As promised, I bring you an interview with a cast-member from Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, a man who I have chatted with once before, when I was in the middle of coverage of the Gods and Generals Extended Director’s Cut release back in July 2011, as he played Captain James B. Ricketts. The actor’s name is David Foster, who, once he landed a role in the highly anticipated film about Abraham Lincoln, promised he would allow me to interview him when the time was right. With major outlets like the Washington Post and others clamoring to talk to anyone involved with the film, David came to me first, and I thank him immensely for that. Aside from the two films mentioned, he is also going to appear in yet another Civil War related film, Killing Lincoln, a docudrama to appear on National Geographic next year, in the role of James Gifford.
In getting back to Lincoln, David had the opportunity to partake in two roles: one as a Radical Republican congressman, and much more importantly, the stand-in for Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln. I have seen pictures of David dressed up as Honest Abe, and although we cannot yet post them, I must say that he looks outstanding in the role. So, without further adieu, I present my interview with David, conducted earlier today by email, shown below:
GC: As the stand-in for Daniel Day-Lewis, you must have worked with him very closely. What was that like? Can you describe his acting method and personality on the set?
DF: Actually, unlike other stand-in parts I have had, Daniel and I never talked. It was Abraham Lincoln who thanked me pretty much every day, and I often replied, “You are welcome, Mr. President”. Many people have reported Daniel stayed in character constantly, almost to the point of obsession. And as I believe Kathleen Kennedy has addressed before, Daniel did stay in character throughout the day filming, but did break character at the end of the day. To show how awesome an actor he is, one day he was involved in setting up a scene and came briefly to check out things and was Daniel. When he came back later, he was Abraham Lincoln. His portrayal will be the one that all past and future performances will be judged against. I truly felt like I was back in 1865 in the presence of Lincoln.
GC: What was it like working for director Steven Spielberg and with actor Tommy Lee Jones?
DF: Working for Steven Spielberg was far better than I could have expected. He very much involved the cast and crew in filming to the point where we all wanted to give our best to make Lincoln what the whole world will soon see as the gold standard of Lincoln films. The “Gov”, as many called him, was the ultimate leader and as great a director as he is, he is an even better human being. The last day of filming Steven told me that I was “Our Shadow President” and thanked me for my work. [On Tommy Lee Jones:] I didn’t know anything about Thaddeus Stevens, but as I found out, Tommy Lee Jones gave his usual top notch performance. I was around him in my “other” role as a Radical Republican.
GC: Can you describe the atmosphere on set?
DF: The atmosphere on set was a faster pace than most movies, with the crew working very efficiently, to the point I sat in wonder as they made changes for scenes. As a history buff, I loved the fact that I was in 1865 for the three months of filming, while putting in long days and nights. The food was by Tony’s, who also did The Village and was the best ever.
GC: Do you have any funny moments to tell us about on set?
DF: As to funny incidents, our Director of Photography, Janusz Kaminski, was not only very talented, but kept us in stitches daily. With the tough filming schedule we had I am very grateful for his keeping us in good spirits.
GC: Without giving anything away, did you have a favorite scene you worked on?
DF: There is one scene I was in as a Radical Republican, that I look very forward to seeing. I can’t reveal details, but it is an example of Steven involving his cast to great effect.
GC: What should potential fans be looking forward to most in Lincoln?
DF: Lincoln is NOT a war movie and will be more inclusive of all people and events not seen before. The believability factor of this film is off the charts and will draw viewers onto the screen as if they are with us.
GC: Lastly, you also appear as a representative. Where can we try to spot you on film?
DF: As to my role as a Radical Republican, it may be a Where’s Waldo? situation, or I may be seen a lot. Either way, I enjoyed performing and developed a strong bond with my fellow Congressman.
On the effect Abraham Lincoln still has today:
DF: One thing I never expected, was that on several occasions on walking back to my hotel at the end of the day, numerous families saw that I looked like Lincoln and thanked me for what I was doing. I didn’t realize how highly Lincoln is regarded to this day. It made me even more determined to help make the film better.
David also wanted to thank various people involved:
DF: Without our great crew, we couldn’t have accomplished what we did. They are the unsung heroes who are never seen on the screen, but make actors and actresses look good. Thank you, my friends. And also the City of Richmond, the Governor, and state government bent over backwards to give us access to the Capitol, Governor’s Mansion and many other sites and buildings that made it all possible. This will bring Hollywood back time and again. Thank you all for what you did.
I would like to thank David for taking the time to conduct this interview! Jokingly, David told me later on that he felt like a “politician” while answering these questions, because cast-members are sill under strict orders to not divulge any information that might be crucial to the plot, until after the film is released nationally. Still, this gave us some insight into what went on behind the scenes of what will become the most important Civil War era film of our generation.