Capitol offers tour with ‘Lincoln’ theme

The state Capitol is offering “Looking for the Lincolns,” a free guided tour with a behind-the-scenes view of Steven Spielberg’s film, “Lincoln.”

By Katherine Johnson | Capital News Service

For fans of the hit movie Lincoln, which won two Oscars this week, here’s a chance to get a close-up of one of the film’s stars: the location.

The state Capitol is offering “Looking for the Lincolns,” a free guided tour with a behind-the-scenes view of Steven Spielberg’s film.

The film was shot at the Capitol between October and December of 2011. At the Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday, Lincoln took home two Oscars: one for production design and the other for best actor to Daniel Day-Lewis and his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln.

Mark Greenough, a prominent history interpreter, is one of three Capitol guides who give the Lincoln tour. He said he had a “front-row seat during the several weeks of filming” and even had to sign a non-disclosure form, since Spielberg wanted to keep the movie under wraps until its public debut.

The tour’s website describes it like this:

“Retrace the footsteps of the historical Lincolns in 1865, as well as the famous actor and actress portraying them in 2011, and other cast and crew associated with Steven Spielberg’s new feature film ‘Lincoln’…Explore Capitol interiors used during major motion picture production on Capitol Square. Hear how the northern and southern ends of the Virginia Capitol were modified to simulate both the White House and the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.”

“We do see among our visitors coming these questions about the movie and about Spielberg and the actors and the use of rooms,” Greenough said.

On the tour Tuesday, Greenough explained how the crew used both the inside and outside of the Capitol during filming. To transform Virginia’s Capitol into the White House and U.S. Capitol, Greenough said “pseudo architecture” was used: The crew attached Styrofoam and metal fixtures to the building to alter the appearance.

“You would never know,” Greenough said. “It looks like actual architecture – surprisingly, I think.”

He said the rotunda featuring the marble George Washington statue was also in the film. Greenough said the statue is visible in the background of a scene with actor Tommy Lee Jones.

Spielberg and the crew worried about “guarding against unwelcomed…chronological outliers,” Greenough said. Portraits, bust statues, and even light fixtures were removed or covered to accurately depict the 1860s.

Greenough said the current House of Delegates chamber was “used more than any other space.” It doubled as the U.S. House of Representatives.

Greenough said people who saw Lincoln will recall that this was where “intense debate scenes on the 13th amendment abolishing slavery” were filmed, with actors Sally Field and Jones.

Although the film crew covered the chamber’s modern electronic voting boards with portraits and the desks’ voting buttons with wooden panels, they forgot to hide one thing: Virginia’s state seal on the front wall where the speaker stands. You can see the seal if you look closely in the movie, Greenough said.

He’s curious to see whether the Oscars and the release of Lincoln on DVD will cause a “new bubble to rise up” when it comes to tourism at the state Capitol.

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