Daniel Day-Lewis Turned Down ‘Schindler’s List’ After Learning Steven Spielberg Would Direct It

Before Steven Spielberg directed Schindler’s List, he briefly gave the project to Marin Scorsese to shoot. Scorsese then recruited Daniel Day-Lewis to play the film’s lead role.

But after Scorsese gave the project back to Spielberg, Day-Lewis walked away Schindler’s List.

Steven Spielberg briefly gave Martin Scorsese ‘Schindler’s List’

Daniel Day-Lewis at the Academy Awards.
Daniel Day-Lewis | Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Schindler’s List is highly regarded as one of Steven Spielberg’s greatest works. It won several Academy Awards in 1994, including ones for Best Picture and Best Director. But when the project first came to his attention, Spielberg initially had reservations about it. Since the early 1980s, Spielberg had been attached to the film. But even back then it seemed like too much of a monumental task.

“I couldn’t have gone from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to Schindler’s List. That would have been impossible. I didn’t have the maturity, both the craft and emotional information to be able to acquit the Holocaust in an honorable way. So I kept trying to give it away to people who kept giving it back to me,” he once said in an interview with DGA.

One of the people he gave Schindler’s List away to was fellow filmmaker Martin Scorsese. But as soon as he placed the project in Scorsese’s hands, he regretted it immediately.

“I thought Marty would do a great job with it,” Spielberg once told Entertainment Weekly. “He wouldn’t back down from truth or violence. But the minute I gave it to Marty, I missed it. I’d given away a chance to do something for my children and family about the Holocaust.”

Daniel Day-Lewis rejected ‘Schindler’s List’ out of loyalty for Martin Scorsese

Spielberg made a few notable differences to Scorsese’s interpretation of the movie. For one, Spielberg felt Scorsese’s original script for Schindler’s was too contained at 115 pages. By the time Spielberg and his screenwriter was done rewriting the material, it was 195 pages.

The movie also experienced a slight change in its cast when the project switched hands. Spielberg would eventually recruit Liam Neeson for the acclaimed feature. But when the project was still Scorsese’s to direct, Daniel Day-Lewis was tapped to play the lead role.

“I thought that would be something very interesting to do,” Day-Lewis told The New York Times in 2007.

But Spielberg getting a hold of the movie changed plans.

“But then the project went to Spielberg. When I met Martin at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, I wanted to pick him up and cuddle him. He is a mighty man, and when he asks you to do something, you want to do it. I was struggling to escape from English drawing rooms, but because of Martin, I accepted the role in The Age of Innocence,” he said.

Leonardo DiCaprio once convinced Daniel Day-Lewis to work with Steven Spielberg

Day-Lewis and Spielberg would eventually collaborate with each other thanks to a bit of help from mutual acquaintance Leonardo DiCaprio. As many know, Day-Lewis starred in Spielberg’s Lincoln. But originally, Lincoln was having difficulty getting off the ground because of Day-Lewis rejecting an offer Spielberg made to him years ago. Which was what the director told DiCaprio when DiCaprio inquired about the movie.

“I was having dinner with Leonardo DiCaprio who is a family friend of myself and my wife and he was over at our house and said, ‘What is happening with Lincoln?’ And I told him the whole story with Daniel, about how he had turned me down many years ago. He did so in his inimitable, gentlemanly fashion saying no in a beautifully handwritten letter,” Spielberg told HuffPost back in 2013.

However, DiCaprio would then step in and convince Day-Lewis to change his mind.

“And Leo just listened. And the next day Leo called me in the office and gave me Daniel’s cell phone number. Leo had called Daniel and said, ‘You have just got to talk to this guy.’ And that’s what started it rolling,” Day-Lewis said.

RELATED: Daniel Day-Lewis Once Broke Up With His Girlfriend By Fax When He Learned She Was Pregnant