As reported in New York magazine and elsewhere, Steven Spielberg’s long-gestating biopic about Abraham Lincoln is maybe-finally in pre-production. Playwright Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”), who’s writing the script, shared this information during a panel discussion on Lincoln at the Harvard University Institute of Politics, adding that if the desired studio green light was given, then the film would be in theaters as early as Christmas.
So who’s going to play The Great Emancipator? Well, four years ago, back when this project was still red hot, it was going to be Liam Neeson. But a lot can happen between green light and soundstage — so I’d like to humbly offer a few casting suggestions, should Mr. Neeson be unavailable.George Clooney. Not statesman-like enough, you say? This is Hollywood, baby! Just imagine Clooney’s Lincoln denouncing the Crittendon Compromise while raising a rakish eyebrow and toggling his head playfully to one side. Presidential and boyishly charming! Box office gold, I tell you.
Paul Giamatti. Sure, he lacks the physical stature of Honest Abe, but he’s already proven that he has a knack for playing dead presidents (John Adams) and grumpy iconoclasts (American Splendor). Giamatti would free the slaves without drinking any @#$!ing merlot and win an Independent Spirit award, to boot.
Leonardo DiCaprio. It may immediately seem that he’s too boyishly handsome, but that’s nonsense. A few weeks on a low-carb diet, some intensive Pilates, a little latex, a stovepipe hat … voila! Plus, DiCaprio can do anything. Have you rewatched What’s Eating Gilbert Grape lately? He’s already slated to play Theodore Roosevelt in an adaptation of Edmund Morris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, so add a follow-up film as, say, Herbert Hoover, and it’s a trifecta! Plus, the idea of Lincoln dating supermodels is funny.
Clive Owen. He has the slender physique and the cheekbones that the role calls for, plus he’s suave as hell. In a perfect world, there’d be an awesome chase scene with Lincoln speeding along in a souped-up Audi on his way to his inauguration, having been warned by the Pinkertons of the alleged Baltimore Plot. He fires out the window at Cipriano Ferrandini (played by Sir Ben Kingsley), who’s hanging out the window of his own car, slashing at Lincoln with a straight-razor! Pinkerton agent Kate Warne (the lovely Charlize Theron) takes the wheel as Lincoln and Ferrandini grapple at 90 miles per hour! Please, someone make this movie so I can see it.
Cate Blanchett. After her turn as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, it’s obvious that Blanchett can carry off drag. And with the recent revelations that Lincoln may have been bisexual, Blanchett’s androgyny would bring a fascinating element to Abe’s story. Unfortunately, this treatment needs the touch of a director like Todd Haynes, or Gus Van Sant, or a 1980s-era Ken Russell — Spielberg would get too tangled up in all the Freudian issues of daddy-abandonment and miss the strange, perverse beauty of the theme.
Whoever plays Lincoln, we all know what to expect from Spielberg’s biopic. There will be amazing cinematography, heartstring-tugging speechifying, a terrible third act that’ll peter out as if the director had no idea how to end the damn thing, and Oscars. Get ready to become very, very tired of seeing clips of whichever actor gets the role, as he pounds his fists on a podium and intones, “… we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth” while John Williams reworks his score from Hook yet again with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.