Daniel Day-Lewis and Abraham Lincoln

News arrived last Friday that Daniel Day Lewis, the picky, brilliant 53-year-old method actor who famously demanded to be carried around the set on a stretcher during the filming of My Left Foot has signed on to play Abraham Lincoln in an upcoming biopic to be directed by Stephen Spielberg.

Since The Boxer (1997) Day Lewis has appeared in only four films: Gangs of New York (2002), The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005), There Be Blood (2007) and Nine (2009). He got nominated for an Oscar for two of them (Gangs of New York and There Will Be Blood) and won for There Will Be Blood, which – hello understatement – is a pretty decent strike rate.

Simply titled Lincoln, the film will be based on Team of Rivals, a best-selling book by Pulitzer Prize winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Spielberg issued a “chuffed to have him” statement that struck me as a wee bit odd:

“Daniel Day-Lewis would have always been counted as one of the greatest of actors, were he from the silent era, the golden age of film or even some time in cinema’s distant future. I am grateful and inspired that our paths will finally cross with Lincoln…”

It’s true that Day-Lewis is a great actor. He can be counted on to deliver frame-chewing performances even in films that fall short of the mark (i.e. Gangs of New York and Nine). But Spielberg ought to know that acting in the silent era required a very different kind of performance style, and there were plenty of silent era Hollywood actors who struggled with the transition to talkies or simply failed to make it. It’s a big call to say Day-Lewis would have been just as good back then as he is today.

Spielberg, however, can be forgiven for dabbling in hyperbole given his understandable excitement. Signing Day-Lewis (Liam Neeson was reportedly originally touted for the role) was perfect casting and an encouraging early omen for the veteran director, whose work in recent years has been off and on.