Even Steven Spielberg can get a rejection letter. It seems that Daniel Day-Lewis—who plays Lincoln in Spielberg’s presidential Academy Award Dominated movie, originally did not want to play Abraham Lincoln. Spielberg didn’t let the rejection letter go to waste, he stowed it away for safekeeping and the letter showed up at the awards-podium as reading material last week.
Julie Miller reporter for Vanity Fair wrote, “Before presenting Day-Lewis with the New York Film Critics Circle award for best actor, Speilberg read aloud the Oscar winner’s thoughtful brush-off.”
Here is Steven’s Rejection Letter:
It was a real pleasure just to sit and talk with you. I listened very carefully to what you had to say about this compelling history, and I’ve since read the script and found it in all the detail in which it describe these monumental events and in the compassionate portraits of all the principal characters, both powerful and moving. I can’t account for how at any given moment I feel the need to explore life as opposed to another, but I do know that I can only do this work if I feel almost as if there is no choice; that a subject coincides inexplicably with a very personal need and a very specific moment in time. In this case, as fascinated as I was by Abe, it was the fascination of a grateful spectator who longed to see a story told, rather than that of a participant. That’s how I feel now in spite of myself, and though I can’t be sure that this won’t change, I couldn’t dream of encouraging you to keep it open on a mere possibility. I do hope this makes sense Steven, I’m glad you’re making the film, I wish you the strength for it, and I send both my very best wishes and my sincere gratitude to you for having considered me.
What can we learn from this? Well, Spielberg didn’t give up. After receiving the letter, he recruited Tony Kushner to pen a new screenplay from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Lincoln, Team of Rivals—one that would earn Day-Lewis’s approval. Apparently he did, because Lincoln is positioned to run away with the Oscars in February.
So the next time you get a rejection letter, keep this story in mind and revise your manuscript. Revision does improve our work and sometimes we just need someone to pull our best out of us.