WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2012.
Watching Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, wife and First Lady to the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, it’s hard to think of another actress who could have inhabited this role as well as she did in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” The director had Field in mind for the role back when Liam Neeson was originally cast as President Lincoln, but the actress almost lost it when Neeson withdrew from the project and Daniel Day-Lewis got cast. It wasn’t the first time Field had to fight for a role, and she fought long and hard for this one to where Spielberg granted her a screen test with Lewis.
“I heard commotion and looked up, and across the lobby came my darling Mr. Lincoln,” Field said of Day-Lewis when she first saw the actor walking towards her. “He smirked at me, and I smirked right back. I gave him my hand, I looked up and said ‘Mr. Lincoln,’ and he said ‘Mother.’ That’s what they said to each other. I felt this audible hush in the room.”
After Field and Day-Lewis improvised for an hour as the Lincolns, Spielberg informed her the role was hers. From there, she took the time to visit Mary Todd’s home in Lexington, Kentucky. It was actually a low-key visit for the actress, and she went about town with very few people recognizing who she was.
“What I wanted to really do was be inside of her house,” Field said. “I know what an important place that was for her in studying her, and I really wanted to step inside the house and look at all of that and have the feeling of space.”
“I had seen pictures of what it looked like in those days before, before there were like parking lots and things connected to it, so that I could have a feeling of where she came from,” Field continued. “It’s important in understanding her makeup as a person that you take a look at her home.”
Field also gained 25 pounds to authentically portray Mary Todd Lincoln, and it took seven months to add all that weight to the actress’ 5′ 2 ½” frame.
“She was much heavier, or more round, so we tried to replicate her measurements,” Field said. “We had her dress size, because it’s documented when they made dresses for her… We replicated what she was, and it wasn’t easy. It was sort of horrifying to be a woman of a certain age and to put on 25 pounds.”
After all these years, Sally Field remains a most incredible actress who works very hard to understand the psychologies of each character she portrays and you cannot, nor should you, ever accuse her of being lazy in her preparation. Her performance here is the latest example of how much we really, really like her work (sorry, I couldn’t help it). Field also does a commendable job of giving Mary Todd Lincoln the respect she deserves as she is not talked about as much as her famous President husband.
“Had there not been a Mary Todd, there would not have been an Abraham Lincoln,” said Field. “She found him when he was a young lawyer and really a bumpkin. No one knew of him but she recognized his brilliance. She was so under-examined and misunderstood, and a very important woman in American history.”
WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2012.
While there are many actors who physically and mentally transform themselves for a role, none are as fascinating to watch or as serious in their concentration as two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis. Whether he’s playing poet Christy Brown in “My Left Foot” or portraying Daniel Plainview in “There Will Be Blood,” Lewis disappears so deeply into each character he takes on to where it’s almost like he ceases to exist. With “Lincoln,” he gets his biggest challenge yet as director Steven Spielberg convinced him to portray the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.
Lewis spent a full year preparing to play President Lincoln by reading through his speeches and writings. The actor also lost quite a bit of weight to look more like the rail-thin leader, and he took a tour of Lincoln’s home and law office in Springfield, Illinois along with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. As for the physical side of playing Lincoln, Spielberg indicated Day-Lewis had many of the President’s features when he arrived on set.
“That was his hair, his beard, he had very light makeup on his face. And we added the mole, of course,” Spielberg said of Day-Lewis. “I don’t know how much (weight he lost), but he was as lean as I’ve ever seen him.”
In the process of reading Lincoln’s writings and speeches, Day-Lewis became delighted at his use of certain words like “disenthrall.” The actor’s father was once England’s poet laureate, and he taught his son a great love of language which lasts to this very day. As a result, Day-Lewis strongly encouraged Tony Kushner, who wrote the screenplay for “Lincoln,” to include those words into the script.
“I’d never seen that word (disenthrall) before and I’m always looking for a context ever since where I can use that word, I love it so much,” Day-Lewis said. “The richest source, which creates a very broad, illuminated avenue towards an understanding of Lincoln and his life is through his own words and his own language.”
One aspect of Day-Lewis’ performance people are desperate to know more about was how he came up with Lincoln’s voice. Since Lincoln died long before audio recording became a reality, no one can ever truly be certain of what this American President sounded like. Looking at him in historical pictures, most people came to assume Lincoln had a deep booming voice. Day-Lewis, however, went with a high-pitched tone instead which came about when he read Lincoln’s writing aloud.
“I began to hear a voice that, as I grew closer to the man, that seemed to give me the full expression of his character,” Day-Lewis said. “You look for the clues, as within any aspect of the work, you search for the clues, and there were plenty of them, but for me, if I’m very lucky, at a given moment, I begin to hear a voice, not in the supernatural sense, but in my inner ear, and then the work begins to try to reproduce that sound.”
As with his previous roles, Day-Lewis stayed in character and kept the accent even when the cameras were not rolling. This was not lost on his fellow co-stars which included James Spader who plays political operative William N. Bilbo.
“He’s doing an accent and voice that he held onto all day because I think that’s really the only way one could do that,” Spader said of Lewis.
While doing his research, Day-Lewis’ biggest surprise was discovering Lincoln’s sense of humor and what an important aspect of his personality it was.
“I think it was tactical (Lincoln’s humor), in the political sense. At times, it was undoubtedly used in a conscious sense, for some purpose and to make some point,” Lewis said. “There were accounts of people that came to ask him a question of great importance to them, found themselves in his presence, got a handshake and a story, and were out of the room before they even realized [they never asked it]. That’s good politics. But I think that was innately part of him.”
Daniel Day-Lewis never ceases to amaze us with his unsurprisingly brilliant performances, and the one he gives us in “Lincoln” is just the latest example. While he was initially reluctant to play this American President in Spielberg’s film at first, it is clear he did his homework which led to his unique interpretation of this unforgettable historical figure. It would be utterly shocking if he were to be denied an Oscar nomination for his intense efforts here.
The latest “Wrong Turn” installment is now available for all to watch, but while some of the filmmakers remain the same, almost everything else has changed. Directed by Mike P. Nelson, this film acts as a reboot of the “Wrong Turn” franchise as we follow a bunch of young adults who are going on a hiking trip up in Virginia. But instead of running into bloodthirsty cannibals, they run into a clan of self-sufficient people who have lived in the mountains for years and do not take kindly to outsiders. What results may seem like another horror slasher extravaganza, but unlike its predecessors, it is grounded in a reality we all know and understand, and this makes this particular reboot stand out in the overcrowded horror genre.
Among the young adults in the cast is Dylan McTee who portrays Adam Lucas, the loudmouth jerk of the group who never knows when to shut his mouth. But while Adam may sound like the typical clichéd you find in the average horror film, McTee invest this character with intelligence, thoughtfulness and a physicality which is on full display throughout. Born in Los Angeles, California and a graduate of USC, he played Wyatt Long in the CW show “Roswell: New Mexico,” and he also co-starred in “The Wind,” a horror film which belongs on my “Underseen Movies” list.
I spoke with Dylan about the making of “Wrong Turn” and how it differs from the average film, and we also discussed other things like training at USC and why he is so inspired by Daniel Day Lewis’ acting.
Ben Kenber: How familiar were you with the “Wrong Turn” franchise before you got cast in this reboot?
Dylan McTee: I was, and part of the reason why I wanted to do it was because it (the first “Wrong Turn” film) was one of the first horror movies I ever saw. As a kid, I remember watching it with my older brother who had, obviously without my parents knowing, had turned it on. It scared the shit out of me for months and probably messed up my brain for maybe the good, right? Because I’m in the new one (laughs).
BK: I had talked to Adrian Favela recently and he said he also saw it when he was a kid and it messed him up pretty good.
DM: Yeah. I think a lot of us were the same age as kids when the first film came out, so we were given a too early exposure to it.
DM: Oh yeah, that was on too. I saw all of them. I watched “The Exorcist” when I was way too young. Way too young.
BK: As the movie goes on, we learn Adam and the other young adults are not all they appear to be and prove to be more intelligent than they appear on the surface. They are more complex than I expected. Did this aspect appeal to you?
DM: Yeah, of course. Certainly, there are archetypes. This isn’t like a character drama or anything. This is still a pretty classic horror slasher film, but you are very right. I play Adam who is definitely the difficult one and why I wanted to play him was because of the fact that he is the guy who, whether or not it is socially right to do so, says the truth or at least what he believes to be the truth, and he’s not afraid to fight about it. That’s sort of what the film is about. At its heart it’s a fun, fun slasher just for you to have fun while watching, but it is also sort of about social issues that we have today like division. I think that we’re all quick to judge, and in the universe of this film that is exactly what gets you killed. I think that was really fun to explore.
BK: In other interviews, you have said you are attracted to very challenging roles which explore the darker side of humanity, and we definitely get to see Adam’s dark side when he is forced to defend himself in the worst way possible. What was it like portraying that?
DM: That’s so true. I love playing the darker side of humanity for sure, just like playing the joy and all that. Adam was a particularly interesting character because he is so erratic. You don’t really quite know what’s going to happen next to him. He is deeply selfish and violent, and then he is caring and comforting, and then he lies and then he tells the truth, and to me that’s exciting when you don’t know what’s going to happen next with someone. But at the end of the day, obviously it can be argued that he is not the best person. I love to think there is a part in all of us that is deeply just mental and is willing to fight and violently fight for those assumptions we have of others. That’s, in my opinion, the lesson. It’s the weaker route to take. It’s harder to take a step back and say, well where are these people actually coming from? Where am I coming from? It’s much easier to just assume something about someone, and then that’s the job, right? At least my job in this film was to show this aspect of humanity which unfortunately we all have.
BK: Yes, we do make assumptions about people even when we shouldn’t, and this is what gets the characters in trouble.
DM: Yeah, so I really like that (Alan B.) McElroy added that. He is also the screenwriter of the original film, and I am glad that he brought that in.
BK: It must be nice to work with writers and filmmakers like McElroy who are working to freshen up the genre if only by a little bit.
DM: Yeah. This is my third film ever, so I am not going to pretend like I’m some sort of veteran. In many ways I’m starting out, but this was definitely a different experience and definitely my first experience where I realized the horror genre has really changed. I find the audiences are more sophisticated than ever before. If you are going to go about rebooting something that people like, you need to push the envelope. Sure, there’s gonna be people who are upset that maybe Three Finger is not in this iteration, but I just really respect the fact that we just did something no one is expecting really. I think that’s fun to watch, and to me that’s worth it.
BK: Another movie you were in which I really liked was “The Wind.”
DM: That was a cool movie.
BK: That’s kind of a wilderness movie as well. Were there any similarities for you in filming “The Wind” and “Wrong Turn?”
DM: Oh god, they were so different. I had a fairly small part in “The Wind,” but the characters are just opposites. In “The Wind” I was a very subdued and quiet, late 1800’s city boy. In this one, I was, well, a very violent, fighting city boy, so there you go. They were both city boys (laughs). “The Wind” was very quiet, eerily so. This one is more running and trying to solve problems and action and movement and then just fighting for survival. So (they are) very different films even though they are in the same genre. But I love Emma (Tammi) and Caitlin (Gerard). They were just genius.
BK: Speaking of running and jumping, you and the rest of the cast did a lot of that in “Wrong Turn.” How physically demanding was shooting this movie for you?
DM: Incredibly. In any film, it’s how ever much you want to put in it, and for me, at least in my experience, I put in a lot. I want it to be authentic as possible, and really at the end of the day the only way to do that is just to do it. Obviously, we followed all of the safety protocols, but I was really dragged by a chain and I really fell down a hill. I am fairly equipped just from my own experience. I am a black belt in karate, I like fight choreography, I love all that stuff. It was actually something I looked for. So, for me at least, it was a huge part of the attraction to this role and this film really.
BK: I read that you studied martial arts. Which of them would you say you are proficient?
DM: Just Kenpo, a Japanese karate, and then I also do boxing and obviously some stage combat which is very like, I’m a thespian! (Laughs) But that’s not real fighting. And then at school I got in fights, but I’m not like an MMA guy. That would be cool. Maybe I will do that for the next role.
BK: You have said you are very inspired by the acting of Daniel Day Lewis. Is there any specific performance of his which you really like?
DM: One that really hit me was “In the Name of the Father.” There’s a scene where he’s talking to his dad in a jail cell, and just the way in which he lets it rip… He’s not afraid to look ugly. That’s just something I look up to. He just gives his heart and soul, and that’s what we want to watch. That’s so inspiring to me.
BK: Yes. There are many actors out there who just want to look cool onscreen, and then there are those who are more than prepared to dirty themselves up if the role calls for it.
DM: Yeah, totally. I think most of the actors that reach the top or the ones I look up to are aware of the fact that they are servants. It’s not about me. We are here to serve the story and to represent something that someone maybe is actually watching and saying, that’s me. There is a huge responsibility to acting in my opinion.
BK: You trained at University of Sothern California (USC). What classes did you benefit most from as an actor there?
DM: My favorite class was dialects. The fact that you could find movement and bring that to the voice and how you can watch videos of people and all the research involved of finding a certain specific southern accent or Northern Irish or Southern Irish or New York or Bronx and all these different things and just how you can bring it into your body. That was huge for me and so much fun. I definitely want to do more of that character stuff. I love that element of acting.
“Wrong Turn” is now available on VOD, Digital, DVD and Blu-ray. You horror fans be sure to check it out!
The one thing which always drove me nuts in history class as a kid was how the teachers and the books we read made the past seem so much better than our present. We were taught about how Presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were such great leaders who helped make America the country it is today, and in the process, they were turned into mythological characters to where we forgot they were human beings like the rest of us. Juxtaposing this with the politics of America back when Ronald Reagan was President, it looked like we could do nothing but complain about the state of the world. It made me wonder what we did as Americans which made us seem so ungrateful for what our forefathers brought about.
This is why I’m thankful for movies like Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” which helps to humanize those historical figures we learned about in class. In this case, the historical figure is Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. The film focuses on the last four months of his Presidency when the Civil War was raging on and was insistent on getting the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, passed in the House of Representatives. It presents this President, one of the greatest America has ever known, as a flesh and blood human being endowed with strengths and flaws which will make you admire him more than ever before.
Much of the accomplishment in making President Lincoln so vividly human here is the result of another unsurprisingly brilliant performance from the great Daniel Day Lewis. Known for his intense method acting and laser sharp focus in preparing for each role he does, he brings his own touches to a man so defined by his historical deeds, and he succeeds in making this character his own during the movie’s two and a half hour running time.
“Lincoln” also shows how the world of politics has always been a cutthroat place to be in. The Republican and Democratic parties were much different than from what they are today, but during the 1800’s getting certain amendments passed involved a lot of tricks which were not always highly regarded. Even Lincoln wasn’t above hiring three politicians, played by Tim Blake Nelson, John Hawkes and James Spader, to lobby members of the House to vote in favor of passing the Thirteenth Amendment. But what made this President’s actions especially courageous was how he wasn’t just thinking about solving the country’s problems but of the effects this particular amendment would have on generations to come.
“Lincoln” also delves into the President’s personal life which had been fractured by the loss of a child and was also unsteady due to the fiery personality of his wife Mary, played by Sally Field. Watching Field here reminds us of what a remarkable actress she remains after all these years. Field is such a live wire as she struggles to make her husband see the consequences of the actions he is about to take. The actress had signed on to play this role years ago, back when Liam Neeson was set to play Lincoln, and she had to fight to keep it. It’s a good thing Spielberg kept her around because she has always been a tremendous acting talent, and she enthralls us in every scene she appears in.
Like many of Spielberg’s best films, there isn’t a single weak performance to be found in “Lincoln” which boasts quite the cast. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who had a heck of a year in 2012 with “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Looper” and “Premium Rush,” is excellent as Lincoln’s oldest son, Robert, who considers quitting school to join the army and fight for his country. David Strathairn is a wonderfully strong presence as Secretary of State William Seward, the great Hal Holbrook is unforgettable as the influential politician Francis Preston Blair, Gloria Reuben is very moving in her performance as former slave Elizabeth Keckley, and Jackie Earle Haley has some strong moments as the Confederate States Vice President Alexander H. Stephens.
But the one great performance which needs to be singled out in “Lincoln,” other than the ones given by Lewis or Field, is Tommy Lee Jones’ who portrays the Radical Republican Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens. Jones is a powerhouse throughout as he empowers this fervent abolitionist with a passion as undeniable as it is undying, and seeing him reduce other congressional members to jelly is a thrill to witness. Jones is tremendous as we see him fight for what he feels is right regardless of how he goes about achieving it.
Spielberg employs his usual band of collaborators here like producer Kathleen Kennedy, director of photography Janusz Kamiński, editor Michael Kahn and composer John Williams to create a movie which captures the importance of Lincoln’s place in history while also making it intimate in a way we don’t expect it to be. He also benefits from having the great playwright Tony Kushner on board as the movie’s screenwriter. Kushner’s knowledge of history has never been in doubt ever since we witnessed his magnum opus of “Angels in America,” and word is he spent six years working on the script for “Lincoln.” His efforts do show as he gives us a riveting portrait of a divided nation on the verge of making a major change, and even back then America was resistant and deeply frightened to making certain changes regardless of whether or not it would benefit from them.
Granted, Lincoln’s life would probably be better explored in a miniseries as there is so much to explore, and this movie can explore only so much of it. Regardless, “Lincoln” is an invigorating portrait of a great American President who fought for the benefit of his country’s future. The sacrifices he made tragically cut his life short, but his legacy will never ever die as Spielberg’s film rightly proves.