Dave Calhoun interviewed Daniel Day Lewis about his role as Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.
There’s been a lot of talk about the voice he gives Lincoln, a soft, slightly high, conversational lilt that draws people in rather than declaims to them.
Daniel Day Lewis:
“The one thing I absolutely don’t do is dismember the life into its component parts, like a mechanic, and then try and bolt it all together and hope that it functions. I try to approach it all more or less at the same time.
The voice is such a deep personal reflection of character that I wouldn’t even attempt to find it for a considerable period of time. If I’m lucky, I begin to hear a voice. That has always been part of my experience – listening for that sound of the voice in my inner ear. If that pleases me, and I live with that for a while and the internal monologue feels right, then I go about the work of reproducing it. Lincoln always spoke out aloud when he read, so that was a lovely clue. I read a lot, I talked to myself a lot.”
“If Music be the Food of Love play on” says Orsino at the beginning of Twelfe Night. In this high-quality all male production starring Mark Rylance, music is the motif of the play. The wonderful music and musical arrangements by Claire Van Kampen play intermittently, with impressive ensemble singing and solos by Feste (Peter Hamilton Dyer). The voice and speech of all the cast blends in rhythmically and melodiously. Rarely have I witnessed such a funny, satisfying, finely tuned rhythmic theatre production. Beckett, perhaps, would have stood and cheered. We are to thank the voice coach, James Oxley for this. Transposing musical rhythm and tone into speech is wonderful and in this Shakespeare all male production, the story has such clarity and humour, that at times it felt as though I were watching and listening to a Laurel and Hardy sketch.
As well as having a good laugh, singing is great for the voice and the spirits. When people approach me because they feel they can’t sing, we usually start off with voice release, humming, and then sounds to notes.
Actors are particularly wary of being overly big with the pitch variations in their speech on camera. In order to find your own pitch and rhythm you have at first to let go. Eventually it will come to you/you will find it. Witness the rhythmic music of great screen actors like Dustin Hoffman, Katherine Hepburn, Marlon Brando and Daniel Craig. Their distinctive voice beats through the characters they play.
I’ve been a fan of Mark Rylance since I saw him play Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing. I didn’t know at the time, but he chose to use a Belfast accent. I thought it had been a touch of brilliance on the part of the casting director to cast someone in the role of Benedict from Belfast. He has an innate gift for speech and voice. His Maria in Twelfth Night gives us an entirely different picture of a woman of that time and status. As the play was written for Elizabeth 1st and would have been an all male cast anyway, it is probably the picture intended.
Julian Fellowes’ Titanic met with mixed reviews. The way the story was told gave the impression that the acting as well as the voice and dialects were patched together for a pantomime rather than a drama.
There is no doubt that Lord Fellowes is a fine story teller and historian. Julian Fellowes would have found the speeches and debate at the London Shipping Law Centre Symposium dinner entitled, “From Titanic to Concordia: the Achilles Heels of Passenger ships” of interest. Rear Admiral John Lang and Dr Stephen Payne were the experts in Marine Accident Investigation who gave speeches about the safety on cruise ships. I liked John Lang’s speech and genial style. Stephen Payne, who is involved in the Concordia accident investigation, representing the owners, gave a speech which was dry, rather like a Tennyson poem in its rhythm conviction. The event focussed on what lessons the industry has learned, safety developments, and what is required further to be done.
Advances in engineering technology and materials have meant that cruise ships can now carry 4,000 passengers and more. From the speakers’ information, it emerged that the 55,000 passengers who travel on cruise ships every day, do so safely and efficiently only by the grace of God. The number of dead on the Concordia was comparatively low (30+) only because it ran aground near the shore and was not out at sea in deep water. If it had, many more of the 4252 on board would have drowned. The ship would have sunk and it would have been a disaster very similar to that of the Titanic. There wouldn’t have been enough time for everyone on board to get into a lifeboat. This is the Achilles heel of cruise ships. However, if you go on a liner carrying 500 passengers or less then you’d probably be alright. The QE2 was in this respect a lot safer that the new Queen Elizabeth. Would I be put off? Not from a cruise on one of the sailing ships. I’ve just looked out at the grey day in London and a short cruise around the Caribbean on a sailing ship, seems a good idea. It’s like getting on an aeroplane – you pays yer money and yer takes the risk. Much like the characters in Julian Fellowes’ Titanic.