Story by Kassie Hoffmeister
Photos courtesy of Christopher Boyer & Walt Disney Studios
Christopher Boyer participates in an internview about his involvement in a Steven Spielberg film.
How did you land the role of Confederate General Robert E. Lee?
I just sent a picture off to the casting person in Virginia and then rented a Confederate general’s uniform from a prop house out here in Hollywood. I took some video in that, just a 30-second clip, and sent it along to them so they could see what I looked like in a uniform. Then they wanted to know if I could ride a horse. And I said yes, of course —I’ve been riding since I was like 12 and I’m an accredited farrier. But they needed to see me on a horse. They just didn’t believe me, apparently actors lie on their resumes, who knew? [laughs] So I had to rent a f—ing horse … And after all of that, they finally said, “Yes, come to Richmond. You’re our Lee.”
Did you do anything specific to prepare to portray Lee?
I grew up in Hagerstown, Md., which is just three miles away from Sharpsburg, [Md.] where the Battle of Antietam took place. So I grew up as a kid playing on the Antietam battlefield and my father was kind of a Civil War buff … Then as I grew a little older and got a horse, I used to ride my horse all over the battlefield and imagine charging the Union cannon. So I’ve been a Civil War buff my whole life and gone to Gettysburg, probably half a dozen times every summer for years … At Madison, I was an English and history major, and Lee was always one of my favorite American figures. So I knew quite a lot about Robert E. Lee going in. But I did pick up a couple biographies and re-read them.
What was it like working with the director, Steven Spielberg?
As an actor, you always want to work with the best. You aspire to work with these great directors and it’s so rare you even get the chance. So it was really marvelous to be directed by him. We met a couple times to discuss what he wanted me to do and what we were going to do with the horse. But when you’re on set, Spielberg comes up to you and just talks to you like a peer. It makes you feel like you’re the most important person on the planet. You’re in the Spielberg aura.
How was working with the rest of the cast?
There was this general sense of reverence and respect for the material and the project that almost bordered on somber. On a lot of movie sets there is a lot of kidding around and joking — for this it was all business. Partly because Daniel Day Lewis’ process is so intense and immersive that the stories I got were that you couldn’t even speak to him unless you were speaking to him in character as Mr. President. No one referred to him as Daniel Day Lewis, or Mr. Lewis, it was always Mr. President. And that includes Spielberg.
Any funny or memorable stories from on set?
One fun thing was, they were using a lot of re-enactors as background, so all of my Confederate guys were these locals who are used to re-enactments. They were kind of eyeing me like, “Who is this guy playing General Lee?” But they would saddle up next to me, look me up and down, nod and say, “General, I just want you to know that if you decide not to surrender here today, we’re with ya.” I found that happening more than once. The Southern sensibility was certainly prevalent among those re-enactors.
And what did you think of the final movie?
Oh, it was magnificent. Spielberg’s made a lot of movies. Some of them I really like and some of them were OK. But this was really something. I really thought this was special in the way they broached the subject. The very intimate way they looked at these last 34 days of Lincoln’s life was really remarkable. And of course, Daniel Day Lewis’ performance just makes the film … There were a lot of great performances — but without the anchor, the ship drifts, and Daniel was certainly the anchor for that picture.
Now that you’re done with “Lincoln,” what’s next?
It’s pilot season out here so I’m auditioning for pilots. I just shot a commercial last week for Adobe … But the life of an actor is one of constant search of employment. Unless you’re lucky enough to be on a series and have a regular job like that, you’re constantly auditioning, trying to get the next job.