“It has all been leading up to this night,” AFI CEO and President Bob Gazzale told me at the Hollywood Roosevelt pre-screening reception for the AFI Fest closing film, the official World Premiere of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. It was actually first presented in “unfinished” form at the New York Film Festival, a fact that didn’t bother Gazzale. “We ask the studios ‘how can we help you with your movie? We were thrilled to get it as our closing’,” he said and felt this was a very big deal. It made nice bookends for the festival that opened with Hitchcock and now was closing with Lincoln.
It was indeed a big deal with virtually the entire principal cast turning out. Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones as well as Spielberg, screenwriter Tony Kushner and most of the key crew were there. DreamWorks chief Stacey Snider, Participant’s Jim Berk and Jeff Skoll and Disney’s Bob Iger also attended, along with many others.
Spielberg was excited to see the long gestating project finally premiere at the Chinese Theatre. The film, which details Lincoln’s battle with Congress to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, is ironically relevant to today’s fractured Congressional fights and the director thinks the post-election timing is perfect, especially with looming debates about several hot button issues. “I didn’t want to see this released in front of the election or see it politicized”, Spielberg told me. “I think now it can almost be a kind of cleansing for the country”.
Co-star Sally Field agrees. “Steven is just so brilliant. He didn’t want the movie to become a political football. And it’s so good. I really think ultimately it is a very hopeful movie not just for America at this time but also the whole world.” Field had great praise for all the behind-the-scenes craftspeople and is excited now to be doing Q&As not just with the other actors but also the people who made the movie happen. She really poured a lot into making her portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln as authentic as possible. “I gained 25 pounds for the role and even got to Mary’s exact waistline”, she said adding praise for Costume Designer Joanna Johnston who gathered bits of actual fabric the First Lady wore. The two-time Oscar winner and three-time Emmy winner even tested for the role because she wanted it so much.
Snider was thrilled about the major reviews that were just breaking for the film with raves from both the New York Times, LA Times and Roger Ebert. “Just don’t tell Steven. He doesn’t read the reviews,” she laughed. One person who does was Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of the book Team Of Rivals: The Political Genius Of Abraham Lincoln, the 800 page Lincoln bio Kushner partially used in shaping his screenplay. “I was just getting on the plane to fly here today when I got an email asking if I had heard about the New York Times review but then the plane took off before I could see it so I didn’t know if it was good or bad until I landed in L.A.,” she told me. She said she hopes both political parties see the film and that maybe it can help to make a difference if they see how Lincoln rose above the partisan bickering to create real change. By the way, the film is really scoring with critics and is currently sitting at an impressive 93% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes which certainly will boost its strong Oscar prospects. The official Academy screening is Saturday night with Spielberg, Kushner, Kennedy, Day-Lewis, Field and composer John Williams participating in a Q&A.
Tommy Lee Jones who is winning strong Oscar buzz for his role as Republican power broker Thaddeus Stevens told me he was just happy to see a very different portrait of Lincoln than we’ve had in the past. “I was relieved to see a Lincoln who was a real country boy, not just a bumpkin ‘ol honest Abe, a so-called icon but a country boy who is not too comfortable in town, a brilliant lawyer, very fine insightful poet… we’re talking about a real man here and I was very happy to see it and work on this movie.”
Iger told me he was extremely proud of the film. He’s also happy with Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and the upcoming trio of new Star Wars films that come with it. “You can be sure I am working a lot on that one,” he told me. Of course Lincoln producer Kathleen Kennedy will be running Lucasfilm for Disney.
Lincoln platforms today and opens wide on November 16.