We all know method actors are cray, right? Yes, maybe they take it too far as HuffPost pointed out in an article about 15 extreme method actors, but I can’t help but love them. I’m not sure what I admire more: their dedication or their insanity. And who is the most method of all? I think you know. He even made that HuffPost list twice. No joke. Is it redundant to talk about how brilliant he is? Probably, but indulge me for minute. There are really good – even great – actors who are dynamic, captivating performers whom we also can’t help but love: Denzel Washington, Jack Nicholson, Tom Hanks, Jeff Bridges. They’ve got their thing, and they’re great at it. And then there’s that other kind of actor, the kind who completely embodies his character and disappears into his (or her) performance. Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of them, Meryl Streep (obviously), and of course, Daniel Day-Lewis.
It’s a rare day anymore when I don’t “see” an actor’s performance: I see the technique, I see the process, I see the actor as a person, and I think about all these things when I’m watching the film, perhaps a consequence of my days as a performance student. Not this time. Y’all, he was Lincoln. I didn’t see Daniel Day-Lewis the actor/person; a few times, I even wondered, “Where the hell is he?” His performance was so delicate, so intricately crafted, so honest that it was completely imperceptible, and so truthful that, ironically, I forgot that it wasn’t real. Frankly, I don’t think it’s even fair for the other actors up against him for best actor. He probably should just have his own category because he’s simply on a-whole-nother level.
But it wasn’t his performance alone that made Lincoln so good. I loved James Spader (and have ever since Pretty in Pink) in his comic, supporting role as W.N. Bilbo, and clearly he loved playing it. Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln was crazy fierce, or maybe just fierce and crazy. (Read how she fought to keep the role. That was a close one, Steven Spielberg.) She and Daniel Day-Lewis had a scene where their on-screen intensity made me think of this scene between Al Pacino and Diane Keaton in The Godfather: Part II. The entire supporting cast – and by that I mean everyone in the film – all gave fine, fine performances. And the score, the script, the costumes and make-up, were just as well-crafted as the performances. The film came together in such a way . . . all you saw was the story, the details and work fell away. John Williams, the king of catchy film scoring, wrote a score that I don’t even remember, and I mean that in the best possible way. Tony Kushner (no slouch, there) wrote the script, which was quite funny and is based in part on Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin; I think I’m going to have to read it now. And the make-up?
Just kidding. That’s really Lincoln.
So, go see it. You might even learn something about American history if your 8th-grade history teacher played The Last of the Mohicans every day instead of teaching. (True story.) I may not have learn what I was supposed to, but I did watch a lot of Daniel Day-Lewis that year. I’ll call it a win.
Have you seen it? What did you think? Brian pointed out that the cinematography by Janusz Kamiński was reminiscent of the daguerreotypes that Tad looked at throughout the film, which I thought was lovely. What about you?
photo credit: Abraham Lincoln, 1863. Photograph by Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress.