Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln has been nominated
for 10 Bafta awards, including best film and leading actor for
former Kent schoolboy Daniel Day-Lewis. Lesley Bellew went on the
Lincoln trail to understand why Day-Lewis became so deeply moved by
It took Steven Spielberg more than 10 years to research his
latest film Lincoln - by that time Liam Neeson felt he would be too
old for the lead role.
Former Sevenoaks School pupil Daniel Day-Lewis was the only
other actor Spielberg would consider to play the 16th US president,
so once the contract was signed he had some serious catching up to
He moved to Richmond, Virginia, to immerse himself in the role
of Abraham Lincoln.
Richmond became the capital of the Confederate States of America
during the Civil War. The region saw many bloody battles and
Day-Lewis found an echo of the past on every corner of this
Sporting a beard for the role, Day-Lewis got into character by
walking alongside the James River where Lincoln and his son Tad had
arrived by boat the day after Richmond had fallen to the Union
Army, on April 3, 1865.
Day-Lewis followed Lincoln’s route up to the White House of the
Confederacy, in the centre of Richmond. It was from here his
defeated rival, Jefferson Davis, had fled south.
The 55-year-old actor spent hours alone in the study where
Lincoln had sat at his rival’s desk, contemplating how the
president must have felt at that time – exhausted but knowing
victory was surely in reach.
During the Civil War, the American president had struggled with
the carnage on the battlefields and the fight within his cabinet
over his decision to emancipate slaves.
He was weary but unwavering in his beliefs - the man who had
been born in a log cabin had come a long way and had no intention
of turning back.
Day-Lewis was to learn that when the 6ft 4in president walked
through Richmond, African-Americans surrounded him, bowing and
thanking him for their freedom.
Lincoln told them: “Kneel only to God and thank him for the
liberty you will hereafter enjoy.”
Lincoln had passed the Shockoe district where tobacco warehouses
were used as stores by day but by night doubled as slave auction
The actor began to understand the strength Lincoln had needed to
pass the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery. Richmond had been the
largest slave trading centre on the East side of America, where
thousands of men, women and children were transported from the
African state of Benin via Liverpool, to supply plantations in the
Tourists today can visit the Reconciliation Memorial on a Slave
Trail route alongside the James River.
By the end of filming Day-Lewis was deeply moved. He said of
Lincoln: “I never, ever felt that depth of love for another human
being that I never met.”
Lincoln’s next stop during his visit to Richmond was to the
Virginia State Capitol.
This government building, the first public property in the New
World to resemble a Roman classical temple, was taken over by
Spielberg’s team and transformed to represent The White House, in
Roads were closed to avoid traffic noise during filming and the
town began to feel the Hollywood factor as Sally Field, who played
Lincoln’s wife Mary, moved into the five-star Jefferson Hotel and
Day-Lewis became a regular at The Hill Café at the top of Church
Hill, where he rented a property.
He also frequented the Can Can Brasserie, on a smart 1950s
shopping parade in Cary Street and Arcadia restaurant in Shockoe
It was here he was pictured, sporting his Lincoln beard, on the
front page of the New York Post after a customer had recognised the
He became so immersed in his character he even begain to tweet
in the role of Lincoln.
In fact, residents soon caught the Lincoln bug and hundreds of
men grew beards so they could work as extras on the film set.
Spielberg was delighted with the locals’ response and the
He said: “Virginia’s rich historic legacy, coupled with the
remarkable period architecture in Richmond and Petersburg, made
central Virginia the ideal location for this production.”
No filming took place in Washington, but a Lincoln tour would
not be complete without sightseeing in the Capitol city.
An ‘Assassination’ walking tour (which rather gives away the
story) starts opposite The White House and winds through the city
to Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln received a bullet in the head.
The theatre closed for almost a century but has been refurbished
with an education centre and museum alongside. Here you can see the
44-caliber gun that was used by John Wilkes Booth to kill the
president, plus various ghoulish artefacts including pieces of the
rope used to hang Booth’s gang.
Lincoln’s top hat is in National Museum of American History and
in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Hall of Presidents, his
portrait by George P.A. Healy takes centre stage - but a night-time
bike ride around the city’s illuminated memorials really brings
home what Lincoln means to America.
Stand on the steps of the cavernous Lincoln Memorial, where
almost 50 years ago Dr Martin Luther King Jnr delivered his ‘I have
a Dream’ speech and four years ago Barack Obama made his inaugural
‘We are One’ address to the nation, and you will understand why
Daniel Day-Lewis was so moved by the president who gave his life
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
is by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Spielberg bought the film rights
to the book before it was published and used it for the basis of
Lesley Bellew was a guest of the Capital region:
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