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If Daniel Day-Lewis Had Passed, Who’d Have Starred in ‘Lincoln’?

Steven Spielberg reveals that Daniel Day-Lewis initially nixed the lead in "Lincoln" in a letter to the director

If Daniel Day-Lewis had stuck by his decision to pass on the lead role in “Lincoln,” can you imagine who might have played the 16th president?

Josh Brolin? Tommy Lee Jones? Christian Bale? Jim Carrey?

Steven Spielberg set off the latest awards season guessing game at the New York Film Critics Circle awards dinner Monday night — at which Day-Lewis received his Best Actor award — where he revealed that actor initially rejected the role in a letter to the film’s director.

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Spielberg took the stage to present the honor to Day-Lewis and read a letter that the actor had sent him.

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 of which it descries these monumental events and in the compassionate portraits of all the principle 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's 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 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 said that the letter came after he sent several scripts to Day-Lewis, before finally settling on one by Tony Kushner, whose work was honored with the Best Screenplay award by the critics group.

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