Today’s lesson in never giving up comes from Jewish filmmaker Steven Spielberg.
Ten years ago, when Spielberg was starting to work on his film about the 16th American President, “Lincoln,” he asked the Jewish actor Daniel Day-Lewis to star as the protagonist, to which Day-Lewis said no (spoiler alter! he ends up playing the part).
Spielberg shared the rejection letter to the the crowd at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards this past Monday for the first time, and it reads:
“It was a real pleasure just to sit and talk with you. I listened very carefully to what you had to say about this compelling history, and I’ve since read the script and found it in all the detail in which it describes these monumental events and in the compassionate portraits of all the principal characters, both powerful and moving. I can’t account for how at any given moment I feel the need to explore life as opposed to another, but I do know that I can only do this work if I feel almost as if there is no choice; that a subject coincides inexplicably with a very personal need and a very specific moment in time. In this case, as fascinated as I was by Abe, it was the fascination of a grateful spectator who longed to see a story told, rather than that of a participant. That’s how I feel now in spite of myself, and though I can’t be sure that this won’t change, I couldn’t dream of encouraging you to keep it open on a mere possibility. I do hope this makes sense Steven, I’m glad you’re making the film, I wish you the strength for it, and I send both my very best wishes and my sincere gratitude to you for having considered me.”
But Spielberg, being Spielberg, would not take no for an answer, and sent Day-Lewis a second and third version of the script, both of which he declined as well. He then turned to Tony Kushner, the screenwriter Spielberg collaborated with for “Munich,” and Day-Lewis finally complied.