Q&A: Kathleen Kennedy On Lincoln

This article appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of AwardsLine.

Kathleen Kennedy has worked with Steven Spielberg for more than 30 years, producing boxoffice successes and critical hits in equal measure. But she says that in all that time, one biographical topic came up consistently in their development discussions: “The subject of Lincoln was something that always fascinated both of us,” she says, noting that their current release took 13 years and multiple iterations to make it to theaters. “We were both really surprised that there hadn’t been more done in cinema (on Lincoln) over the years.” With a script from Tony Kushner, their complex—and occasionally humorous—portrayal of the 16th president’s efforts to pass the 13th amendment in the months before his assassination has already hit $100 million domestically and earned seven Golden Globe nominations. Kennedy recently spoke with AwardsLine about Lincoln’s languid path to production and her new role as president of LucasFilm.

AWARDSLINE: Every film has its own set of rules, but what consistently surprises you or keeps you interested when you’re starting a new project?

KATHLEEN KENNEDY: My tastes tend to be eclectic, so if I’m working on something that’s a small budget where the challenge is in all the nuances of trying to literally get it made, that presents its own set of challenges; if I’m making a big effects-driven studio picture, then it’s really more of managing all the moving parts. For something like Lincoln, we knew that this was going to be a difficult movie to get made, even if Steven Spielberg was directing it. And as you can see on the screen, we had many different partners just in trying to get the movie financed.

AWARDSLINE: Can you explain how that all came together?

KENNEDY: In this day and age, you say that you’re doing a movie about Abraham Lincoln, and nobody necessarily sees the opportunity for making lots of money—it’s not like doing Jurassic Park. So that’s something we knew going in, and we began to explore the options of who might step in and share the risk of making the film. It ended up taking almost a year before we put together the necessary partners. Stacey Snider was very involved at DreamWorks in really pulling most of that together while we were making War Horse. And when we came back, we went immediately into prepping Lincoln. I had already had many conversations with everybody in Virginia about being able to use the government buildings in Richmond while they were out of session. That, I knew early on, was going to dictate our shooting schedule. That gave us a goal in terms of knowing when we had to have the financial partners in place.

AWARDSLINE: Was there ever any other actor during this 13-year process of getting Lincoln made that you considered for the title role?

KENNEDY: It’s been in the press that we had conversations with Liam Neeson—this is after Daniel (Day-Lewis) had turned the movie down the first time. And once Tony (Kushner) wrote the script, and Daniel had a chance to read that draft, that’s when he turned around and committed to the project. But the only serious conversation we had with any other actor was with Liam.

AWARDSLINE: A lot has been written about Steven’s almost Method approach to working with the actors on set. Can you talk a little bit about that aspect?

KENNEDY: What was really going on was that Steven recognized very early that this was going to be a movie where it was all about what was going on in front of the camera. It was a movie that was focused predominantly on performances. He didn’t want an environment where there was a lot of chit-chat and conversations going on about what was happening behind the camera or just the kind of socializing that tends to go on when you’ve got a lot of down time. And this was a movie where there was virtually no downtime. There was always focused discussion on what was going on within the scene and within the performances, and conversations with the actors because we have in excess of 149 speaking parts (with) fairly complicated wardrobe and hair and makeup. Steven wanted to know as soon as the actors were ready and on the set, (so) he would be ready to start shooting and take full advantage of the time he had. What’s really interesting about any movie I’ve done with Steven (is) we usually adopt a kind of attitude depending on what the movie is. The closest experience I’ve had was working with Clint Eastwood. I’ve made a couple of movies with Clint, and he runs a set in a similar way. In large part, that comes from the fact that he is an actor, and it’s always the most important thing to Clint that when the actor arrives on the set, things are immediately quiet, and the focus turns to those performances. And that’s exactly what Steven did on this set.

AWARDSLINE: You’re stepping into the role of president of LucasFilm at a time when it’s being acquired by Disney. How will that affect your producing duties? You have a lot of work on your plate.

KENNEDY: (Laughs.) Yeah, it’s a lot on my plate, but it’s been fantastic. I consider it such an honor that George (Lucas) came to me after all these years and asked me if I would take over the company and ensure that his legacy continued. There’s going to be a lot that looks really fun and interesting, and it will still utilize many of the skills that I use as a producer. I don’t envision that a lot will change that dramatically. Many of the movies that I did with Steven over the years involved carrying through a lot of other areas of the business of making movies, and that’s something that I’ll probably end up doing more of. But I’m finding out what the job is right now.

Q&A: Tony Kushner on Lincoln

Mike Fleming Jr. is Deadline’s film editor. This article appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of AwardsLine.

Whittling down the 56-year life of a landmark U.S. president to a feature-length screenplay is a daunting task, and playwright Tony Kushner initially turned down the offer to adapt Abraham Lincoln’s story for the big screen for Steven Spielberg, even after their Oscar-lauded collaboration on 2005’s Munich. But if there’s one writer who can effectively generate emotional drama against a political venue, it’s Kushner, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning seven-hour-long Angels in America play dramatized the AIDS crisis amidst the complex attitudes of Reagan-era times. While length worked in Kushner’s favor during Angels, on Lincoln it was the rock that he pushed up a hill. But after conferring with Spielberg, Kushner soon found the cornerstone that would condense his first 500-page draft down to a 150-minute film: Lincoln’s political fight to get the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution pushed through Congress while the Civil War lingered.

AWARDSLINE: What was the biggest challenge you had in terms of focusing on a part of Lincoln’s life and keeping this feature length?

TONY KUSHNER: It very easily could have been a miniseries. There were a lot of challenges in that regard. It was just an astonishing amount of really incredibly dramatic historical material. By the time I finished doing my research, I could pretty much make a miniseries out of any weekend Lincoln was in the White House. And I know that is not in any way an exaggeration. More than any other moment in American history, (the Civil War) is a gathering of all our country’s central themes. My goal from the beginning was to not make a bare-bones outline of life in his administration. I wanted it to be a drama dictated by the working out of contradictions and conflict rather than a faithful recounting of all the high points in Lincoln’s life. It was very important that we not try to cover too much terrain, rather dramatize it in a small moment. The expanse of time itself defuses a certain amount of dramatic tension.

AWARDSLINE: Why didn’t you say yes to Lincoln right away? Was Munich a tough one to crack as well?

KUSHNER: Not at all. I really loved working with Steven on Munich, and it was hard in certain ways, but I just thought, “How do you write a character named Abraham Lincoln with anything other than an immortalization that you know? And who’s going to play him? And is Daniel Day-Lewis available?” I was told that he wasn’t interested in playing Abraham Lincoln at that point, and it just seemed like it was fraught with sandtraps and pitfalls and improbabilities. I feel even more strongly now than I did six years ago that Lincoln is one of the personalities like Mozart or Shakespeare—real genius is a word that I don’t use loosely or lightly—somebody who is capable of things that are actually beyond great. If you set your goal as explaining what they did and how they did it, the minute you’ve succeeded in doing that you’ve failed because you couldn’t possibly have gotten it right. You can’t explain how Mozart wrote Don Giovanni or how Keats wrote To a Nightingale or how Einstein came up with the Theory of Relativity. If we could figure it out, we could do it. Lincoln is, without any question, the greatest political leader this country has ever had but also one of its greatest writers. And, according to pretty much all accounts, a rather astonishing human being.

AWARDSLINE: What was the most frustrating part of the six years you worked on the Lincoln script?

KUSHNER: The first two years were spent around the fall of 1863, which is when Salmon Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, began to really openly campaign for the Republican nomination again with Lincoln. I was going to start there and go through the end of April of ’65. I wrote about 100 pages and got as far as Dec. 25, 1863. I thought, “OK, there has to be some way to condense this material.” Every time I tried, I wound up pretty much around the same thing. I don’t think I ever got into 1864. And there’s a vast amount of stuff that happened in 1864 that you just couldn’t skip over. Steven was waiting and I said to him, “I just don’t know what to do. I don’t how to make this a feature-length film.” I was hoping he would say “Well, let’s do it as a miniseries,” but he wanted to do it as a feature-length film. So during the writers’ strike when I wasn’t writing, I put it away, and I had my suspicion that something happened because as soon as our strike was over, I called Steven and asked, “What are we going to do? Shall we just drop this?” And he said, “Why don’t you come up and talk about it? We’ll talk through all of the material and see if we can figure something out.” Two days before I was to go see him, I had a little eureka moment and thought in the last four months of Lincoln’s life there were several immensely dramatic incidents. I went to L.A. with the outline, which Steven thought was still long. I started condensing it and didn’t get very far, so I just took a deep breath and started writing in May of that year, then worked for about eight weeks and produced a 500-page first draft. At some point we eliminated a couple of months and started focusing on the beginning of the end. What Steven was caught up in from the very beginning was the battle behind the scenes for the 13th Amendment. And the more I worked on it, the more I realized that in a way, without any stretching of history, it is a kind of perfect microcosm of what Lincoln contended with during the entirety of the war.

AWARDSLINE:When you turned Angels in America into this big HBO project, was that 500 pages, more or less?

KUSHNER: Angels was probably less than that because it’s seven or eight 60-page scripts. I don’t remember. But I think that we figured out that if Lincoln was a miniseries, it would have been about 10 hours.

AWARDSLINE: What quality allows you to spend six years on a project like this?

KUSHNER: It takes me a very long time to get ready to write and feel ready to write, after which I’m pretty fast. One of the things I love about my job as a playwright or as a screenwriter is that I get to do a lot of research and a lot of thinking and taking a lot of notes before I turn it in. It is a long time to spend on a screenplay. I certainly spent at least that much time on Angels. Most of my plays have taken two or three or four years. But it sort of takes the time it takes. I had never intended to write anything about Abraham Lincoln, so this kind of came out of nowhere for me. I knew that I was going to be handing over a good portion of my adult life to this and that it was going to be tricky.

AWARDSLINE: Was there anything you learned from working with Spielberg on Munich that prepared you to take on something like this?

KUSHNER: Certainly. When I did Angels in America with Mike Nichols, I’d never written a screenplay, I’d never been on a film set before. Mike gave me some incredibly valuable lessons in how to work on a screenplay, and I learned an enormous amount from Steven in terms of screenwriting. I sat behind him the entire time we did Munich, so by the time we were done, I felt I had really learned a lot. I think there’s a certain way in which Munich and Lincoln are connected in that both are sort of about due process and legal versus nonlegal means of getting what you want. Munich asks some questions that needed to be asked and always need to be asked about a policy of targeted assassination for the national and international context. And Lincoln is an investigation. It seemed to me that in a couple of ways the story of his battle for the 13th Amendment in January of 1865, there was a story about legal and quasi-legal manipulations that he felt were necessary to get what he needed. I see no evidence that Lincoln really strayed over the line into illegality. There are a lot of people who criticize him for martial law and for suspending habeus corpus and closing down newspapers. He made some tough decisions, and there was certainly no question that had he lived, the courts would have had a field day. But he struggled a lot because the Constitution doesn’t define war powers: You have them but (it) doesn’t say what they are.


Q&A: Steven Spielberg on Lincoln

Mike Fleming Jr. is Deadline’s film editor. This article appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of AwardsLine.

Steven Spielberg would like to dispel a few rumors about the kind of set he ran for his latest film, Lincoln. Yes, it’s true that star Daniel Day-Lewis remained in character even when the cameras weren’t rolling, and his sole contact on the set was the director. However, Spielberg himself did not have his costume designer dress him in period-appropriate attire every day—he simply wore a jacket and tie. And although the director admits that there weren’t many visitors to the set, perhaps helping to create the perceived mystique, the intimate nature of the production stemmed more from a sense of pride and respect over its main character than anything else. “Lincoln has not been honored in a dramatic motion picture for 72 years,” says Spielberg, adding that Raymond Massey was the last actor to play the 16th president on the big screen. That attention to detail and reverence for his subject matter has paid off in boxoffice, earning more than $86 million domestically at press time, as well as plenty of Oscar talk. Spielberg recently took time to discuss how he got his first choice of actor for every part and how he and screenwriter Tony Kushner found the right angle to tell the story properly.

AWARDSLINE: It seems unusual that the most successful director in Hollywood would require as long a courtship as you waged to get Daniel Day-Lewis to play Lincoln. How did you finally convince him?

STEVEN SPIELBERG: Daniel had about six years to think about it from the first time I offered him not this Lincoln, not the Tony Kushner-written Lincoln, and not the Lincoln written from Doris (Kearns Goodwin’s) book, but an original Lincoln script that I developed. After turning me down to play the character, I don’t think he ever forgot our encounter. What really did the trick was when he read the Tony Kushner script, and I was able to get a take two, because my good buddy Leo DiCaprio simply called him up one day and said, “You need to reconsider this. Steven really wants you for this, and he’s not willing to make the movie without you.” So Daniel, based on Leo’s phone call to him, offered to read the Tony Kushner script, which he had never read, and also the Doris Kearns Goodwin script, which he had never read. That was the beginning, and I think that’s when the courtship was over. Once he read the script, then he really had to come to terms with the big decision he would eventually have to make, which was, “Can I, with honor, equip this character in a way I’ll be able to live with the rest of my life?”

AWARDSLINE: Have you ever put in as much time convincing an actor to make one of your movies?

SPIELBERG: Never. I’ve never gone on a campaign to get (an actor). I pretty much took no for an answer. It’s one of the few times in my entire life where I was not willing to accept that answer. When he eventually said he would play Abraham Lincoln, the only caveat was he asked me to wait a year. Some of that was because he was sorting out his physical location, where he was living, between Ireland and then eventually he was going to move back to New York, but a lot of it was I think he wanted to really go deep into his own research. And I needed that year too, even though I was ambitious enough to jump into the picture four months after he said yes. We spent a lot of time on the script, and it gave me a year to cast the picture, which means I got all of my first choices. No filmmaker ever gets their first choices consistently, but by waiting a year, I was able to wait for actors to free themselves up for this one.

AWARDSLINE: Describe that eureka moment, if you remember it, where you found that kernel that became this terrific movie?

SPIELBERG: We were trying to tackle the last three years of the president’s life, which is the experience that the senators and representatives had, and that the president and his cabinet had. They didn’t see the action; they weren’t in the battlefields. Lincoln visited the troops, but he didn’t do it with the frontline, except once, and we depict that at the end of our picture. This was going to be a story of his last three years, but the script was 550 pages long. For me, the most compelling part of that screenplay was a 65-page section, which was the struggle to pass the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery. That section is where I stood up and said, “That’s it, that’s our story, that’s our film.” There were so many bullet points in Lincoln’s life that actually the more we spread that out over 550 pages, the (more) superficial his character seemed to feel. Once we focused everything on two great issues—the passage of the 13th Amendment and the Civil War—everything got a lot more concentrated and a lot more focused.

AWARDSLINE: When you have a great actor like Daniel Day-Lewis, how hands-on do you get?

SPIELBERG: Very hands-on, which is what I do, and it’s also what Daniel requires. He is very collaborative. You talk to the directors who have directed him before, from Scorsese to P.T. Anderson—he is an extremely collaborative actor, and the director is his only point of contact on an entire production. We were there for each other from the very beginning, and we spent three and a half months in active conversation, from the smallest moments to large pieces of history.

AWARDSLINE: What was most important to you and Sally Field about the way Mary Todd Lincoln was conveyed?

SPIELBERG: We wanted to be fair. We’ve all read different accounts of Mary and what her condition might be defined as in modern medicine. We knew one thing that everyone could agree to, and that is that Mary was the engine of Lincoln’s ambition. Without Mary, Lincoln would have probably taken his losses. When he lost the senate to Stephen Douglas, he probably would never have imagined that he could go for the highest office in the land. It was Mary that supplied the motor that put Lincoln in a direction with his own destiny. He looked to her as a guiding force, a light, also as damaged goods. He knew when she was being rational and politically savvy, and when she was being emotionally irrational. He would just sit with her for hours and let her vent until she came out of a fog. In that sense, he had so many burdens during his presidency.

AWARDSLINE: I read that you addressed your actors by their character names throughout and retained a feeling of period all the way through. It almost sounds like a Method set. How and who did this help?

SPIELBERG: It helped me, principally, because I took this very seriously. We were playing with one of the most beloved—and mysterious—characters in American history. It doesn’t have anything to do with Method, it has to do with authenticity and having the actors come to work in the morning and feeling a bit like stepping back into time.

AWARDSLINE: You worked on this film for so long—have you ever had a project that’s taken this long for the pieces to fall into place the way they have here?

SPIELBERG: Schindler’s List took 12 years between the time Sid Sheinberg purchased the film rights to the book by Thomas Keneally in 1982, and I began shooting the film ’93, so that was 11 years. I bought the film rights to Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln in 1999, which Doris was just beginning to write. So to answer your question, you’re right. This is the longest.

AWARDSLINE: You skipped releasing this movie during the election because you said you didn’t want this to be a political football. Now it comes out amidst these contentious partisan battles to stave off the debt cliff. What qualities about Lincoln would you most hope to convey to these folks who find it so hard to agree on anything?

SPIELBERG: Lincoln’s leadership is based on a number of precepts, but my favorite one is that he acted in the name—and for the good—of the people. In that sense, the two great things he did at the end of his life—to end slavery, peace for the Civil War—was for the good and in the name of the people. And he put people ahead of politics, although he was artful in using politics to be able to accomplish his task.

Past Oscar Winners Vie For Director Noms

Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This article appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of AwardsLine.

If you are getting a sense of déjà vu from this year’s director race, you aren’t far off. Several past Oscar winners in the category are back competing for another go at the gold. Even one of the frontrunner-newcomers, Argo’s Ben Affleck,is a past winner in the original screenplay category (Good Will Hunting),as is two-time directing nominee Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds) going for a third try with Django Unchained. Two of the best director winners in the past three years, Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) and Tom Hooper (The

Director Tom Hooper, left, and Hugh Jackman on the set of Les Misérables.
Director Tom Hooper, left, and Hugh Jackman on the set of Les Misérables.

King’s Speech), are already back in the thick of the race trying for a matching Oscar for their followup film, a rare feat if either one can pull it off. Then there are the likes of Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Peter Jackson, Robert Zemeckis, and Sam Mendes—all past winners attempting to make room for another Oscar on their mantel. Some prominent past nominees are also back trying for a first win including Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell, and Gus Van Sant. And could this be the year Christopher Nolan finally gets some love from his peers in the small Academy directing branch with his final Batman flick, The Dark Knight Rises? Here’s a rundown of the top contenders for best director.


Early in his career, Affleck took home an Oscar with cowriter and star Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting in the original screenplay category. But after an up-and-down career as a leading man, he found new respect behind the camera with his first two directorial efforts—Gone Baby Gone and The Town—winning critical acclaim and comparisions to Clint Eastwood. With Argo, in which he also plays the lead role, he has cemented his reputation as a directing force and has been a frontrunner in the category since the film’s debut at the Telluride Film Festival. But can he keep up the momentum all the way to February?

Director Steven Spielberg, left, and producer Kathleen Kennedy on the set of Lincoln.
Director Steven Spielberg, left, and producer Kathleen Kennedy on the set of Lincoln.


A two-time winner (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan) and six-time nominee in this category, Spielberg has an Oscar track record that seems almost modest considering his remarkable career. Many think he is still deserving of more. His long-gestating and critically acclaimed Lincoln, a film that almost didn’t happen and one he told me recently he felt “might not have been in the stars for me,” has come triumphantly to the screen and made him another formidable contender for the big prize.


Although he already had an Emmy win for Elizabeth I and another nomination for John Adams, British director Hooper was not well-known outside of England when it came to feature films. After a little success with The Damned United, he hit paydirt and won the director Oscar on his first nomination for The King’s Speech just two years ago. With numerous projects to choose from, he has now followed it up with the movie version of the smash musical Les Misérables and instantly stakes a claim for another nomination and possible second win in just two years. But will voters think it is too much, too fast?

Director Ang Lee tackled both 3D and digital effects for the first time in his career with Life of Pi.
Director Ang Lee tackled both 3D and digital effects for the first time in his career with Life of Pi.


A previous winner in this category for Brokeback Mountain (2005),Lee has another statuette for his foreign-language film winner Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The virtually unfilmable bestselling book Life of Pi took its toll on a number of directors who attempted to bring it to screen until Lee finally cracked a way to do it and moved the art and science of film one step forward with his dazzling visuals. Fellow directors seem to be awestruck by what he has accomplished, and that should assure him yet another nomination if the movie gods are smiling on him this season.

Director Kathryn Bigelow, right, and Jennifer Ehle on the set of Zero Dark Thirty.
Director Kathryn Bigelow, right, and Jennifer Ehle on the set of Zero Dark Thirty.


Just three years after becoming the first woman ever to win the best director Oscar for her Iraq war film, The Hurt Locker, Bigelow, an action-movie veteran, proved she still had the stuff to make provocative, controversial cinema with this film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Bigelow and writer Mark Boal started working on the film when bin Laden was still alive and eluding capture, reversing course and turning it into a look at how the world’s number-one fugitive was captured when the news broke. It’s a towering achievement, but considering it took 80 years for Bigelow to become the first woman to win the director Oscar, could it only take three for her to become the second?

Director David O. Russell, center, with stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence on the set of Silver Linings Playbook,
Director David O. Russell, center, with stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence on the set of Silver Linings Playbook,


A director who always seems more comfortable working in the indie world, David O. Russell encountered some tough times in recent years before finding The Fighter and scoring a knockout punch that landed him in this category for the first time in 2010. Now, just two years later, he is in a strong position to go for the win with this quirky, touching comedy-drama that was the sensation of the Toronto Film Festival and winner of the audience award over Argo. But against epic competition, can Russell be driving the little engine that could or is the Oscar just not in his own playbook this time around?


After 12 years of trying to convince the industry that motion-capture animation was the future, Zemeckis, a past winner for Forrest Gump (1994), returned to his roots and delivers a winning human drama about a pilot battling his own demons even as he accomplished a heroic act in crash-landing a plane and saving most of the passengers. Deferring his own salary and bringing this ambitious adult drama in for just $30 million, Zemeckis could find himself back in the race.


Although Haneke is likely to be a frontrunner in the foreign-language race for his Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner, the film itself is eliciting such powerful response that he could also find himself with nominations for his original screenplay and directing. Certainly nominations for directors of foreign-language films are not unprecedented, and Haneke could be the latest if the film’s subject matter about the problems of an aging couple isn’t just too hard for voters to watch.


In only his second film, this Spanish director skillfully navigates the big-scale effects of re-creating the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami along with the powerful human drama of a family separated by tragedy and trying to survive in almost unthinkable circumstances. It’s an impressive balancing act, marking the arrival of a major new talent. But will this smaller release get swamped by higher-profile titles?


Although opinion on the film is wildly mixed, with filmgoers in and out of the industry either loving it or hating it, this is a category where the ambitious film, shot in 65mm at a time when no one is using the classic format, could impress Anderson’s colleagues for sheer audacity and filmmaking skill alone. And with only a single previous nomination in this category (2007’s There Will Be Blood) Anderson seems underappreciated.


Tarantino is a directorial maverick who always seems to deliver the goods, but will the ultraviolent western throwback just be too much of a good thing at nearly three hours? Early word is he knocks it out of the park again.


The Academy honored Jackson for his triumphant Lord of the Rings trilogy with Return of the King in 2003, so it’s unlikely they will go there again so soon, and especially for what is the first of another three films.


The Aurora tragedy seemed to unfairly taint this film’s awards chances from the beginning, and the directors’ branch has never embraced the great Nolan, so should we expect them to start now?


This Cannes Film Festival opener became Anderson’s second biggest hit and an indie breakout, but Oscar recognition seems more likely for Anderson in original screenplay.


This Oscar winner (American Beauty)is the most important director ever to take on the 50-year-old James Bond franchise, and the critics and audiences loved it. It’s the most successful and acclaimed Bond film of all and long overdue for a win, but Oscar voters just don’t seem to get it, do they?


Using a bold theatrical framing device, Wright took a big chance in making this Leo Tolstoy classic seem fresh again, but opinion on whether he succeeded was divided and likely will hurt his chances to gain his first director nomination.


The darling of the Sundance Film Festival, this daringly original indie sensation has plenty of admirers, but competition is just as fierce as those beasts.


Directors love Van Sant, who has been nominated twice before (Good Will Hunting, Milk), but his film is the last to be released in 2012 and might not be seen widely enough to break through.


Can a two-time Oscar-winning actor break through as a director with a behind-the-camera debut at the young age of 75? The film is right up Oscar’s alley, but unlikely to be a contender here even though Hoffman did a terrific job.


The great Hitchcock himself had trouble in this category and never won despite five nominations—including a final one for Psycho, the subject of this film within a film—so wouldn’t it be ironic if Gervasi were able to pull off a win? Despite Gervasi doing a fine job in his narrative directorial debut, don’t count on it.

Q&A: Tommy Lee Jones On Lincoln

Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This article appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of AwardsLine.

This year’s most anticipated Tommy Lee Jones performance was expected to be in his long-awaited return to the Men in Black franchise, but that actually turned out to be his least interesting part. The reliable veteran star, who won his one and only Oscar nearly two decades ago for chasing Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, has enjoyed a year full of unexpected acting pleasures. After MIB3, he starred in a rare summer adult comedy opposite Meryl Streep and won praise in Hope Springs as a long-married man whose wife wants to add sexual sparks to their relationship. He could earn a Golden Globe nom for best actor in a comedy or musical for that film, plus a second supporting actor nom for his sensationally entertaining turn as Senator Thaddeus Stevens in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. That one has also brought him back as a frontrunner in the Oscar race, too. These are good times for Jones, who as usual is focused on the work and rather blasé about all the awards buzz.

AWARDSLINE: What appealed to you about playing Thaddeus Stevens?

TOMMY LEE JONES: Steven (Spielberg) sent me the screenplay, asked if I would read it and consider the part of Thaddeus Stevens. I read the screenplay, loved it, and was fascinated with Stevens. I called him back and said, “This is a very fine undertaking, and it would be my good luck if I had a chance to work on it.”

AWARDSLINE: Were you aware of Stevens in any way before you started researching the role?

JONES: I knew that there was a radical abolitionist in Congress in 1865 named Thaddeus Stevens—that’s about all I knew. But I was fascinated to learn the details of his life and become more aware of what it took to pass that amendment.

AWARDSLINE: What surprised you about Stevens when you got deeper into the research?

JONES: There were a lot of surprises about Thaddeus Stevens that are not in this movie. I wasn’t so much surprised but very interested to learn that he was to some degree a professional radical. His early years in Congress were dedicated to defeating the Masons. His idea was that they shouldn’t be in government because their loyalty would be divided, that they would be more loyal to their cult. And that leaves George Washington right out, buddy. (Laughs.) But he made a lot of political hay, battling this specter of Masonry. He worked very hard to run a railroad through western Pennsylvania, a place where you wouldn’t put a railroad, unless you owned an iron mill, and thought you could make some money if you no longer had to haul your product out with wagons and mules. So he had some pork-belly campaigns on his own behalf. I learned that he was an inveterate gambler. He loved to bet on horses. He even bet on his own elections! He bet on himself to win his own elections and made money doing it! (Laughs.) And that housekeeper wasn’t the only woman in his life. There are a lot of fascinating things about Stevens that aren’t necessarily relevant to the movie, but help you make decisions when you’re deciding what to do as you play a character. This makes the character fuller.

AWARDSLINE: How did you prepare to play him? The wig was interesting.

JONES: Preposterous wig! We hired a wig maker and told him not to do too good a job. If you look at pictures of Stevens, it is a ridiculous wig.

AWARDSLINE: Was there a rehearsal process?

JONES: The first thing you do is rehearse the blocking. When you know where you’re going to be, then you can go back to a trailer or a dressing room and adjust your prep to the physical reality. The actors I was working with didn’t really require a lot of rehearsal. They were thoroughly prepared and knew what they were going to do and how they were going to do it. All we had to do was just adjust to where we were going to do it. And these kinds of actors are adjustable.

AWARDSLINE: What is it like working opposite Daniel Day-Lewis when he just becomes Lincoln?

JONES: His Lincoln is believable and embodies all the characteristics that we admire about Lincoln. I was relieved—gratified, is the only word—to see Lincoln as a real country boy. Not just a bumpkin, but a guy from the country. He’s not real comfortable in town. A brilliant lawyer, self-educated, (an) insightful poet—a man capable of unthinkable self-sacrifice. To see all that rendered real, as opposed to the Lincoln on the penny or the Lincoln on the monument—none of those Lincolns. We’re talking about a real man here.

AWARDSLINE: What was it like to work with Steven Spielberg?

JONES: He’s been part of movies that I’ve worked on. I’ve never been one of his actors, in a movie that he directed. I was very pleased to see him have so much fun. He was very happy on that set. All of the tasks that arise in the course of making a film were a joy to him. None of it was confusing to him or frustrating. You always worry, but he was always, from where I stood, having fun, and that’s so important.

AWARDSLINE: Do you learn from the directors that you work with, things that you want to do on your own movies?

JONES: Every one of them. You are either learning what to do or what not to do. You’re either learning how to do it or how not to do it. And that’s all good.

AWARDSLINE: You’re directing a new film, aren’t you?

JONES: Homesmen. It’s about events that surround the Homestead Act, the middle of the 19th century, and in the Nebraska Territory. Right now, we are scheduled to start shooting on March 17. That might be adjusted a little bit, one way or the other. I need some partially melted snow, and I need some grass. So you have to pick just the right window and get lucky.

AWARDSLINE: What makes you want to take on a role these days?
What’s the key ingredient?

JONES: You look for a good screenplay, a good director—you’re pretty well assured he’ll be prepared—a good cast. Personally, I look for an exotic, happy, wonderful location that my wife and daughter and son will want to visit, so they’ll want to come see me. And you look for a good business deal. There’s a lot of factors that come into play.

Q&A: Sally Field On Lincoln

David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of AwardsLine.

No actress has matured before our eyes the way Sally Field has. Appearing on the scene first as a perky ingénue in two 1960s TV series—Gidget and The Flying Nun—she made an unexpected dramatic breakthrough in Sybil (1976), a made-for-TV movie that brought the genre newfound respect. From there it was a relatively short hop to her first Oscar, as an unlikely union leader in Norma Rae (1979). Then—for a good decade and a half—Field appeared in consistently solid material, including playing a single-minded reporter opposite Paul Newman in Absence of Malice (1981) and Tom Hanks’ redoubtable mama in Forrest Gump (1994). Then, after a period out of the limelight, she reemerged on TV in 2006 to lead the Walker clan for five seasons on Brothers & Sisters. Earlier this year she played Aunt May in The Amazing Spider-Man, Sony’s reboot of its lucrative franchise. And now she claims her biggest—and most important—role in at least 20 years, as the mentally unstable wife of our 16th president in Steven Spielberg’s epic Lincoln, which stars Daniel Day-Lewis as the great man.

AWARDSLINE: What appealed to you about playing Mrs. Lincoln?

SALLY FIELD: What doesn’t? I’d been looking out for her for a long time. She is one of the most underexamined, misunderstood, maligned, yet important women in American history. Had there not been a Mary Todd, there would not have been an Abraham Lincoln. She found him early on, and she was ambitious. She always said she was going to marry the president. She recognized his genius and said, “He’s the one. I will marry him, and he will be president.” She honed him. She was always his closet confidant—until they got to the White House. She was highly complicated but a very necessary and important part of his life. So, yes, she was someone I wanted to play.

AWARDSLINE: You had to fight to land this role. Why?

FIELD: It was the way things needed to happen. Steven was interested in me doing it long ago. Writers came and went, until we got Tony Kushner’s exquisite script, which is poetry, really. Finally, Daniel was on board. But Steven didn’t feel I was right any longer. He tested me, which I asked for, and that didn’t seem to go too well. Yet (even) though he didn’t think I was right, he couldn’t let go of me. I suspect it was Daniel who insisted Steven had to see us on film together to know for sure. So Daniel, being the generous person that he is, flew in from Ireland to L.A., just for the day. And Steven, Daniel, and I had a magical afternoon in which we did some improv in the roles. Then, when I was on my way home, Daniel and Steven together called me, asking me to be their Molly (Lincoln’s nickname for his wife).

AWARDSLINE: How did you arrive at your conception of Mrs. Lincoln?

FIELD: I did all the research I could. I read five credible biographies. One, Mrs. Lincoln: A Life by Catherine Clinton, became my bible. I took it all in, all her documented actions—what she had done and said and her childhood—so I could piece together a psychology. I even visited her home. I tried to see the authentic collections of Mary Todd memorabilia. Then I began to create the exterior, with costumes. To match her measurements, I put on 25 pounds, because we know Mary’s waist size. The costumes were absolutely authentic. You do your work. I worked almost 50 years to be able to do this. Having those pieces of her life and your own life, you put it together. And then you walk on the set and do it.

AWARDSLINE: What was it like working with Steven Spielberg, and what kind of direction did he give?

FIELD: He set up an environment that was the most divine way to work. He allowed us this space. He allowed the crew to understand the actor’s process. I am a Method actor. I try to keep this world going as much as I can. We weren’t called in early to the set. We were called in just as they were ready to shoot. I never had a sense of the crew, and Steven never left the set. And he would let us move around. We wouldn’t even say the dialogue. It was what we did, walking this way and that. And then we shot it. Steven was very much a part of the scene. He would shepherd it, whispering provocative things in my ear. There were not a lot of takes. He would say hugely interesting things. Even if I could remember what he said, I wouldn’t tell you. It’s mine to keep. It was intensely intimate with the three of us.

AWARDSLINE: You’ve got some wonderful scenes opposite Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones. How did they unfold?

FIELD: We just did them. Obviously, some scenes are more challenging because they are so deeply emotional. But we rehearsed those the least. We rehearsed practically nothing. It was all challenging and not challenging at all. I don’t know. The carriage scene, which is one of my favorites, we only shot that twice—maybe three times. I wanted to do it more just because I loved it so much. I wanted to do it till the day I died. But we did it very few times, because we lost the light.

AWARDSLINE: You’ve been twice nominated for Oscars and won both times, so you’re batting .1000. Are you getting your hopes up about another victory?

FIELD: Well, that’s very generous—I’m incredibly flattered—but, no. I’ve been around long enough to know what really matters to me. I want to do that carriage ride again and again. The kind of text that Tony Kushner wrote, the kind of talent both in front of and behind the camera, to have the stewardship of a master like Steven Spielberg—if I could have that ever again, that’s what I want.

AWARDSLINE: How did your previous Oscars change your life?

FIELD: I don’t think about that. I’m sure they affected my career in some way, but I don’t know how. My whole life has affected my career, because that’s what actors do: Your whole life informs your work. What you do and how you live—all that goes into your performances. Louis Armstrong said you have to live a life. And that’s right. If you don’t live a life, you don’t got nothin’ to come out your horn. Your accumulated life is what you bring to these roles.

His Drama Zone: Walken Sparks Somber Stride in A Late Quartet

Craig Modderno is an Awardsline contributor

“I make movies that nobody will see.  I’ve made movies that even I have never seen,” exclaims actor Ronald Walken who has been working in pictures since director Sidney Lumet cast him in his first showy role as the kid in 1971’s The Anderson Tapes when the world met him as Christopher Walken.

“My hair was famous before I was!”

Even off camera, the actor’s wry sense of humor exudes. Blessed with a self-punctuated, Queens cadence, which he can easily massage from cryptic to sarcastic, Walken at 69 is continually in demand across every genre. His dramatic flair is so iconic, comedians from Jay Mohr to Kevin Pollak impersonate him.  Heck, Walken even impersonates himself (check out this hysterical video of him reciting Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”)

Early this fall, Walken walked on the wild side in CBS Films’ shoot-em up comedy Seven Psychopaths as Hans, a rambling dog-napper who doles out screenplay advice until he dies (literally).  In the upcoming Stand Up Guys, Walken gets guffaws as a geriatric gangster. But it’s his turn as Peter Mitchell, a renowned New York City cellist who contends with his Parkinson’s disease, in A Late Quartet that has awards voters buzzing.  Rather than playing the heavy this time around, Walken’s Peter is one of his heaviest roles in years, rivaling his Oscar-winning supporting turn as Nick, the Russian Roulette Vietnam soldier masochist in 1978’s The Deer Hunter and his second Oscar-lauded role as a failed father to Leonardo DiCaprio’s master grafter Frank Abagnale, Jr. in 2002’s Catch Me If You Can.


Seven Psychopaths
Walken, left, relentless talks himself into danger in CBS Films’ Toronto Film Festival fave Seven Psychopaths

AWARDSLINE: What drew you to three distinctively different roles in A Late Quartet, The Stand Up Guys and Seven Psychopaths?

CHRISTOPHER WALKEN: I liked the scripts, and the directors. It’s strange that all these films are coming out now since they were all made during the past 2 years. I have no specific criteria — except the rare one that doesn’t have me kill someone goes to the top of my reading pile. (Laughs) It’s true. When I read a script that I cut out in my mind — all punctuation and directions which is the reason for my unusual screen patterns on camera– that process helps me find the character on my own and probably makes it easier for comics to impersonate my characters.

AWARDSLINE:  A Late Quartet seems like your most serious film in a while. Why is that?

WALKEN: Well if you won’t tell anyone it’s because I don’t kill anybody in the film. As I get older, I start to get parts for grandfathers and people who give great advice…the parts Michael Caine will seemingly be able to play forever.  I will still play wise guys, troublemakers because I like playing crazy guys and villains. Plus the economics of making films today are so unpredictable that even small films fall apart often right before shooting.

AWARDSLINE: What did you do to research your role in A Late Quartet?

WALKEN: I don’t like to discuss my process generally in preparing for a role. If I tell you I studied cello then you’ll watch my playing more carefully and perhaps pay less attention to the story.

AWARDSLINE:  Was it a competitive atmosphere between you and your co-stars on the film?

WALKEN: No, only what the script called for. They were all excellent actors and very nice people. We all knew we were making a very special film.

AWARDSLINE: Do you look for something specific in a dramatic role that tells you it will be a challenging part?

WALKEN: No for me it’s more of a feeling:  “Am I good at playing the part?” I read scripts for myself, which is why I erase punctuation because sometimes a question could actually be a statement. I read the scripts as if they play the way I think my character would respond, not what a reader would think how they would play my part.

AWARDSLINE: At this stage of your career what do you want from a director?

WALKEN: To hire me! (Laughs) I want him or her to be sure about the information and history of the project, so the actors become kids in a sandbox; feeling free, playing together. If you don’t cast well, the movie has a hard time getting a rhythm of its own. The best directors like Mike Nichols, Sydney Pollack, Marty Scorsese and Paul Mazursky to name a few who direct, are also excellent actors so they’re careful choosing the right actor. Besides Sidney Lumet, Michael Cimino and Steven Spielberg, who taught me a lot about my craft, I’ve been lucky in taking chances and calculated choices with some of the best directors of our times.

AWARDSLINE: What impact did winning the Oscar have on your career?

WALKEN: It was enormous. It brought me recognition from the industry that resulted in me receiving better scripts and for the most part not having to do auditions.

Christopher Walken
Walken logged a riveting Oscar-winning turn as the Vietnam soldier Nick in Michael Cimino’s 1978 film The Deer Hunter

AWARDSLINE: How competitive was campaigning for an Oscar in the 1970s?

WALKEN: I never campaign for personal attention from the media. I do go on press junkets when the film warrants that kind of attention because I consider that part of the job. Most films’ press peters out quickly, which is the good thing about the so-called awards season is that a fine film like A Late Quartet gets a special spotlight shown on it. I used to never do internet interviews because I don’t own a computer or a cellphone. My friends are surprised that I don’t, but sometimes I think we’re in an age of too much information.

AWARDSLINE: What was it like being at the ceremony where your film The DeerHunter faced strong competition from another Vietnam War film Coming Home?

WALKEN: I’ve been there as a nominee twice and there’s nothing better than winning. But I remember exiting the ceremony the second time and truly believing we were all winners even though only a few of us were holding statues. Then they give you a really nice dinner even if you didn’t win an Oscar.

AWARDSLINE: You co-starred in Heaven’s Gate, which is considered one of the biggest disasters in film history. What did that negative response do for your psyche?

WALKEN:  It wasn’t anything good. I never really understood what the enormous fuss was about. There was lots of stuff written at the time that was over the top, especially books written on how the failure of the film sunk United Artists. But since (director) Michael Cimino’s previous picture The Deer Hunter had won several Oscars, it created a new area of opportunity to bash Heaven’s Gate because the expectations were higher.

AWARDSLINE: You were supposedly the number two choice to play Han Solo in Star Wars. How did you feel when it became a classic worldwide hit?

WALKEN: No feeling because I was only one of hundreds of other guys who auditioned for the role. I don’t think I’m the best actor to play a role that spins off into an action figure doll.

AWARDSLINE: Another film you almost got the lead in was Love Story. Could you have said the line “Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry” with a straight face?

WALKEN: It was just as well that I didn’t get the role.  I believe an actor gets certain jobs at the right time in his or her career.  A critic once wrote of my stage performance as Shakespeare’s Romeo is that one of my unique qualities is everything I said sounded so sarcastic. Maybe if I had done Love Story then comics today would be having fun doing me doing my dialogue from the film!

AWARDSLINE: Is it true that at age 10 you did a TV Comedy skit with Jerry Lewis and he encouraged you to pursue a career in show business?

WALKEN: Yes. It was The Colgate Comedy Hour. They recently found a kinescope of it which I saw. I had a couple lines in the skit and it was shocking that I hadn’t changed my acting style at all. (Laughs) I’m amazed I’ve gotten this far. Knock wood, they let me continue. Maybe part of the reason is I don’t live my characters — many of whom scare even me — off screen. Perhaps the one little kid quality that I’ve duplicated was during the making of The Deer Hunter, I would hide in the shadows and watch my fellow actors because I knew how good they were.