When a best-selling book is turned into a motion picture, the casting of beloved characters becomes an Internet blood-sport. It’s never enough for the filmmakers just to announce who will play the hero; invested fans want to know who will play every minor character, especially the obscure guy who died on page 11. The studios know this, of course, so they tantalize us with the slow drip-drip-drip of casting news, and there’s nothing we can do about it but rant and rage on Internet comment boards. You might feel this way about The Hunger Games, but it’s how I feel about Lincoln, the long-awaited Steven Spielberg film based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s heralded biography, Team of Rivals. Ever since Daniel Day-Lewis was tabbed to play Honest Abe last November, I’ve been mentally filling up Lincoln’s cabinet with some famous faces lined with 19th-century character. Since then, DreamWorks has added Sally Field (Mary Todd Lincoln), Joseph Gordon Levitt (the president’s eldest son, Robert), Tommy Lee Jones (abolitionist senator Thaddeus Stevens), and David Strathairn (Secretary of State William Seward).
Great, but not nearly good enough for this history nerd. I want to know who plays Lincoln‘s equivalent to the Hunger Games‘ District 9 tributes. Like Edwin Bates, Lincoln’s racially-conflicted attorney general? Or his imperious young general, George McClellan? To say nothing of assassin John Wilkes Booth. DreamWorks seems to be toying with me, since they have released a tantalizing list of actors who “are in negotiations to join the cast.” Conveniently, they failed to mention which roles the actors are in talks to play. Sic semper tyrannis! This has led me to spend more time playing Civil War Sudoku than I ever spent on my actual senior history thesis, but at least I’ve come up with some plausible possibilities: Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild) could be the Union’s ancient war hero Winfield Scott, Bruce McGill (Cinderella Man) would make a great Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone) could be either Lincoln aide John Nicolay or ruthless battlefield legend William Sherman, and Joseph Cross (Running With Scissors) has the dashing handsomeness to play the infamous actor-turned-assassin. (James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson, and True Grit‘s Dakin Matthews are some of the other actors in talks, but I’ll stop here so you can be a little surprised when EW.com runs the expanded 45-slide photo-gallery with all the official North-South casting!)
Am I the only person obsessing over the casting of Lincoln as if it were the launch of some billion-dollar franchise? [Editor’s note: Yes, Jeff. You are.] Okay, fine. But this is Spielberg, tackling the Great Emancipator, with Daniel Day-Lewis under the stovepipe hat. This is going to be epic, and an entire generation of schoolchildren is going to grow up with this film being the definitive impression of the sixteenth president and his times. Can we at least discuss the likelihood of Cross playing Booth, who was only 26 when he assassinated Lincoln?