Only after the renowned Lincoln movie hit the screens did the idea come up to publish Lincoln: The Screenplay (TCG Books, Jan.). Besides the public clamor for it, publication was a handy way to supply the script to Writers Guild and Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences members for awards consideration. Writer Tony Kushner tells Show Daily, “I wanted to take the publication of the script seriously and treat it as if it were a text to be read. Theatre Communications Group published all of my plays and they have an expertise in publishing dialogue-based reading material, so I went to them.”
Asked about how he originally felt working on such a daunting topic as the 16th president of the United States, Kushner admits that he was initially reluctant to take on the project: “It seemed like an imponderably difficult subject, and the level of expectation was sort of crushing.”
To help him make the decision, director Steven Spielberg, movie producer Kathleen Kennedy, and writer/historian Doris Kearns Goodwin (the movie is partly based on her book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln) assembled 20 of the country’s leading Lincoln scholars at the St. Regis hotel in New York. Kushner spent six hours with them. “I was really dazzled by the encounter,” he recalls. But he still had doubts. “I said to Doris, ‘I’m not entirely sure I can do this because I still don’t know how you make a genius on the scale of Abraham Lincoln into a plausible character.’ And Doris said, ‘If you’re looking for guarantees, there aren’t any—I had the same anxieties working on Team of Rivals. But I can guarantee one thing—you’ll never regret any of the time you spend with Abraham Lincoln.’ I was very moved by that, and I thought, she’s probably right. So I said yes.”
In the course of his work, Kushner read all of the major Lincoln biographies and much of the historical record of his antislavery battles. “I have my own private Lincoln library now. It’s hard to stop reading about him and move on to other things because I got so used to devouring the material. The subject of Lincoln is kind of magically inexhaustible.”
Kushner last appeared at BEA with Maurice Sendak for their illustrated children’s book, Brundibar, in 2003. “I remember enjoying it a lot when I was here with Maurice and I’m looking forward to being here again. I’m hoping that people will drop by.” He signs Lincoln: The Screenplay today at noon at the TCG booth (1105A).