s say, a comedy — then yeah, you can make an argument that the win isn’t necessarily justice being served just because it may be a terrific piece of acting.

    And if you’ve thought it through that far, the next thing you’ll realize is that these types of awards are, at their core, quite silly, and the best way to handle them is to simply be entertained by them as best you can. Short version: stop taking it that seriously.

    Comment by Michael — Tuesday October 9, 2012 @ 8:23am PDT  
  • Sally Field for the win!

    Comment by Patrick — Tuesday October 9, 2012 @ 10:34am PDT  
  • Saw the premiere of Spielberg’s Lincoln at NYFF tonight. Daniel Day Lewis as expected is brilliant in as Oscar-bait of a role as there could be. Tommy Lee Jones also shines as most of the reviewers have indicated. But I hate to say it, the movie is so damn Spielberg-y. There are some nice moments of humor which was a genuine surprise, but when the John Williams score swells and its clear the viewer is being hit over the head to ‘feel emotion’, I mostly felt ive been there, done that. And don’t get me started on the plot lines involving Lincoln’s sons. Forgettable, annoying, and needless are words that come to mind (and fyi – Joseph-Gordon Levitt plays one of the sons and usually i’m a huge fan).

    Comment by Jonathan Fuhrman — Tuesday October 9, 2012 @ 11:56am PDT  
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