Let’s cast a Lincoln movie!

When I was in high school my friend Dustin and I were devout readers of a magazine called Wizard, which was devoted to the comic book industry.  One of the regular features was “Casting Call,” where the editors would take some unfilmed comic book property and come up with their own dream cast for a hypothetical movie based on it.

Bear in mind that this was back in the nineties, before the wave of superhero flicks that followed the success of Spider-Man.  These little two-page daydreams were about all we had to go on, unless you counted Joel Schumacher’s miserable Batman sequels.  (And we didn’t.)  Besides, they were just plan fun.  You could see how the magazine’s picks stacked up with your own and compare notes with other people.

So let’s have a little fun of our own.  Since Spielberg’s long-delayed Team of Rivals adaptation is on the back-burner, I say we take a page from Wizard and cast our own darn Lincoln movie.  Take that, Hollywood.

Of course, the first big hurdle to making a Lincoln movie is finding somebody to play Lincoln himself.  His face is both distinctive and widely recognizable.  His image is so familiar that audiences wouldn’t buy anybody who didn’t bear a close resemblance.  Anthony Hopkins was convincing enough in Nixon without looking the part, but that approach won’t work for the guy on the $5 bill.

Liam Neeson was Spielberg’s pick.  I can see that working; he’s tall, he’s got the proper facial architecture, and he’s a fine actor.  My only concern is that Neeson might be a little too “polished” to play Lincoln.  This is a guy who pronounced “chairman” as “cheerman,” and read while lying prone on the floor.

Sam Shepard might not be a bad alternate.  He has some Lincolnesque facial features, he can speak with a natural twang, and his voice moves up into those higher registers remembered by people who heard Lincoln speak.  He’s old for the part, but he doesn’t really look any more aged than Lincoln did by late ’64.

Sam Waterston has an established reputation as Lincoln, but I’d rather see him as William H. Seward.  Their profiles are pretty similar. 

I think Bernard Hill, who played the doctor in The Ghost and the Darkness and the captain in Titanic, bears a resemblance to Gideon Welles.  Or is it just the white beard he wears in all his movies that’s throwing me off?

Spielberg supposedly wanted Sally Field to play Mary Todd Lincoln, but I never could see that working.  She’s too cute and perky to be Mary.  My first choice would be Mare Winningham.  They favor each other a little in the face, although Lord knows Mare Winningham is a lot more attractive.  Plus, she’s had practice playing a neurotic wife in Wyatt Earp.

Russell Crowe would make a killer Grant.  He’s got that steely gaze and determined set of the jaw.  Put Jon Voight in a fat suit, and you’ve got your Winfield Scott.  I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of a good McClellan, but so far I haven’t come up with anybody.

If you wanted do a young Lincoln movie instead of a Civil War era one, I think Casey Affleck could pull it off, maybe with Bryce Dallas Howard as Ann Rutledge.

That’s what I’ve come up with so far.  Now it’s your turn to critique my picks and chime in with your own suggestions.  Then all we have to do is scrape together some cash, find a director, and watch all the studio execs come begging.  Fame and fortune await.



Filed under Abraham Lincoln, Civil War, History and Memory

5 responses to “Let’s cast a Lincoln movie!

  1. Bill

    For some reason, Philip Seymour Hoffman immediately popped up as McClellan in my head, even though I don’t know what he looks like with facial hair.

    Some actors can look so different when they add facial hair (natural or unnatural) that almost no actor in his 30s or 40s should be disqualified out of hand.

    Of the ones you listed for Lincoln, Neeson is my favorite.

    Mare Winningham was a good choice too.

  2. Michael Lynch

    Yeah, I was pretty proud of myself for coming up with Mare Winningham for MTL. Maybe I’m in the wrong line of work; I should take a crack at being a casting agent.


  3. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of a good McClellan, but so far I haven’t come up with anybody.

    Let’s see, McLellan, McLellan, McLellan. . . Not very tall, short even, a preening prima-donna with an outsized ego, good-looking-and-he-knows-it, utterly convinced the world revolves around him, and more generally an insufferable prick.

    Yeah, I’m thinkin’ Tom Cruise.

  4. I personally believe Sally Field is an excellent choice. Mrs. Lincoln, according to family/friend accounts, letters, journals, and newspaper articles, was extremely vivacious, personable, as well as irrational, and quick tempered. As a professional director, and playwright (I am finishing a musical on Mrs. Lincoln), Sally Field is a great choice.

    Mare Winningham is also a fantastic choice – as long as she – or any other actress does not portray MTL as too bitchy. Those were rare moments, but capitalized by more current (1950’s on) journalists and biographers. Generally, the Lincoln biographers are more harsh on Mrs. Lincoln than her own biographers (well some… ).

    What about Matthew Broderick for General McClellan?

    At first I could not see Liam as President Lincoln; however, he is a fine actor, and could easily pull it off.

    Waterston would be a fine Seward. It would also be neat to see Hal Holbrook somewhere in the cabinet, or elsewhere in the movie since he played Lincoln in those 1970’s series with Sada Thompson as Mrs. Lincoln.

  5. Michael Lynch

    I like Matthew Broderick, that’s not a bad idea. Lincoln biographers have, in general, been unfair to MTL. She was undeniably a difficult woman, but her reputation probably has a lot to do with Herndon’s exaggerated portrayal of her.


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