Sally Field and Joseph Gordon-Levitt text the prez for Lincoln
BEVERLY HILLS—Recently, Sally Field and Joseph Gordon-Levitt turned up at a Beverly Hills hotel looking extraordinarily attractive, as movie stars will do. Field, who just turned 66, was wearing a short blue dress and, with her glossy brown hair and Bambi eyes, appeared approximately as girlish as she did when she won her first Oscar way back in 1980 for Norma Rae. She seemed jazzed and feisty, as if she’d just popped Charlize Theron in a boxing match.
Gordon-Levitt, that 31-year-old crush object of swooning young hipsters—The Dark Knight Rises seemingly hasn’t hurt his (500) Days of Summer stock any—wasn’t looking too shabby himself. He was wearing a narrow suit and a tie, his dark hair was neatly parted to one side, and his trademark squinty-pretty eyes seemed especially, well, pretty. The two made an unusually comely mother and son, though, of course, they aren’t.
In Lincoln, it’s another matter altogether. In the movie (which opens November 16), Field plays Mary Todd Lincoln, the devoted and possibly bipolar wife of the 16th president of the United States (played by Daniel Day-Lewis). Gordon-Levitt plays their rather gently rebellious eldest son, Robert. The movie, directed by Steven Spielberg, depicts the last four months of Abraham Lincoln’s life, in 1865. It is decidedly more concerned with the president’s finagling to pass that famous 13th Amendment (to abolish slavery), his politically savvy management of the American Civil War, and his lively, knotty relationships with his wife and children than it is with that tragic April evening at Ford’s Theatre.
“Mary is an incredibly complicated, I think, underexamined, underappreciated woman in American history,” Field said of the wife who in the film appears never at a loss for words. Field read letters, took field trips, and examined “massive collections of Mary Todd memorabilia”. It sounded exhausting. Spielberg and Day-Lewis would agree, however, with Field that “had there not been a Mary Todd, there would not have been an Abraham Lincoln.”
Gordon-Levitt took a somewhat different tack. “Yeah, well, my experience was that the research that I did, to be honest, paled in comparison to the research that was done by those around me,” he said, clearing his throat. Perhaps he meant that he didn’t do any. “Daniel and Tony [Kushner, the screenwriter], and Sally, and others. I found I learned the most just by having conversations with them.”
He was, however, fascinated by Lincoln’s initial refusal to allow young Robert to enlist in the Union army. “One of the greatest virtues of this movie is that it doesn’t paint Abraham Lincoln as a deity” but “as a human being with flaws and hypocrisies. Because it really is sort of hypocritical for a president to be perpetuating a war while at the same time keeping his son from fighting.” He then cleared his throat several more times, expressing the ideas again but differently.
Field began telling an amusing, if lengthy, story. For months before filming, she and Day-Lewis texted as Mary and Abe, “totally in character, which was very difficult”. Before Day-Lewis shot his first scene in Richmond, Virginia, Field texted an invitation: “ ‘In lieu of a carriage, find your shoes,’ because Mary would take Abe out for carriage rides.”
Day-Lewis agreed to the invitation. “I mean, he’s notorious for not wanting to have any socialization,” she said. “I don’t like socializing, so trust me, this was not me either. I was really Mary and going ‘Come on, Mary. Come on, baby.’ ”
Field and Day-Lewis—rather, Mary and Abe—strolled around Richmond. At some point, Field said to Day-Lewis: “ I have to touch you.” He was possibly startled. “And I”: she mimed walking her hands up his chest. Her audience laughed. “I laid my head on him. I said, ‘I can’t be worried and be shy about owning your body, ’cause married people don’t have that.’ His eyes got a little bigger.” The story continued for a little bit. Ultimately, filming their first scene, Field said, “Daniel was not Daniel.…He was Mr. Lincoln.”
Day-Lewis wasn’t textually mono-gamous. Gordon-Levitt also enjoyed what he considered a “really warm” text exchange with him. “But the first time I met him, I never met him,” he said. “I only ever met the president, only ever heard his voice, the president’s voice. Called him ‘Sir’; he called me ‘Robert’.”
On the last day of filming, “I got to watch him get up out of his deathbed and start to shrug it off,” Gordon-Levitt said. That night, everyone celebrated. Guinness was consumed. “Daniel showed up in jeans and a T-shirt and, you know, a completely different voice and posture, and he was like one of my friends. You know, this kind of cool artist guy!”
Last pesky question: wasn’t Lincoln a bit, well, touchy-feely? What about the wrestling around with that male secretary?
“You mean, is he gay?” Kushner, who was also present, interjected. Well… “I think there’s a great deal of reason in historical record to wonder.…[but] there’s absolutely nothing definitive.” He added: “In 1865…in January, he wasn’t getting laid by anybody. He was very busy.” Everyone laughed. “The question for me is…so what? Who cares who he liked to sleep with? He was Abraham Lincoln.”
“Who the eff cares!” Field echoed, decidedly pleased.
Watch the trailer for Lincoln.