Spielberg has always wanted to make a movie about Lincoln. It predated my book or my involvement. It’s been in his heart for a long time. I met [Spielberg], actually, in 1999.... And when he found out that I was doing a book on Lincoln – I was four years into the book at that time – he said, “Will you shake hands and I’ll get the first look at it when you’re done?” So, of course, I said yes. He decided [later] to acquire the rights, even though I was four years away from finishing.
Q: What is your relationship with Spielberg like?
He’s so warm and accessible that you feel like you know him even after you’ve met him just one or two times.
Q: What was your involvement with the movie?
The first thing was I got to know and become great friends with [screenwriter] Tony Kushner. So I’ve seen the various scripts from the beginning, ranging from ones that were much longer, covering a much longer period of time, down to this final, really smart decision to focus on those last four months. As soon as Daniel Day-Lewis agreed to take the role of Lincoln, and even before he was announced, Spielberg asked if I would take him to Springfield [Ill.] because [Day-Lewis] wanted to go through Lincoln’s house and his law office and see all the documents.... It [meant] so much to him. I can remember still when we went through Lincoln’s house and a lot of the ceilings are low in it. But more importantly ... he remembered the carpet and the wallpaper were so busy that he felt claustrophobic and he couldn’t wait to get out of the house. Which is how Lincoln felt. He was already absorbing it.
Q: What was it like on the set?