BLO: How did you become that person? Was there an audition process?
BLO: Did you have the opportunity to receive one-on-one direction from Steven Spielberg? What was his directing process like?
JB: We did meet; he introduced himself. He was very nice, and told me he’d seen some clips of my work online. By the end of the conversation he threw in, “By the way, I’m Steve.” You know, sometimes they direct these kinds of scenes separately, doing one day with those of us performing onstage in the scene, and the audience, in this case the Lincoln family in the Presidential box, on another. Spielberg directed the whole scene as one. The opera was directed by a stage director, and we spent a couple days in blocking rehearsal. On the day of filming we did between 20 and 25 takes, and Spielberg directed all of them. We filmed in a theatre in Richmond, Virginia, and he directed from the presidential box with the actors. It was amazing how close and intimate everything was in the theatre in Richmond. Most of his work was done with actors in the box, but he called all the shots for the whole scene.
BLO: Compared to the rehearsal schedule of a live production, over 20 takes in a row must have been exhausting.
JB: Not as exhausting as one would imagine. The whole scene is only a minute and a half long - it starts with the tenor line. Doing things over and over again, the biggest concern was that the continuity had to be right. We did the scene fully each time, my wife was in theatre at the time, and she was able to overhear some of pauses taken by the actors in the presidential box to work some of the lines and emotional moments.
BLO: Describe your favorite moment during filming?
JB: My favorite moment was the first time we fully performed the opera scene in front of the cast and crew on set. They all watched, and Mary Dunleavy and I, neither of us experienced in film, performed. When we finished, the room erupted in applause, led by Steven Spielberg and the actors. It was very exciting.
BLO: What was the experience like to see yourself on the big screen?