Daniel Day-Lewis isn't certifiable -- it's just that the "Lincoln" star's acting process may make it seem that way. "Usually when I'm working I begin to hear a voice," he said Wednesday night during a Q&A session with "Lincoln" director Steven Spielberg that was streamed live exclusively on Yahoo! Movies.
"It's the most supernatural thing!" the Academy Award-winning actor said as part of a discussion on how he developed the voice of the 16th president of the United States. "I hear a voice if I'm lucky -- the voice that is in my mind's ear, so to speak. And that is already a door opening, after which I try to reproduce that sound," Day-Lewis explained.
When one person asked him how he knows he got Lincoln's voice right, Day-Lewis replied with a laugh, "Luckily I don't, but nor do you." He noted the fact that there are no recordings of Lincoln's voice in existence (the technology didn't exist back then). And thankfully so: "Mimicry -- to me, anyway -- is a very dull prospect," Day-Lewis said.
"In terms of all the literature of people who knew Lincoln, people who wrote extensively about Lincoln after his death," Spielberg explained, "Lincoln did not have the low voice of the Abraham Lincoln in Epcot Center -- the animatronic, low, deep voice. His voice was always in a higher tenor range."
Day-Lewis has utilized distinctive voices throughout his career from the challenged speech of a young man suffering from cerebral palsy in "My Left Foot" to the gruff and throaty voice of the villainous Daniel Plainview in "There Will Be Blood" to, now, the high and soft voice of Lincoln. "A voice is such a deep personal reflection of character," Day-Lewis said.
"If I hear a voice, I tend to believe that I hear it for good reason," Day-Lewis said, also noting that he had done extensive research before tackling the development of his character's vocal sound. "And then the main work becomes in trying to discover that voice in one's body."
The first attempt he was willing to share with Spielberg was a success. As if corresponding with a pen pal he met at summer camp, Day-Lewis shipped a small analog recorder to Spielberg. And it had a skull-and-cross bones on it, indicating it was for Spielberg's eyes only. "One day I received an envelope with a small tape recorder... It was like 'Mission Impossible'," Spielberg recalled during Wednesday night's conversation. Spielberg joked that he wondered if it was going to explode. But it was a first recording of Day-Lewis as Lincoln. "Without hesitation my eyes welled up," Spielberg said. "Abraham Lincoln was talking to me on that little tape recorder."
The voice never really changed, said Spielberg. "That was the voice that was the character. I loved it."
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