Daniel Day-Lewis is known for some mighty Method acting, embodying the roles he’s played to the hilt. He dove into playing Abraham Lincoln, and the clothes – from his tall stovepipe hat reproduced in Italy, to his suit made by tailor Sloan – helped.
“The actor in this instance is so amazing. He was putting the pieces together to create the whole. It was small moves, it was complex. It was fascinating. He was completely immersed in it. He wasn’t doing a show at the same time. He was preparing to do the role solely, so his entire attention was within,” said Johnston.
As for Day-Lewis collaborating on the looks, Johnston called it “very collective between the two parties. I help to facilitate, I suppose, in this instance, Abraham Lincoln the man, and Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln. He was very close to Lincoln’s height, and I think it’s within the acting. He does a lofty kind of walk down the corridors, that fabulous weight of the world on his back.”
If Mary Todd Lincoln’s outfits are vibrant, varied, and similar to her personality, then Abraham Lincoln’s clothes are totally muted, understated, and simple by comparison. Abraham Lincoln wasn’t interested in fashion, said Johnston.
“Lincoln, it’s a very iconic look, and everyone knows it. And the hat, super tall. He was famously uncomfortable in his clothes. I loved that, the void between the body and the cloth,” Johnston said. “In photographs, the way his clothes just hung off him, just go into him. A skinny body and a slight looseness to the clothes. I was quite keen to trying to do that. But I also wanted people to feel the man. It’s a fine line. You inch your way forward until it’s right.”
So Day-Lewis’ long Lincoln frock coat, for instance, was made from cream-colored wool manufactured in England and dyed a dark, walnut brown, based off of Lincoln’s real clothing stored in the Smithsonian Museum, Johnston said. His black tie was a copy of an original worn by Lincoln. His dark pants, also wool, made from durable, heavy fabric, with a simple white linen shirt dyed to keep the tone down. The top hat is made out of felt – a rich, textured fabric up close – that’s blocked inside by silk.
The last detail for Day-Lewis’ Lincoln look, a gold watch chain looped through his vest, was also a collaboration with Day-Lewis involved.
“Everyone did a particular thing with their watch chains. Lincoln had a particular style. Between Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis, this rope watch chain was the one we decided to re-create,” said Johnston. “This was the way he, Lincoln, wore it. I didn’t want to chop and change with things, with Lincoln. We brought a look, and he pretty much stayed with that look throughout the film.”
Check out this video, below, with Johnston talking about Day-Lewis’ Lincoln look.
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