Daniel Day-Lewis Explains Lincoln's Surprising Voice
A bit high-pitched and shrill, the few audiences that have seen Lincoln ahead of its World Premiere next month at AFI Fest may have been surprised by the voice of America's 16th President as played by Daniel Day-Lewis. The two-time Oscar-winner made a rare public appearance speaking before a small audience presented by Time Magazine in New York Thursday. The actor, who appeared along with Steven Spielberg, spoke in his native British accent, which was in audible contrast to his latest on-screen character.
Many assume Lincoln spoke in a blaring baritone, though Lewis explained that that myth is likely untrue.
"Well you look for the clues, as with any aspect of the work," he said of finding the voice. "You begin with the places that would have made a huge difference in his life. Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois, and the counties that he came from. There are some early recordings, but no contemporary recordings -- lucky for me, so no one can say positively that it’s not what he sounded like," said Lewis as quoted in THR.
He surmised that the Civil War President's pitch aided him and his oratory skills in reaching a higher number of people in an era well ahead anything resembling public address systems.
"There are also a number of contemporary accounts about the quality of his voice," Day-Lewis said. "And I’m inclined to think that having had a voice that was intended to be in the higher register, tended to be placed more in the head tones, that helped him reach a greater number of people in his public speaking. Stump speaking was such a huge part of their lives, they spoke sometimes for two hours or more without notes, at that time regularly. And beyond that, I suppose it really was just an act of imagination."
Lincoln centers on the period after Lincoln's re-election in 1864 in the months leading up to his death in April of the following year, when he struggled to get the 13th Amendment passed by the House of Representatives. The Amendment abolished slavery once and for all in the United States. Though he had ordered the Emancipation Proclamation earlier, Lincoln feared the provision would only be held up as a "war power" and would become redundant after the war's end — meaning, those legally freed would be immediately sent back into servitude.
Lewis also said it took him a good year to get "comfortable with his character." Spielberg said at the event he didn't like the idea of waiting that long, but he is glad he did so. He also offered up his take on the Lincoln voice at a separate NYC screening event at the recent New York Film Festival.
"Research talks about his high shrill voice," Spielberg said. "I think we'd be criticized if we did it the way he's heard by Disney's Epcot Center with a low-tenored voice."