Tony Kushner, Oscar-Nominated for 'Lincoln' Screenplay, Inspires Students

The Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright known best for 'Angels in America' also wrote the screenplay for 'Lincoln.'

Tony Kushner told Kingswood Oxford students on Friday that the screenplay for "Lincoln," for which he was nominated for an Oscar, took him six years to produce.

"It's taken more out of me than anything I've ever written," Kushner said in response to a student question about his toughest project.

Kushner said he had written thousands of pages that could be adapted into films about different periods of Lincoln's presidency. But he said he doubted anyone could play the role as well as Daniel Day-Lewis, who was also nominated for an Oscar and is presumed to be the favorite for Best Actor.

"I don't think I'll ever want to see anyone [else] play him," Kushner said.

As Kingswood Oxford's Baird English Symposium speaker for 2013, Kushner spoke to upperclassmen at the private school in West Hartford. Named for former KO English department chair Warren Baird, the symposium's annual writer-in-resident program has included E.L. Doctorow, Gwendolyn Brooks, Joyce Carol Oates, Arthur Miller, John Updike, and Jonathan Safran Foer.

Kushner — who won the Pulitzer for "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes" — sat on stage and answered questions from a long line of students who have been studying his work this year.

By turns funny, self-deprecating and erudite, Kushner talked about autobiographical elements in his play "Caroline, or Change" and discussed how Shakespeare, Bertolt Brecht, Anton Chekhov and other playwrights had influenced his work. He said his favorite place to write was "in front of a box of Entenmann's chocolate chip cookies."

He also talked about how much he enjoyed working with Steven Spielberg, who directed "Lincoln," and said they were collaborating on another project together.

"I fought with him on the edit [for "Lincoln"] all the way to October," Kushner said. "But he's a real collaborator."

When a student asked how much responsibility Kushner felt to make the film historically accurate, Kushner said he had read enough to become fluent "in Lincoln."

"If I'm writing historical fiction, I have a responsibility not to change anything that would fundamentally alter the historical narrative," he said.

In response to the movie, he added, "100,000 associate professors have come out of the woodwork" to question this point or that, but "we did not make any significant errors."


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