Later this week, Daniel Day-Lewis will almost certainly be handed his fifth Best Actor Oscar nomination for his work in Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln. Knowing that, the film’s history seems almost unreal.

Lincoln was more years than usual in the making as Spielberg struggled not only to lock down the right story to tell about the 16th President of the United States, but to find the right actor to play him. Spielberg’s first choice was Day-Lewis, who turned down the role on multiple occasions. The actor later recommended his friend Liam Neeson for the role, and he was attached for years before having to move on. Then, armed with a brand new script by Tony Kushner, Spielberg was finally able to land his original man, and the resulting performance speaks for itself.

The first time the actor turned down the lead role in Lincoln, the actor wrote the most powerful director in Hollywood a letter explaining his decision. You can now read that after the jump.

Thanks to the Hollywood Reporter for the letter, which Spielberg read at the New York Film Critics Circle awards where Day-Lewis and Kushner were handed awards. As this was read aloud by Spielberg and then transcribed by audience members, it may not be a precise replication of the letter, but you’ll get the idea.

Dear Steven,

It was a real pleasure just so sit and talk with you. I listened very carefully to what you had to say about this compelling history, and I’ve since read the script and found it in all the detail in which it describe these monumental events and in the compassionate portraits of all the principal characters, both powerful and moving. I can’t account for how at any given moment I feel the need to explore life as opposed to another, but I do know that I can only do this work if I feel almost as if there is no choice; that a subject coincides inexplicably with a very personal need and a very specific moment in time. In this case, as fascinated as I was by Abe, it was the fascination of a grateful spectator who longed to see a story told, rather than that of a participant. That’s how I feel now in spite of myself, and though I can’t be sure that this won’t change, I couldn’t dream of encouraging you to keep it open on a mere possibility. I do hope this makes sense Steven, I’m glad you’re making the film, I wish you the strength for it, and I send both my very best wishes and my sincere gratitude to you for having considered me.

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