‘Lincoln’: The actor who almost played Honest Abe in Spielberg’s bio-pic
Audiences got a sneak-peak last night of Steven Spielberg's long-gestating project, "Lincoln," during a secret screening at the New York Film Fest. The movie centers on the last few months of the president's life when he managed to get the 13th amendment passed, which outlawed slavery, during the waning days of the Civil War.
Scripted by "Munich" screenwriter Tony Kushner, the movie is much more of a dialogue-heavy chamber drama than the sweeping epic you might expect from the trailer, focusing on the moral complexities of the legislative process. By all accounts, star Daniel Day-Lewis delivers a masterful, mesmerizing performance. And while Day-Lewis is now no doubt a front-runner for the best-actor Oscar, he wasn't Spielberg's first choice to play America's 16th president.
That honor goes to Liam Neeson.
Spielberg acquired the rights to Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's book "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" back in 2001, before the acclaimed tome was even published. In 2005, it was announced that Neeson, who had worked previously with Spielberg in "Schindler's List," was to play the lead. Then the project fell into what Hollywood calls "development hell."
Initially, Spielberg had trouble getting the movie off the ground because studio heads felt it was too close to the director's 1997 box-office disappointment "Amistad." The enormity and complexity of the project forced Kushner to go through countless drafts. But the biggest culprit is most likely Spielberg's insane schedule. Like many A-list directors, he attaches himself to a number of films simultaneously. Between the time that he got the rights to Goodwin's book and now, Spielberg has directed eight movies and produced around two dozen. And, oh yeah, he also runs Dreamworks.
Photo: Anita Bugge/WireImage
Lincoln was 56 years old when he was shot. Neeson is now 60. So while the "Taken" star is technically correct, it is certainly not uncommon for an actor to play young. In the end, Neeson's heart probably wasn't in the project. Given his choice of movies in recent years -- "Taken 2," "The A-Team," "Battleship" -- he clearly is less interested in chasing Oscars than in kicking butt and taking names. Neeson has made as many movies in 2012 as Day-Lewis has in the past decade.