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Time Q&A with Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg Talks with TIME’s Rick Stengel About Ambition, Compromise and What to Wear While Filming a President 

RICK STENGEL: Abraham Lincoln is in many ways the most compelling figure in U.S. history, yet the popular culture around him in terms of movies has been pretty minimal. Why is that?

STEVEN SPIELBERG: It’s one of the big mysteries. They float so many trial balloons with Lincoln’s face every year in the form of advertising, spoofs, parodies, Saturday Night Live sketches, Presidents’ Day commercials. Lincoln has kind of become a caricature. One of the last movies, which I haven’t seen in 15 or 20 years, that was about Abraham Lincoln was in the ’30s, with Henry Fonda—Young Mr. Lincoln. I don’t understand why it’s taken so long for anybody, let alone our group, to bring Lincoln to a movie theater.

RICK STENGEL: You use a fascinating framing device for the movie: the passage of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery.

STEVEN SPIELBERG: The 13th Amendment was critical to Lincoln, because he knew that if the war ended, this would never get through. The South couldn’t live without slavery. They might cease hostilities, but Lincoln always believed that unless we abolish slavery before this war ends, the end of this war will just be a momentary pause between this war and the next war. So he knew he had to get this thing done, but he didn’t have the votes. That’s at the heart of our movie, this fight to get the votes, to do the right thing. 

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