Steven Spielberg: In 2012, 'Chris Christie Was a Hero for Me' (Q&A)
The "Lincoln" director and Obama supporter, one of The Hollywood Reporter's 2012 Rule Breakers, says the New Jersey governor "put party politics aside for the greater good" and also cites Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton among his heroes.
THR: What in history are you drawn to now?
Spielberg: World War II, still World War II. Stories of heroism and sacrifice. Miraculous stories of someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and all of a sudden wound up saving 20 lives. I don’t necessarily agree that is a romantic war. My father always said to me: “Do not romanticize World War II. I fought in that war. It was romantic for no one who was fighting in India and Burma in those days” — mydad was a CBI in the China-Burma-India campaign. He said, “Do not romanticize this because it’s not like a John Wayne movie.”
Day-Lewis: For me, as I was growing up, in the fighting itself and the experiences themselves, there was no romance. But I always sensed, certainly from my mother’s [actress Jill Balcon] generation, that the sense of unification was romantic.
Spielberg: That’s OK. It was the first time that we had to fight a necessary war to save Western democracy.
THR: Do you have another World War II film in you?
Spielberg: No. If something comes along that really grabs my attention, but nothing has so far.
THR: What have you been reading historically of late?
Spielberg: I’m interested in Charlemagne. I’m interested in Alexander the Great. I’m interested in Cortez and Montezuma, and I’m developing a movie about Cortez and Montezuma right now. But not everything I’m interested in becomes a life’s work.
THR: What else are you reading?
Spielberg: I just finished [M.L. Stedman’s novel] The Light Between Oceans.
Day-Lewis: [Laughs.] He’s waiting in line for Jacob’s Folly! [by Day-Lewis’ wife].
Spielberg: I am, I am! My wife’s reading it right now.
Day-Lewis: I just finished Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje. And I’m now reading a book called An American Requiem, an autobiographical book [by James Carroll] about a young man growing up in an Irish-American family in Chicago who’s destined for the priesthood and who becomes disenchanted by the priesthood during the Vietnam years. I’ve read Stefan Zweig’s Confusion recently as well, which I thought was a quite remarkable short book.
THR: Coming back to film, Robopocalypse is next for you, Steven. I thought you said recently that you were going to veer away from action.
Spielberg: No. Not really. I mean, action should be the product of a story, not for its own existence. So I wouldn’t just say, “I’m not doing anything that has action in it.” But I’m not interested in doing action for the sake of just raising the pulse rate of an audience. I’d rather there be a compelling concept or character.
THR: Would you direct one of the new Star Wars films?
Spielberg: No. That’s not my genre. I always said to George [Lucas],“My genre is aliens coming to Earth. My genre isn’t going out to find aliens!”
THR: Did he ever ask you to direct one?
Spielberg: He never did.
THR: What most surprised you about Lincoln the man, and what would you most like to know about him?
Day-Lewis: The entirety of his life was a discovery for me. But the humor was particularly interesting; he was almost using it to please himself, like all good storytellers. They need an audience, but theyalso really are pleasing themselves,in a certain kind of way.
THR: Are you a storyteller?
Day-Lewis: No, I’m not.
THR: Even though you’re so connected to writers — your father, poet Cecil Day-Lewis, and your father-in-law, playwright Arthur Miller?
Day-Lewis: I don’t think I am one. Luckily, I’ve known a couple, and so I understand the power of the oral tradition.
THR: Do you write?
Day-Lewis: In a kind of a way, I do. Not in a sustained fashion, but I do: I write articles; I write pieces from time to time. But I don’t write in a regular sense. I don’t consider myself a writer. But I was going to say, what one would most like to know about him can never be answered: One can’t help trying to imagine what might have taken place had he survived to oversee the reconstruction after the devastation of the Civil War. And had he done so, how different history would have been, the history of this country.
THR: What was the toughest part of making Lincoln?
Both: [Laughing.] Saying yes! But now you miss it.
Day-Lewis: I may be wrong,but I think there’s a word in Czechoslovakian [nostalgicky], which is a nostalgia for something that hasn’t happened yet. Anticipated nostalgia.