Spielberg picks Brit for Abraham Lincoln role

By Emily Dugan

Steven Spielberg is expected to cause controversy in the United States with his choice of Daniel Day-Lewis to play Abraham Lincoln in a biopic of one of America's best-loved leaders.

In taking the role of the 16th President of the US, Day-Lewis becomes the latest in a string of Britons who have elbowed past their American counterparts to take plum presidential roles.

Anthony Hopkins has played two White House incumbents: John Quincy Adams in Amistad in 1997 and Richard Nixon in the 1995 biopic Nixon. Michael Gambon has also had a go as leader of the free world, playing Lyndon B Johnson in 2002 in Path to War; and Kenneth Branagh was Franklin D Roosevelt in the 2005 HBO movie Warm Springs.

Even the original contender for Spielberg's film, titled Lincoln, was not an American. When the director first signed the project to Dreamworks in 2001, Irishman Liam Neeson was pencilled in to play the part. But four months ago Neeson withdrew from the project, saying he was, at 58, already two years older than Lincoln was when he was assassinated.

Day-Lewis, 53, has two Oscars, for My Left Foot and There Will Be Blood. Filming is expected to start in the northern autumn next year ahead of a release in 2012.

The film will be based on the book Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which follows the in-fighting between Lincoln and his Cabinet during the US Civil War.

Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire, a history of Britain's involvement in the civil war, believes casting a Briton as the national hero could offend.

"I think people are going to be upset. We're talking about one of the most famous presidents in America's history ... There'll be much agony about this. Selling the idea to the American public that there was no American actor who could play Lincoln will be hard."

Scott Lucas, professor of American studies at the University of Birmingham, said: "Film is international when you're talking about the top directors and actors - they transcend nationality."

He added that in the case of some presidents British vowels might actually be helpful, as, generations ago, the British and US accents would not have been far apart.


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