My obsession began in a typical way for an actor. Somebody began talking to me about a job, and I owe that job to Gore Vidai, because without his bestseller, there wouldn’t have been a job for me to be interested in.
What followed was an innocent and unplanned visit to the Library of Congress, which began with my asking a completely idiotic question about whether they had anything on Lincoln there. Treating me like a madman, the library people asked, “Why are you interested?” I responded, “Because I’m going to play him in a mini-series.” They all sort of blanched at my lack of knowledge, but they showed me around the collections as fast as they could.
Lincoln’s letter to an earlier actor, James Hackett—in which he wrote, “I have endured a great deal of ridicule without much malice; and have received a great deal of kindness, not quite free from ridicule”—they put that in my hands. They showed me casts of his face and hands. At the end of the day, they took me down to the bowels of the library—a vast workroom filled with long tables with lights over them—where a guy was about to seal up the contents of Lincoln’s pockets the night he was killed. That was it. I was hooked.