Tony Kushner says writing 'Lincoln' changed his life

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Tony Kushner, who spent the last six years immersed in the Civil War, says Abraham Lincoln taught him to make an important distinction:

Purity is not the same thing as ethics.

A Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning playwright best known for the two-part masterpiece “Angels in America,” Kushner wrote the screenplay for “Lincoln,” the Steven Spielberg movie that will be released next month. It’s based on “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Writing the screenplay was “a life-changing experience,” Kushner said. “I think I was heading there anyway, but (studying) Lincoln reinvigorated my belief in democracy. It challenged me to ask questions about compromise, which is difficult but necessary. In a democracy, you have to compromise.”

Preparing to write “Lincoln,” which focuses on the last months of the president’s life, Kushner read voluminously, an experience that steadily increased his admiration for a president who worked with his own political enemies to free the slaves and sustain the Union.

Although his work on Lincoln is officially over, “it’s hard to move on,” Kushner said. “Abraham Lincoln was a tremendously beautiful person.”

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