'On the set his new movie Lincoln, Steven Spielberg observed an unusual formality. All the time they were shooting, in Virginia, he called Daniel Day-Lewis, who was playing Lincoln, “Mr President.” He called Sally Field, who was playing the First Lady, “Mary or Mary Todd,” despite having known the actress for more than forty years and counting her among his closest friends. He also wore a suit to the set every day. Usually the director wears jeans or dungarees, an untucked Ralph Lauren plaid shirt, topped off with a baseball cap: the sort of Billionaire Schlub look that once marked the director out as an ordinary-joe extraordinaire — Martin Amis once mistook him for the guy who comes to fix the Coke dispenser — but is now more standard attire amongst elites of Hollywood and Sillicon valley.
“I’ve never worn a suit to a set but I wore a suit every single day because I wanted to be a part of the finery of that era,” he says, relaxing in a suite the Ritz Carlton Hotel near central Park. “I wanted to I dressed up to go to work. I actually put on a tie put on a coat, sometime a waistcoat and went to work.”
Now 66, Spielberg’s hair is grey and in slight retreat, but his demeanor is as effusive and boyish as ever. Despite his designer togs, he stills give every impression of having got dressed in five minutes flat, or having been dressed by his wife, who did her best to make his hair lie flat as he walked out the door. He talks with a slight lisp reminiscent of Sylvester the Cat, embarking on long sentences that plunge and swoop like a roller-coaster, powered by great gulps of enthusiasm that have him coming up for air, as if he must remind himself to breath, before plucking some mot juste from the air at the very last minute, like Indiana Jones retrieving his whip from under a descending door. “You don't mind if I just talk do you,” he asks and off he goes, on a long riff through the historical research he did for Lincoln — into the 13th president’s voice, or eating habits, or thinking habits, melancholia. It’s still in his system. He didn’t direct a method actor in the role so much as method-direct the entire film.
“Its easy to create hero worship but we weren’t interested in deifying the life and times of Abraham Lincoln,” he says recalling a trip to the Lincoln memorial with his uncle when he was six: a big imposing monolith that gave him the creeps. He could only look at his hands. “I didn't want to make a movie about a statue. I wanted him to be flesh and bone.”'