The two-time Oscar winner has been on sets her entire adult life, from her iconic work on television shows like Gidget and The Flying Nun when she was a teen to recent roles in hits like The Amazing Spider-Man but even with that wealth of experience she says the set of Lincoln was “the most breathtaking place to exist.”
“I have never had an experience like that and I never will again,” she says. “It was a safe, respected space. I didn’t have to hide my process; hide it in the corner because someone’ s going to think I’m weird. It is the way it should always be because it frees the actors to be what they have prepared themselves to be, what they have learned to be and Steven and Daniel created this. I will never have it again. I am so grateful to have had that time.”
The Steven and Daniel she mentions are, of course, Spielberg and Day-Lewis, her a-list director and co-star. She credits them with creating the unique set environment that helped her stay in the character as the 16th President of the United States’s wife, Mary Todd.
“When Mr. Lincoln and Mary shot their scenes in the White House I never saw the crew,” she says. “I felt them around, sort of, but not really. I hardly saw anything, except the room, and Mr. Lincoln. Every once and a while I would have a sense that someone was popping into my ear and whisper something and it would be Steven. I didn’t know where he came from and I wasn’t sure where he went. Nothing was ever invasive or startling.”
She describes Lincoln’s wife, “as one of the most complicated, under examined, misunderstood, incredibly important female characters in American history.”
“Who wouldn’t want to play Mary Todd?” she adds.
Working with such a high caliber of talent allowed her to “simply do [my] work and let the pieces fall where they may.” She gushes when talking about Tony Kushner’s “extraordinary” script, the “guidance and stewardship” of Spielberg but saves her highest praise for co-star Daniel Day-Lewis.
“He’s so unbelievably brilliant and a towering example of unmitigated excellence,” she says. “Uncompromising excellence. But that is how actors work. Daniel does what we all do, he does it better, that’s all.”