HOLLYWOOD - Director Steven Spielberg taps into his lifelong fascination with one of America's most revered presidents in his new historical drama Lincoln. The film recently premiered at the American Film Institute Festival in Los Angeles.
The time is January 1865. After four bloody years, the American Civil War is nearing an end. President Abraham Lincoln, just elected to a second term, wants Congress to do away with one of the conflict's root causes by adopting a constitutional amendment to end slavery.
"Abolishing slavery by constitutional provision settles the fate for all coming time, not only of the millions now in bondage, but of unborn millions to come."
Facing stiff opposition, Lincoln fights for the Constitutional amendment in the final four months of his life, while also conducting secret negotiations to end the war. He was assassinated in April 1865.
Spielberg says this chapter of American history is fresh territory for a film.
"He is kind of a stranger to our industry and this medium. You have to go back to the 1930's to find a movie that is just about Abraham Lincoln," the director explains. "So my fascination with Lincoln, which started as a child, got to the point where, after reading so much about him, I thought there was a chance to tell a segment of his life to movie-goers."
Based in part on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's Lincoln biography Team Of Rivals, the film stars Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th US President.
"Really the most obvious thing is to approach a man's life that has been mythologized to that extent in such a way that you can get close enough to properly represent it," the actor says.
Spielberg worked 12 years to get Lincoln made, and he insists it's coincidence that the film reaches American theaters just after the current election.
"I wasn't waiting for a certain time, but people say 'oh, you made it because of what's happening in politics today.' It had nothing to do with current politics," Spielberg insists, "nothing to do with holding a mirror up to the way we conduct our business on Capitol Hill today. This was meant to be a story …a Lincoln portrait, if you will. I think any time is the right time for a very compelling story."
"Blood has been spilt to afford us this moment. Now! Now! Now!"
Lincoln also features Sally Field as the troubled First Lady. Tommy Lee Jones plays powerful Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, who guides the anti-slavery amendment to passage. The script is by playwright Tony Kushner and John Williams, a frequent Spielberg collaborator, composed the score.