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Sally Field as first lady Mary Todd Lincoln in Spielberg’s Lincoln
David James/DreamWorks and Twentieth Century Fox

Of course, as with any Spielberg movie, he’s kept a tight lid on many things until the film’s release. Sure, he’ll talk endlessly? about the politics of the film: how GOP leaders leaned liberal and Democrats were conservative in the Civil War era. But he’s been exceptionally quiet about any material involving Lincoln’s assassination, saying, “Sorry, but I want to leave it to the audience to discover.” 

One thing even he doesn’t know is whether or not the movie will score at the box office. While his sci-fi, action and fantasy films have generally been blockbusters, Spielberg has a mixed record with historical epics. Schindler’s List was an enormous hit, Munich a modest success and Amistad a flop. About Lincoln, he says, “An audience will bend in the direction of their interest. If they find this story and these characters compelling, a 2012 audience can become an 1865 audience.” According to the director, “The main idea was to make democracy electrifying. We were interested in showing the drama in democracy.”

Though Spielberg has spent more than a dozen years on this project, it’s haunted his consciousness far longer. “Ever since I was in the third grade and cut out his silhouette in crepe paper, all through my childhood, Lincoln has always struck me as the most compelling figure in history,” he says. “I’ve had a curiosity about him throughout my entire life.” Now that he’s finally completed his cinematic vision of the famed president, has it turned out as he had imagined? “Yes,” he says, without a moment’s hesitation. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do. It was an old dream that’s grown brighter with age, not dimmer.”

Jeffrey Ressner is a Los Angeles–based writer who covers the entertainment industry and other subjects. He has served as a staffer at Rolling Stone, Politico and Time.