The best thing about Daniel Day-Lewis is that he’s an incredible actor, and in Lincoln, he made almost everyone else look like they were in a high school drama class by comparison, especially Sally Field. The worst thing about him is that by being so good while so nutty, he validates all the silly method processes actors think they need in order to convincingly pantomime. In the mid nineties, Lewis trained with boxing champ Barry McGuigan twice a day, seven days a week for three years before starring in The Boxer. For The Crucible, he built his character’s house himself using 17th century tools. On Lincoln, you just know he was screaming about being “clothed in immense power” every time a PA screwed up his macchiato, and Sally Field seems to confirm as much in an interview with Backstage (emphasis mine):
When did you actually meet Daniel as Daniel?
Field: I never met him. Never. I met him as Mr. Lincoln. He met me as his Molly, as he called her. And that’s how we knew each other. And we began a relationship. He began it, not me. After I got the role, there were seven months before we began to shoot and he would text me all the time, in character. I would have to then answer back in the language of the time, which was really hard to figure out, but great fun. And we were very much our characters. I would criticize him for the language he just used, as Mary, would and that was really the beginning of building a relationship that you see on screen.
Man, that’s almost as good as Wesley Snipes signing his post-it notes “from Blade.” More importantly, I think there’s a pretty obvious opportunity for a single-serving Tumblr or Twitter here, “Texts from Abe Lincoln.”
TO: Mme Bixby
SO sry 4 ur loss ;-(. No wrd I say cn assge ur brvmnt. A mlln thx 4 ur cstly scrfce on altr o frdm :-D
Field, on getting the part, then losing it, then getting it again:
Who did you have to fight? Not Steven?
Field: Well, yeah. There was another actor involved, Liam Neeson. He dropped out. And Daniel Day-Lewis came on board, and I went I knew it would be a battle for many reasons. Steven said, “I really saw you with Liam, I don’t see you with Daniel, I just don’t.” I said, “Steven, I know all your concerns. I’m 10 years older than Daniel. Lincoln was 10 years older than Mary. But I won’t look it. And Daniel will look old and worn and thin and I will look old and worn and fat, and that’s what they were.” He said the lighting will be harsh and they weren’t doing any prosthetics. I said, “I don’t care what I look like; I only care that I will be Mary. It is me, Steven. I won’t let you walk away. You have to test me.”
Did he test you?
Field: He was generous enough; he did. And the next day he called and said, “It really isn’t going to work. I just don’t see it.” I thanked him, I let it go, and I tried to live through the rest of the day. He called me the next day and said he couldn’t get it out of his mind, and he’d spoken to Daniel. And Daniel was generous enough to say to Steven, “You need to see us together.” So he flew into Los Angeles from Ireland and we both came in for a test. We went off to rooms and he became his early incarnation of this brilliant Mr. Lincoln and I went to a room by myself and became Mrs. Lincoln, and we met the first time as that. We came out of our rooms, and I curtsied and he kissed my hand and I said, “Mr. Lincoln,” and he said, “Mother.” That’s what they called each other. And there was sort of an audible gasp of the people that had fallen by the wayside as he’d walked in to greet me, and we went down into the screening room or whatever the hell it was, wherever we were. We did like some weird hour-long improv. I then thanked everyone for allowing me the opportunity and went home, and when I got there the phone was ringing and it was both Daniel and Steven on the phone saying, “Will you be Mary?”
An hour-long improv between “Lincoln” and “Mary-Todd.” Have you ever noticed how long six minutes feels when an SNL sketch goes south? Imagine an hour, without a script. That’s like six hours in non-crazy-person time. And she just glosses over it too. “Oh yeah, so then Daniel flew in from Ireland and we made up stuff about Abe Lincoln for an hour. Pretty typical audition, really.”
As we like to say, theater majors gonna theater.
[hat tip to Fightlinker for the link]